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Jeff Gordon praises Larson as "one of the greats" after Sonoma charge

Kyle Larson is the first to say he is not a “car guy” – he doesn’t fully understand everything that goes into making a race car fast or the pit strategy needed to navigate a long race.

That hasn’t prevented the former dirt racing standout from excelling in NASCAR competition as what he does behind the wheel more than makes up for whatever detailed knowledge he may lack.

The latest example came in Sunday’s Cup race at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway as Larson's crew chief, Cliff Daniels, elected to have Larson remain on the track long into the final stage before making his final green flag pit stop.

The theory? Larson would build up a sizeable lead and when he finally did pit, he would have far newer tires than those he would need to pass on the track to reclaim the lead.

The plan worked flawlessly as Larson rejoined the field in eighth after pitting, then claimed the lead with eight of 110 laps remaining before cruising to the win.

After the race, Larson said he wasn’t sure what the pit strategy was his team elected to employ and even referred to learning it as “like doing homework. I don’t really know what I’m looking at.”

But as Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman and Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon pointed out, “he obviously doesn’t need to.”

Gordon praises Larson for brilliant Sonoma drive

Asked how Larson could be so successful and yet unfamiliar with the details of the race car and strategy, Gordon said, “Because he drives the wheels off of it. I think if you’re making lap time, making good decisions, he was really good making up positions on the restarts when he needed to.

“When those other guys came into pit and he’s out there on a little bit older tires (and) maintaining lap times the way he was, those are just the things that great drivers do and do well, and he’s one of the greats.”

Gordon said what Larson does best is get speed out of his race car – no matter what he is driving.

“You don’t have to know anything about a car to extract speed out of it,” Gordon said. “I think where it comes down to – where he probably is a little too humble in some of the things he says – is he’s a key element of what the car is doing to be able to give that information back to Cliff and the team to get more out of it.

“There’s a lot of data these guys can go off of, but still, if the car is loose or tight or whatever the balance is, he’s got to give them that feedback in the race, and he gives great feedback.”

Being able to tell Daniels what his No. 5 Chevrolet is doing and how it reacts is just as important as the choices the team makes to alter the set-up more to Larson’s liking.

Understanding those changes or pit strategies isn’t necessary if the driver can go faster than the competition once the car’s performance is at its best.

“I think mostly it’s when Cliff says, ‘Hey, we’ve got to make up some spots here’ or ‘Hey, we need to run this kind of a pace,’ he’s able to do those things,” Gordon explained.

“I guess he just does the things he needs to do right. You don’t have to worry about the others.”

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