While Kyle Larson lost Sunday’s race to Ryan Blaney at Atlanta Motor Speedway, it couldn’t keep Larson from looking ahead to what this season could be.
“If we can continue to evolve and continue to get better, yeah, we can do great things,” Larson said after his runner-up finish. “Our pit crew has been really good. Our car has been really fast. I feel like, for the most part, I’ve been doing a good job. With all that and (crew chief Cliff Daniels) and all the guys that make good decisions on the box, yeah, we can definitely go out there and keep contending.”
Larson has finished in the top five in each of the first three races on 1.5-mile tracks this season. He was fourth at Miami, won at Las Vegas, and finished second at Atlanta.
Still, there was a disappointment for Larson in not winning a race he led 269 of the 325 laps.
He told his team “I’m sorry” repeatedly on the radio after the race. The difference was Blaney’s car got better in the final stage, particularly after the final pit stop. He caught Larson and passed him with nine laps left.
“I was trying to get out to a big gap, but I never really did,” Larson said of his plan after the final pit stop. “I think I did a little bit, but not nearly enough. Before the other green-flag stops, I could exit pit road and feel like I would gain a few seconds over the course of, like, 20 laps.
“I was hoping it was going to be like that. I thought me having to race him and pass him used my tires up the little run before. After the green-flag stop, he was just really good, and I couldn’t get out to that gap that I could earlier in the race. Ultimately, just had to run my tires too hard to try and get that gap. I didn’t have anything there at the end.”
Until the final laps, it seemed as if Larson would cruise to the win.
“The 5 car was crazy fast,” Blaney said of Larson.
Of course, that was the situation he was in during the 2019 race at Atlanta. He was dominant there before a late speeding penalty ruined his chance to win that race, his last event at Atlanta before Sunday’s race.
Along with the runner-up finish Sunday, Larson won both stages. He finished with 55 points, second only to Blaney’s 57 (out of a maximum of 60 points).
“I feel like this is the strongest start to the season that the company overall has had,” Bowman said.
In the first six races of the season, Hendrick Motorsports has two wins (Byron at Miami and Larson at Las Vegas), two runner-up finishes and a third-place result.