For the first time since 2018, Kyle Larson will compete in a NASCAR Xfinity Series event Saturday — and he will also start the race from the pole position in Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 17 Chevrolet.
Larson won P1 Friday at Road America, posting a top qualifying speed of 108.495 mph and completing a lap around the 4.048-mile road course in 134.318 seconds. Ty Gibbs from Joe Gibbs Racing will line up next to Larson after falling 0.573 mph and 0.713 seconds slower. Larson was the only one in the 38-driver field to crack the 108-mph mark.
“It was honestly surprising when I read that it’s been since 2018,” Larson said. “It doesn’t feel that long ago. But yeah, I don’t know. Just getting into the car, I guess. The driving stuff is whatever. It’s just like the visuals of the tag and the gauges, it’s different style dash than what I was even used to when I was racing Xfinity for (Chip) Ganassi. So, just the little things like that. It’s hard to adjust to at first, but once you’re out there, it kind of becomes natural and it’s just another stock car at that point.”
his Hendrick Motorsports entry marks the team’s first in the Xfinity Series since 2009. Tony Stewart was the last to pilot a Hendrick Motorsports car inside the second-tier level, winning the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. Team owner Rick Hendrick holds 23 Xfinity Series victories in 339 starts.
Larson’s return at Road America is the first of three Xfinity Series races Hendrick Motorsports has committed to in 2022. Alex Bowman will make his first start since 2018 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course on July 30. William Byron will then run his second race this season – showed up for JR Motorsports at Texas Motor Speedway back in May; finished runner-up – at Watkins Glen International on Aug. 20.
The three drivers combine for 17 Xfinity Series wins. Byron adds a championship from 2017.
“I’m looking forward to competing with a lot of the young up-and-comers, as I’m sure they’re looking forward to compete with me also,” Larson said. “It should be a lot of fun this weekend and for the couple others I get to run the rest of the year.”
Larson alone has 108 career starts in the Xfinity Series, spanning from 2013-18. He has 12 wins, with the latest coming in 2018 at Bristol Motor Speedway. That year, he won in four of the six races he participated in. He ran a part-time schedule each year but 2013, when he turned out eighth in the season standings.
During that full-time gig, Larson was introduced to Road America. He came in seventh, didn’t lead any laps. His next meeting with the Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, track didn’t come until 2021 in the Cup Series, where he placed 16th.
“I picked this one because I’ve only raced here twice,” Larson said. “I don’t remember all the race I ran here in 2013, but I don’t remember being that fast. And then, the Cup race last year, this was probably our worst road course we had of the season. So that’s why it was important for me to get to run in this race and just try to learn something every lap.”
Q&A with Polesitter
KYLE, WALK US THROUGH YOUR QUALIFYING LAP TODAY IN THE NO. 17 HENDRICKCARS.COM CAMARO SS THAT LANDED YOU THE POLE FOR TOMORROW’S NASCAR XFINITY SERIES RACE?
“It was good. The first run, my goal was to hit my marks and I didn’t do that. It was kind of good to do that because then I could back off of that a little bit and just know if I got through the corners OK, my car was going to be fast enough that I could have a shot at the pole. I didn’t expect to be that much faster than the field, but it felt really good.
I’m excited about tomorrow. My car felt amazing in race trim, as well. Hats off to the team for preparing a car for me to race this weekend and try to learn and better our efforts for Sunday. Definitely excited about it.”
YOU HAVEN’T COMPETED IN THE NASCAR XFINITY SERIES IN FOUR YEARS. WHAT’S IT LIKE BEING BACK IN A XFINITY CAR?
“Yeah, it was honestly surprising when I had read that it had been since I think 2018. It doesn’t feel that long ago.
I don’t know – the driving stuff is whatever. It’s just like the visuals of the tach and the gauges. It’s a different style of dash than what I was even used to when I was racing Xfinity for Ganassi. Just the little things like that are hard to adjust to at first. But once you’re out there, it all kind of becomes natural and it’s just another stock car at that point.”
HOW MUCH ATTENTION HAVE YOU PAID TO THIS SERIES OVER THE LAST FOUR YEARS WITH THE NEW TALENT?
“I honestly probably haven’t paid enough attention, so I don’t really know how to answer that question. But I’m looking forward to competing with a lot of the young up-and-comers, as I’m sure they’re looking forward to compete with me also. It should be a lot of fun this weekend and for the couple of others I get to run the rest of the year.”
