With or without practice, Larson sticking to ‘arrive and drive’ approach

Matt Thacker/Motorsport Images

With or without practice, Larson sticking to ‘arrive and drive’ approach

Cup Series

With or without practice, Larson sticking to ‘arrive and drive’ approach


One would think that with Kyle Larson’s tenure at Hendrick Motorsports still relatively young, a weekend with practice would be beneficial. Not so.

“Honestly, with how good we are, I would rather not have practice,” Larson said. “I feel like with where we’re at in the 5 car, we probably have more to lose with the practice session — just getting confused. Like going out there making a run, coming in and making a change, going out there and being on cycled tires, and it doesn’t drive like you like, and then you freak out and throw big adjustments at it.

“We stuck to our game plan (Friday) and just did one 20-lap run, and we’ll look at our notes and see what little adjustments to make. I think a lot of times in practice there is room to be gained, but more often than not, — at least my history — I feel like we dial ourselves out in practice.”

Larson was third quickest in the lone practice session Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway ahead of the Coca-Cola 600 (Sunday, 6 p.m. ET, FOX). In single-car qualifying on Saturday morning, Larson backed up that run by winning the pole for NASCAR’s longest race.

The No. 5 team is on a hot streak entering Charlotte as Larson has been the runner-up in the last three Cup Series races. He hopes that history will repeat itself because the last time Larson did that, early in the 2017 season, he won the following week.

Charlotte has not been one of Larson’s best racetracks, with four top-10 finishes in his previous 11 starts. However, he admits to having some added confidence this weekend given the wave of momentum he’s on and the fact that all four Hendrick cars are running well. The company has won the last two races during which they swept the top four spots at Dover and the top two spots at Circuit of The Americas.

“It’s awesome,” Larson said of the dynamic within the organization. “Every week here lately, it seems like in the competition meetings somebody’s either won or had a really good shot to win, and it didn’t work out. Everything’s been positive so far. Even Richmond, a few of us were really bad, and [Alex] Bowman won, so it was still a good meeting.

“All of us get along; we’re all racing well together, and I think last week was really our first week having practice and then kind of debriefing. This week with having a normal practice with no rain, we’ll get to have a good debrief session, and I think get to learn each other even more that way. At least for me being around these guys for the first time.”

All spokes of the Hendrick Motorsports wheel have already tasted victory in 2021, and Larson is hoping to emulate his own history as a newcomer — and improve on it. John Harrelson/Motorsport Images

Larson’s early success and ability to contend every weekend has a bit of a familiar feeling. He compared it to 2017 when he was with Chip Ganassi Racing, as that season, he also came out of the box strong and finished with four wins.

“I would like to go back and look at how many laps led I had at this point in the season and stuff. I know I had a win by now,” Larson said. “A lot of second-place finishes. It feels really similar. And I just remember being excited to go to the racetrack because everywhere we went, I felt like we were going to have a shot to win.”

Through 14 races in ’17, Larson was second in the point standings with one win, 616 laps led, five second-place finishes, and six top-five finishes.

With his Hendrick team, Larson is third in the standings with one win, 778 laps led, four second-place finishes, and nine top-five finishes.

“(Another reason it feels similar) in the beginning of the year I didn’t know we were going to be that good, and same with this year,” continued Larson. “I didn’t know we were going to be this good because I was going into a new team. So, I’d say it feels very similar to that year so far.

“We were able to get four wins then and had bad luck in the playoffs; hopefully, we can get a lot of wins and have better luck in the playoffs this time.”

The good news for Larson is that there will be practice on four more race weekends this season — Nashville, Road America, Indianapolis road course, and Phoenix. The finale at Phoenix is the only race with practice in the playoffs.