Larson to make 250th Cup career start at Darlington

In his return to NASCAR competition and quest for his first Cup Series title, Kyle Larson is set to achieve a milestone start. By competing in this weekend’s Playoff event at Darlington Raceway, the driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE will reach 250 starts in NASCAR’s premier series.

A native from Elk Grove, California, Larson made his inaugural presence in the Cup Series at Charlotte Motor Speedway in October 2013. By then, he was competing in the Xfinity Series as a full-time rookie contender with Turner Scott Motorsports. He was also set to join Chip Ganassi Racing as an incoming Cup rookie competitor in the No. 42 Chevrolet for the 2014 season. During his Cup debut at Charlotte in 2013, Larson drove the No. 51 Chevrolet SS for Turner Scott Motorsports, where he started 21st and finished 37th due to an engine failure. He returned for three of the final four Cup events with TMS, where he finished 42nd at Martinsville Speedway in October, 23rd at Texas Motor Speedway and 15th at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November, respectively.

Taking over the No. 42 Chevrolet in 2014, Larson kickstarted his first full-time Cup season with a 38th-place result in the Daytona 500 after being involved in a late multi-car wreck. Three races later, he achieved his first top-10 career result in the Cup Series by finishing 10th at Bristol Motor Speedway in March. The following event at Auto Club Speedway, he achieved a career-best runner-up result following a two-lap shootout and a final lap battle with eventual winner Kyle Busch.

Throughout the 26-race regular-season stretch in 2014, Larson achieved his first Cup career pole at Pocono Raceway in August. He also recorded five top-five results and 11 top-10 results. Despite missing the Playoffs, Larson remained competitive throughout the postseason, where he notched three top-three results and a total of six top-10 results before finishing in 17th place in the final standings. While he did not record a victory throughout the season, he achieved the Rookie-of-the-Year title.

Compared to the 2014 season, the 2015 Cup season was a down season for Larson, who only achieved a season-best third-place result at Dover International Speedway in May, two top-five results, 10 top-10 results, an average-finishing result of 19.3 and a 19th-place result in the final standings. During the season, he was absent from competing at Martinsville in March after suffering a fainting spell a day prior to the main event.

Starting the 2016 season with a seventh-place effort in the Daytona 500, Larson achieved his first elusive Cup victory at Michigan International Speedway in August following a late battle with Chase Elliott. The victory occurred in Larson’s 99th career start as it snapped Chip Ganassi Racing’s two-year winless drought and placed Larson in the Playoffs for the first time in his career. Despite being eliminated from title contention following the Playoff’s first round, he went on to conclude the season in ninth place in the final standings. Overall, Larson achieved 10 top-five results and 15 top-10 results along with his first Cup victory throughout the 36-race schedule. By then, Larson surpassed 100 Cup career starts.

The 2017 Cup season was one of Larson’s competitive season, who started the season with a 12th-place effort in the Daytona 500 despite leading and running out of fuel on the final lap. After finishing in the runner-up spot during the next three consecutive races, he achieved his second Cup career triumph the following week at Auto Club Speedway in March. By then, he was the leader in the Cup standings for the first time in his career. 

Throughout the 2017 Cup regular-season stretch, Larson went on to sweep both Michigan events and win the final regular-season event at Richmond Raceway in September before entering the Playoffs as a title favorite. His championship hopes, however, came to a bitter end during the second round when an en early engine failure at Kansas Speedway prevented him from advancing to the penultimate round in the Playoffs and continue his title quest. While he did not finish in three of the final four races of the season, Larson concluded his sophomore Cup season in eighth place in the final standings and with four victories, three poles, 15 top-five results, 20 top-10 results and over 1,300 laps led.

The 2018 Cup season was a winless season for Larson, his first since 2015, despite making his third consecutive appearance in the Playoffs before he was eliminated from title contention following the second round. While he did not record a victory throughout the season, he and his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet team achieved three poles, 12 top-five results, 19 top-10 results, an average-finishing result of 12.6 and a ninth-place result in the final standings.

Through the first 10 events of the 2019 Cup season, Larson only achieved two top-10 results and was mired back in 21st place in the regular-season standings. In May, though, Larson reignited his competitiveness by winning the non-points NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte in May. After achieving enough consistent results to make the Playoffs for a fourth consecutive season, he snapped his one-year winless drought by winning at Dover International Speedway in October, a victory that earned him a one-way ticket to the penultimate round in the Playoffs. While he did not transfer to the Championship Round at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November, he concluded the season with a career-best sixth-place result in the final standings and with a win, a pole, eight top-five results and 17 top-10 results. By then, Larson surpassed 200 career starts in NASCAR’s premier series.

For the 2020 season, Larson managed to finish in the top 10 in three of the first four events before the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic paused the racing season for two months. In April, however, Larson was suspended indefinitely from Chip Ganassi Racing and NASCAR following a live iRacing event, where the driver was caught utilizing a live racial slur. After Larson was released from CGR, former Cup champion Matt Kenseth took over the No. 42 Chevrolet.

In October 2020, following a yearlong sensitivity training, Larson was reinstated by NASCAR, where he could return to all on-track NASCAR activities in January 2021. A week later, he was signed by Hendrick Motorsports to pilot the organization’s iconic No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE for the 2021 Cup season. Starting this season with a 10th-place result in the Daytona 500, it took the first four races for Larson to accomplish his first victory with HMS and ignite his redemptive return to NASCAR after he won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March.

After finishing in the runner-up spot in four of the following 10 races, Larson claimed a dominating win in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May. With the victory, he made Hendrick Motorsports the winningest Cup team at 269, one better than Petty Enterprises. Larson then went on a hot streak in June by winning at Sonoma Raceway, the non-points All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway and the inaugural Cup event at Nashville Superspeedway. After winning for the fifth time of the season at Watkins Glen International in August, Larson managed to tie Denny Hamlin for the lead in the regular-season standings. Following results of third, third and 20th in the final three regular-season events of 2021, Larson captured the 2021 Cup regular-season championship. He is currently seeded in first place to in the 2021 Playoff standings with 2,052 points as he contends for his first Cup title. He has also achieved a career-high five victories, 14 top-five results and 18 top-10 results throughout the 26-race regular-season stretch while driving for HMS.

Through 249 previous Cup starts, Larson has achieved 11 victories, nine poles, 70 top-five results, 119 top-10 results, over 4,700 laps led and an average-finishing result of 14.5.

Larson is primed to make his 250th Cup career start at Darlington Raceway for the Cook Out Southern 500 on Sunday, September 5, at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.



The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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