Larson ends ‘memorable day’ with All-Star top five

Everything went according to plan on Sunday for Kyle Larson and the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team.

Larson landed at North Wilkesboro Speedway by helicopter at 7:15 p.m. ET outside Turns 3 and 4 to compete in the NASCAR All-Star Race, an arrival that was met by a cheering crowd, which continued when the golf kart crossed over the backstretch to bring Larson into the infield.

The arrival was less than two hours after Larson qualified fifth for the Indianapolis 500 with Arrow McLaren and was one hour and 15 minutes before the green flag in the All-Star Race, which NASCAR had pushed back by 15 minutes to provide more of a buffer to the traveling Larson.


By night’s end, Larson had a fourth-place finish after starting at the rear of a 20-car field. Larson had not run a lap in his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet before the green flag as the car was practiced and qualified by Kevin Harvick.

“Today was fun,” Larson said. “It was just a memorable day (to) make the fast six and then get to fly here and compete in the All-Star Race. I know we raced here last year, but that was a totally different racetrack, so it feels like I just raced at a track I’ve never been at. I’m happy to finish fourth with no practice laps, so thanks to Kevin Harvick and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports for getting that all put together smoothly and getting our car balance worked out to where we could compete at a decent level today.”

Larson charged in the final 42 laps after pitting for fresh tires. But after quickly moving into third place and looking like he was in a good spot to run down the two leaders, Larson had trouble passing Denny Hamlin. Joey Logano drove away, Hamlin finished second and Larson faded to fourth.

“Honestly, I felt like I could take care of my tires better down low,” Larson said of where he made up the most ground early in the final run. “I was worried about building tight all race and whenever I would move up top, you’re tugging on the wheel more, and you’re on the throttle, so I feel like that actually abuses the tires more.

“So, I thought I was doing what I (needed) to maintain the balance of my car, but I think we just pumped the air up a lot, and I just built really free really quickly that run.

“Then I moved up and slowly got tight after that. I thought we were in a great position to win – I thought for sure we would win – but it just didn’t work out. So, we’ll do our homework and try to get our car better for next year.”

Cliff Daniels and the No. 5 team prepared the car for Larson’s arrival, and Harvick drove the car in practice on Friday and in qualifying on Saturday morning.

The only plan for Sunday was to wait for Larson’s arrival. Harvick was not eligible to run the All-Star Race, and the team would not put someone else in the car. If, for some reason, Larson didn’t make it to North Wilkesboro, the team wouldn’t compete.

“The team did an amazing job preparing the car and getting everything ready for Kevin,” Daniels said. “(We’re) very, very grateful to Kevin for coming in and what he did to be engaged for our preparation this week on what we wanted to do for our practice plan and qualifying and all those things. We really, really appreciate what he did for us and what the team did to engage in all that and just be prepared.”

The car was fitted for Harvick early in the weekend. Rodney Childers, Harvick’s former crew chief, and Stewart-Haas Racing worked with Hendrick Motorsports to provide Harvick’s old seat and seat rails. After qualifying, the car was converted to Larson’s setup and comfort.

“We came here and tried to execute the best practice that we could,” Daniels continued. “Obviously, a lot of challenges getting the cockpit switched back over from Harvick to Larson, but we knew that if we were prepared the right way, we could get it done in a timely manner. NASCAR worked with us tremendously the whole time, so a very big thank you to everyone at NASCAR for helping us with that.”

Larson was not surprised by the effort, calling Hendrick Motorsports the best. It was a seamless process, as far as Larson was concerned.

“I had a lot of fun,” Larson said. “I felt like I was able to get up to speed right away. I didn’t feel like it took any time – maybe that caution in the first lap or two helped. But I felt like I got right up to speed, and I was passing cars immediately. So, I was happy with that, and the car had good grip.”

Overall, the performance wasn’t where it needed to be for the team, according to Daniels. It didn’t matter if it was Harvick or Larson driving the car, Daniels admitted they need more on the short tacks. Larson dominated and won at North Wilkesboro last year on the original surface.

“Looking back, there are things that I want to say I could have done different or not, I don’t really know,” Daniels said. “But all in all, the team was really rough this weekend. The road crew did an amazing job. The pit crew hung tough today. Kyle did Kyle things and it’s so much fun to watch him move around and go drive hard and be exciting on restarts.

“Super, super proud of his effort and all in all, I think we have a lot to be proud of as a team. We’re going to keep our nose down. We’re going to keep digging because the next two weeks are still going to be very action-packed for us. But I think we’re built for it and we’ll keep marching forward.”

Story originally appeared on Racer