Hendrick: Larson believes he can drive and win 'in anything'

Kyle Larson’s “comeback” story this season was impressive enough simply with his return to NASCAR racing – but he not only came back, he has been better than ever on the track.

Hendrick: Larson believes he can drive and win 'in anything'

Larson, 28, was indefinitely suspended from NASCAR and fired from Chip Ganassi Racing in March 2020 for using a racial slur over the radio during a public iRacing event.

He sat out the remainder of the 2020 season, with a return to NASCAR never a certainty. After fulfilling the requirements by NASCAR to lift his suspension, Hendrick Motorsports opted to add Larson to its four-driver Cup team for the 2021 season.

Not only has Larson gone above-and-beyond in addressing the racial incident, but he has put together a season on the track far exceeding anything in his previous tenure as a driver.

A 'surreal' year

He and his No. 5 Hendrick team have amassed a series-leading and career-best nine victories and on Sunday at Phoenix Raceway he will have his first opportunity to compete for a series championship, joining Hendrick teammate Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr.

“If I really sat back and thought about it, yes it seems surreal,” Larson said of the past year. “There were a lot of points last year when I didn’t think I was going to race another Cup Series race or stock car race in my life.

“I accepted it and moved on. I was excited about my life as a sprint car racer because that was something that I always wanted to do – just not at 28 years old.

“Now, not even a year later, seeing the success I’ve had in the Cup Series and now racing for a championship it’s – yes – surreal, but not something I have really thought about too often.”

Asked if would welcome the moniker of ‘Comeback Kid,’ Larson demurred: “No, I’m just another driver.”

Read Also:

Just another driver who in his first season with NASCAR’s most successful organization, has already etched his name into Hendrick’s laundry list of standout NASCAR accomplishments.

Larson’s previous best year in the Cup Series was a four-win season in 2017 while he was at Ganassi. He had 15 top-five and 20 top-10 finishes (in 36 races) and led more than 1,300 laps.

But he also wrecked out of five races that season and ended up eighth in the series standings while completing 92.4 percent of the laps.

With one race remaining this season, Larson has wrecked out of just one race and completed 97.7 percent of all the laps. He has been in the hunt for wins in far more races than the nine he has won.

“I think the word was, before this year, that Kyle was fast but he couldn’t close, he couldn’t run a 500-mile race and be there at the end,” said team owner Rick Hendrick. “He’s proven everybody wrong in that area.

“You know when a guy’s fast, he’s capable. But then I’ve witnessed him being so good at managing his tires and giving up a little bit in one part of the race to be better at the end, give up a little bit early in the run to be good at the end of the run.

“That takes a lot of patience. When you couple patience and understanding of what the tire and car can do, then you put that talent with it, you see the results this year. I’ve been amazed at how he can control a race.”

Larson can drive anything

Hendrick said another element to Larson’s on-track performance this season is his confidence.

“He believes that he can drive anything, and he believes he can win in anything,” Hendrick said. “That confidence builds a lot of – he just gets in a car ready to go.”

There was no better indication of that than during the time Larson was suspended from NASCAR competition.

He spent the majority of his time still racing – winning 42 times in 83 open-wheel races. While it may not have been NASCAR, Larson’s incredible winning percentage did not go unnoticed.

“I can see why he’s won so many races, not just in our car, but everything he gets in,” Hendrick said. “He’s competitive, smart.

“I mean, a lot of people might be fast, but they don’t know how to race. He knows how to race.”

And win.

shares
comments

Related video

Crew chief Matt McCall to join Brad Keselowski at Roush in 2022
Previous article

Crew chief Matt McCall to join Brad Keselowski at Roush in 2022

Next article

Hamlin "just loves the feeling of proving people wrong"

Hamlin "just loves the feeling of proving people wrong"
Load comments
How Larson took the long way round to NASCAR Cup glory Prime

How Larson took the long way round to NASCAR Cup glory

From villain to hero, Kyle Larson had to reach his lifelong goal the hard way and go through a very public shaming after a ban for using a racial slur, but his talents shone long before his name grabbed the headlines...

NASCAR Cup
Nov 10, 2021
How NASCAR is gearing up for its "biggest change" in 2022 Prime

How NASCAR is gearing up for its "biggest change" in 2022

It’s not just Formula 1 that’s set for upheaval in 2022, as the NASCAR Cup series adopts its Next Gen cars that will cast any in-built advantages aside and require teams to adopt a totally new way of operating. Far more than just a change of machinery, the new cars amount to a shift in NASCAR's core philosophy

NASCAR Cup
Oct 12, 2021
Why Bubba Wallace’s Talladega win is such a big moment for NASCAR Prime

Why Bubba Wallace’s Talladega win is such a big moment for NASCAR

Bubba Wallace claimed his maiden NASCAR Cup Series at Talladega on Monday to become the first Black victor in the category since Wendell Scott in 1963. Both Wallace and Scott had faced obstacles and racism in their paths to their breakthrough wins, and NASCAR is trying to put it right with its range of diversity programmes

NASCAR Cup
Oct 5, 2021
Why NASCAR's most resilient driver has landed on his feet at 23XI Prime

Why NASCAR's most resilient driver has landed on his feet at 23XI

In a career that has had many ups and downs, Kurt Busch has been written off many times before. But facing career uncertainty after the sale of Chip Ganassi's NASCAR team, the 2004 Cup champion has found a new berth at Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan's 23XI organization - which underlines his enduring value

NASCAR Cup
Aug 31, 2021
From the archive: Dale Earnhardt’s final Autosport interview Prime

From the archive: Dale Earnhardt’s final Autosport interview

The death of Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500 shocked NASCAR to the core. At the Daytona 24 Hours, two weeks before his fatal accident, ‘The Intimidator’ shared his expectations of challenging for an eighth Cup title with JONATHAN INGRAM, in an article first published in the 15 February 2001 issue of Autosport magazine. Little did we know then what tragedy would unfold…

NASCAR Cup
Feb 18, 2021
The lasting NASCAR legacy after Dale Earnhardt’s death Prime

The lasting NASCAR legacy after Dale Earnhardt’s death

On February 18, 2001, seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Dale Earnhardt – the fearless ‘Intimidator’ – was in his element at Daytona International Speedway. While his own DEI team’s cars ran 1-2 towards the finish line, his famed #3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo was playing rear gunner to block any late runs from the chasing pack. As the cars tore through Turns 3 and 4 on that fateful final lap, Earnhardt maintained the strongarm tactics that encapsulated his persona… but his actions in those moments sadly proved to be his last.

NASCAR Cup
Feb 18, 2021
Inspired by Pitbull, the “revolution” sweeping through NASCAR Prime

Inspired by Pitbull, the “revolution” sweeping through NASCAR

The NASCAR Cup Series is changing. Whether it be the gradual morphing out the seasoned drivers of yesterday as the next generation step up, a radical calendar shake-up featuring more road courses than ever before and the prospect of an all-new car on the horizon, stock car racing’s highest level is nearing the end of a huge facelift.

NASCAR Cup
Feb 16, 2021
The NASCAR storylines to watch out for in 2021 Prime

The NASCAR storylines to watch out for in 2021

This weekend's Daytona 500 kickstarts a NASCAR Cup season that promises plenty of intrigue courtesy of new owners and a refreshed calendar. Here's what you need to know ahead of the new season…

NASCAR Cup
Feb 13, 2021