Kyle Larson sees bid to win back-to-back titles end
CONCORD, N.C. — After one of the best seasons in U.S. motorsports history last year, Kyle Larson felt the disappointment and despair Sunday of an unfulfilled season, resulting in the reigning Cup champ’s elimination from title contention.
“Sorry,” Larson radioed his team after a wild final lap that saw the cutline yo-yo before it ended with him two points out of the final transfer spot. “Sorry. I let you all down. Sorry.”
Crew chief Cliff Daniels responded: “We’re going to keep fighting for the rest of the year and next year.”
The emotion was much different from last year when Larson finished the season winning 10 Cup races, the series title and some of the top races in sprint car and midget car racing.
But a driver compared to Mario Andretti for his talent in a variety of vehicles couldn’t overcome a season’s worth of issues, whether it was three blown engines, pit road issues and mistakes on the track, including a spectacular crash at the Indianapolis road course.
So, it wasn’t just Sunday why Larson joined Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman — who has missed the past two races because of continued concussion symptoms — Austin Cindric and Daniel Suarez as drivers eliminated at the Charlotte Roval.
The final blow to Larson was slapping the wall in Turn 7 in the infield portion of the course late in the race while running 13th. The contact broke the toe link on the right rear and forced him to pit for repairs. He lost five laps and fell to 35th, which is where he finished.
“Just a dumb mistake on my part,” Larson said.
That was the type of season it has been for Larson and his No. 5 team.
“It’s frustrating to end like this,” Larson said. “As up-and-down as I was this season, I’m not surprised I made a mental mistake, and it cost us at an important time.”
Daniels said the team faced many challenges this year “from mistakes that we made. Climbing uphill when we shouldn’t have had to climb uphill. The new car is a challenge for everybody. Everyone had the same challenges ahead of them.
“So many of the things that we did right along the way, and it would be some ridiculous mistake, whether it was on pit road, or a mistake that I made, a mistake that (Larson) made (that slowed the team). We had mechanical failures that just can’t happen. That all adds up.”
It led to Larson entering this race with an 18-point lead on the cutline, but Larson had mentioned after Talladega that his advantage did not make him a lock to advance.
Larson had seen how fortune could change at the Roval. In 2018, he bounced off the wall on the last lap and drove a damaged car across the finish line and advanced only because another car crashed less than 100 yards from the finish line and couldn’t get restarted before Larson passed.
Last year, Larson overcame a battery and alternator issue to win this race, starting him on a stretch that saw him win four of the last five races to score his first Cup championship.
Sunday, there was no celebrating for Larson and his team.
“It’s been tough,” he said of this season. “There’s been no real rhythm to it for me and our team. We fought hard all year to get better, and we’re going to continue to fight and be better for the rest of the season and be more prepared for next year.”