Now a champion, Kyle Larson covets victory in NASCAR’s biggest race

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 16: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Chevrolet, speaks to the media during the NASCAR Cup Series 64th Annual Daytona 500 Media Day at Daytona International Speedway on February 16, 2022 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson addressed the media corps Wednesday afternoon taking questions on a wide variety of topics from his chances in Sunday’s Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), to his pick as to who would turn in the “next” breakout season, to his expectations for a back-to-back title trophy hoist.

Larson’s best Daytona 500 finish in eight starts is seventh-place – twice – in 2016 and 2019. He’s led 17 laps total at the track – 16 in the 2017 race and one lap last year en route to a 10th-place showing.

“It’s the biggest race in our sport so I want to win it and I get excited to come down here, spend the week, get to go to Disney, run sprint cars and compete in the biggest race of our year,” said Larson, who drives the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

“I haven’t had much success here so that part of it doesn’t get me too excited. I was close to winning in 2017. I crossed the line coming to the white as the leader then ran out of fuel. That was a really cool. I just remember the emotions of that, I was like, ‘wow,’ I could win the Daytona 500. And not winning it fuels me to want to win it in my future. Before that race and every race since I have been not even close. I would love to do it.

“For me,” Larson continued. “I’ve chased races more than championships, so the priority of winning big races hasn’t changed at all because it’s more in front of you than the championship is really.”

Larson seems confident that one of his main challengers for a second title will come from fellow Californian, Tyler Reddick – driver of the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. Reddick, a two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series champion (2018-19), is still looking for his first win in the premier NASCAR Cup Series level, but has three runner-up finishes – at Texas (2020), Homestead, Fla. (2021) and the Charlotte ROVAL (2021).

Both Larson and Reddick raced sprint cars and midgets on their way up to NASCAR’s major league and there is great respect between the two.

“I think Tyler Reddick is going to have an amazing season,” Larson said. “I think he’s been the best car at all the tests. I think he showed last week at the Clash he’s really good. I feel like when I watch him, I’m watching myself just because we’re both really aggressive and he seems to be even a little more aggressive and keep things in control better than I could back when I was running really hard in Ganassi equipment trying to run up front.

“I feel like he’s the guy I look at this year that’s going to have the breakout season and winning a lot of races.”

That’s obviously a theme for Larson, whose 10-race haul in 2021 was the most in a single season since former Hendrick driver, seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson won 10 races in 2007.