Kyle Larson is the NASCAR Cup Series championship favorite to everyone but Kyle Larson.
“I don’t read into it really because I don’t feel like I’m the favorite; I don’t feel like any of us are a favorite,” Larson said Thursday. “I think as long as I don’t believe that, then it’s fine.”
The ‘favorite’ tag was applied to Larson long before the playoffs started. Larson and the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team have been the fastest around, starting more or less from when Larson joined the team and was paired with crew chief Cliff Daniels. It didn’t take long for them to lead more laps (by a long shot) than anyone else, and to gobble up wins like Dale Earnhardt Jr. did Most Popular Driver trophies.
At the end of the season’s first 26 races, Larson had five wins and the regular-season title in hand. He’s kept winning since then for a total of nine, and a new single-season laps led record. Larson earned his championship spot by winning the first two races in the Round of 8.
But Larson doesn’t feel he has to win the championship to cap off the season (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, NBC).
“I don’t,” he said. “I think the way I’ve felt about it is we’ve had a great season already, so yes, for sure we want to win the championship, but if not, it’s still been a great season and one to be proud of. I don’t feel the weight of all this on my shoulders. I think that’s a good thing, but I don’t know. I’m just trying to treat it like another race. I’m trying not to read too far into anything.”
But this weekend does mark the first time Larson is going through a Cup Series championship battle. Never having previously qualified for the Championship 4, and with a best finished in the Cup Series standings of sixth, this is all new for Larson. As pundits try to handicap the season finale, Larson will remind himself to enjoy the experience.
“I don’t think any of us would be lying to you if we said we hate doing media, but I’ve been telling myself all week to really soak it in and enjoy all this because who knows if I’ll ever make another final four,” Larson said. “Yeah, I’m definitely trying to enjoy it all. Enjoy it with my friends and family, and team. I got a lot of friends coming in for the race. My kids and wife are here for the first time in a long time to watch me run a Cup race.”
Being the favorite isn’t the only new thing regarding Larson. Consistent success like he’s experienced this year is, and with success, especially at NASCAR’s top level, comes more attention. Or so one would think.
Nine wins in one season with Hendrick Motorsports is more than Larson won in the six full years he spent with Chip Ganassi’s organization. Except, Larson hasn’t felt like he’s received more attention or done more interviews, or had to fulfill more requests than in years past.
“We win more, so we go to the media center afterward more often than I’m used to,” Larson said. “I like talking about good things, and it’s been a lot of good things this year, so yeah, it’s been good.
“Nothing has been more difficult this year. If anything, it’s all been, not easier, but just more positive stuff because we’re running well.”
BetMGM, the authorized gaming operator of NASCAR, has Larson listed at +175 as the favorite to win the championship.