Larson Gives Hendrick One More Phenom

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, May 31 2021

Kyle Larson emerges from his Hendrick Motorsports Camaro as winner of the 2021 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

CONCORD, N.C. – Kyle Larson knew when he joined Hendrick Motorsports he was stepping into a good situation because Chase Elliott had just won the 2020 NASCAR Cup championship, but the season’s first four months have surpassed his expectations.

Larson’s dominating victory in Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway provided the California native with his second win this season and the eighth of his career. It also provided Hendrick Motorsports with its sixth victory this season and moved Rick Hendrick ahead of Petty Enterprises as the winningest NASCAR Cup owner with 269.

“I can’t believe we got 269,” Hendrick said. “I think Kyle is going to win a lot of races. Chase is already a champion. I’m really excited about how William (Byron) is running every single week and Alex (Bowman), too. It’s like having a bunch of kids. You love them all the same. It’s just each one of them has different strengths and characteristics, but at the end of the day, they work well together.”

In the series longest race, Larson swept all three stages Sunday before taking a 10.051-second victory over Elliott. It was an event that pitted the four Hendrick Motorsports drivers against each other with the rest of the field presenting a minimal challenge on restarts. When the checkered flag waved Hendrick owned four of the top five positions. Kyle Busch’s third-place finish prevented Hendrick Motorsports from repeating its Dover performance two weeks ago when it swept the first four positions. Overall, the Hendrick drivers led 373 of the 400 laps with Larson owning 327 of them. Larson has now led 1,105 laps in the season’s first 15 races.  

Team owner Rick Hendrick congratulates driver Kyle Larson at CMS on Sunday. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

“I felt like I was on defense for most of the race,” said Larson, who recorded runner-up finishes in the three events preceding the 600-mile race. “Finally, in that final stage I was able to kind of stretch out and relax a little bit, but for most of the race I didn’t really relax at all.”

Busch’s Toyota was the only car that could keep pace with Hendrick’s four Chevrolets and even he couldn’t catch Larson.

“We had nothing for the Hendrick cars,” Busch said. “I didn’t want them to finish 1-2-3-4 again, so at least I could get in the middle of them. 

“I don’t know what happened on that final pit stop. We got out in front of those guys, but they had the momentum to get by me. I was just too loose and too sloppy on the front side (of a run).” 

Larson’s talent was herald by three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart long before the California native made his NASCAR Cup debut in 2013. He still races three or four times a week. Instead of relaxing the day after winning the longest race of his career, he headed for Lawrenceburg, Ind., to compete in a World of Outlaws event at the three-eighths-mile, high-banked clay oval.

“Kyle is an awesome talent,” Hendrick said. “Some of the moves he makes, what he can do with a car in different situations, find a place to run on the track …. I knew he was talented, but you see him in Sprint Cars and Midgets and everything else. He’s super dedicated. He’s all business. He races everything there is to race and he says it makes him better.” 

Hendrick compared Larson’s driving style to that of Tim Richmond, who competed for the 71-year-old team owner 1986-87.

“He can put a car in places that you don’t think it’ll go and having fun and wanting to win, wanting to lead every lap. He just reminds me a lot of Tim,” Hendrick said.  

  Crew chief Cliff Daniels and Larson have yet to complete a season together, but he’s already discovered the 28-year-old Larson intensely studies each paved track just as he does the dirt facilities where he competes.

“The more information on what I anticipate for our pavement surfaces going into a weekend, whether it’s PJ1, clouds versus sun, temp changes, things like that, that’s something that’s just very natural for him (to study),” Daniels said. 

The Cup Series moves to Sonoma Raceway next weekend for the 4 p.m., ET, Toyota/Save Mart 350 on FS1.


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, May 31 2021
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