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NASCAR Crash Course: Kyle Larson replaces heartbreak with happiness at Southern 500

The Southern 500 was Kyle Larson's prized possession, but it kept evaporating. Prior to Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series playoff opener, the driver's 11 career starts had resulted in 11 starts, three runner-up results, and a trophy cabinet full of heartache. He had never won a NASCAR race, but he had led 715 laps in his career.

What a perfect moment the Lady in Black provided Larson with a rest.

The 2021 Cup winner overcame a notorious Darlington stripe that damaged his Chevrolet's handling in order to perform at his best in the final stage. The crew thought that Larson's performance was the best overall since his dominance during the NASCAR All-Star Race in May, as other competitors lost to their own errors.

We remained competitive, said Larson. That was very significant. Keeping your head in the game is essential for this race.

He's correct. Both people and machines suffer from the 500-mile race in Darlington's 500-mile event, which takes more than four hours to finish. A 115-lap green-flag run to the end of Stage 1 was the start of the race. The final 100 miles saw three cautions and four DNFs.

Larson is familiar with the sense of failing in the crucial seconds. Just two years prior, he had led the most laps at this track before losing to Denny Hamlin in a kamikaze push.

This year, Hamlin appeared to have the race under control once more when a loose wheel forced him out of the running. While Larson labored behind them, Tyler Reddick eventually lost the race. Kevin Harvick may have followed.

"I made a mistake once, and it got stuck in neutral," recalled Larson. It was a struggle from there after I slipped into the wall and I believe slightly bent the toe link.

At that point, Larson's pit box was under the constant control of crew chief Cliff Daniels. He kept Larson focused by encouraging without lying, preventing the chain reaction that may have resulted in a disgruntled driver losing control and crashing.

Daniels stated, "We all know he has the talent. "When he gets out front, executes a good restart, and does all the things that we know he can do, he's dynamite."

After Larson held the car in the top five, the No. 5 crew did their part by making a pit stop to advance to the front following a caution for Ryan Newman's spin with 57 laps remaining. Larson had to establish a rhythm from there, and Daniels had to keep his driver's attention focused.


Daniel Jack

For Daniel, journalism is a way of life. He lives and breathes art and anything even remotely related to it. Politics, Cinema, books, music, fashion are a part of his lifestyle.