It was Kyle Larson’s most recent error at the Charlotte Roval on Sunday afternoon that proved to be his most costly one, as it put an end to his bid for the NASCAR Cup Series championship.
Larson’s No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet suffered a right rear toe link break on Turn 7 after making contact with the wall. With 12 laps remaining, he entered pit road and was at that point much outside the playoff cutline. Since they needed to finish the race, crew chief Cliff Daniels instructed the group to fix the car.
Larson lost control of his course and dropped several laps. He acknowledged that he was to fault for hitting the wall and putting the squad in that situation and thanked his team for their swift work, but he understood that he was only along for the ride in terms of the point battle.
Larson, Chase Briscoe, and Austin Cindric were the final contenders for the position. With the extra positions he had gained, Briscoe triumphed in the final lap as the No. 5 fell to 35th.
The season has seen some squandered opportunities, according to Larson. Coming into the playoffs, the defending series champion has two victories as well as six losses.
“Just a dumb mistake on my part,” Larson said. “It’s frustrating to end like this, but as up and down as I was this season, I’m not surprised I made another mistake, and a costly one at an important time.”
“It’s been tough, there’s been no real rhythm to it for me and our team. But we fought hard all year to get better, and we’re going to continue to fight and continue to work hard to be better for the rest of the season, as well as being more prepared for next year.”
“It’s days like today that you can take positives from…and really focus on areas that you need to be better as a person, and as a driver, and as a team and come back stronger.”
Last year, thanks to their dominance throughout the Cup Series, Larson, Daniels, and the No. 5 squad were the legitimate winners. In 2021, Larson was the statistical leader in every area and gave others the impression that it was simple. However, Daniels objects to that.
“It wasn’t easy… Don’t even come at me with easy. Don’t even. Uh-uh. Win 10 races, plus the All-Star, lead 2,500 laps in a year… That ain’t easy,” Daniels said.
“There’s a lot of weight loss and time not at home with kids and not sleeping and not eating. There was nothing easy about winning 10 races and dominating the season. Let that point stand.”
Given how exceptional the season of ’21 was, it makes sense that the team’s fortunes this year were the exact reverse. Along with the team’s gremlins, Larson frequently acknowledged that he had driven poorly. Daniels as well is forced to acknowledge that this season’s defense of the championship was difficult.
“Climbing uphill when we shouldn’t have had to climb uphill,” Larson said.
“The new car is a challenge for everyone; everyone had the same set of challenges ahead of them, and so many of the things we did right along the way, and it would just be some ridiculous mistake.”
“Whether it was on pit road, a mistake I made, a mistake he made… Again, we had mechanical failures this year that just can’t happen. That all adds up.”
Larson’s pit stop for repairs and subsequent loss of the lead resulted in two cautions. Daniels was optimistic that Larson would progress based on the points he saw on his screen despite the field being very strung out and there being no caution. However, with six laps left, a debris yellow was issued.
“All you can go off of is the information that’s ahead of you,” said Daniels. “The information that was in front of me when I hopped back up on the pix box and we’re [at five laps to go], and the field is still under green [was]: we’re seven points to the good.”
“So, it’s like, ‘Hey, we’re OK.’ Then the caution changes the world… It is what it is.”
With three laps remaining in the race, it was restarted with another caution coming after. Larson had no advantages over his rivals in the chaotic conclusion, which was a disadvantage. Daniel Suarez was instead kept in behind of Larson in case he needed that point. By two points, Briscoe ultimately beat Larson to the transfer position.
“It’s tough to have a championship-caliber team and know you’re not going to be able to go race for a championship,” Larson said. “Cliff is an extremely good leader… a great leader… and he’s going to continue to hold [us] to a high standard and continue to push us along throughout the rest of the season and throughout the offseason to where we’re in much better shape for next year.”
“It’s definitely tough moments like today that’s going to shape our team into contending again next year,” he added. “I learned there’s still a lot of areas to get a lot better and smarter again.”
“Just doing a better job. Everything last year seemed to be good [and] I was on my game and things were working out restarts, everything.”
“Just every area was better as far as the driver goes last year. So just have to figure out how to do that and get back to that point.”