The beginning of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Season isn’t exactly how sophomore driver Kyle Larson would have wanted it to start off. Over the course of the first eight races, Larson has no top-fives and three top-10 finishes.
But Larson missed the sixth race of the season at Martinsville, when on the eve of race day he fainted at a fan appearance. Regan Smith filled in and drove the No. 42 to a 16th-place finish.
However, the bright spot for Larson seemed to come at the April 19 running of the Food City 500 in Support of Steve Byrnes, when Larson led a career-high 90 laps. In fact, those 90 laps were more than Larson had led in his whole career at the Sprint Cup Series level. Though he had eight top-fives and 17 top-10s last season, Larson only led 53 circuits on the year.
It wasn’t until Sunday that everyone saw how solid Larson’s car was. When the red flag came out due to rain after Lap 22, Larson was sitting in the ninth position. Then a few hours of rain hit the track, and it was time to go back racing around 6:30 p.m.
The night time was the right time for Larson and crew.
After making a mistake on a pit stop around Lap 300, crew chief Chris Heroy decided to stay out on a Lap 349 caution, which ultimately handed the lead to Larson. He was able to hold on to the lead for the next 90 laps as cars with fresher tires were not able to capitalize on the vulnerable No. 42 Chevrolet.
However, unlike most other cars, the Heroy-led team was not going to make it to the end of the race on fuel.
“We’re hoping it rains,” Heroy said to FOX Sports during race coverage. “If not we will have to pit.”
Ultimately, this put Larson in a precarious situation. He exited pit road two laps down in the 18th position. He raced around the leaders to get one of the laps back, and it wasn’t until a series of late-race cautions that he was able to get back on the lead lap.
The driver scratched and clawed to gain 11 positions in the races final 50 laps. He fought his way back to finish the night with a solid seventh place result.
“It was really fun to get out front and lead some laps,” Larson said in his post-race release. "The Target Chevy was really fast tonight and felt great all night. We got really lucky there after we had to pit under green towards the end.”
“Everything seemed to fall our way after we made that stop. I feel like it’s the first race where we haven’t had any issues really. We just haven’t had a clean race and tonight I feel like we finally had that. The team is working hard to get better, and it’s showing.”
This was Larson’s best finish of the season, and though the season is still young, it is crucial to begin making strides. He jumped up three spots in points and currently sits in the 23rd position in points.
After a tremendous rookie campaign, Larson is believed by many to win multiple races and quite possibly contend for the championship. This could be the beginning of a string of solid runs. As he has proved, Larson is great on the intermediate tracks but it will be crucial for him to pick up good runs in the next four months leading up to the Chase for the Sprint Cup.