At the Southern 500, Kyle Larson finally secured a victory that had eluded him in his 11 previous attempts. The NASCAR Cup Series playoff opener marked a significant triumph for the 2021 Cup champion, who had faced numerous near-misses and heartbreaks in previous races. Prior to this race, Larson had led a staggering 715 laps at Darlington, making it the track where he had yet to claim a win.
Luck finally smiled upon Larson on the iconic Lady In Black circuit. Despite a challenging race where he struggled with the handling of his Chevrolet and scraped against the wall, Larson demonstrated remarkable resilience in the final stage. As his competitors faltered due to their own errors, Larson showcased what his team considered his most well-rounded performance since his dominant victory at the NASCAR All-Star Race in May.
Larson acknowledged the importance of maintaining focus in a race as demanding as the Darlington 500, which took over four hours to complete. The event featured a 115-lap green-flag run to conclude Stage 1, followed by three cautions and four cars not finishing in the final 100 miles.
Larson could empathize with the agony of falling short in the race’s closing moments, recalling a race just two years prior where he had led the most laps only to lose in a dramatic charge against Denny Hamlin.
In this year’s race, Hamlin appeared poised to secure victory until a loose wheel derailed his chances. The lead then shifted to Tyler Reddick and possibly Kevin Harvick, while Larson grappled with his car’s performance.
Larson admitted, “I messed up once and it got hung in neutral. I slid and hit the wall, and I think bent the toe link a little bit, so it was kind of a struggle from there.”
Throughout these challenges, crew chief Cliff Daniels played a pivotal role as the composed presence on Larson’s pit box. Encouraging without sugar-coating, Daniels helped Larson maintain his focus and prevented any cascading frustration that could have resulted in a costly mistake.
Daniels remarked, “We all know he has the talent. When he gets out front and executes a good restart and does all the things that we know he can do, he’s dynamite.”
The No. 5 team contributed to Larson’s victory by executing a crucial pit stop that propelled him to the front after a caution for Ryan Newman’s spin with 57 laps remaining. From there, it was a combination of Larson finding his rhythm and Daniels ensuring that his driver remained mentally sharp.
Larson affirmed that the words of encouragement from Daniels during pressure-packed moments were invaluable, stating, “Having a leader like Cliff is really good for my mind.”
In summary, Kyle Larson’s victory at the Darlington 500 marked a significant milestone in his career, finally conquering a track that had previously been elusive. Larson’s resilience and the steady guidance of his crew chief were key factors in securing this hard-fought win