DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (WGHP) — Kyle Larson may be a champion NASCAR driver, but he isn’t a Daytona 500 champion. Not yet.
Larson will drive the No. 5 car for Hendrick Motorsports during the Great American Race on Sunday. This season marks his third with the team.
The driver sat down with Kevin Connolly and Danny Harnden of FOX8 Sports during Wednesday’s Countdown to Daytona show, and Harnden had a big question for his number-one pick for Sunday’s race: “Why am I right?”
“I don’t know why you’re right,” Larson said with a laugh. “I don’t know. I’ve got a very fast racecar I’m sure. I think. We don’t get any practice so I don’t really know, but Hendrick Motorsports is always really fast at superspeedway so that gives you confidence for sure when you come to these races every year.”
Larson was the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion, which placed him among NASCAR’s greats, but now his sights are set on another prize.
“I’ve been lucky enough to win a championship for Hendrick Motorsports, but I think next is adding your name to the Dayton 500 winner list and for Hendrick Motorsports, so we’ll see,” Larson said. “It’s a tough race. It’s so unpredictable and hard to position yourself up front at the end of the race, and so it’s amazing, the guys that do it year in and year out, Denny, Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, guys like that who are always up front, so we’ll see. It’s a tough race but I look forward to it.”
A victory in Daytona would place him alongside other drivers who have brought home Daytona wins for Hendrick Motorsports: Geoffrey Bodine, Darrell Waltrip, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
What gives Larson confidence may not be what racing fans would expect to hear.
“This is the only superspeedway race where I seem to finish,” he said. “I feel like whenever we go to Talladega, I crash. Whenever we come back here to Daytona in July, I crash, so I don’t know what it is about the 500. I still crash, but I don’t crash as hard so I can finish.”
As he readies for the season as a whole, Larson says the standards are high after a stellar 2021 season. He walked away with 10 wins in 2021. That season made his three victories in 2022 seem few by comparison, but Larson says it was still a great year in his book.
“If you can win three races a year for the rest of your career, that’s a pretty good resume, so I don’t look at it as a terrible year,” he said.
But having won more than three times as many races and the championship in 2021, he knows it’s possible to do it again.
“We know we’re capable of doing it, so that gives us confidence and probably sets our standards maybe a little higher than normal, but it’s tough,” he said. “The Cup Series is so tough. It took me three years to win my first race and didn’t win again the next year, so it’s really tough. You’ve got to be perfect, especially with this new car, it seems mistakes are more magnified for whatever reason.”
The 2023 season will be NASCAR’s second season with the ‘Next Gen’ car, which means we may see better performance on the track with drivers now hitting the road with a year of experience behind them.
“Me, selfishly being a part of a great race team with a lot of resources, I would hope that as we get more experience with this car that the bigger teams are going to distance themselves a little bit, but we’ll see,” he said. “That’s why I’m excited to get this season started and get thrown into the thick of the season and just seeing where we stack up.”