Statistics can be tricky things. Players with a slavish devotion to them can head down a wrong path without a way to return. One must be aware of them, however, because they tell part of the story.
When Larson entered the 2018 Auto Club 400, he did so with a four-race winning streak on 2-mile tracks. He won the previous year’s edition of that race and had three Michigan International Speedway victories to his credit as well as a third in the June 2016 race there.
Larson finished second in the 2018 Auto Club race, which was his sixth consecutive top-three on two-milers. He struggled through the end of that season with a 28th in Michigan 1 and 17th in Michigan 2. Enthusiasm was still high for Larson because of the recent six-race streak, but he failed to crack the top 10 in last year’s edition of this race. He was 12th with an Average Running Position of 14.13 (15th-best in that race). He finished about the same in the first Michigan race with a 14th, but his average position improved to eighth.
Larson finally earned another strong finish in Michigan 2. He finished third with a good late-race surge after posting an Average Running Position of 13.26 (12th-best).
Since stats can be tricky, it is not enough to simply count his top three finishes during the past 11 races. (For the record, there are seven of them.) One also has to look closely at how a driver is running now – and last week put Larson back on the radar screen.
Larson finished ninth in the Pennzoil 400 by Jiffy Lube at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but with slightly different circumstances he could have been much better. When Ross Chastain spun late in the going to bring out a caution flag, it shuffled the deck. If the race more than two laps to reach its conclusion, drivers would have made different choices and a different set of them would have been in the top five.
It is likely Larson would have been one of the drivers challenging for a top five rather than his ninth. Five of the drivers who finished ahead of Larson in Vegas had worse Average Running Positions including three who earned top-fives. Larson is also one of only two drivers with top-10s in both races so far this year; he finished 10th in the Daytona 500.
The 2020 season will be pivotal for Larson since this is a contract year – and he has the ability to reach deeper and achieve much better results than he had in 2019.
Career Average Finish: 10.8 in 9 starts (ranked 4th)
2019 Auto Club 400: 12
2018 Auto Club 400: 2
2019 Consumers Energy 400 (Michigan 2): 3
2019 Firekeepers Casino 400 (Michigan 1): 14