After Kyle Larson won at Michigan Sunday not many have labeled the driver nicknamed “Young Money” as a possible title contender.
They’d be wrong.
The third-year veteran, who “locked into” his first postseason grid with Sunday’s victory is on a mission to play spoiler in a Chase that could easily tilt his way. The high-speed, high-groove racetracks Larson loves, the type that lent him a maiden victory Sunday at Michigan dot the landscape of the ten-race postseason grid.
I dug around through his statistics to see just how easily he could glide through the sport’s first three Chase rounds and make it to Homestead. It’s not hard to see a pathway for the No. 42 team to pass through….
Larson has only had two starts at this 1.5-mile track… but he also has two top 10s. In 2014, Larson finished third in one of his best results as a Cup rookie while in 2015 he ended up seventh. Larson also finished third and second in his two XFINITY starts at the track back in 2014.
Third and second in both starts in 2014, there’s a history of past success for Larson here. Although he struggled in 2015 and didn’t impress in the June race, even a ho-hum finish here would be survivable because….
In five career starts on the Cup level, Larson has finished no worse than 11th. Part of his resume at this one-mile Delaware oval was finishing second in a late-race duel against Matt Kenseth and Chase Elliott earlier this season. That makes him a fairly safe bet to move on rather easily into the next round.
Outside of a second-place finish in 2014, Larson’s best result at Kansas has been 12th. 29th and 35th have been his last two efforts here but keep in mind that last one came in May, a race where Larson was the victim of a crash after running consistently near the front all night.
This track is perhaps the biggest Chase question mark for Larson at the 1.5 milers. Success has been found here in the XFINITY Series, where the youngster won in 2014 but he only has one top 10 in six starts at the Cup level.
Don’t even bother listing statistics here; we all know it’s a crapshoot. Should Larson get eliminated, it’s probably going to come at this race as the result of an accident beyond his control.
Slowly improving with every race at the paperclip, Larson made a big jump in the spring race by finishing third. His best finish before that was 19th the previous fall.
Larson has been fast at Texas but very inconsistent. Two top 10s have combined with three races outside the top 20 in six career starts.
Best known for being the guy getting knocked out of the way by Ryan Newman in 2014, Phoenix is also a place where Larson has been fairly competitive. Yes, his best finish is 10th, not exactly award-winning material but his worst finish there is only 21st. 12th earlier this year, Larson should be right in position to cash in with another solid top 15 once again.
How will that lead to Homestead? Well, if Larson enters this race needing to win, he may not be able to get the job done. If he enters ahead in points, continuing past momentum from Martinsville and Texas his chances overall improve dramatically.
If Larson gets over the hump, Homestead’s next. I’ll be honest; before this season I actually picked Larson to win the championship because of Homestead and its unique “Final Four” NASCAR format. No, not because the No. 42 car would suddenly morph itself into a championship contender, week after week like Kevin Harvick or Jimmie Johnson.
No, I picked Larson because if he can make it to Homestead (And that’s a big if, as we’ll get to in a moment) he’s probably going to win the championship. Why? Larson is famous for loving high-groove, high-speed racetracks. His win at Michigan, the fastest track on the circuit, cemented this as fact. And last season, he won the XFINITY Series race at Homestead and would have won the Sprint Cup race as well if not for a pesky late-race debris caution.
Of course, bear in mind this analysis is all coming from a very limited pool of results. Larson could very well get on a hot streak and win some of his harder tracks such as Texas or Kansas, punching an automatic bid to keep moving the driver forward.
It would be very difficult to not see Larson inside the top 12; that much is expected from his middle-class Chip Ganassi Racing program. Making it to the championship four, though? That would be an unprecedented boost of good fortune for him after two-plus years of middling results.
It’s also a distinct possibility.
About the author
Michael has watched NASCAR for 15 years and began covering the sport five years ago. He is a graduate of Salisbury University and a proud member of the National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA).
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