FORT WORTH – Kyle Larson is well aware that the numbers are down from a blockbuster 2021 season that saw him emerge as the NASCAR Cup Series champion for the first time.
Since then, Larsen has earned an alternate title with fellow-Cup and Xfinity Series competitor AJ Allmendinger. Respected among peers, “Dinger” labeled Larson “the baddest racing driver on the planet right now.”
“It means a lot to me. I really respect AJ,” said Larson, who, in addition to navigating the trophy grind, continued his 10-month schedule of midweek dirt races in various divisions.
“I always try to compete and try to get better because of it,” said Larson, who will open the NASCAR Playoffs Round of 12 at Texas Motor Speedway Sunday afternoon as the Ecopark Automotive 500 event champion.
“The other drivers have raced a lot too, so it’s good to see that. I feel like I’ve had a bit of an impact on motorsports in America in terms of the way people go about picking and choosing the races they run and not getting into one type of car as we’ve seen for a long time.
Larsson is fourth in points among the dozen drivers who have qualified for the championship crown, a field led by Hendrick Motorsports teammate and 2020 champion Chase Elliott. Interestingly, all 12 of the top 10 points, not as playoff drivers – including Prosper, Texas, native Chris Buescher Rush Fenway Keselowski Racing – swept 16 laps of the three-race series.
Larson’s two wins this season pale in comparison to the 10 he scored in his 2021 debut with team owner Rick Hendrick. Five of those wins came during the playoffs. Larson led 256 of 334 laps around the TMS high-banked/1.5-mile oval. Victory in the playoffs held last October. Larson also won 2021 NASCAR All-Star Race in June 2021 At “The Great American Speedway.”
Of course, all that success came before NASCAR officially unveiled its next-gen car platform in February. Larson and crew chief Cliff Daniels scored their first win on February 27 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. But Larson didn’t win again until August 21 at the famous Watkins Glen (NY) International Road Course. – Annoying, six months apart.
“Yes, it’s definitely longer than we wanted,” said No. 5 driver Larsen HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.
“Having a new car definitely presents new challenges. Last year everything seemed to go our way, but this year it didn’t go our way as much. But I’m definitely confident in my team. I think that every weekend we’re in a perfect position that’s made us as strong as we are.
Xfinity Playoffs ready to roar: The NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs, led by No. 1-seed Noah Gragson, open at TMS Saturday with the Andy’s Frozen Custard 300 at 2:30 p.m.
Gragson has won six races in the No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro leading the series — including three in a row. The 12-driver field includes Allmendinger, Ty Gibbs, Justin Allgaier, Josh Berry, Austin Hill, Brandon Jones, Jeremy Clements, Sam Mayer, Daniel Hemric, Riley Herbst and Ryan Sieg.
An extra pull step? NASCAR wore a new PJ1 traction compound on the TMS asphalt to create more passing opportunities with their uniquely banked turns – 20 degrees in Turns 1 and 2 and 24 degrees in Turns 3 and 4.
“It’s a deal you have to try to figure out,” Team Penske’s Joey Logano said, referring to himself and crew chief Paul Wolff.
“I think (PJ1) helps, yes. It’s one of those fixed racetracks that would otherwise be a one-groove track and I don’t think anyone wants to see it.
PJ1 is thermally active. With temperatures in the low to mid-90s forecast this weekend, that won’t be a problem.
“Yeah, it’s going to be wicked-hot out there,” said Logano, second in Cup points and driver of the No. 22 AAA Ford Mustang.
John Sterbin is a senior writer at RacinToday.comBased in Fort Worth. He can get on. email@example.com