Kyle Larson’s last mistake on Sunday afternoon at Charlotte Roval was the most costly – ending his NASCAR Cup Series championship defense.
Contact with the wall off Turn 7 broke the right rear toe linkage in Larson’s #5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. He came to pit road with 12 laps to go, and in that time, he was well above the qualifying streak. As such, crew chief Cliff Daniels asked the team to fix the car to ensure the race was finished.
Larson fell several laps and got out of control of his own destiny. He took the blame for hitting a wall and putting the team in there, praising his group for their quick work, but he knew he was along for the ride as far as the point fight went.
“Just a stupid mistake on my part,” Larson said.
The fight for last place came over Larson, Chase Briscoe and Austin Sendrick. Briscoe won on the last lap with the bonus points he earned as fifth dropped to 35th.
Larson admitted it’s been a bit of a missed opportunity season. The reigning Series Champion racked up two playoff wins, as well as six DNFs.
“It’s frustrating to end this way, but with the ups and downs of this season, I’m not surprised I made another mistake, costly at an important time,” Larson said.
“It was tough,” he also said of his season. “There was no real rhythm for me and our team. But we have been fighting hard all year to get better, we will keep fighting and keep working hard to be better for the rest of the season, as well as prepare more for next year.
“It’s days like today where you can take the positives out of… and really focus on the areas that you need to be better as a person, as a driver, as a team, and come back stronger.”
A year ago, Larson, Daniels and Team #5 were the legitimate champions of the Cup Series with their domination of the series. Larson led the way in every stat class in 2021 and made it look easy for some.
But Daniels objects to that.
“It wasn’t easy,” he said on Sunday. “It doesn’t come to me easily. Not even. Uh-uh. Wins 10 races, plus All-Stars, drives 2,500 laps a year. It’s not easy.
“There is a lot of weight loss and time not being at home with the kids and not sleeping and not eating. Nothing has been easy winning 10 races and dominating the season. Let that point stand.”
Well, considering how much the team liked season 21, it was the opposite for the team this year. Larson has repeatedly said he made mistakes behind the wheel as well as Gremlins for the team. Daniels leaves admit it has been a title fight this season.
“Climbing uphill when we don’t have to go up the hill,” he said. “The new car is a challenge for everyone; everyone had the same set of challenges ahead of them, so many things we did along the way, and it would just be a huge mistake, whether it was on a pit road, or a mistake I made, or a mistake I made… again, it was We have mechanical failures this year that cannot happen. It all adds up.”
Two warnings occurred after Larson stopped his mine for repairs and fell off the lead. Daniels saw that the field was “too full” and was confident that there would be no caution and Larson would advance with the points he saw on his screen. But the wreck warning flew with six laps to go.
“All you can get out of it is the information that awaits you… the information that was in front of me when I jumped back up on the pixel box and we [at five laps to go]The field is still green [was]“We are seven points for good,” Daniels said. So, she’s like, ‘Hey, we’re fine. “Then caution changes the world. That is what it is.”
The race resumed with three laps and another warning followed. In the chaotic finale, Larson did not have positions to earn like his competitors. Instead, Larson just tried to keep Daniel Suarez behind if he needed to by the point.
Larson ended up missing the conversion point by two points to Briscoe.
“It’s hard to have a team of championship caliber and know you’re not going to be able to race for a championship,” Larson said. “Cliff is a very good leader – a great leader – and he will continue to hold out [us] to a high level and continue to push us throughout the rest of the season and throughout the holiday season to where we are in much better shape for next year.
“It is certainly difficult moments like today that will shape our team to compete again next year.”
Larson also looked inside.
He said of himself, “I’ve learned that there are still a lot of areas to get better and smarter again.” “Just do better. Last year everything seemed fine [and] I was at my game and things were going well – rebooting, everything.
“Just every area was better as far as the driver went last year. So you just have to figure out how to do it and get back to that point.”