Kyle Larson is not a racing god.
Like every other person he competes against, no matter the racing discipline, he’s still very human.
Though he was named to NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers list last week, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion isn’t exceptional at every track he graces his presence with.
But he’s working on it.
Until Sunday (April 16), Martinsville Speedway had arguably been Larson’s Achilles’ heel from the start of his Cup career.
In his first 10 races at the half-mile track, he only finished on the lead lap three times and had four DNFs.
The track made him miserable.
“I’ve left here just mad,” Larson said Sunday after he earned his first-ever win at one of NASCAR’s original tracks. “I hated this place. I’ve wished it would flood (laughing). I’ve wished a lot of bad things on this place.”
Larson’s crew chief, Cliff Daniels, emphasized the point.
“He has had so much doubt in himself [at Martinsville],” Daniels said.
But the Hendrick Motorsports driver has put in the work over recent years, specifically with the help of driver coach Josh Wise.
Larson has worked with Wise since 2017, during the height of his days at Chip Ganassi Racing.
“A lot of it has to do with Josh for sure,” Larson said. “He has done a really good job at pointing things out.
“I think for so long when I came to Martinsville everybody was, ‘Oh, you have to back your entries up, get good exits and stuff like that,’ so you work that into your brain, and you try and drive that way.
“Over time through, data and seeing how the good guys get around here, I quickly realized that it’s the opposite. You make your time on entry, and it’s not about your good exits.
“Since that, I’ve been able to kind of work harder at my driving style a little bit.”
Since 2019, Larson has four top 10s at Martinsville and has finished on the lead lap in all seven of his starts there.
Daniels said the No. 5 team, which now has 15 wins in the last three seasons, “continued to stay true to our process” of how it prepared and analyzed data and Larson has been “very open to any adjustments he has needed to make on his end.”
On Sunday, Larson didn’t have the best car.
He really wasn’t a factor until a late caution and the decision to take two tires put him in position to eventually overtake Joey Logano.
Larson admitted to tearing up during the last lap.
He said the victory is probably among his “top seven or so or shorter list than that of wins” in his career due to the effort that went into making it feasible.
“I think when you can accomplish something that you don’t see possible, when you do accomplish it, it moves up the ladder pretty high,” Larson said. “So this is an extremely special win for me.
“I’ve worked very hard to get better here. I feel like every time there’s a test available, I get put on that list to test here because I struggle.”
Added Larson: “There’s also a lot of room for me to get better here still.”
2023 is Daniel McFadin’s 10th year covering NASCAR, with six years spent at NBC Sports. This is his third year writing columns for Frontstretch. His columns won third place in the National Motorsports Press Association awards for 2021. His work can be found at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and SpeedSport.com.
The podcast version of “Dropping the Hammer” is presented by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
About the author
Daniel McFadin is a 10-year veteran of the NASCAR media corp. He wrote for NBC Sports from 2015 to October 2020. He currently works full time for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and is lead reporter and an editor for Frontstretch. He is also host of the NASCAR podcast "Dropping the Hammer with Daniel McFadin" presented by Democrat-Gazette.
You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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