How long can the winning streak keep going for Kyle Larson?
The No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports driver has triumphed in the past three points-paying NASCAR Cup Series races beginning with the Coca-Cola 600, along with the All-Star Race in between the recent stretch. To add insult to injury for his competition, he’s also taken the six of the past seven stage wins.
While Larson is riding the high of a tidal wave of momentum that has flooded the Cup Series garage with frustration and concern, he’s still being realistic of the expectations.
“It’s been a good time,” Larson told NASCAR.com at Nashville Superspeedway. “It’s a wave that you hope you can ride for a long time. We’re enjoying it while we can.”
While Larson and team are trying to enjoy the moment, there is a focus forward on the nine regular-season races remaining in an effort to win the regular-season championship while also collecting as many playoff point as possible.
Incredibly, Larson feels they can still improve to achieve those goals.
“I mean, there’s definitely probably areas we can always get better,” Larson said. “I think you can always get every area of your game better. Even when we’ve been winning, we still look at things that we could have done better, whether it be on the racetrack, on pit road, just little things to maximize our day.
“I guess I can’t pinpoint like one thing that’s a weakness, but if we can continue to get every area better, I mean, we’ll be really hard to beat. We’re winning and we’re happy, but we’re never content.”
One change for Larson in last Sunday’s latest victory at Nashville was his new primary sponsorship with Hendrick Motorsports’ longtime partner Valvoline. The new-look No. 5 car featured a red paint scheme, which was an ode to Valvoline’s past – the first red scheme since AJ Foyt’s car in the 1972 Daytona 500.
Larson joins a host of others — several of which are legends in the sport — who have raced with the brand’s backing, including Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Buddy Baker, Mark Martin and Neil Bonnett. Larson will also run the same paint scheme in the regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway and the playoff race at Bristol Motor Speedway Night Race.
Larson is the latest driver to bring Valvoline back to Victory Lane, the last coming when Johnny Benson Jr. accomplished the feat at Rockingham Speedway in 2002.
“I hadn’t really thought of the other drivers who have had Valvoline on their car,” Larson said. “It’s definitely an honor. It’s such a recognizable brand that’s been around forever. It has cool colors and our race car looks sweet. I’m excited to have their colors for a couple more races.”
Sam Mitchell, Chief Executive Officer for Valvoline, was on-hand at Nashville to witness Victory Lane with Larson. Mitchell and Hendrick Motorsports team owner Rick Hendrick developed a long-standing relationship roughly a decade ago, which transitioned into what is now a seven-year partnership and counting.
The two came from similar mindsets when it came to operating a business, working with people and building a brand.
“I guess when we put together the relationship and worked on that, we just spent a lot of time up front to see that we our of similar mindsets – that we weren’t looking to put together a three- to four-year deal, but something that would last a long time,” Mitchell told NASCAR.com. “We had a win-win approach to it and that we would communicate well together. That’s resulted in a really successful relationship, both on the business and marketing side.”
While providing support for Larson on the No. 5 car was a no-brainer from the talent he possesses behind the wheel, it was the lessons learned by Larson following his suspension from NASCAR last season that caught Mitchell’s eye.
“Beyond his success as a driver, he’s gone through a lot and he’s learned a lot this past year,” Mitchell said. “As a race fan, I just followed his story. I was learning along with him and thinking about what he was going through. I was impressed with some of the things that he did to educate himself.
“When Mr. Hendrick gave me a call and talked about Kyle being a part of the team, we talked quite a bit about that and his assessment was that he spent a lot of time with Kyle and he’s come a long way, he’s an awesome driver and he’s a great fit for our team and he’s an impressive young man. That was all I needed to hear.”
With the Nashville race running on Father’s Day, Mitchell brought his two sons with him to experience the day. It led to father-sons moment that so often happens in NASCAR or at the race track.
“(Last Sunday was) Father’s Day, so I had my sons with me at the race, so we talked about Kyle and his journey,” Mitchell said. “We talked about the fact that words matter and sometimes we learn a lot from our toughest experiences. Second chances are great when you get them and make the most of it.”