Ad Spot

August 5, 2021

Kyle Larson appears to be unstoppable at Hendrick

By Jenna Fryer
AP Auto Racing Writer

CHARLOTTE — Everybody knew Kyle Larson was going to win races once he started driving Rick Hendrick’s cars.

But this? This looks like a driver capable of chasing down the modern-era record of 13 wins in a season set in 1975 by Richard Petty and tied in 1998 by Larson’s childhood idol Jeff Gordon.

His victory Sunday night in the All-Star race at Texas doesn’t count in the win column, but it earned Larson a $1 million payout and should have sent fear through everyone else in the field. It was his third consecutive trip to victory lane, he has not finished lower than second since May 2 and there are no signs he’s slowing down anytime soon.

“That is the best car I have had here; I just couldn’t get close enough to him,” runner-up Brad Keselowski said. “He just motored right on back by me, like damn.”

And he wasn’t done after Texas, either.

Larson headed straight to Ohio early Monday morning for three nights of dirt racing. Once there, he picked up his first sprint car victory of the month in the feature at Wayne County Speedway, where the payout was $6,000 to the winner.

Larson won three times in his sprint cars last month — no surprise there, Larson racked up nearly 50 victories racing coast-to-coast dirt tracks last year during his nearly season-long NASCAR suspension — and is at last meeting the hype that surrounded him when he first entered NASCAR.

Gordon and Tony Stewart were his loudest cheerleaders when Larson arrived as a 19-year-old willing to migrate from the local short track scene to the biggest show in the country. Both Hall of Famers were adamant that Larson was the purest racer they’d seen in years and were confident he’d be a superstar in NASCAR.

But his equipment at Chip Ganassi Racing wasn’t good enough to win every week and Larson notched just six victories in six inconsistent seasons. He was fast at Ganassi but he didn’t seem to know how to close out victories. Too many runs in contending cars ended because he’d hit a wall, make a mistake or maybe push too hard.

That hasn’t been a problem since Hendrick Motorsports signed him late last year, bringing an end to his banishment from NASCAR for his use of the N-word while racing online during the early days of the pandemic. Larson’s second chance came with NASCAR’s winningest organization and his chance to drive Hendrick cars was going to put him in position to consistently race for wins at last.

It hasn’t hurt that the entire Hendrick organization is red hot — Larson’s All-Star race win was the fifth straight HMS victory, and the four-driver lineup has collected seven checkered flags in the 16 points-paying races.

Denny Hamlin holds a 47-point lead over Larson in the standings but is winless so far this year, just months removed from last year’s seven-win campaign. If anyone can beat Larson right now, Hamlin doubts it is him.

In fact, he figures only Alex Bowman, William Byron and reigning Cup champion Chase Elliott can run with Larson.

“His teammates have the same cars as him, so they have the potential to get after him,” Hamlin said. “That team, they’ve just got everything figured out right now. They’ve got everything you need to be fast and we’re all playing catch-up at the moment.

“We’re going to have to get a little bit better as the summer months go on if we want to compete with them in the long term.”

Next up comes Sunday’s first Cup race at Nashville Speedway, which has been dormant since its 21st and final Xfinity Series race in 2011. Larson will go to Tennessee with Valvoline making its debut on his No. 5 Chevrolet as the third of four sponsors so far announced for Larson this season.

It will be just the third time in 17 events that a non-Hendrick company has been featured on his car. But with this rate of success, companies aren’t going to stay away from Larson much longer, which is what Hendrick banked on all along when he offered the exiled driver a return.

Larson understands there may be no reward at the end of the season for his success — Kevin Harvick won a Cup-high nine races last year but failed to advance to the championship round of the playoffs — but nine finishes of fourth or better have him feeling really good right now at second in the Cup standings.

“The races are hard to win and championships are even harder to win,” Larson said. “This is definitely the best opportunity I’ve ever had to win the championship. But there’s still a long season left, and other cars and teams are going to get better, and so will we.

“Just got to keep working hard, and hopefully we can have ourselves in position come October or November.”

Comments

Coronavirus

Rowan County COVID-19 vaccination numbers see major improvement after inclusion of new data

News

Top shot: World champion skeet shooter conquers competition, helps grow sport

Business

Local cultural institutions receive funding from Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program

Local

David Freeze: New Mexico brings mostly flat roads

Education

Rowan-Salisbury Schools teachers reflect on summer institute

Education

Education briefs: Superintendent awards excellence in educational performance

Kannapolis

Mayor Alexander talks infrastructure, growth with Kannapolis, Concord mayors on ‘Charlotte Talks’ radio show

Legion baseball

Baseball: Honeycutt excited, humbled by being drafted

High School

High school football preview: Falcons have experienced offense

Local

Olympics: Livingstone graduate Hayes among final eight in 400

Local

Freeze: Day 9 — What makes the best day

Crime

Salisbury Police talk worsening crime data, initiatives at first Neighborhood Action Group meeting

Local

Spencer’s Park Plaza town hall project still on track, change order coming

Education

RCCC names new foundation director

News

North Carolina experts worry as schools don’t require masks

News

NC sports betting bill gets winning vote from Senate panel

Crime

Salisbury man charged with 79-year-old woman’s murder says cellphone location resulted in charges

Health

Salisbury City Council will return to virtual meetings, require face masks in city buildings

Landis

Landis goes big with two helicopters for National Night Out

Local

Spencer and East Spencer join forces for National Night Out

Local

City Council approves Grants Landing development on Rowan Mill Road

Education

In lighter-than-usual year, RSS nutrition staff serve more than 100,000 summer meals

Nation/World

CDC issues new eviction ban for most of US through Oct. 3

Nation/World

Pushback challenges vaccination requirements at US colleges