By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
The opening round of the 2016 NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup wraps up this Sunday. Heading into the weekend, first-time Chase competitor Kyle Larson finds himself in the final transfer spot for the Round of 12, and he is clinging to a slim five point advantage over his teammate Jamie McMurray and Austin Dillon.
Despite the narrow margin, I fully expect Larson to easily move into the Round of 12 after 400 miles of racing this Sunday.
The reason why? Dover International Speedway is the place where things started to click for Larson this season. Before the spring race at Dover, Larson was on the ropes.
Larson had recorded just two top-10 finishes in the first 11 races of the year and as a result he was mired 21st in the championship standings. People were beginning to whisper that perhaps the driver, who many believed had the raw talent to be a future champion, had lost his way. Then came a breakout performance at Dover.
Larson led an impressive 85 laps in the AAA 400 Drive for Autism, and he had a dramatic duel with Matt Kenseth and Chase Elliott over the final 47 laps of the race. Larson would ultimately settle for second, but that finish was just as important as a win as it acted as the catalyst for Larson and crew chief Chad Johnston to turn their disappointing season around.
In the four months that followed that incredible day in Dover, Larson became one of the most consistent drivers in the garage area. Top-10s, which were a rarity early in the year, became a given from week-to-week. Larson was knocking on the door of victory. The driver had racked up seven top-10 finishes over the final 14 races of the regular season and in that stretch of races, Larson finally busted the door down to victory lane in the August 28th race at Michigan, securing his place in the 2016 Chase in the process.
Now if Larson wants to continue his championship chase, he needs another great run at the same place where his inspiring run from mediocrity to championship contender began. Mark my words: Larson will get the job done this weekend, and don’t be surprised if he is hoisting a monster concrete trophy at the conclusion of the Citizen Soldier 400.