NASCAR: Larson returns to Phoenix, tops test speeds

NASCAR’s reigning Cup Series champion, Kyle Larson (shown above), returned to the site of his title triumph to shakedown his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for the final time before the 2022 season commences. More than two full months have passed since Larson hoisted the Bill France Cup trophy in Victory Lane. Seventy-nine days, to be exact.

“When I was out there, I saw my long burnout that I did,” Larson said. “Yeah, that was good. I’m glad that’s still out there.

“It is cool that the first time I’m back… Well, I guess I ran Charlotte a couple of times, but not really. So, the first real day in this car was back at Phoenix. It was also the freshest track in my mind. To come here and get to feel this new car, it helped me realize that it didn’t drive too much different than before.”

Tuesday was just Day 1 of NASCAR’s two-day organizational test at the 1-mile track. Wednesday will consist of another eight-hour session, which will stream live on its YouTube page. There is no more testing after that.

2nd fastest Tyler Reddick. Flames shoot out from the exhaust of the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, as it speeds down the backstretch.

The 2022 season kicks off Feb. 6 (6 p.m. ET, FOX) with the Busch Light Clash exhibition event at the Los Angeles Coliseum before the points-paying Daytona 500 opener two weeks later (Feb. 20, 2:30 p.m. ET, FOX) in Florida.

“I feel like we’re ready to race,” Larson said. “I was happy with the balance of our race car when we unloaded today. So, yeah, I’m confident we can go out there, race and be competitive right off the bat.”

The base rules configuration for short tracks, road courses and intermediate circuits was finalized back in December. Engines have a target output of 670 horsepower, and cars will feature a 4-inch rear spoiler. Last season saw a 750-horsepower package.

Larson posted the fastest unofficial lap time Tuesday, turning the circuit in 27.329 seconds at a speed of 131.728 mph. For reference but not comparison — preseason vs. postseason — Larson also captured the pole back in November in 26.116 seconds at 137.847 mph.

“If we qualified one of these things right now, we’d probably run a 26.80, maybe,” Daniels told “I guess, reasonable. There’s nothing crazy scary with the car. It’s a race car. There’s stuff we need to work on just from brakes, steering and stuff like that, but I can’t say that’s unexpected. That’s just trying to get him comfortable and get a feel for things.”

Larson will split time Wednesday in the No. 5 Chevrolet, taking the morning shift and passing the keys to Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron come afternoon.

While Larson isn’t all too concerned about the car, Daniels admits his wheels are already spinning. The garage doors closed Tuesday, and he was already thinking about Wednesday.

“I’m going to regret it one day, but I’m very much in the mindset of everything for 2022,” Daniels said. “So, 2021 is in the rearview mirror.”

Alex Bowman speeds through Turn 4 in his No. 9 Team Hendrick Chevrolet.

Day 1 – Practice 

Pos. No. Driver(s) Make Team Time Differential Speed (mph)
1 5 Kyle Larson Chevrolet Hendrick Motorsports 27.329s -0.000s 131.728
2 8 Tyler Reddick Chevrolet Richard Childress Racing 27.474 -0.145 131.033
3 22 Joey Logano Ford Team Penske 27.500 -0.171 130.909
4 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Chevrolet JTG Daugherty Racing 27.534 -0.205 130.747
5 23 Kurt Busch/Bubba Wallace Ford 23XI Racing 27.563 -0.234 130.610
6 12 Ryan Blaney Ford Team Penske 27.583 -0.254 130.515
7 17 Chris Buescher Ford RFK Racing 27.592 -0.263 130.473
8 9 Chase Elliott Chevrolet Hendrick Motorsports 27.611 -0.282 130.383
9 4 Kevin Harvick Ford Stewart-Haas Racing 27.648 -0.319 130.208
10 18 Kyle Busch Toyota Joe Gibbs Racing 27.743 -0.414 129.762
11 1 Daniel Suarez Chevrolet Trackhouse Racing 27.781 -0.452 129.585
12 19 Martin Truex Jr. Toyota Joe Gibbs Racing 27.784 -0.455 129.571
13 14 Chase Briscoe Ford Stewart-Haas Racing 27.809 -0.480 129.454
14 31 Daniel Hemric Chevrolet Kaulig Racing 27.848 -0.519 129.273
15 21 Austin Cindric Ford Wood Brothers Racing 27.894 -0.565 129.060
16 38 Michael McDowell Ford Front Row Motorsports 28.004 -0.675 128.553
17 42 Ty Dillon Chevrolet Petty GMS Motorsports 28.147 -0.818 127.900
18 27 Loris Hezemans Ford Team Hezeberg 28.721 -1.392 125.344