YOU’VE LED AT LEAST 19 LAPS ON THE CUP SIDE IN SEVEN OF THE LAST NINE RACES. DO YOU FEEL LIKE SOME OF THOSE HAVE KIND OF SLIPPED AWAY FROM YOU, AS FAR AS WINS? DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU GUYS ARE JUST A LITTLE BIT OFF? YOU FIND YOUR WAY UP FRONT AT SOME POINT DURING THE RACE.
“I don’t know. There were definitely a couple that we almost won that slipped away there late, like Kansas (Speedway) and Charlotte (Motor Speedway). But I feel like in both of those, we performed at a very great level and honestly a little bit better than what we should have; and that’s just a testament to our team and how strong we are.
As I’m sure everybody does, I feel like we’re really close to being good; leading even more laps and challenging for even more wins. The cars are developing each week. Everyone is refining their stuff, setups and getting better. We just have to keep working really hard.”
I ASSUME YOU WEREN’T EXPECTING A SEASON LIKE LAST YEAR BECAUSE THOSE JUST DON’T COME AROUND, BUT HAS IT BEEN FRUSTRATING AT ALL NOT TO BE AS DOMINATE? OR DOES THE FACT THAT NOBODY HAS BEEN REALLY DOMINATE THIS YEAR KIND OF MAKE UP FOR ANY POTENTIAL FRUSTRATION?
“I haven’t been frustrated yet. I think I understand that the season we had last year was hard to repeat, especially going into a season with a new car and all that. I’m sure if we were in last year’s car and I was sitting here with the same stats – yeah, I’d probably be frustrated. But I thinking having the understanding that we have a new car, pit stops and everything, that helps kind of forget about the success, I guess, of last year.
And two, I think nobody has been dominating. Pretty much everybody has been inconsistent at some point throughout a race every week. Just have to find some consistency and I feel like that’s where you’ll standout across the field.”
GIVEN HOW DIFFERENT THE CARS HAVE BECOME BETWEEN THESE TWO SERIES, WHAT DO YOU GAIN TOMORROW THAT’S GOING TO HELP?
“I don’t know yet until I get out there tomorrow. But I think for me, just getting more laps – figuring out your angles of what works and what doesn’t work; the shapes of the corners and stuff like that to try and go faster and be better. I imagine our braking points will be much deeper tomorrow. It seems like this year compared to last year’s car, the Cup cars can brake a lot deeper into the corners. That might take some getting used to at first.
I definitely think it doesn’t hurt to get more laps, especially on the same race track.”
WOULD YOU HAVE BEEN BETTER OFF DOING DOUBLE DUTY A YEAR AGO?
“I don’t know – who’s to say. I pick them because it just works out for my schedule. But I picked this one because I’ve only raced here twice. I don’t remember at all the race I ran here in 2013 and I don’t remember being fast. And then the Cup race last year, this was probably our worst road course we had of the season. So that’s why it was important for me to run this race and just try and learn something every lap.”
AFTER LAST WEEKEND’S RACE, YOU MADE THE REFERENCE OF NEEDING TO CLEAN UP A FEW THINGS. YOU HAVE KEVIN (MEENDERING) HERE WORKING WITH YOU ON THE XFINITY CAR, SO YOU GET HIM DOUBLE DUTY LIKE YOU THIS WEEKEND. WHAT DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU NEED TO CLEAN UP OR IF THERE’S ANYTHING IN TERMS OF WORKING WITH HIM AND HOW CAN THIS WEEKEND HELP TOWARDS THAT?
“I don’t know – I don’t remember those exact comments because I felt like everything went pretty smooth, as far as on my end on that. The radio stuff and all that was smooth. I don’t know – maybe I was talking about something else, I can’t remember (laughs).
But it is good. It was an unfortunate circumstance that Cliff (Daniels) is suspended for four weeks, but if it’s going to happen, it falls at a good time where I’m doing this race also with Kevin (Meendering). Just getting more familiar with him. I feel like I’m super easy to work with and I feel like I can work with anybody, so it’s not hard for me to adjust to different crew chiefs and stuff. I guess just being familiar with the tone of voice and stuff on the radio is important to me. I know the car is always going to be fast when we hit the track.
