Larson didn’t have to win Sunday’s race in Kansas, he did anyways, why he and Cliff Daniels are locked in to Phoenix and that goes with mutual appreciation for each other

Kyle Larson didn’t have to win Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400. He had already won last weekend in Texas and already stamped his name into the Championship 4 via that triumph. In the meantime, Larson won again. It was the ninth win of the season for him, four of which coming in the playoffs as this was his third straight at that. He’s the third driver in the history of the playoffs to pull off the hat trick joining Joey Logano (2015) and Jimmie Johnson who won four straight in 2007.

That’s it.

He could have packed it in. Focused on Phoenix. After all, Kansas and Martinsville next week aren’t going to award him a championship trophy. Phoenix will. For a driver who’s not entirely at his best on a track where a winner-take-all format will reward a champion, you’d think all their time and focus would be on Phoenix and nothing else mattering at this point.

But, the way Larson sees it, Kansas and Martinsville go a long way towards a Phoenix championship. They have momentum. They’ve won three straight playoff races becoming just the third driver to ever do so. Why punt away this momentum now?

“It’s like hard for me to think if people will really remember if you don’t win the championship now at this point,” Larson said following another dominating win on Sunday in the Sunflower State.

“Not that it adds pressure but you can read into it adding pressure that I want to win the championship even more to cap off what’s been a great season. I try not to think about it. And I think the more wins you get, hopefully we’re winning the championship in Phoenix, but I feel like the more wins we’ve gotten will make that feeling if I happen to not win, make it easier to swallow I think just because it has been a great year.

“It comes down to one race there in Phoenix. It’s a different style track than we’ve been winning on. But I don’t know. Like I said I try not to think about it. We’ll see how the feeling is. Hopefully we’re celebrating after Phoenix and I don’t have to accept the fact that we didn’t win a championship.

“But either way, yes, it’s been a good season but I want to cap it off with what we all want. So that’s my goal. And I hope we can finish it off with being mentioned in one of the top five greatest seasons ever.”

KANSAS CITY, KANSAS – OCTOBER 24: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Chevrolet, points toward the sky, as he celebrates winning the NASCAR Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway on October 24, 2021 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

So, when facing an aggressive race with the winds swirling around the 1.5-mile track making the race very treacherous, Larson fought harder. He’s afraid to lose. So is his entire No. 5 Chevrolet team in general.

“I said it last week, I’ll say it again, there is a cadence to how our whole team prepares,” Larson’s crew chief Cliff Daniels said. “Everybody is bought in, everybody believes in it. If I went to them tomorrow and said we’re going to ignore Martinsville and focus on Phoenix, they’re just not going to listen to me.

“We are going to stay focused on our path, what it is going to take to go to Martinsville. Of course, we have our eyes on Phoenix. We’re going to prepare like we should to go there but we’ve just got to keep going.”

Daniels is just so appreciative of being paired with a driver of Larson’s caliber.

“Working with him has been incredible,” Daniels continued. “And we’ve always seen with him that he was going to have the potential to go do what he’s done. And then last year, not being in the Cup Series but running third, he won half the races that he entered last year. I think that tipped off the world to what he could become.

“And then getting our team together, so thankful to Mr. H and this guy over here, Jeff Andrews, for getting our team together, bringing Kyle in. And we just started chipping away at the end of the year.

“Having the laps led, you know, category is awesome. I think to be smart, though, I look back at a lot of the races that we led the laps and didn’t win the race because there’s a lot to be learned from that, about keeping us sharp and executing better. Still a really cool stat to have and we’ve got two more races to go. So now I need to look at the races we didn’t win and make sure we do the next two weeks.”

Larson, has the equal respect back.

“It’s pretty crazy. I didn’t know what to expect coming into this season,” he said. “I knew I would have lots of opportunities to get wins. But never did I think I would win as often as we have. Proud of everybody’s hard work all season long

“I think Cliff and his leadership really propels us to be as confident. Our execution has always been good. We continue to make that better throughout the year. And I think that stems from his leadership and as he mentioned the leadership that he learned from Jimmie and Chad.”

With setting the all-time record for most laps led in a season and now being one victory away from 10, which would make him the first since Jimmie Johnson in 2007 to do so, this team is hoping to end this season on a high note and don’t want to stop the momentum now.

“Even to be mentioned in that conversation is special as it is,” Daniels said. “I’ve been so fortunate to learn a great deal from Jimmie and from Chad being on that team with them for a handful of years.

“Just the leaders that they are, guys like Alan Gustafson, Jeff Andrews, Jeff Gordon. We’ve had a lot of guys in our company that have done a great job helping me along the way and helping our team along the way. I know they do that for everybody in the company.

“I think with the leadership Mr. Hendrick to believe in his people with the right people in place and give us a good team and all the right parts and pieces to get the job done just makes for a special environment, special combination. Hopefully we can get that stat. Pretty cool to be a part of.”

Larson though, says that he’s already at 10. The All-Star race, a non points paying one, was their 10th trip to victory lane if you count that.

“I wish NASCAR would count 10 wins because we have it already,” said Larson. “No, as Cliff mentioned, it’s just really cool to be mentioned in the same category. I would love to join them in 10 official wins.”

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