Things haven’t particularly gone Kyle Larson’s way through 10 races of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
The 26-year-old wheelman that can make a strong case as the most talented racer in the country is 21st in the standings and enters Sunday’s Gander RV 400 at Dover International Speedway having DNFed three of the last four races. On the contrary, he has just two top 10s.
Despite the against-the-grain circumstances, Larson’s optimism is greater than pessimism, and he’s confident he’ll right the ship this Sunday. Over the past two years, Dover is Larson’s seventh-best track in terms of driver rating (108.8) and he has two top fives at the concrete mile oval in the past four races.
“The only good thing about [the tough start] is I feel like a lot of it has been not of our doings,” Larson said Friday. “I mean, I made a mistake at Atlanta that cost us a good finish, if not a win. But then we had a dumb pit road penalty at [Las] Vegas. Then we’ve had loose wheels and we’ve had a lot of flat tires.
“Obviously, I mean, when you’re doing good, you get confident,” Larson added. “When you’re not running good, you get down and pissed off. Right now, I don’t feel like we’re running terrible. We just haven’t had the luck. I feel like that helps me stay grounded because I see the potential in our team.”
Larson’s season got off on the right foot with a seventh at the Daytona 500. The following week he led 142 laps at Atlanta before an aforementioned speeding penalty on pit road soiled the shot at the win. At Las Vegas, he had a top-five car, but another pit road penalty led to a 12th-place finish. Larson then rebounded at Phoenix, finishing sixth, but things have regressed since.
Larson crashed out at Texas to come 39th, finished a lap down at Bristol to place 18th, crashed out at Richmond to finish 37th, and was most recently involved in a scary, head-on barrel roll last week at Talladega.
“We haven’t had awesome speed, but I feel like we’ve been a 10th-place car most weekends, and if not better at a couple of them,” Larson said. “We just haven’t had the luck to show for it. We’ve had a lot of bad luck. I feel like I’ve done a good job of staying positive and all that. I think I do a good job of forgetting things pretty easily. I have a lot of things going on in my life. I just try and stay positive and look forward to next week.”
And Larson is really looking forward to Sunday. He has an 8.50 average finish at the Monster Mile in his Cup career, which ranks as his third-best among active tracks. A win on Sunday would be his first at Dover. It would also snap a 56-race winless streak.
“I think there are some tracks we have more confidence going to. This would be one of them,” Larson said. “We’ve run well here really my whole Cup career except last year.”
Larson, who was apart of a recent tire test at Dover, is more prepared going into a Dover race than ever before. The Chip Ganassi driver has always struggled in Turn 3, but in the tire test, which tinkers with different tires, compounds, and stagger, Larson felt he finally found a balance in that portion of the speedway.
“My whole Cup career, I’ve struggled in Turn 3,” Larson said. “I feel like we made it a little better in the test, and then coming back here … I feel like we’ve made a huge gain on that end of the racetrack.”
Dover also reminds Larson of Lawrenceburg Speedway, a 0.375-mile, high-banked, clay oval in Indiana that hosts winged sprint car races.
“[Dover] is like Lawrenceburg when it’s hooked up,” Larson said. “Driving a winged sprint car, you’re hauling [the mail]. And here, it’s cooler and you’re hauling [the mail]. It has a ton of grip. You just have to have a lot of confidence and commitment to carry a lot of throttle, and be smooth, too, at the same time.”
Larson was second-fastest in first practice Friday with a lap of 168.106 MPH, trailing only teammate Kurt Busch, who topped opening practice. Larson will started Sunday’s 400-mile race in third.
“I just know if everything clicks right we’ll be fine,” Larson said. “That helps me stay positive.”