Cliff is Cliff and there’s nobody like him on a pit box, especially when he talks to you on the radio. I guess just getting familiar with that end of things.”
PEOPLE WILL LOOK AT THE LAST ROAD COURSE RACE AND SAY FOR AS STRONG AS YOU WERE AND SUCCESSFUL UNTIL THE WHEEL CAME OFF, THE EXPECTATION WOULD BE THAT IT WOULD CARRYOVER TO THIS PLACE. IS THERE MUCH FROM SONOMA (RACEWAY) THAT YOU CAN TAKE AND FEEL GOOD ABOUT GOING INTO THIS WEEKEND BASED ON HOW YOU DID AT SONOMA?
“It’s hard to say. Last year, we dominated Sonoma (Raceway) and we were extremely good, and we weren’t great here (Road America). I don’t know – I’m sure on the car side of things, there are things that they learned from it. I’ve raced a lot at Sonoma and I haven’t raced here much. And yes, the two don’t really compare, so it’s hard to judge off of Sonoma for this place.”
DOES IT SEEM PRETTY SEAMLESS BEING IN A HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS’ XFINITY CAR? IT’S BEEN A LONG TIME SINCE THEY’VE RACED IN THIS SERIES, SO I’M JUST CURIOUS WHAT THAT TRANSITION HAS BEEN LIKE?
“I don’t really know what all went into the logistics of fielding a Hendrick Motorsports car in the Xfinity Series. I know they probably had some help from JR Motorsports and stuff like that, but I don’t know the extent of it. I can only speak from my vantage point and everything has been smooth. I went and sat in the car once last week and it fit first try. I showed up today, sat in it again to make sure nothing changed, and it fit fine again. The radios worked fine. That’s the stuff that I worry about when I go to run a car that I haven’t ran before and everything has been smooth, so far.
I have no doubt that with the depth of talent that Hendrick Motorsports has, that it’s going to be performing at a high-level. It should be easy-going.”
I KNOW THAT WITH THE CAR NUMBER AND THE PAINT SCHEME, IT’S A TRIBUTE TO RICKY HENDRICK. YOU NEVER GOT TO MEET RICKY. WHEN YOU’RE DRIVING A CAR THAT CERTAINLY HAS SIGNIFICANCE TO THE TEAM AND THE OWNER, BUT YOU DON’T HAVE AS MUCH OF THAT RELATIONSHIP. HOW DO YOU FEEL? IS THERE ANY EXTRA WEIGHT ON YOUR SHOULDERS AND HOW DO YOU TRY TO LEARN A LITTLE BIT MORE ABOUT RICKY SINCE YOU NEVER GOT THE CHANCE TO MEET HIM?
“Yeah, that’s a good question. I never got the chance to meet Ricky (Hendrick), but I’ve heard a lot of stories. When we were on vacation last year, we watched that documentary that they came out with years back. So I could kind of learn a little bit about him, his family and Rick and Linda (Hendrick) even more watching that. That was good.
And then I think for me, having children myself makes me running this car much more important. I can’t imagine losing one of my children and what that would do to me. Talking to Rick on the phone a few different times, he’s so excited about seeing this paint scheme and number on the race track. I hope to see him here this weekend. I know he’s trying hard to get here and we have a good shot to win. I did tell him that it does add some more pressure to you driving this car because you know how special it is to their family and to Hendrick Motorsports as a whole.”
I WAS TALKING TO ONE OF YOUR CREW MEMBERS AND TEHRE ARE A NUMBER OF PEOPLE WORKING ON THE CAR THIS WEEKEND THAT DID WORK WITH RICKY (HENDRICK). I WAS CURIOUS IF ANY OF THEM HAD MENTIONED THAT TO YOU YET.
“I hadn’t heard of that, but that’s really neat and I think that just adds to these races that we’re running with this car. It’s special for everybody at the race shop and anybody who’s ever had a relationship with Ricky (Hendrick) or worked at Hendrick Motorsports in the past.
I knew we were going to have this paint scheme because it’s Rick (Hendrick) and he’s flipping the bill for it. But when I heard that it was going to be that number and paying tribute to Ricky, I think it just made everybody really excited and it was just the perfect thing to do.”
