NASCAR Cup Series
By Zach Sturniolo
Published: 9 Oct, 2022
4 Minute Read
CONCORD, N.C. – Kyle Larson will not repeat as the NASCAR Cup Series champion in 2022.
A 35th-place finish, five laps down, in the Round of 12 elimination race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course on Sunday relegated the No. 5 team beneath the elimination line as Chase Briscoe charged through the field. When the checkered flag waved, Larson was ousted by two points as Briscoe was the final driver to advance.
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Larson got loose at the exit of Turn 7 and contacted the wall with the right-rear quarter of the car, resulting in a broken toe link in the rear suspension. The No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet hit pit road at Lap 98 to repair the damage and lost five laps in the process.
The defending title winner lamented the on-track mistake, one in a series this year, he said.
“The only thing that I could have done differently was not crash and hit the wall and break the toe link,” Larson said. “So yeah, it’s all on me and then you know the team repaired it as quickly as they could and yeah, then at that point they’re just along for the ride as far as points go. Just dumb mistake on my part.”
This season was never going to replicate the team’s dominance of the 2021 season, a year that produced a stunning 10 wins, an All-Star Race victory and a championship celebration in Phoenix. A new car provided different challenges, and Larson at times found himself playing catch-up.
“It’s frustrating to end like this but as up-and-down as I was this season, I’m not surprised that I made another mistake — and a costly one at an important time.”
While crew chief Cliff Daniels appreciated Larson’s accountability to a degree, the longtime Hendrick Motorsports crewman noted many issues that plagued the team that were out of Larson’s control.
“As far as him taking so much of the blame, I stand by it that there’s probably nobody better than — and only a few similar to — the talent level of Kyle Larson in the world right now, much less in NASCAR in Cup racing,” Daniels told NASCAR.com. “So I will always stand behind him. I have every reason to stand behind him. He’s been incredible, you know, since we’ve been together, and I know that he’s owning some of his mistakes.
“But look, me as the leader of the team, I have to own the mistakes of you know, things on pit road, and when we miss the setup or miss the call or whatever the situation would be. And again, we’ve had some mechanical issues that you just can’t have. So no, it doesn’t fall all of it on his shoulders. And I know he’s trying to take a lot of the blame. But man, you know, the way it all shook out for us, there’s no single individual — not even him — that’s to blame.”
Indeed, Larson suffered three engine failures this season. Mechanical issues had historically been uncommon with the powerhouse Hendrick organization, but Larson found trouble as recently as the regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway.
The results have ultimately been spotty at best — two wins nearly six months apart with 16 top-10 finishes in 32 races and just three such results in the six postseason events.
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“It’s been tough,” Larson said. “I mean, 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 gonna continue to fight, continue to work hard to be better for the rest of the season as well as be more prepared for next year.”
It’s been a season of introspective moments for Larson, renowned over the past 19 months (at least) for his world-class abilities.
“I’ve learned that there’s still a lot of area to get a lot better and just smarter,” Larson said. “Just doing a better job. Last year, seemed good. I was on my game and things were working out, restarts, everything. Every area was better as far as the driver goes last year. So just got to figure out how to get back to that point.”
Nonetheless, Larson and Daniels see chances to grow from the adversity that ended the No. 5 team’s championship hopes prematurely. Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson is the last driver to repeat as Cup champion, winning five straight titles from 2006-10.
“It’s only gonna make us stronger because what do you get when you don’t get what you want? You get experience,” Daniels said. “And you can use that to build your character and to build your grit, or you can let it sidetrack you. And like not even 1% is this going to sidetrack us. We’re going to continue our process, our system, keep our team strong, which they are. I cannot say enough about the guys at the shop, the guys on the road, the guys that prepare this car every week. They’re an incredible group.”
“Cliff is an extremely good leader, a great leader,” Larson said. “He’s gonna continue to hold ourselves 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.
“It’s definitely tough moments like today that are gonna shape our team into contending again next year.”