Whatever the gremlin is that keeps plaguing Kyle Larson’s No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team is still unknown, the reigning series champion said Wednesday.
Larson initially thought the engine was blowing at Darlington Raceway in the first race of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, but fortunately never completely expired. However, it was enough of an issue that Larson brought his Chevrolet to pit road for the team to go under the hood, and he fell off the lead lap. Larson and company did rebound for a 12th-place finish, and he’s been able to keep his frustration in check despite the latest issue.
“I think had I actually blown up, I would have been really frustrated with back-to-back weeks,” Larson said. “But that wasn’t the case. We don’t honestly know exactly what happened or what the cause of it was, but it sounds like William [Byron] had a very similar incident that we did in the race.”
Feeling something weird, Larson fell off the pace and moved out of the groove to let the competition overtake him before he pitted. Nothing looked out of the ordinary, however and eventually, it seemed to clear itself up when Larson returned to the track.
Byron was just as confused about what happened to his Chevrolet when the similar issue struck him a short time later, but having understood what Larson went through, he stayed on track instead of pitting and like Larson’s car, the issue cleared itself up.
Byron’s crew chief, Rudy Fugle, described it to SiriusXM NASCAR Radio as a stumble or engine tone change for about 15 laps. Fugle said changes are being implemented at Hendrick Motorsports as they try to narrow down the potential issue.
“I’ve never had that happen to me ever in my career of racing anything, and I’ve probably raced more than anybody has in the field,” said Larson. “It was weird, but I hope something like that doesn’t pop up ever again because it could have ended really badly for us.”
Darlington was the continuation of what’s become an alarming trend for Larson this season. Larson’s team experienced engine issues at Daytona two weeks ago, as well as the spring Darlington race and at Phoenix early in the year.
“I think even when things are going great, and you’re winning lots of races and not blowing up engines, I think they’re always trying to figure out how to make things faster but also even more reliable,” Larson said. “That’s an ongoing thing at the engine shop at Hendrick, and they do an amazing job. It’s just for whatever reason, this year, I’ve been the one that’s kind of gotten the short end of the stick a few times.
“But they’re all working really hard and trying to figure out what’s been going on. I think it’s been different things each time for us, but each time out of it, they kind of come up with something to better your odds of it not happening again.”