THIS WEEK, IT CAME OUT THAT YOU HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR AN ESPYS FOR DRIVER OF THE YEAR AGAINST MAX VERSTAPPEN, ALEX PALOU AND STEVE TORRENCE. HOW COOL WAS THAT TO BE INCLUDED IN THAT GROUP AND BE UP FOR THAT HONOR?
“It’s a great honor. I know there has been a lot of NASCAR drivers to win the award, so my fingers are crossed that I can win that. That would definitely be one of the coolest awards. Just being nominated alone is a great honor. But if I was to win it and beat a F1 World Champion, as well as the other champions, that would be a great honor.
We’ll see. I hope. Max (Verstappen) had a great year, as well as everybody else. Hopefully they consider my dirt wins, as well; because if you factor in my dirt wins, then that would give me a better shot.”
|1||17||Kyle Larson(i)||Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet||134.318||108.495|
|2||54||Ty Gibbs||Monster Energy Toyota||135.031||107.922|
|3||98||Riley Herbst||Henry Repeating Arms Ford||135.39||107.636|
|4||7||Cole Custer(i)||Bucked Up Energy Drink Ford||135.442||107.594|
|5||1||Sam Mayer||Jockey/Accelerate Pros Talent Chevrolet||135.706||107.385|
|6||2||Sheldon Creed #||Whelen Chevrolet||135.808||107.304|
|7||9||Noah Gragson||Bass Pro Shops/TrueTimber/BRCC Chevrolet||136.127||107.053|
|8||18||Sammy Smith||Allstate Peterbilt Toyota||136.409||106.832|
|9||48||Tyler Reddick(i)||Big Machine Spiked Coolers Chevrolet||136.564||106.71|
|10||21||Austin Hill #||Bennett Transportation Chevrolet||137.122||106.276|
|11||51||Jeremy Clements||Whitetail Smokeless Chevrolet||136.104||107.071|
|12||45||Sage Karam||RichMar Florist/GrnLnAtmtv Chev||136.318||106.903|
|13||44||Josh Bilicki(i)||Gravely Chevrolet||136.319||106.902|
|14||19||Brandon Jones||Menards/Patriot Lighting Toyota||136.36||106.87|
|15||7||Justin Allgaier||BRANDT Chevrolet||136.379||106.855|
|16||8||Josh Berry||Chevy Military Appreciation Chevrolet||136.473||106.782|
|18||36||Alex Labbe||Can-Am Chevrolet||136.576||106.701|
|19||23||Anthony Alfredo||Dude Wipes Chevrolet||136.584||106.695|
|20||10||Landon Cassill||Voyager: Crypto for All Chevrolet||136.591||106.689|
|21||91||Preston Pardus||Danus/Chinchor Electric Chevrolet||136.736||106.576|
|22||11||Daniel Hemric||AG1 – Athletic Greens Chevrolet||136.82||106.511|
|23||8||Andy Lally||Special Report with Brett Baier Ford||136.838||106.497|
|24||34||Kyle Weatherman||Sports and Service Chevrolet||137.11||106.285|
|25||88||Miguel Paludo||BRANDT Chevrolet||137.275||106.158|
|26||6||Ty Dillon(i)||Black Hole Ammunitions Chevrolet||137.554||105.942|
|27||39||Ryan Sieg||CMRroofing.com/A-game Ford||137.665||105.857|
|28||13||Will Rodgers||Kelly Benefits Toyota||138.011||105.592|
|29||35||Chris Dyson||Concord American Flagpole Chevrolet||138.074||105.543|
|30||4||Bayley Currey||TeamJDMotorsports.com Chevrolet||138.386||105.305|
|31||78||Josh Williams||Alloy Employer Services Chevrolet||138.463||105.247|
|32||31||Myatt Snider||Shore Lunch Chevrolet||138.517||105.206|
|33||38||Patrick Gallagher||Belle Haven Ford||138.603||105.141|
|34||27||Jeb Burton||Ergodyne/Puryear Tank Lines Chevrolet||138.627||105.122|
|35||26||John Hunter Nemechek(i)||Stillhouse Toyota||139.013||104.83|
|36||68||Brandon Brown||Trade the Chain Chevrolet||139.284||104.627|
|37||5||Joe Graf Jr.||Bucked Up Energy Ford||140.525||103.703|
|38||16||AJ Allmendinger||Nutrien Ag Solutions Chevrolet||0||0|