When it was announced that Kyle Larson would return to the NASCAR Cup Series with powerful Hendrick Motorsports following a suspension of several months, there were high expectations. After a season in which the Elk Grove, CA driver tore through the dirt racing ranks piling up scores of feature wins, the status of the 28-year-old racer reached almost legendary proportions. Many expect weekly contention, multiple race wins, and a deep run into the NASCAR Playoffs from the No. 5 Chevrolet team this season, in part, because of the dominance he demonstrated in 2020.
This driver’s prowess on dirt has caused many who follow Larson’s exploits to circle the late March visit to the clay covered Bristol Motor Speedway as a virtual lock for a trip to victory lane. However, there will be other chances for wins, and this weekend at the Homestead-Miami Speedway could very well be one of those opportunities.
The first two races of 2020 have been wildcards, not only for this driver but for everyone. The Daytona 500 saw many of its pre-race favorites eliminated from contention after only 14 laps. The crown jewel race then had a massive crash on the last lap, as is commonly the case on that track and at Talladega. Simply surviving to see the checkered flag is somewhat of a victory. The “Great American Race” was then followed up by only the second trip for NASCAR(and the first for Larson) to the road course at Daytona International Speedway which offered a number of both literal and figurative twists and turns.
It would not really be realistic for any driver, with the possible exception of Chase Elliott on the road course, to have gone into either of those first two races expecting to win. The reality is that it could be said Homestead will offer the first “normal” race of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season. And this might be the first time all year that previous statistics can serve as any sort of a guide.
Larson has won a total of six NASCAR Cup Series races with three of those victories coming at the Michigan International Speedway and another at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA. Both of those tracks with their worn surfaces and wide arcing turns often call for drivers to take the high lane right out against the outside retaining wall to find the most speed which suits Larson’s driving style. The Homestead track calls for a very similar approach. And in theory, the Hendrick Motorsports car he will be driving should be the best equipment he has competed at the top level with on this track.
Driving the No. 42 for Chip Ganassi Racing, Larson scored three top-5 finishes at the south Florida venue with a best result of second in 2016. In that race, he led until the three-laps-to-go point when Jimmie Johnson took over and ultimately won the race and earned one of his seven championships.
Larson led 132 laps at Homestead in 2016 then followed that up with 145 circuits out front in 2017 on his way to a third place finish. In all, “Yung Money” has paced the field for a total of 325 laps during his career on this 1.5-mile layout.
Even though he has not yet won at Homestead-Miami Speedway, this is one of the better tracks statistically for Kyle Larson. After sitting out for almost a full season and having massive amounts of the racing world’s attention focused on him for both positive and negative reasons, he needs to run up front and put himself in the conversation for competition related reasons on the NASCAR landscape. This is a track on which that can happen.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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