While the scenario isn’t quite the same, Kyle Larson once again enters the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs as the 15-year-old tries to get rid of the chick.
But last year, it was because Larson was the favorite for the championship. Larson entered the post-season having dominated the first 26 races and has plenty of qualifying points to fall behind (52).
On Sunday at Darlington Raceway (6pm ET, USA), Larson may be among the candidates, but he’s not a fugitive. Larson is fourth with 19 points. However, the goal on his back comes from being the defending series champion the field is eager to get rid of.
“I didn’t think much about it,” Larson said of his position and the difference in bonus points. “It really does add a little bit more pressure to every race, knowing that you need to get stage points, victories, race wins, and all of that, to help in the post-regular season.
“This first round is really great for us and our team [with] Three really cool tracks for us. I think it’s a good opportunity for us to get a few good performances, get some supplement points, and try to put ourselves in a better place as we approach the next two rounds.”
Larson’s championship season in 2021 marked the first time he had each run of the playoffs to compete in the title race. His postseason was just as incredible as his regular season, with five wins in 10 races (Bristol, Charlotte, Texas, Kansas and Phoenix) and only finishing twice outside the top ten (37th in Talladega and 14th in Martinsville).
One would think his career in ’21 brought valuable experience, but Larson noted his quarter-final appearance in 2019. That season, Larson played the playoffs on points and then won at Dover to advance to the third round. But an engine failure two weeks later at Kansas Speedway ended his playoff run, which at the time was the furthest Larson had ever cut.
“This experience – I don’t remember it – may have taught me more and prepared me more for this year’s playoffs,” Larson said. “Last year, the driver often did not have many points. I know [Kevin] Harvick has done it in the past, but when you have a lot of points, and you can count on those points and not go into every race with some tension of breaking down or something bad happening. Or if it does, you’re still in bad shape.
“I think the second round last year, we had a bad talladega. Then we had a generator problem at the Roval [but won the race]And I felt nervous. Where I would have been really pressed if we had the bad race at Talladega, just that race itself. I don’t know; Just go out there, run and try to run up front throughout the race, and hopefully that puts you in a good place.”
Larson had two pocket wins as he started his title defense and led 307 laps. But his No. 5 team also had six DNFs that contributed to an average finish of 14.3. While these issues aren’t something Larson ignores, the champ is focused on what the team is fully capable of doing now for the most important part of the year.
“I think our regular season hasn’t gone very well, by our standards,” Larson said. “But I don’t really know if anyone… For Chase (Elliott), like, I don’t even know if his regular season lived up to their standards. There was a lot of inconsistency this year throughout the regular season. We had three Blown engines in the regular season – a lot of DNFs though, but also mistakes on my part or a bad pit stop.Yes, we made a couple of wins, which was fine, but we probably also gave up a couple.
“I was saying no, it wasn’t that good. But I still feel like we’re ready for the play-offs. I feel like I’ve been here lately, the crew has been doing really well, our cars have been fast all year. Cliff (Daniels, Chief Crew) and our guys made good calls over the area. Penalty I’m doing a little bit better at taking what I can get from the race car and not overtaking things So I feel we’re ready We just have to hope it all comes together and this is the time of the year for that I know we have a championship caliber team and have We proved it last year, and we just have to do it again.”