Larson trying to lock up playoff spot

Jeff Birchfield • Aug 13, 2019 at 5:17 PM

Just like in an actual race, Kyle Larson has put some separation between himself and the drivers near the cut-off line for the NASCAR playoffs coming into Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Larson, the driver of the No. 42 Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, ranks 13th in the latest point standings, 71 points ahead of 17th-place Daniel Suarez and 77 points ahead of seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

With just three races left in the regular season, a good showing at Bristol Motor Speedway will virtually wrap up Larson in the 16-driver playoff. There isn’t anywhere Larson would rather be than the high-banked .533-mile oval.

“It just feels like a dirt track and how you would race a dirt car,” Larson said. “It’s really aggressive and you can move around. It just suits my driving style. I love it. It’s my favorite track by far, so that helps.”

While making the playoffs is a goal, Larson truly wants to win. His last victory outside the non-points NASCAR All-Star race was in 2017 at Richmond. While it’s his favorite track, Bristol has been a particular point of frustration for Larson in the form of the Busch brothers.

Larson ran second to each brother in 2018, finishing behind Kyle in the Food City 500 and Kurt in the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race.

Although his standings in the points is good coming off a third-place finish at Michigan, it has been a frustrating season for Larson, who blamed himself for the team’s earlier struggles. He has turned it around, however, posting four top-five finishes in his last seven races.

Asked why he blamed himself for the earlier struggles, Larson was specific in his response.

“It’s probably being too aggressive at the wrong times,” he said. “I just have to work on that and not make mistakes.”

It’s tough for the 27-year-old California native to be reined in, coming from the world of high-powered, open-wheel cars racing on dirt. It’s something he still loves and in June, he won back-to-back sprint car races on the World of Outlaws tour.

Larson, now teammates with Kurt Busch, is often asked if driving sprint cars, midgets and other cars hurts his efforts in stock cars. He feels it’s the opposite.

“The way I view it is the more often I get to race, the better I’m becoming, so I would race every single day of the week if I could,” Larson said. “People could look early in my career and say, ‘Oh, he ran bad because he’s not focused.’ When we got our cars better, I was racing more sprint car races and it’s, ‘Oh, it’s because he’s racing all the time.’ In 2017, we had that really good year and that rally convinced my team that it doesn’t hurt when I race sprint cars.”

It’s stock cars at Bristol Motor Speedway on his Saturday night slate. That’s fine with Larson, who after two pole positions and two runner-up finishes at the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile” is ready to park his car in victory lane.