Kyle Larson stormed through the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season, winning 10 races, leading 2,581 laps and topping off the year with the championship. It was the sort of season rarely duplicated across NASCAR history.
With uncertainty surrounding the launch of the new car, it might have been expected that Larson’s 2022 results would fall short of last year. But few envisioned him having only one victory this deep into the season.
To be fair, no one has put up the kind of numbers Larson notched last season. Chase Elliott leads the series in wins with four, and no one else has managed more than two.
But the fact that Larson has not won since the second race of the season at Auto Club Speedway naturally prompts questions about expectations in the playoffs, which are scheduled to begin Sept. 4 at Darlington Raceway.
“We haven’t won as much, and maybe I’m not quite as confident, but I’m still really confident knowing we have been able to compete at a very high level in the playoffs,” Larson said Thursday. “I feel like we’re getting some momentum. We’ve had fast cars every week. That’s the most important piece. If we limit our mistakes as a whole, I think we can make a good run at it.”
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Larson said his Hendrick Motorsports team isn’t the only one that has had issues adjusting to the Next Gen car.
“Everybody’s season has been inconsistent, maybe except for Chase there for about a month and a half,” he said. “If you can find consistency, I think you can make a good run in the playoffs. We’ll just keep digging down deep and working hard.”
Larson said the paucity of wins this year makes last year shine even more.
“It makes you appreciate the last couple of years, for sure,” he said. “Kind of across the board in all of my racing I haven’t won as much this year. I feel like I’ve been in contention to win a majority of the races I’ve run across the board in all different types of cars. I just haven’t won as much.”
Asked about his approach to the playoffs, Larson said drivers who have had run-ins with competitors during the season typically keep one eye on those drivers for fear of retaliation. He said he has generally avoided such encounters this year.
“Ross (Chastain) has like a two-page list of guys (who might retaliate), it seems like,” Larson said. “People will make life pretty tough on you. It will be a cool storyline to follow during the playoffs. He’s had the fastest car, and he and the team have done a really good job. If they didn’t have people mad at them, I think they’d be the championship favorite.”