Larson: ‘We’ve Been Performing Way More Consistently’


Kyle Larson in action at Martinsville Speedway. (HHP/ Tim Parks photo)

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – William Byron drove away from Martinsville Speedway with the honor of giving Hendrick Motorsports a victory in its 40th anniversary race.

In becoming the first three-race winner of the season, Byron has seemingly asserted himself as the driver and team to beat early on in back-to-back NASCAR Cup Series campaigns.

However, lurking back in second place, was Byron’s teammate and former Cup Series champion Kyle Larson.

In many ways, Martinsville might have been a microcosm of sorts for Hendrick Motorsports’ hierarchy in the Next-Gen era.

Since the introduction of the seventh-generation car in 2022, the 26-year-old Byron has broken out to be the generational talent he was touted as back when joining the NASCAR ranks in 2015.

In doing so, he’s taken over the “top dog” role at the talent-laden and prestigious organization.

To this day, that statement is still hard to grasp – even with Byron’s evident success over his teammates – given Larson’s status as “one of the greatest racers in the world.”

Don’t forget, he won an astounding 10 races during his championship season in 2021.

In the first year of the Next-Gen era, Larson failed to lead Hendrick Motorsports in any statistical categories outside of top-five finishes, admitting both his and the No. 5 team’s struggles in getting acclimated to the new vehicle.

Last season, Larson played second-fiddle to Byron in every measurable stat aside from top-fives (tied) and laps led. Additionally, through 80 starts in the Next-Gen era, the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet leads the series in wins with 11, while the 2021 champ sits – you guessed it – second-best with eighth.

Although still unable to dethrone his teammate as best-in-show from a winning perspective, there’s reason to believe Larson is on the right path to reclaim his role as the No. 1 driver for Hendrick Motorsports.

In finishing as the runner-up at Martinsville, Larson posted his second-straight podium weekend, after coming home third at Richmond (Va.) Raceway.

The second-place finish marked his series-leading fourth top-five of the season (tied with reigning champion Ryan Blaney) and helped Larson take over the regular season point lead at the quarter-mark of the season.

Not only have quality finishes helped set Larson apart from his competitors so far, he’s also started races well, with poles in two-straight races. Those pole starts have enabled him to lead the most laps (454) among all drivers so far this season.

“I wouldn't necessarily say there's been really any inconsistency,” Larson said. “In my opinion, we've been way more consistent than we were last year. Results probably say the same as well, a little bit. Last year, we were, like, winning or DNF. This year, we've been up front, we've challenged for a couple of wins, we've won one (and) we've been up front for a lot of races.

“I think, as a team, we've been performing way more consistently than we have, maybe ever,” Larson added. “At least (in) 2021, we were so much faster than the field, it was easy to be consistent. In the Next-Gen era, we've been performing way better than we have the other years so far, I believe.”

For Larson to believe this year has been their most steady effort in the seventh-generation car is one thing, but to have the notion backed up by stats could be a very scary thing for the rest of the field.

If one considers average-finishing position as a good barometer for consistency, Larson ranks third-best at 10.6 to Martin Truex Jr. and Ty Gibbs, respectively.

Through eight starts in 2022, Larson had one win with three top-fives and a 19th-place average. Last year, through the same sample size, he managed the same stat line, but improved upon his average at 16.8.

This season, Larson has one win and four top-fives lending to the aforementioned 10.6 average – identical numbers to his eight-race sample size when he won the title in 2021, except he had a slightly worse 11th-place average.

Looking ahead, Larson hopes to keep his first-quarter momentum rolling into Texas Motor Speedway.

Back in his championship-winning season, Larson swept the on-track action in Fort Worth after emerging victorious in the NASCAR Cup Series race and the All-Star Race. In the Next-Gen era, he’s finished ninth and 31st, respectively, but does have the most laps led at Texas in that time.

Last year, Larson led a second-best 99 laps before disaster struck. After restarting on the front row with only 20 to go, he lost control of his No. 5 while in a side-by-side battle with Bubba Wallace for the lead and crashed out of the race.

Luckily for Larson, his win this season came at the only other traditional 1.5-mile track so far this season in Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway. Considering that, as well as his Next-Gen prowess at Texas, a third-straight podium finish for Larson seems likely.

“Since they've repaved the track, … Texas has been a very fast place,” Larson said. “It's kind of an interesting track. I like it because our team is fast. We were the dominant car there last year and I just made a mistake on a late restart.

“We've won an All-Star Race there, we've won a Cup race there, and then we've led a bunch of laps in other races. I look forward to getting there and hopefully having another good weekend.”

Coverage of the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 is slated for Sunday, April 14 at 3:30 p.m. ET, live on FS1, the Performance Racing Network, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.

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