A slew of early issues turned Kyle Larson’s request to reprise the role of Coca-Cola 600 champion into the infernal personal escape room at Sunday’s Marathon at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I think this was the worst race of my life and we’re not even in the middle of the road,” Larson told his number 5 motorsport team Hendrik regarding in-car communications as the race headed toward its middle.
Crew chief Cliff Daniels felt his driver was losing morale, and set a time limit on how long he would be allowed to go.
I mean, it was nice that he warned me the speech was coming. And I had another 30 laps, some weird, Larson said. “It helped.”
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Somehow, somehow, Team #5 recovered to lead large parts of the fourth and final stage of the annual 600 Miller, and it stayed ahead until Larson’s battle with Chase Briscoe freight forced an extended race warning period that led to the race. In the chaos of overtime. Larson rotated at the crossroads in the first attempt for overtime, but still corrected the car to finish ninth.
Having the team even in this competing mix in the first place was a small miracle. The list of first-half editions stretched until I reached a receipt from the pharmacy. Larson started deep after scratching a wall in Saturday’s practice and he was constantly dealt cards making him an all-too-familiar vault.
Wall tap on lap 53. Stage 2 rotates in the front turf area. A barricade is on fire as he rolls around the track after a stray stop. And the championship-caliber pit crew that helped secure Larson’s first title with a glowing four-tire stop last fall? Suddenly, that same group was shooting the projectile for three penalties in the first inning – two for equipment interference and one for equipment removal. A close call with Eric Almerola’s #10 Ford caused a tire to shove away, making another stop for an excruciatingly long time.
So when lap 200 of the scheduled 400 was clicked, Daniels followed suit.
“In the first half, all I want you to remember is how good TV we made,” Daniels said on the radio. “We’ve gone from back to front more times than I can count. We hit the wall, we rolled it, we literally caught fire. We were also the team that got the most penalties in the first half. All of that means that in the second half we’re really going to start way better than we started in the half. The first. We have to run out now, so I don’t know what the hell to worry about, but I’m fine, the team is fine. Everyone here is nodding their head and thumbs up, so let’s go.”
– NASCAR May 30, 2022
It turned out to be a reset for Larson and the wanted team. Perhaps encouraged by Daniels’ enthusiastic shriek, the team’s second half in the longest race of the season was almost flawless.
“I think we’ve all seen in next-generation racing, everyone inevitably makes mistakes, right? After the race, after a long decompression session inside the #5 pickup truck, you’re talking about good teams, good drivers, good crews,” said Daniels after the race, after a long decompression session. Just stuff.” Guys go from back to front, front to back and sometimes multiple times. There are tire problems, there are all these things. So in my opinion, I’m like, OK, our car wasn’t destroyed. I don’t really think it would be terrible if we got him out front, I’m sure it would be better. I know him, right? If we put it in front, it would be great, because it always has been. You know, this is the same pit crew that won the championship for us six months ago. So yeah, our day had a rough start. But I have all faith and trust in these guys.
“So it’s like, OK, wait a minute. Yeah, we’re three hours in. It looks like we’re running a marathon, but we’re barely halfway, that’s if it ever happens. So like, hey, let’s calm down for a minute. Let’s think about this, and let’s We go do what we can do and be really good. So that was kind of my frame of mind internally. Yeah, I’ve been angry, frustrated, angry, sad and all over the place like everyone else, but that really doesn’t do me any good….so you just have to be Ruthless. She should be there eventually. We talk about it every week.”
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Larson drove only one yellow-flag lap in the first half of the race, and he didn’t finish anywhere near the money at the end of the first two stages. After the reset, Larson moved forward, slipped to third at the conclusion of Stage 3 and then drove 50 laps into the closing stage before overtime chaos erupted.
“I think a lot of that has to do with Cliff,” Larson said, noting the impact of the spirited talk mid-race. “He’s the best captain in the garage area, and I’m happy to have him as part of our team. So yeah, he did a great job keeping me in the game, our crew in the game and giving us a chance to win.”
The same pit crew that had air hose problems and knocked tires out every time in the first half of the 600s was reset by itself. At nearly every stop, Team #5 cut the rest of the way, and the pit crew grabbed the transmissions or made nets, including a five-position winner halfway through the final.
When the front racers pitted for fresh rubber for extra time, Larson’s crew delivered them back at their end, giving him a tight advantage over rival Ross Chastain’s #1 Chevy at the pit exit line. It was the ultimate test of their stalled performance, but also their determination after such a rocky ride early on.
“We have a very healthy mix of guys who still have the euphoria of youth, but are racers so they know what grit it takes,” Daniels said. “We also have a good mix of guys who are really experienced and who have been doing this for a long time, so they are not easily influenced by scenarios and situations. Believe me, we prefer to do more polished things, but some days you just have to take your gloves off and go to work, and these guys know how to do So. I can’t finish them enough. The road crew actually spent the last day and a half rebuilding our car. Yes, there was a lot of damage after touching the wall in practice. So rebuilding a car, achieving all of these things today and even getting Their screenshot is a testament to them.
“I know, maybe our pit crew got beaten up a little bit, you know, publicly in the first two stops, but it’s a tough group. And for me, what really shows is that in the midst of the struggles we had to start today, the last three pits of the race, we got to the top three. The first and we left either equal or plus one. They did a great job, that’s how strong they are, right? Like, hey, we made mistakes, we screwed up, things happened, we got hit and rolled all that stuff and we come back and do great stops like they did great As for your point of view, the backbone of the team is strong. It’s not just any individual. They’re all guys. And you know, of course, Larson is a badass, once you bring him back and talk about things on his mind, he kind of resets himself, he’s cool. So we have Lots of strength. It’s annoying that we didn’t get a better result, but a lot of good junk food from the night.”