PHOENIX (AP) — Kyle Larson has heard that winning a championship requires mental fortitude. He has no idea if that’s true — and if it’s needed, well, he doesn’t consider himself a championship favorite this weekend.
Rigidity, Larsen said, makes him think about veteran driver Kevin Harvick. And when he thinks of mental toughness, Larson points to Tony Stewart and the 2011 news conference where Stewart ousted Carl Edwards from the title.
But Larson? Harsh? He is 5 foot-6 and 135 pounds. When asked which weapon he would choose in the zombie apocalypse, Larson said he would take his orders from fellow drivers Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Corey Lajoie. He will let them be in charge.
Larson said in an interview with the Associated Press, “People tell me all the time that you have to be mentally tough to win a championship, and I think enough people publicize it where you have to act differently. Does matter.” “But I’m not a tough guy. So I don’t know how to be tough. I don’t know what to do.”
He’s doing just fine.
Larson, 29, has been considered a future NASCAR champion throughout his career. He came into the series as a 19-year-old sprint car sensation, and for those who know such things, Larson was even better than both Jeff Gordon and Stewart, a pair of drivers who started on dirt and are now NASCAR. Hall of Famers.
He did not disappoint upon his 2012 arrival, but his Chip Ganassi racing equipment was rarely fast enough. Larsson made less than six wins with Ganassi and never entered the title round.
Still, 2020 was a contract year with Ganassi and Larsson a highly wanted free agent. He could possibly name his worth with a new team – right up until the time he used a racial slur while running online in the pandemic. NASCAR suspended him for the season, Ganassi had to fire him to pacify angry sponsors, and Larson wasn’t sure he’d ever return..
Larson does not use his experience or the ability to recover from his error as a display of mental fortitude. He’s a race car driver who wants to race every day, everything else isn’t that deep.
And so here he is at Sunday’s race in Arizona in the return of all comebacks. He is the star driver of Hendricks Motorsports, The most winning team in NASCAR that pulled him out of his relegation the year before, and the favorite to close out his nine-win season with a championship.
Larsen went through the storm and emerged on the better side.
On the track, he has been virtually unbeatable. He drives the fastest car in the sport and has turned sponsor HendrickCars.com into one of the hottest car buyers Nearby sites. His contract was extended until 2023 and the Hendricks Automotive marketing budget will sponsor 35 of Larson’s 36 NASCAR races.
Off the track, he has matured a lot. He said he’d retreated from weekly golf games with Denny Hamlin and his group of friends, and that new free time opened his eyes to how much he was missing at home with his kids. He’s upped his game at home and at work, and Larsen has become so automatic that he’s the new face of team owner Ric Hendricks’ charitable efforts.
Hendricks picked Larson from a roster that includes Elliott, the current Cup Series champion and NASCAR’s most popular driver, as well as Gordon, who left the broadcast booth this summer to help run Hendricks Motorsports.
Larsson, in his seventh full Cup season, is Hendricks’ new guy.
When asked if Larson had done everything he expected when he gave him the No. 5 Chevrolet to give him a second chance at NASCAR, Hendricks said: “More. As much as I was expecting him to do, much more than that.”
“He has been at the forefront of our entire program to feed the people. I don’t know any driver who is as busy as that guy who spends as much time trying to do good for other people.” Hendricks said. “If you look at their track record, what they have achieved this year, going to food banks, schools, giving money, just trying to be a model citizen. … I asked her to do something like that. Didn’t ask for it. He did it on his own.”
Larson spent much of his exile in the sprint car world, traveling the country in a motorhome with his wife and two children, from track to track, car to car, wherever the show was in town. He publicly won 46 races, arguing with Stewart that Larson had served his sentence and deserved to return to NASCAR.
Larson was in no hurry.
His time off gave him a quiet space to work on his personal development. He volunteered at the grassroots level to help them understand the social and economic issues faced by many.
Larson says he was gullible, not racist, When he said ‘n word’ in April 2020. And he was fine if the consequences of not knowing any better meant the end of his promising NASCAR career.
“Until that happened, I didn’t really think I was going to make it back to the Cup Series and nothing looked promising,” Larsson said. “I took it for granted. I was spending my life racing, sprint cars and midgets and then late models of dirt. I was doing things I’ve always wanted to do — probably didn’t think I would. Will do it at 28 – but I accepted it.
Grateful for the opportunity, he is now the driver so many predicted he was about to be. He put together three-race winning streaks twice this season, won the $1 million All-Star Race, and was the driver of the day Hendrick Motorsports passed Petty Enterprises as the most winning team in NASCAR.
Larson won the playoffs four times, at least once in each of the three elimination rounds, and his victory in Kansas two weeks earlier made him the only one of four championship drivers to win his spot in the finals.
In Kansas, Larson broke Gordon’s 20-year-old record of 2,320-laps in a single season. Under Phoenix’s lead, Larsen has led 2,474 laps.
He can’t really explain why everything clicks on Hendricks, where he was given Hendricks’ original car number 5 and the final crew to work with, along with retired seven-time champion Jimmy Johnson. Larsen also believes this is the best way, that perfectionist crew chief Cliff Daniels can learn more from his driver by looking at the data.
“I guess I can feel a car like anyone else, but perhaps what makes me different is that I race so much that I get to experience racing with so many different crew chiefs,” Larson said. “I’m really easy to get along with and I don’t know anything about race cars, I just let them do their thing.”
Steve Letaart, former crew chief to Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. and now NBC Sports analyst, believes it’s important to stay out of Larson Daniels’s way.
This has allowed Daniels to take on the fastest cars in the sport and fine-tune them for a driver known for incredible car controls. Letarte said that early in the year Daniels took part in some of Larson’s dirt races to understand “his vernacular”.
“Kyle self-admittedly does not understand the setup of a cup car. He simply climbs into the car and drives it as fast as it can drive or at whatever level Cliff expects him to operate it. does,” said Letert. “They have a very impressive working relationship. He has delivered the car that Kyle Larson needs. ”
Both need to click again on Sunday, where Larsson will have to beat Elliott, Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. in the winner-take-all finale.
Elliott and Truex are former champions, Hamlin is 0 for 4 in title chances, And this is Larsen’s first attempt.
Larsson said he doesn’t know how he will feel if he doesn’t finish his comeback year with the championship. He has won 29 races between sprint cars and NASCAR and is grateful that Hendricks allows him to do both.
He knows he has come back from a mistake that could have ended his career, and Larson also knows that he has already proven that he was never over-hyped. h the use of a racial slur will always be part of its history, But it’s not sure what else will be remembered about this season.
“It’s hard for me to think that people will really remember if you don’t win the championship. You can read under the added pressure that I want to win the championship even more, which has been a great season,” Larsson said. Said. “So that’s my goal. And I hope we can finish this and be mentioned as one of the top five greatest seasons ever.
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