While 2023 did not end in a second NASCAR Cup Series championship for Kyle Larson and the No. 5 HendrickCars.com team, the year was filled with plenty of highlights to remember as the ’24 season begins.
Last year, Larson captured four points-paying victories as well as a one-million-dollar payday at the All-Star race’s debut at North Wilkesboro Speedway. It was these moments that the 31-year-old driver remembers most fondly about racing in 2023.
“We had a great season. We won at some tracks I didn’t know that I would ever win at,” Larson said when looking back at his runner-up finish in the standings. “Martinsville (Speedway in April) was a cool one. Winning the Southern 500 at Darlington (Raceway) was probably the best one if I had to pick out of the five (four points wins and All-Star). The All-Star win (at North Wilkesboro Speedway) was great.”
The highlights did not end with just victory lane appearances. The Elk Grove, California, native led the field in laps led (1,127), held a tie for the most top-five results (15) with teammate William Byron and was third in average running position (10.765). On pit road, Larson’s pit crew had the second-fastest four-tire stop average with a time of 11.033 seconds. According to the driver, it was one of the main reasons for success and he looks for that to continue in the new year.
“Super proud of the pit crew,” Larson said. “Our team was phenomenal and it gave me a bunch of confidence every time a caution would come out and we’d come down pit road. I knew that nine times out of 10 we were going to gain some positions, which is tough to do on the racetrack. When your pit crew is consistently fast, it makes your job a lot easier.”
One constant that will carry over into the new season is Larson’s relationship with crew chief Cliff Daniels. Daniels, who has led the team since Larson took over in 2021, has won 16 times in his career, all with the No. 5 team. That mark has occurred in just 100 races and that victory total ranks third among active driver and crew chief pairings. The 2024 season marks their fourth together and Larson sees the duo only getting better.
“As we each gain more experience with each other, I think we become better,” Larson said. “The level of expectation gets higher and higher each year. Cliff (Daniels) definitely gets more intense as each weekend progresses it seems. I love having him lead our team. He is just a great leader and extremely smart – a young guy, too, which I think is great for being together for hopefully a long time. He’s pieced together a really good team. Everybody that he is leading is the best of their craft. We have a great team and it starts with Cliff.”
If Larson had to earmark one area for improvement, it would be earning consistent finishes. While it was sometimes circumstances out of his control, not finishing races played a part in the amount of playoff points he carried into the postseason. With a new season about to begin, staying out of trouble and maximizing point-scoring opportunities will be key for the group as they look to earn another championship.
“I want to clean up all the areas where I kind of struggled last year and throughout my Cup career,” Larson said. “I would love to not crash as much. I pretty much lead the series in crashing but I also lead the series in laps led. If we can maintain the good stuff with my style, but reign back a little bit and try to get to the checkered flag without crashing would be my main goal. When you can finish more races, you are going to have more opportunity to win and you are going to win more. I think that all compounds.”
On top of his Cup Series efforts, Larson will be attempting to become the fifth driver to run “The Double” — the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600. Famed INDYCAR team Arrow McLaren, in partnership with Hendrick Motorsports, is fielding a HendrickCars.com-sponsored entry owned by Rick Hendrick in the 2024 Indianapolis 500. Larson has already completed his Rookie Orientation Program and is set to run an open test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in April.
PIT CREW LINEUP
Front-tire changer: Blaine Anderson
Rear-tire changer: Calvin Teague
Tire carrier: R.J. Barnette
Jackman: Brandon Johnson
Fueler: Brandon Harder
STAT TO KNOW: 4,343. This is the amount of laps Larson has led during his time at Hendrick Motorsports. This is good for fifth on the all-time list for the organization and he is just 28 circuits away from holding fourth on the list.
40TH ANNIVERSARY MOMENT: Nov. 7, 2021 at Phoenix Raceway
Larson wins the 2021 Cup Series championship with a win at Phoenix to cap off a 10-win campaign
“My most memorable win would be winning the Phoenix (Raceway) race in 2021 and winning the championship. I didn’t think I was going to be racing a Cup car. For Rick (Hendrick), to take a chance on me and be able to go have one of the best seasons in NASCAR history in our first season together. To cap it off with a championship and celebrate with everybody at Phoenix was so fun. It meant a lot. There was a lot of emotion in that race and after winning. That probably will always be my most memorable win here at Hendrick (Motorsports). I hope to have many more memorable wins, but I don’t think anything will ever top that one.”
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!