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'
Listen to this article

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"
The ex-F1 driver taking on NASCAR with a new team Prime

The ex-F1 driver taking on NASCAR with a new team

Saddled with uncompetitive Minardi machinery, Tarso Marques didn't manage to score points in his three partial seasons of Formula 1. But now the Brazilian has the chance to show what he can do in NASCAR, and explains the story of his comeback with new Cup Series entrant Team Stange

NASCAR Cup
Apr 13, 2022
The early benefits and challenges of NASCAR's Next Gen car Prime

The early benefits and challenges of NASCAR's Next Gen car

NASCAR’s new stock car generation is encouraging an influx of fresh blood into its top tier. But there are concerns that parts are in short supply as the entire paddock tries to build up stocks at the same time

NASCAR Cup
Feb 22, 2022
How Penske's rookie sensation opened NASCAR's new era in style Prime

How Penske's rookie sensation opened NASCAR's new era in style

After holding his nerve and hip-checking his teammate on the run to the line, Austin Cindric made a perfect start to life as a full-timer in the NASCAR Cup Series by winning the Daytona 500. Here's how the Penske Ford man emerged first across the line in the first points-scoring race for the much-anticipated Next Generation cars

NASCAR Cup
Feb 21, 2022
Six key themes to follow in the 2022 NASCAR Cup season Prime

Six key themes to follow in the 2022 NASCAR Cup season

There are plenty of uncertainties ahead of the 2022 NASCAR Cup season as an all-new fleet of cars take to the track for the first time. Ahead of this weekend's Daytona 500, our experts explain what you need to know

NASCAR Cup
Feb 17, 2022
How NASCAR had to learn a harsh lesson ahead of Next Gen arrival Prime

How NASCAR had to learn a harsh lesson ahead of Next Gen arrival

The NASCAR Cup kicks off with the Daytona 500 this weekend, but a major engine overhaul and a subsequent mountain of work has been required to be ready for the arrival of the Next Gen cars.

NASCAR Cup
Feb 16, 2022
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