Kyle Larson keyed up the radio during the Coca-Cola 600 and told his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team he thought it was the worst race of his life.
The race wasn’t even at the halfway mark.
It turned out to be a good thing Sunday went into two overtime attempts and was scheduled for 600 miles (it ended at 619.5 miles) because Larson needed it. In the end, he finished ninth, but it was far from easy or clean.
Larson and his team found themselves having to constantly dig out of a hole for one reason or another, which was frustrating the driver when he commented on the radio. But after doing so — and a rallying speech by crew chief Cliff Daniels on how they were going to turn it around at lap 200 — things improved.
Larson not only drove back onto contention but into the race lead 354. How did that happen?
“I don’t know,” Larson said. “I just kind of had to clear my mind, I guess. I was just mad at myself. I was mad about yesterday because our pit stall was horrible, having to come around the 19 [Martin Truex Jr.] and then the 10 [Aric Almirola] would have to come around me, and then I would have to back up. Then by the time I get back going, the 10 is pulling away. So, if I wouldn’t have hit the wall yesterday that wouldn’t have been a problem.
“Yeah, I was mad at myself a lot about that, and then once we got through the second half of the race and was in front of the 19 and 10 the rest of the race, it wasn’t bad. Then we stopped getting penalties on pit road, and the race came around to us. Again, Cliff did a great job leading our team and keeping us all calm and focused.”
Larson came from the rear of the field at least seven times. First, he had to start there because he hit the wall in practice and didn’t make a qualifying lap. Then came back-to-back pit road penalties for removing equipment and equipment interference.
The next issue was having to make a second pit stop because there was fire coming from his fuel cell. Larson then spun on lap 166 off Turn 4.
The sixth time that Larson fell behind was when Almirola hit the tire out of the hands of Larson’s tire changer during a pit stop. Almirola’s pit stall was in front of Larson’s.
One final charge for Larson was made in the second overtime. Larson was leading in the first overtime attempt when he came off Turn 4 in a four-wide battle for the lead, making contact with the right-rear of Austin Dillon’s car. Dillon was on the inside of Larson and had Denny Hamlin on the inside of him. Ross Chastain was on the outside of Larson.
“The 3 was definitely way alongside me and I kind of under-drove the corner; I just didn’t know what to expect getting into (Turn) 3, and I was the leader,” Larson said. “You don’t have anybody to judge off. So, I kind of under-drove it, and then the 3 drove in really deep and got almost clear of me and barely caught the front end, and it got us all spinning out.”
Larson laughed that he doesn’t think he’s had to come from the back that many times in a single race.
“That was a lot,” he said. “Way too many.”
And the first half of the race was certainly the craziest Larson’s experienced.
“The first half was not good on many levels, but then Cliff gave a great speech, and we were much better in the second half of the race,” said Larson. “I didn’t really think I was going to have a shot to battle for the win there and really had a shot the last 100 laps or so. I’m proud of my team; it just didn’t work out.”
As frustrated as he was in the first half of the race, Larson managed to keep himself together, not to make it any worse than it was or do something that ended his day.
“I think knowing that it’s a long race and you’re going to have plenty of opportunities to work on your car,” he said. “You don’t know how the race is going to play out, but you want to keep yourself in it, keep your mind in it.
“I’m proud of myself for not going overboard because I could have gotten frustrated and hit the wall again or something. But thankfully, I kept it out of the wall after that first mistake. That was good.”
Larson made 197 passes in the Coca-Cola 600, which was a race-high.