Race Weekend Central

Dropping the Hammer: Kyle Larson’s Team Keeping ‘Intensity’ Before Championship 4

Kyle Larson deserves some rest.

He had a busy week.

First, he claimed the championship in his self-owned High Limit Sprint Car Series at Lincoln Park Speedway in Greencastle, Indiana, on Tuesday (Oct. 10).

Which, honestly, is just another Tuesday for Larson.

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Daytona to Dirt: Kyle Larson Secures High Limit Title, Austin Self Nears His Own

He followed that up on Thursday (Oct. 12) with a pretty big day, not just for him, but for motorsports. Eight months ahead of time, Larson took part in the rookie orientation for the 2024 Indianapolis 500.

After years of playing footsie with the idea of attempting “The Double” of competing in the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, it became a tangible idea.

As someone who covered the first half of the last attempt in 2014 by Kurt Busch, I’m excited.

Good luck, Larson, we’re all counting on you.

Then, to top if off, he flew out to Sin City for the full-time job.

Larson opened the NASCAR Cup Series’ Round of 8 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with pure domination, sweeping both stages, leading 133 laps and narrowly beating Christopher Bell by .082 seconds in the second-closest finish in Cup history at the 1.5-mile track.

No matter how close he did it by, Larson became the first driver to lock himself into the Championship 4.

That means Larson and the No. 5 team can take the next two weeks easy. While everyone else runs themselves silly, they can show up to Phoenix Raceway rested and ready to go.

No need to over-exert yourself worrying about points, pit strategy or anything like that.

Right?

“Obviously, it’s nice to win and lock in, you can focus on Phoenix,” Larson said Sunday. “At the same point you really can’t look too far ahead of yourself. There’s still two other races before then.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself going to Homestead. I want to have a great run there. I want to dominate, honestly. I want to win both stages by 15 seconds and win the race by 30. That’s my goal.”

Um, I’ll put him down as a “maybe” on the taking it easy.

The 2021 Cup Series champion says he isn’t “thinking really ahead” of this weekend’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway or the cutoff race at Martinsville Speedway.

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Only Yesterday: Kevin Harvick Vs. Ryan Newman for a Championship

Instead, he wants to go into the half-mile track “and have another good run like we had earlier this year,” when he led 30 laps and won, then “go into Phoenix with a lot of confidence and momentum.

“I think if tomorrow I start worrying about Phoenix, then had two bad runs at Homestead and Martinsville, I think that would kill our momentum and confidence for Phoenix.

“Just put a lot of pressure on myself and our team to not get complacent, and treat every race like it means something.”

Jokes aside, there’s no real reason why the No. 5 team should take things lightly over the next two weeks.

Despite leading the Cup Series in top fives (14), the Hendrick Motorsports driver has had an admittedly uneven campaign, with seven DNFs and 15 finishes of 15th or worse.

“It’s hilarious, if you plot the finishing […] from all the races this year, it’s a perfect heartbeat,” crew chief Cliff Daniels said after Larson won the Southern 500 for the first time in September.

“We had zero momentum all throughout the year,” Daniels said. “At any point we would win, finish 30th, run second, finish 30th, wreck from the lead, finish 30th. It was just like that all year long.”

He added, “We’ve been knocked around a bit this season, but we’re battle-tested, and we’re going to keep marching forward.”

And honestly, Daniels, who has the intensity of a Terminator tasked with saving humanity’s last hope, is the last person I’d expect to “take it easy” with two weeks before the championship race. No matter how much his team’s won.

In 2021, Larson won the Round of 8 opener when it was held at Texas Motor Speedway, leading 256 laps in the process.

The next week? 130 laps led and the win at Kansas Speedway.

Two weeks later at Phoenix, Larson led 107 laps from the pole, won and claimed the title.

Though nothing on-track in the next two weeks should inherently impact Larson’s outcome in Phoenix, Daniels isn’t taking any chances.

“To me, just from the team-exercise dynamic of things, if we say we’re just going to cruise for the next two weeks, then you’re not operating with the edge that I think you’re going to need to win it in Phoenix,” Daniels said.

“There’s two more races to win. […]

“All those other guys are so good, they’re going to be pushing hard to win the next two weeks. I think we have to match that intensity, so we’re going into Phoenix with the right level of intensity ourselves, get there with strength.”

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

danielmcfadin
 | Website

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 danielmcfadin@gmail.com.

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Echo

Larson wants to win every single race he is in, just like the other Kyle. They hate to get beaten. As it should be. The others can work on the Phoenix car and get it perfect.

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