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Analysis
NASCAR Cup Homestead

Why it's OK Kyle Larson may never have a perfect NASCAR race

On the surface, Kyle Larson appeared to put together the perfect performance Sunday at Las Vegas which made him the first driver to earn a chance to win the 2023 NASCAR Cup championship.

Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro

Larson dominated much of the race, won both stages, led 133 of the 267 laps and held off a fierce late charge by Christopher Bell to earn the important playoff victory.

It was masterful and timely but … perfect?

Not quite. But then again, it usually never is with Larson.

And that is expected and perfectly OK.

Because to take the incredible performances and thrilling moments on the track Larson produces – regardless of what motorsport series he participates in – you must accept he is always going to push the limits of what is possible.

Many times, that includes running as close to the wall without hitting it to get the most speed and build the most momentum he can on the track.

And on occasion, that means hitting the wall, with a 50-50 chance he miraculously recovers, or his day comes to a crashing halt.

That’s what happened on Sunday when late in Stage 2 as he was attempting to run down the leader at the time, Larson hit the wall off of Turn 2 but saved his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet from spinning out and getting collected in a wreck.

Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro takes the checkered flag to beat Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing, Rheem / Smurfit Kappa Toyota Camry

Photo by: Lesley Ann Miller / Motorsport Images

Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro takes the checkered flag to beat Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing, Rheem / Smurfit Kappa Toyota Camry

He fell back in the running order, regrouped and with the help of a timely caution shortly afterwards, his team was able to address the damage to his car. He didn’t lose any more ground and continued in the race perhaps even stronger than he was before the incident.

This has been a familiar refrain in Larson’s career – the good outcomes far outweigh the bad and it’s something those at HMS have come to accept.

“I mean, the guy knows how to win clearly. I think Cliff (Daniels, Larson’s Cup crew chief) and he have some real heart-to-heart discussions about some of those instances on both sides, I would say, whether it’s a strategy call or something, a misstep on pit road, or Kyle,” said Jeff Gordon, HMS’ vice chairman and NASCAR Hall of Fame member.

“It’s good. I don’t think you can change that. You don’t want to change that in a guy like Kyle. If it’s a new up-and-coming younger driver and you feel like those are conversations that need to be had, yeah, you have them.

“I’ve never had to have that one with Kyle.”

As Gordon pointed out, whatever the style is that Larson takes to his racing, it certainly has worked for him.

In just nine full-time seasons, Larson has already won a championship, has 23 wins, won 16 poles and is in excellent position to capture his second series title by age 31.

His performance has particularly improved since joining HMS beginning in the 2021 season and Gordon believes the pairing with Daniels is a big part of that.

“You take a guy like Kyle and his capabilities, his talent. He’s impressed me with his work ethic, too,” Gordon said. “I wasn’t sure how he approached the Cup Series, especially with Cliff and all the data, all the homework that Cliff gives him, the meetings they have.

“Cliff is an intense guy, and he brings a lot to the table. It’s a lot of information that you have to absorb. Kyle stepped up to the plate and has done everything that the organization can possibly ask out of him and then some.

“It’s been a great relationship.”

Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro, Cliff Daniels, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro

Photo by: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP / Motorsport Images

Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro, Cliff Daniels, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro

While Larson’s on-track moves may be extraordinary and his performance unrivaled, perfection may never be an attainable goal, a fact Daniels has no problem reminding his driver.

Asked how many drivers could hit the wall, spin, keep control of their car and still win the race, Daniels said, “Probably not many. Probably not many. Huge credit to him

“I got interviewed earlier, they said, 1 to 10, how would you rate that – Larson’s save? I said, ‘Man, everybody’s wanting to give it a 10. I’ll give it a 9.4.’

“They are like, 9.4? Well, he hit the wall. If he wants a 10, don’t hit the wall. But it was a ridiculous save, yeah.”

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