Everyone who watches the NASCAR Cup Series on a regular basis has seen the statistics. Kyle Larson wins sometimes, but he finishes second more often. Indeed, the Elk Grove, CA native is currently on a streak of three consecutive runner-up results and has finished in that spot a total of four times in the first fourteen races of the 2021 season.
Perhaps more frustrating to Larson and his fans is that he has seemingly had the car to beat multiple times this year in which he ultimately did not come away as the victor. Away from the NASCAR Cup Series this is out of the norm for the 28-year-old driver who, in 2020, was known for piling up wins on dirt tracks by the dozens.
Keep in mind that the driver known as ‘Yung Money’ has a total of seven wins at the top level of the sport including one triumph earlier this season at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. At the same time, the current driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet has finished second a total of 26 times over the course of his career. And more, he has led more than 100 laps of a race on 16 occasions but has only won three of those events. That very thing has happened three times during the current campaign(Atlanta, Kansas, and Dover).
It looks as if Larson will be very much in contention in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway after he qualified on the pole for the crown jewel race. As a matter of fact, it looks like the entire HMS organization will be in contention at the track located only a short distance from their shop. After taking the top-4 finishing positions in the last oval track race in Dover, Delaware, the four HMS cars qualified within the top-7 for Sunday’s race.
While Larson has not had the best of results during his career at Charlotte with only one career top-5 and an average finishing position of 19th, his team’s performance this year and the history of HMS at this 1.5-mile venue leads him to believe the Coke 600 will go better for him.
Larson pointed to the 2020 races held at Charlotte in which HMS drivers Alex Bowman led 164 laps in the 600 before falling to 19th at the end then Chase Elliott won the mid-week race held there the next week as reasons to have hope.
“Charlotte is probably my worst mile-and-a-half track, I feel like, in my past,” Larson admitted in his post-qualifying media availability on Saturday. “But now I’m with Hendrick Motorsports and they were really fast here last year and should have won the 600. I think Chase won the next race and they led a bunch of laps. They have a long history of success here. I know their notebook is strong and I expect that we can be really good all night long tomorrow.”
NASCAR has mandated the 550 horsepower/high downforce package for this race. It is the same configuration that was used at Las Vegas, Atlanta, and Kansas where the No. 5 machine was dominate and led more laps than any other car.
Three consecutive top-2 finishes and the pole give this driver reason to believe that Sunday might just be his day. Larson also pointed out that this race having a practice session benefitted him considering that he did not race here last season due to his suspension.
“It definitely helps the confidence,” he declared. “I feel like we were pretty fast in race trim yesterday. Getting the pole and starting up front is really important. It looked like a pretty tough track to pass on last year, and with an added stage, there’s more opportunity to gain points and get another playoff point for the end of the season. Starting from the front is definitely important.”
So what is Larson’s ultimate goal going into the 62nd running of the Coca-Cola 600?
“I hope that we can have a great day tomorrow night and keep up with the race track and how it’s changing. Lead the whole race is my goal.”
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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