2016 started off how the entire 2015 season went for Kyle Larson — bad. Through the first 10 races, he had just two top-10 finishes, including a third at Martinsville Speedway, a track that he claims he runs poorly at.
However, at Kansas, the 11th race of the year, Larson was racing among the top five throughout the entirety of the 400-mile event. It was a late-race crash that bit the No. 42 team again, finishing 35th, giving them nothing to show for the solid team effort that gave them a morale boost.
That was the turning point for Larson’s 2016 season, possibly even his career. After having a stellar rookie season in 2014, including eight top-five finishes and 17 top 10s, the Chip Ganassi Racing team had a disappointing 2015, posting a pair of finishes inside the top five.
Following the race at Kansas, Dover was next up on the schedule, a track where Larson has a career-high four top-10 finishes at in five races. Going a lap down through the opening stint of the race, it looked like it was going to be the same ‘ole result for the team. But it wasn’t. He fought for the win late in the race.
On that May afternoon, Larson was out front for 85 laps, the second highest amount that he’s led in a single race. That gave him confidence.
“We didn’t know if our cars are really that much better or if we just got lucky,” Larson told Frontstretch of the recent success. “It seems like now we are pretty competitive each weekend. I think we’ve turned the corner partway, but we still have a long ways to go to consistently be running for top five, top eight.”
In the six events since Dover, Larson has two top-10 finishes, but only one finish outside the top 13, excluding the All-Star Race where he was en route to winning before Joey Logano got by for the $1 million.
With eight races remaining until the Chase begins, Larson sits 19th in the point standings, 27 markers behind the current Chase cutoff. In his third year. clinching a spot in the Chase is the main goal for the California native.
“It’s a lot better than when we started the year when we were hoping for top 20s,” Larson said of his recent finishes. “We’ve definitely gotten ourselves way quicker, better on the long runs, but still have to work on long run speed.”
Larson’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Jamie McMurray currently holds the final Chase position, with a 10 point cushion over Trevor Bayne. The No. 1 team is coming off a season in which they made it’s first Chase, and the second in team history, going back to when Juan Pablo Montoya made a run at the championship in 2009.
The main goal for the organization is to get both cars into the Chase and it looks like it’s going to come down to Richmond in determining if either team is championship eligible. Larson believes that the team is heading upward in the right direction.
“It’s fun now to show up to the racetrack knowing that you’re going to be somewhat competitive,” Larson elaborated. “At the beginning of the year, I was not excited to be at the racetrack. It’s fun now, we just have to keep working hard.”
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