Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice?: Kyle Larson Reaching NASCAR Hall of Fame Territory

Did You Notice? … All these extra invites handed out to NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers the past few weeks?

We’ve seen names from Greg Biffle to Sterling Marlin pop up, eager to accept their status among the sport’s elite.

You may not have noticed Kyle Larson has already joined them, as of last week.

I don’t think he’s on the bottom end of that list of 75 either. Larson’s victory at Martinsville Speedway was the 21st of his Cup career, tying him for 38th on the all-time list. Larson is on pace to top the series in laps led for the second time in three years; he’s projected to lead 1,872 at his current pace.

See also
Waid's World: Martinsville’s Boss Guaranteed His Cup Races Were 500 Laps

Since joining Hendrick Motorsports, Larson has now won 15 times in 81 starts running the No. 5 Chevrolet, an impressive 18.5% win percentage.

Should those stats continue to hold, it would project another five victories, minimum, for Larson in the remaining 27 races this season. And the way HMS is running as a whole, with limited changes expected to even out the Next Gen field during 2023 … could that total inch even higher?

“I think we’re honestly close to as good or just as good as we were in 2021,” Larson said, a year in which he won 10 races en route to the NASCAR Cup Series championship. “I think in the races that we’ve finished and executed well, I think it’s shown. We’ve been up front in every race. We’ve challenged for wins. We’ve shown that we’ve had winning speed at every single race.”

So let’s play this theory out for a minute. Say Larson does reach double-digit victories this year. That would give him 29, good for 30th on the all-time list while passing names like Carl Edwards, Terry Labonte and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Keep in mind Larson turns just 31 years old in July. At that age, Jimmie Johnson hadn’t yet won his first Cup championship. But everyone knows what happened during the five years after that … 35 victories and five straight Cup championships from his age-31 season of 2006 through 2010.

Heading into that 2006 season, Johnson had 18 total victories at age 30. Larson was one ahead of him at 19 at the start of this year.

Where did Johnson end up? Sixth on the all-time list with 83 victories. It’s the type of trajectory you can see Larson heading toward if two things tilt his way.

One: he remains the best of the four-driver team at HMS. Chase Elliott and William Byron, in particular, might end up Larson’s closest competition in years to come.

Two: Larson keeps his focus on stock car racing despite having a number of racing passions that lie elsewhere. It’s not just dirt; Larson will be entering himself in the 2024 Indy 500, becoming the latest driver to attempt the Indy 500/Coca-Cola 600 double on the same day. You sense there’s a bit of Kasey Kahne in him, where it wouldn’t take too much of a prolonged slump to have him racing sprints all over the country instead. He already has enough money to last a lifetime.

But I still think we’ve got a ways to go before either of these catch up to Larson. He’s still got a bucket list of items to achieve in the sport, from multiple championships to Daytona 500/Southern 500 trophies and a win on dirt in Cup equipment.

See also
Up to Speed: Patience Seals Martinsville Victory for Kyle Larson

It’s ironic Larson received his 75 Greatest Drivers reference three years to the day after being suspended by NASCAR for uttering a racial slur during a livestream. His career could have gone one of 1,000 different directions after that. Credit HMS for having faith he could be rehabilitated, both publicly and privately, and kudos to Larson for doing the work.

Now, is Ryan Preece standing up and applauding? Not exactly. But no matter what you think about how Larson got here, and even if he shouldn’t have been gifted a second chance … you can’t argue with the end result.

Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off …

  • The Final Appeals Officer readjusting Justin Haley’s louver penalties to match Hendrick Motorsports was the right call. Anything less would have shown clear bias toward the sport’s all-time winningest organization. What’s still a problem for Haley: even with all the points back, he’s still just 25th in points. Feels like one of the hottest seats out there on paper for 2024 could be Kaulig Racing’s No. 31 — especially with Chandler Smith doing so well for them down in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
  • Speaking of open seats, you’d expect the No. 51 of Rick Ware Racing to be TBA for the foreseeable future, at least through Cody Ware’s next court date on assault charges scheduled for May 1. So far, Zane Smith and JJ Yeley have filled in, but a potential long-term opening has me thinking about their association with Stewart-Haas Racing. Would an extended absence be the right time for all parties to try a guy like Riley Herbst out and see if he is, indeed, a viable option to fill one of the open seats guaranteed in 2024 with Kevin Harvick’s departure? Herbst is already scheduled to run the No. 15 a handful of times, including at Talladega Superspeedway this weekend, and has the lone top 10 for the organization this year, 10th back in February’s season-opening Daytona 500.
  • It was a rough start for Hailie Deegan in ThorSport Racing equipment, crashing out of her first two NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series events. Since then? She’s quietly put together five straight top-20 results for the first time in two years in this division. I’d call that small, concrete steps forward, although critics will point to zero laps led with an organization that tends to win races with their eyes closed.

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About the author

Tom Bowles
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The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.

You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.

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Kurt Smith

I love watching Kyle Larson race. He’s one of the best I’ve ever seen. It’s amazing to me that he has no fear of being in the middle of a three-wide at Darlington and can come out ahead of the other two drivers.

With a spec car, green white wrecker finishes, and six pack races on the schedule, Kyle will have more to overcome to reach Jeff Gordon level win totals than Jeff Gordon did, but there’s no question in my mind that the guy is already a Hall of Famer.

Last edited 1 year ago by Kurt Smith
Bill B

First off, anyone that wins a championship in Cup is going to be in the HOF. There just aren’t that many champions and NASCAR is running out of guys to induct.

Second, with the crapshoot, one race format to decide the champion, it will be much harder for anyone to pull a “Johnson”. Being the best doesn’t help much if the championship comes down to which of the chosen four has the best final pit stop of the season.

Third, if this kit car is going to stick around for a while, it may be more difficult to rack up large numbers of wins from season to season. I am not sold on the parity we saw last year as being the norm going forward, but I do believe a policy where no innovation can take place due to NASCARs mandated parts rules, will result in more parity amongst the top funded teams. If so that will spread out the wins more than in the past.

Fourth, there are more crapshoot races than ever. A dirt track, 6 RP pack races, 6 road courses, and a street race. Given double file restarts and multiple GWC finishes, the rules at the end of races have never been more of a crapshoot.

There is no doubt that Larson is a great driver and will be amongst the best if current trends continue, but it may be hard for him (or anyone) to put up the numbers of the past greats given the direction NASCAR has chosen in the last few years.

Last edited 1 year ago by Bill B
Kurt Smith

They had no choice but to take measures to stop drivers from standing out. Guys like Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon nearly killed the sport!

DoninAjax

And the New England Patriots and Dallas Cowboys killed the NFL. Fans need to hate somebody.

Bill B

LOL.. I know that was a joke. Whenever someone excels enough for mainstream sports outlets to cover, the sport get a bump in popularity. People have to believe they are witnessing greatness. With the crapshoot nature of the races, the rules and the championship, it’s often hard to see that greatness.

Echo

Good post, I agree with you on everything. Larson is already a HOF lock. I just read Ryan Newman and his 18 cup wins made the top 75 greatest drivers mmmm. I remember when he beat Jimmie out of ROY despite Jimmie beating him in every state except qualifying on the pole. I didn’t realize winning a pole was such a great accomplishment since it doesn’t gain any points or really mean much. I like Ryan but 75 greatest may be a stretch . Larson will race nascar until he gets bored. He just loves racing anything and he is making a ton of money and he doesn’t spend lavishly at all.

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