AVONDALE, Ariz. – Kyle Larson’s bid to become a two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion may have fallen short, but the third-place race result and second-place finish in the standings has him ready to get going for 2024.
"Coming up this close, I’m probably more eager for the following season already," Larson said. "I know where I need to improve. I'm just ready to get back on the track and work on all that."
For much of the day, Larson ran third among the Championship 4 drivers of Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron and Ryan Blaney following Christopher Bell’s early exit from the race. Following a green-flag stop on lap 240, he got out of the pits before Byron did and was now the second-highest running car among the Championship 4.
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When the caution came out with 36 laps to go, crew chief Cliff Daniels brought Larson down pit road for four tires and fuel. In a stop reminiscent of the No. 5 HendrickCars.com team’s 2021 championship-winning service, the pit crew’s 9.91-second stop gave Larson the championship lead and put him third overall in the running order. The 31-year-old driver was aggressive on the restart as he drove up to second but he couldn’t get around race leader (and eventual winner) Ross Chastain to put some distance between him and Blaney. With 20 laps to go, Blaney passed Larson for the championship lead and that was the final time the point position of the title fight changed hands.
"Our pit crew and pit road just really kept us in the game," Larson said. "We weren’t the greatest on the track, but I was hoping for pit stops because I knew the way our team executed our lights and the way our pit crew can execute a fast pit stop. They did everything in their power to give us the winning job done there. A huge thank you to them.
"I needed to come out the leader on that restart. Ross (Chastain) got a really good start from the second row. Was hoping I could’ve got clear of Denny (Hamlin), get the lead and have Ross protect behind me. I’m not sure that would’ve made a difference. I was just not as good as a few guys, especially Blaney and Ross.
"My team did a really good job all season. I’m extremely proud of them."
PHOTOS: Championship weekend with Larson and Byron
The 2023 season saw Larson win four points-paying races, notch 15 top-five finishes, 18 top-10s and lead a series-best 1,127 laps. Over three weeks in April, he scored victories at Richmond Raceway and Martinsville Speedway. In NASCAR’s historic return to North Wilkesboro Speedway for the All-Star Race, Larson dominated for his third win in the $1,000,000 prize event.
Entering the playoffs as the seventh seed, the driver of the No. 5 wasted no time locking into the Round of 12 with a win at Darlington Raceway to kickstart his postseason run. The victory was also the 500th national series triumph for the Hendrick Motorsports engine shop. In the Round of 12, Larson advanced despite some nervous moments following a late-race incident while battling for the lead at Texas Motor Speedway. A win to open the Round of 8 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway locked him as the first driver to qualify for the Championship 4.
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With two Championship 4 appearances in the last three years for himself and five for the organization in that same period, Larson is confident there will be more opportunities for him and his teammates to win titles.
"At Hendrick Motorsports, we're with arguably the top team in the sport," Larson said. "I'm confident that William (Byron) and I and our teammates will contend for championships as long as we're in one of those four cars."