Seven weeks ago it could have been said that Kyle Larson was having a good 2021 season. At that point, the driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet had one win to go along with four top-5 and six top-10 finishes. At that time, the 28-year-old driver was 9th in NASCAR Cup Series points and was trailing leader Denny Hamlin by 144 markers.
However, these last seven weeks have brought about a drastic change for the Elk Grove, CA native and his team. Larson went on a streak of three consecutive second-place results which was then followed up by three consecutive points-paying wins in the Coca-Cola 600, at his home track in Sonoma, and at the inaugural Cup Series race at Nashville Super Speedway. Mixed in among those top-2 finishes was a $1,000,000 triumph in the NASCAR All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Larson’s season has suddenly gone from good to incredible. A total of four wins with 10 top-5s and 12 top-10s through the first 17 events of 2021 have launched the driver all the way up to second in the series standings. With the double-header weekend at Pocono Raceway upcoming, Larson trails Hamlin by just 10 points.
As a result of his recent dominance, many of those who follow the sport have begun to wonder just how good this driver’s 2021 campaign could wind up being.
It isn’t just that Larson has gone on a winning streak. Other drivers have won races in succession before. What is perhaps most impressive about what the No. 5 team is doing is that they are totally overwhelming the competition.
So far in 2021, Larson has led 1426 laps with the next closest lap leader being Denny Hamlin who has shown the way for 756 circuits.
Of the 11 stages contained within the last five races, Larson has won eight of them. He has amassed a total of 12 stage wins so far this year with the next highest total being 5, again by Hamlin. And finally, the driver who is coming back from a year in which he was suspended for most of the season has earned 32 Playoff Points as of the last race in Nashville. Martin Truex, Jr. has scored the second highest total at 18.
So again, how good can this season ultimately be?
Consider that many would call Jeff Gordon’s 1998 effort the most dominant campaign of the modern era. That year, the No. 24 team scored 13 victories with an astounding 26 top-5 and 28 top-10 results over the course of a 33-race season.
In 1998, Gordon led a total of 1717 laps. There was no such thing as stages back then nor were there NASCAR Playoffs. With that taken into consideration, the ‘Rainbow Warrior’ won the championship by an amazing total of 364 points over Mark Martin.
But in comparison to Larson’s current run, Gordon had taken a similar number of four checkered flags at the season’s halfway point. Then, however, Gordon went on an incredible tear just after the halfway point that saw him accumulate six wins over the next seven races. He also went on to win three of the final four events of that season.
After comparing Gordon’s 1998 to Larson’s 2021 up to this point, predicting that Larson could ultimately end 2021 with a win total in the teens might seem a bit far fetched even with his current streak taken into consideration, especially when it is understood that Gordon had the greatest amount of his success that year during the second half.
As good as Larson has been over the past six weeks, he would have to maintain a similar pace for much of the remainder of the season to even come close to what Gordon did in 1998. With the level of competition in NASCAR today, that would seem unlikely.
That said, though, one has to wonder with this run of total domination if a ten-win season is possible. Winning double-digit numbers of races is nothing new to Hendrick Motorsports. The aforementioned Gordon actually had three consecutive campaigns that netted ten wins of more(1996-1998) while the last 10-win season was achieved by HMS driver Jimmie Johnson in 2007.
It’s not just that Larson has the number of wins that he has but it’s the number of times he has been in contention that raises the question of just how good this season might end up being. Races at Darlington, Circuit of the Americas, Atlanta, Dover, and Kansas quickly come to mind as events that could have also gone in the No. 5 team’s win column had a break or two to gone their way.
Further, it doesn’t seem to matter which package is being employed or what kind of track is in use. Larson has won the road course at Sonoma, the 1.33-mile concreate in Nashville, as well as the 1.5-mile layouts of Charlotte, Las Vegas, and Texas. And more, he has either won or led scores of laps with both the 550 horsepower/high downforce package and the 750 horsepower/low downforce package.
And while, yes, it may seem a bit premature to be thinking of ten wins in a season for a driver who has so far not even achieved half that number as the 2021 tour approaches its midpoint. However, neither of the two most recent double-digit winners seemed to be this dominant with the possible exception of Gordon in 1996 when he led more than 2,300 circuits on his way to ten wins. For example, Larson has already led more laps this season than Johnson led in all of 2007 on his way to ten victory lane visits.
A recent poll conducted on my @RichardAllenIDR Twitter account indicates that a reasonable percentage of fans believe ten wins in possible with more than 20% choosing that number of wins for the driver.
With the #NASCAR Cup Series season just about to hit the halfway mark, @KyleLarsonRacin already has four points-paying wins along with the All-Star Race. How many total points-paying victories will the No. 5 car achieve in 2021?
— Richard Allen/InsideDirtRacing.com (@RichardAllenIDR) June 21, 2021
In summary, we could very well be witnessing racing history in the NASCAR Cup Series here in 2021. And that’s not to even mention all of this driver’s wins on dirt in Sprint Cars, Midget Sprint Cars, and Late Models. Of course, there is the possibility that the competition catches up or that some sort of cooling down by his team occurs. But the performances already shown this season do not point in that direction.
In regard to other teams catching up, with the new NextGen car in the pipeline and a parts freeze in effect for the remainder of this season, one has to wonder just how much time and effort other organizations might be willing to put into trying to catch up. Cliff Daniels, crew chief for the No. 5 team, brought a brand new car to Nashville this past weekend but pointed out that it will likely be the last one of this current generation car that his team constructs so it would seem logical to think that others will not be building many more of this current generation of car either.
The bottom line is that Kyle Larson is putting together a remarkable season so far in 2021. The question is, just how good can it actually be?
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