Not every driver is enthused about Bristol Motor Speedway serving as a cutoff race in the NASCAR Cup playoffs.
According to the critics, the chance of wrecks and dashed dreams is simply too high at Bristol.
Then there is Kyle Larson.
The versatile 29-year-old from Elk Grove, California, was a frequent visitor to BMS this past spring. There’s a good reason for that.
“I love that place. I’ve been close to winning some races there and I’ve led a bunch of laps there. And I would love to get my first win at Bristol,” Larson said.
Larson earned a pair of runner-up finishes in the Super Late Model portion of the Bristol Dirt Nationals, finished sixth in the World of Outlaws Sprint Cars Bristol Throwdown and even entered the March 27 NASCAR Truck race at BMS. It was the first Truck start for Larson since 2016
Larson was awarded the pole for the historic Bristol Dirt Race in the Cup Series on March 29, but he was forced to settle for a 29th place result after his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was damaged in an early crash with fellow dirt racing expert Christopher Bell.
Larson thinks the Bristol experience will likely translate into more mayhem in Saturday’s Night Race.
“Bristol’s Bristol. It’s always really aggressive,” Larson said. “Hopefully I’m not anywhere near the cutoff or whatever in points.
“But, yeah, it can get aggressive. You can use the bumper there a little bit in traffic and things. That track is just so difficult anyways, it’s a lot of fun.”
It’s been a fun year for Larson in the Cup Series. He won five times en route to claiming the regular season championship, and is currently third in the
and currently leads by a 24-point margin over Denny Hamlin.
“There has been a lot of hard work to get to this point. Now, we’ve got a great opportunity to go chase a championship,” Larson said. “We’ve been doing a great job doing what we’ve been doing, and we’ve just got to continue that and execute well. Hopefully it will all kind of take care of itself.
“It’s not like everybody’s gunning for you and you have a target on your back or anything like that. It’s just a cool spot to be in.”
Larson’s credits his background in other forms of motorsports for his current enjoyable run at the Cup level. For example, Larson earned 46 victories in 97 starts on dirt in 2020 and topped the World of Outlaws series with 12 victories despite competing in only 26 of the 54 scheduled events
Entering Saturday’ Night Race, Larson’s had claimed 24 overall victories in 2021.
“Just being in position as often as I’ve been helps kind of the mindset of staying calm and things like that on Sundays for Cup races, too,” Larson said. “I love racing and staying busy. It slows down a little bit this time of year just because of schedule stuff. I look forward to running more dirt races, staying sharp for the playoffs.”
The obvious goal for Larson is to win a championship in his first season with Hendrick Motorsports. The previous best points finish for Larson was sixth in 2019.
“I hope we haven’t peaked yet,” Larson said. “We won a race a few weeks ago and I think we’re still capable of winning more races throughout the rest of the year think all the race teams get better every week.
“We’ve been able to win a lot of races. Even when we weren’t winning, we were still up front. That’s what you’ve got to do here.”
Larson has had one playoff stop circled for months. In 12 career Cup starts at BMS, Larson has registered seven top-10 finishes.
“There’s a lot of good racetracks for us and our race team,” Larson said. “I’m really looking forward to Bristol. It’s my favorite race of the year, favorite racetrack.
“Hopefully I can take advantage of that, have a good time and get my first win at Bristol.”
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