Even though the drivers get the vast majority of the credit and attention, racing is most definitely a team sport. That was exemplified on Sunday by Kyle Larson and his Hendrick Motorsports team in winning the South Point 400 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The No. 5 car led the most laps by far but the victory was not easily achieved as obstacles had to be overcome even before Christopher Bell made a late charge almost stealing the victory at the finish line.
Led by pit boss Cliff Daniels, the Larson crew had to not only overcome some mid-race damage but also had to beat the pack off of pit road during the final stop of the day to give their driver an advantage on what would prove to be the final restart of the race.
The No. 5 team unloaded a fast Chevrolet right from the beginning as the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion was quick immediately in practice. The driver, however, recognized a problem with his tires during the session and got his car to pit road in time to avoid a disaster such as those experienced by Chase Elliott and Daniel Suarez who each crashed and had to go to a backup car in order to start the race on Sunday.
Larson ran near the front most of the day actually leading 133 of the 267 laps that made up the race distance. But it was not all smooth sailing. While running second during the race’s second stage, the car slid at the exit of turn two. Somehow the driver was able to regain control without crashing but some damage had been done where the right rear of the machine tagged the outside wall.
Quickly diagnosing the situation, crew chief Daniels and spotter Tyler Monn assured Larson that the car was in good enough shape to continue without coming to pit road and losing a lap as well as valuable track position. On their next pit stop, the crew not only kept their driver near the front of the field but also made adjustments to correct a loose condition caused by the wall contact.
Larson was able to recover enough that he completed a clean sweep of both stages.
“What a job done by my team, just a great race car,” Larson told NBC after the race. “I almost gave it away there in one and two getting sideways and hitting the wall and had to fight back from there with our balance. They got it much closer in the lead.”
The final pit stop of the day, which came just after a lap 211 caution, was perhaps the best of the day as the No. 5 rolled off pit road first. Following the restart, Larson was able to use the advantage gained by being in clean air to pull away by just enough to hold on for the win after Bell’s late charge.
“I was happy to pull away as much as we did and was hoping that was going to be enough to maintain, which it was, but I thought they weren’t going to be able to get as close as they did there at the end,” Larson added during his post-race comments. “It was nerve racking. It’s really cool to get to go race for another championship in a few weeks and I’m glad we don’t have to stress over the next two races.”
Daniels summed up his team’s effort over the radio as the car took the checkered flag.
“That was a team win if I’ve ever seen one,” the excited leader declared. “I’m proud of this team. I’m proud of you, Kyle.”
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