Kyle Larson: I’m Happy To Start Off At Darlingtonby Hunter Thomas August 29, 2021 0 comments
DARLINGTON, S.C. – Kyle Larson locked up the Regular Season championship this past weekend at Daytona, and now he sets his sights on the track, Too Tough To Tame.
Since returning to the NASCAR Cup Series, Larson has been on a tear, earning five wins, 14 top-five and 18 top-10 finishes within the Regular Season’s 26 races. His winning percentage is 19.2%. Larson came up just short on winning even more races, including Pocono, when he blew a tire in the final turn on the final lap while leading comfortably. It’s no wonder that the California native topped the standings at the end of the Regular Season. In fact, thanks to winning races, 11 stages and Regular Season championship, Larson will have a massive, 47-point lead over Martin Truex Jr. who is second in the NASCAR Playoff standings.
“It’s not been all about just winning,” Larson said. “Once points kind of came into the picture of us being able to beat the 11 (Denny Hamlin), kind of points racing against him. I think getting into that mindset, that kind of style it takes to not be so go for broke, which I feel like is a lot of what you need. You obviously have to have that go for broke somewhere in your arsenal.
“Yeah, I think a lot of it, you can’t make any big mistakes and take yourself out of it. That’s what we’ve been doing this last month and a half or so. I feel like that’s been good to prep us leading into the Playoffs.”
Now, Larson and his Hendrick Motorsports No. 5 team look ahead to Darlington Raceway, a track where he has never won. In his past three starts at the Lady in Black, Larson has finished third, second and second. He has also led a combined 328 laps in his last three starts at the track. To say that Larson is a favorite heading into Sunday’s Cook Out Southern 500 would be an understatement.
“I mean, I think I’m happy to start off at Darlington,” Larson said. “It’s a fun racetrack. There’s a lot of good racetracks for us and our race team.”
That being said, though, a Hendrick Motorsports driver hasn’t visited Victory Lane in the NASCAR Cup Series at Darlington since Jimmie Johnson won the spring race in May 2012. You have to dig deeper into history to find Hendrick Motorsports’ last Cook Out Southern 500 win, which came in November of 2009, when Mark Martin won the prestigious race.
Larson isn’t the only driver in the Hendrick Motorsports stable to find Victory Lane this season. His teammates have also won on six occasions.
Alex Bowman has three wins (Richmond, Dover, and Pocono No. 1) this year, but he has overall struggled at Darlington with an average finish of 17.1%. In recent years, he has captured two top-10 finishes in four races, one being a runner-up effort in May 2020.
William Byron won at Homestead-Miami Speedway this season, and the track is run very similar to Darlington. In his past two starts at Darlington, he has finished third and fifth.
Chase Elliott has two wins (Circuit of The Americas and Road America) this year, but they were both on road courses. Elliott has had an up-and-down history at Darlington, but despite the average finish of 17.2%, Elliott has captured four-career top-10 finishes at the track. He even won a NASCAR Xfinity Series race back in 2014 during his rookie season.
Darlington however, is only one race of the NASCAR Playoffs, and Larson admits that his teammates pose a threat to advancing to the Championship 4. Whether or not any of the Hendrick Motorsports drivers reach Victory Lane on Sunday, they will need to hold each other at bay.
“It would be hard to get all of us in the Final 4 at Phoenix, but it’s not impossible either,” Larson said. “We’ve all four been really strong I feel like all season long. It’s been nice to have us all win this year and challenge for many other wins. Yeah, it’s not impossible, but it’s definitely going to be tough. That would be awesome.”
Aside from Larson’s teammates, his biggest threat at Darlington will be the Joe Gibbs Racing stable. The team has amassed seven wins in the last 10 races at Darlington, and its current driver roster has accounted for four of the victories. Most recently, Truex Jr. won back in May, and Hamlin won in May of last year. Both drivers are in the NASCAR Playoffs, but Hamlin has yet to win a race this season. Martin Truex Jr. has an 11.2 average finish at Darlington, while Hamlin has a 7.4 average finish, and Kyle Busch has a 10.7 average finish. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell is also competing in the NASCAR Playoffs, and earlier this year, he finished 14th at Darlington Raceway.
“I mean, I think everybody has had their moments of being really strong this year,” Larson said. “I think the three others, my teammates, are going to be really tough. I think I look at obviously Denny, Martin, Kyle Busch as probably being the three others besides our team that stand out.
“I feel like there’s always one or two guys that you don’t really notice that much during the regular season, maybe don’t even notice that much in the first round, but really start hitting their stride after that. There’s probably definitely a few wild cards out there. You won’t really know who they are until we get a few races in.”
Tickets are still available for the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. The NASCAR Cup Series race will broadcast live on NBCSN and MRN at 6 p.m. ET on Sunday.
Photo Credit: Hunter Thomas/TheFourthTurn.com