CONCORD, N.C. – Kyle Larson and the No. 5 HendrickCars.com team’s win on Sunday at Watkins Glen International was a big boost for the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion with the start of the playoffs only two weeks away.
Larson’s victory at the 2.45-mile road course was his first in 23 races – since the second week of the season in Fontana, California. In comparison to his 10-victory, title-winning season of 2021, the longest stretch of races the No. 5 team went without a win was 11 races (from Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March to Charlotte Motor Speedway in May).
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Everything seemingly came up roses for the Elk Grove, California, native in his first year at Hendrick Motorsports. The 2022 season has gone a bit differently. That’s not to say, Larson hasn’t run up front – his 10 top 10s are tied for the series-best mark through 25 races – but the chances to seal the deal haven’t been as plentiful as last season.
In his post-race availability, the 30-year-old driver admitted that the lack of wins was something "I don’t know if we’ve necessarily talked about it a whole lot. I think it’s definitely, probably been on all of our minds."
As evidenced by this weekend – Larson won the NASCAR Xfinity Series race as well at Watkins Glen – the team is very much a contender to defend its title. The crew chief-driver pairing of Cliff Daniels and Larson now have 12 wins in the sport’s top series – fourth-best among active pairings. Still, that doesn’t mean that the nearly six-month drought wasn’t trying after last year’s instant success.
"It’s been tough," Daniels said. "A lot of that I’ve got to say starts with me, right? I’m the leader of the team, I help coach him, the pit crew, the road crew, all the guys at the shop. There’s a lot of different areas I have to cover.
"I’m very, I would say, happy and pleased with the prep that we put into putting a fast race car on track, how to look at our strategy, all the different things until we get to the moment. In the moment, for whatever reason or another, all summer we’ve kind of been plagued with like one little mistake here or there, a pit call or a pit stop, a restart or some little thing that has impacted our day, and kept us from getting a good finish.
"I take a lot of that to heart. We have a lot of very honest conversations within our team of what we have to do to make sure when you know you have one of the best drivers if not the best driver in the world, all the talent in our team that we had last year, all of the folks at Hendrick Motorsports giving us great cars and engines, all the things that they have given us, it really does boil down to execution.
"Very proud of the team today. Proud of him today because we needed kind of that token of confidence to say we brought another fast race car to the track this week, can we keep it up front, execute the race and have a shot at the end. If you have a shot at the end, you get a chance to capitalize. He did a great job today. Very thankful for that."
The driver, too, touched on the team’s execution being a key as consistency (and winning) will be paramount to success when the 10-race playoffs get underway at Darlington Raceway on Sept. 4. He gave a hat tip to his teammate and the 2022 regular season champion, Chase Elliott, for leading the way in that department.
"Chase’s team has done an extremely good job all year, compared to the field really, of executing," Larson said. "I think that’s just really the one area that we’ve tried to focus on for a while now. It’s easy to say. It’s sometimes hard to do while you’re racing.
"If we can continue to have days like today where we execute as good as we could. Call a great race with pit strategy. We did a great job on our pit stops. Every restart I think we moved forward, and we brought a fast race car again to the track.
"If we can continue to do that as we go onto these next 11 weeks, I’m pretty confident that we can go contend for another championship."