LAS VEGAS (AP) — What a week for Kyle Larson, who has suddenly stepped into the spotlight as a NASCAR title favorite.
Larson in the span of six days won a sprint car championship, met the requirements to enter the Indianapolis 500, then became the first driver locked into NASCAR’s title-deciding finale. His victory Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the opening playoff race of the round of eight kept Larson in contention for a second Cup title in three years.
He has no intention of getting off the gas the next two races, which are meaningless to Larson and the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team now that he’s claimed one of the four spots in the Nov. 5 finale at Phoenix.
NASCAR races next Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where Larson is the defending race winner. NASCAR also races at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia before the Phoenix finale.
“It’s nice to win and lock in, you can focus on Phoenix. At the same point, you really can’t look too far ahead of yourself. There’s still two other races before then,” Larson said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself going to Homestead. I want to have a great run there. I want to dominate, honestly.
“I want to win both stages by 15 seconds and win the race by 30. That’s my goal.”
Joey Logano last year won at Las Vegas to give Team Penske the breathing room needed to focus on Phoenix, where he won a second Cup title three weeks later. Larson crew chief Cliff Daniels won’t permit anyone on the No. 5 team to hit cruise control, and that includes Larson.
“From a team exercise, all those other guys are so good, they’re going to be pushing hard to win the next two weeks,” Daniels said. “I think we have to match that intensity so we’re going into Phoenix with the right level of intensity ourselves, get there with strength.”
But one of the busiest racers in the world because of his intense sprint car schedule, his extracurricular racing came to an end Tuesday night when he won the inaugural High Limit Sprint Car Series championship at Lincoln Park Speedway in Greencastle, Indiana.
Larson founded the series with his brother-in-law Brad Sweet, the four-time World of Outlaws Series champion.
“How do you win your own championship? That was my question,” said Jeff Gordon, vice chairman of Hendrick Motorsports.
Larson was in Indianapolis the day after the sprint car race for a seat fitting at Arrow McLaren Racing, and then he was on track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Thursday.
Larson plans to run both the Indy 500 and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 next May and on Thursday completed the rookie orientation program at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He’s entering the Indy 500 in a joint entry between Hendrick Motorsports and McLaren and with boss Rick Hendrick looking on, Larson turned 72 laps with a fast lap of 217.898 mph.
“It’s certainly a great week. I was up there with him in Indy,” said Gordon. “Kind of childhood dreams for me, him, his dad, Rick Hendrick. Being up there at Indy was so special.”
Larson’s schedule is wide open for the next month, with Cup races the only racing in his immediate future. It will be interesting to see how he handles the free time and if it has any effect on his NASCAR performance.
Larson just knows his next race is Sunday in Homestead.
“I’m not thinking really ahead of Homestead yet. Martinsville, as well,” he said. “I want to go there and have another good run like we had earlier this year, go into Phoenix with a lot of confidence and momentum. If I start worrying about Phoenix, then have two bad runs at Homestead and Martinsville, I think that would kill our momentum and confidence for Phoenix.
“I just put a lot of pressure on myself and our team to not get complacent, and treat every race like it means something.”
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