CONCORD, N.C. – Now the work really begins for Kyle Larson.
The driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE won the NASCAR Cup Series regular-season title Saturday night after a close points battle with Denny Hamlin heading into the race at Daytona International Speedway. The conclusion of the regular-season finale ended it a widespread accident that included Larson, but Hamlin’s finish of 13th was enough for Larson to win the title by 18 points and secure Hendrick Motorsports’ first regular-season championship.
“It’s awesome. I’m a bit shocked that it’s their first regular-season championship, but it was really important to me to win that mostly for the 15 bonus points,” Larson said. “Those will go a long way for you. It’s cool to get that regular-season title. It’s been a lot of hard work by everybody on our race team and at the race shop and (team owner) Mr. H (Rick Hendrick) himself to put us in positions. Now it’s time for the real job.”
The “real job” will start as soon as the No. 5 team starts preparing for the first playoff event at Darlington Raceway on Sept. 5. Larson credited his crew for always being hungry to do better, even though he’s having his best season in his Cup career. Larson leads all drivers with five wins on the year and has posted 14 top-five finishes and 18 top-10s while leading 1,566 laps.
“I feel like our team’s atmosphere, speaking of the No. 5 team, has been really good,” he said. “We’ve been working really hard together, even with all the success we’ve had this year. We’ve never been content and I think that’s really important if you want to continue to succeed. I’ve been happy with how everything’s been going and (it’s) cool to have everybody sharing the success together.”
While Larson is proud of being tabbed the regular-season champion, he’s even more grateful for the five extra playoff points the title brings. The 29-year-old driver will have 15 playoff points added to the 37 markers he had garnered over the season. It’s a big jump from the second-place regular-season finisher, who received 10 playoff points. The cushion allows Larson a little breathing room as he prepares to up his performance at Darlington on Sunday. In the May event at “The Lady in Black,” Larson notched a runner-up result after Martin Truex Jr. dominated the race throughout the day.
“I think because the points and all that kind of reset, now you can look ahead and see where people rank and learn from how we did there earlier in the year,” Larson explained. “I felt like we had a good race, we finished second, but we still needed to be quite a bit better to beat Martin. I’m sure we’ll all watch the race over and they’ll probably look at notes and stuff and see what we can do better to try and go for a win.”
Larson’s playoff run will begin on Sunday, Sept. 5 at 6 p.m. ET as the 16 playoff drivers prepare to take on Darlington Raceway.