Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images via NASCAR

Where Kyle Larson Finds Inspiration in Adversity

By Matt Weaver, Special Contributor

For all the accolades and success Kyle Larson has enjoyed over the past several seasons, even someone considered to be a generational racing talent occasionally watches himself on YouTube just to remember happier times.

“I was watching just flipping through old YouTube videos this week of my 2021 season so I could remind myself that I used to be good,” Larson said in a familiar self-deprecating way in the media center following his victory on Sunday in the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway.

… but why?

Like, this is the same racer that had an all-time motorsports campaign in 2021 in winning 10 races en route to the Cup Series championship, the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals, Knoxville Nationals and Kings Royal, while also immediately winning marquee Dirt Late Model races despite having never raced one until that summer.

The sky is blue, grass is green, and Kyle Larson is a tremendous talent, but sometimes even he needs the reminder of that last truism.

“I don’t know,” Larson said when asked why he was watching himself on YouTube. “I was just bored at home the other night.

“It was a great season, and just kind of listening to even post-race interviews and kind of where my mindset was at then when I was winning a lot just to kind of compare to what I think I’m like maybe right now.”

Larson, alongside crew chief Cliff Daniels, absolutely dominated that season in the final season of the Gen-6 platform and then came The Big Reset.

“The Next Gen stuff, it’s so up and down,” Larson said. “It’s easy to … obviously 2021 was so strong. We were just riding a high kind of all season. Expectations were high. Execution was great. Results were amazing.

“Whereas since we’ve gone to the Next Gen car, it’s hard to get your confidence up.”

Say what you will about the advantages Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports have found with the Next Gen car, but it was nothing like the one they enjoyed during the development freeze of the previous car. With the Next Gen, everyone is relatively closer together, and it just seems unlikely that a driver and team can ever get to a double-digit win kind of level.

And yet, Larson was looking for that missing edge on the internet and whatever fraction of a tenth it might inspire.

“I just really wanted to look at old tape of myself and just kind of see where my mindset was and see my confidence and, yeah, just do all that. I don’t think it mattered for the race today, but just to, I don’t know, kind of reset your mindset a little bit.”

Much of the game is mental for Larson, which is why Daniels has been such a significant influence on him, something he hasn’t had the past month as the Hendrick Motorsports crew chiefs each serve out a four-race suspension. Perhaps, there is a part of Daniels embedded in his headspace these days.

It certainly seemed like it when an incident with Daniel Suarez on pit road briefly damaged his car and sent him sinking through the top-10.

But Larson kept his cool.

“I feel like a lot of the races, even looking at last week. My race was going good in the beginning, and then one small mishap turned into me trying too hard, and I made a lot more mistakes and kind of hurt our day going forward,” Larson said.

“So, when I was going backwards in the second stage and mad, I just needed a caution to take a break and then tell myself just to not overreact and just we still have 170-something laps left or whatever it was. It’s plenty of time to get back to the front.

“Our car was good enough to do that too.”

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