Photo: Stephen A. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Aero Block Dealt A Bad Hand to Larson at Dover

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin has had their share of heated battles in the NASCAR Cup Series. More often than not, it ends with fender rubbing, consequential outcomes and angered spirits.

This time around at Dover Motor Speedway, it wasn’t the case as Larson did everything to hunt down Hamlin and came up short of winning Sunday’s WÜRTH 400.

A tale old as time, dirty air made Larson’s bid for a second Cup victory of 2024 difficult. No matter how many lanes he chose around the “Monster Mile,” nothing worked as Hamlin’s love of winning continued with his 54th career Cup win.

Meanwhile Larson, had to settle for his second runner-up finish of the year and fifth top-five overall of the year.

“A great day for our Chevy team,” said Larson. “Started 21st, drove up to sixth in the first stage, or fifth. Got a stage win. Another stage win sounds good. Good points day. We would have loved to get a win.”

Despite a rather disappointing outcome, Larson will head to Kansas Speedway, the very venue where Larson’s rivalry with Hamlin escalated last year, retaining his regular season points lead over Martin Truex, Jr. by 15 points.

Larson’s post-race comments reflected in agony as Larson led twice for 39 laps, including a Stage 2 win, but a woeful restart on Lap 329 sealed his fate after Hamlin took the lead and never surrendered it. Such moment was pointed towards Truex, who ran into Larson on the restart which allowed Hamlin to capitalize.

“I went late in the zone,” said Larson. Martin was trying to time it behind me. He hit me right when I wanted to go. Screwed up. Got a lot of wheel spin.”

“(Denny) was kind of able to out-race me into one. His car was really good on the short runs. I could pace it, get closer to him at the end of the runs.

“It’s so easy to air block. Not that he was doing anything dirty or anything like that. It’s so easy as the leader, especially at a place like this, to shut off the air on the guys behind you.

“I knew when I got within three car lengths, he was going to start moving around. I couldn’t really do anything. I was trying all sorts of different angles and speeds, all that. Nothing could generate enough speed to get close enough I guess to do anything. That was a bummer.”

Aero block became a topic of conversation in the garage as he alluded to rear camera assists in the NextGen cars, allowing drivers to be more defensive when it was previously just the rearview mirror being used as a main tool of blocking competitors when necessary.

Hamlin said during the post-race press conference that a track like Dover is difficult for him to use the rear camera. Had he did so, he felt it would’ve end up being a detrimental move that would’ve cost him ground on the competition.

“I use it at times. I didn’t use it much today simply because Dover is just a track where things happen so fast,” Hamlin commented. “I feel like personally if I take my eyes off the road for a second, I take it to the camera, I’ll miss my line.

“I kind of rely more on the spotter to defend than I do the actual camera just simply because I don’t think I’m good enough to drive and look backwards.”

Going forward, Larson’s key improvement he’s looking to aim for is polishing his restarts.

A key driving characteristic that’ll come a long way entering the Month of May. Not just in NASCAR, but for the 108th Indianapolis 500 as prior to the race, Kevin Harvick has been tapped to be Larson’s relief diver during NASCAR All-Star Weekend at North Wilkesboro May 17-19.

Harvick will drive Larson’s No. 5 Chevrolet during practice and qualifying so that Larson can concentrate of putting the No. 17 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet into the 33-car grid at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Earlier this month, Larson was second fastest during open testing at Indianapolis, only trailing defending Indy 500 champion Josef Newgarden in the rain-shortened session.

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From the Pacific Northwest, Luis is a University of Idaho graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media and a three-time National Motorsports Press Association award winner in photography. Ever since watching the 2003 Daytona 500, being involved in auto racing is all he's ever dreamed of doing. Over the years, Luis has focused on writing, video and photography with ambitions of having his work recognized.