Can Larson repeat this November? His thoughts

Jimmie Johnson was the last driver to repeat as a Cup Series champion. He did so in his five year reign from 2006 through 2010. Since then, no one has repeated as a champion in NASCAR’s premiere series. Jeff Gordon was the last before Johnson to do so as he did it in 1997 and again in 1998. 

Since 1995 however, those are the only two instances to where a driver won consecutive titles? Can Kyle Larson accomplish this feat in 2022? Just 4 of the 7 years prior has the defending champion made it back to the Championship 4 the following season. 2 last 3 were bounced in the Round of 8 and Round of 12 respectively.

Larson’s championship defense season has been astoundingly quiet too. He won the 2nd race of the 2022 season and it looked like he’d pick up right where he left off following his 10-win championship winning campaign of a year ago. However, it’s looked anything but. 

Through the 26 race regular season, Larson has just 2 trips to victory lane. Can he catch lightning in a bottle once the green flag drops on this year’s postseason on Sunday in Darlington?

“Well I think our regular season didn’t go very well, to our standards, but I don’t really know if it did for anybody,” Larson said this week. “Even for Chase (Elliott), like I don’t even know if his regular season was up to their standards. There was just a lot of inconsistency this year throughout the regular season.

“We had three blown engines now in the regular season, so DNF’s with that. But also mistakes on my part or bad pit stops. Yes, we got a couple wins, which was nice, but we also probably gave away a couple, as well.”

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MARCH 05: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, walks the grid during practice for NASCAR Cup Series Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 05, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

The California native has 4 top 7 finishes in his last 10 starts. At Darlington, he’s usually fast there so could in theory start off the new season with a good result. Then it’s to Kansas to where he won at last year and led the most laps in the other race too. Larson was runner-up on the 1.5-mile track in May. To close out the first round we go to Bristol to where he could easily score another top 10. 

The Round of 12 is where I have my eyes on him. He’s not a strong superspeedway racer (0 wins in 31 starts). On road courses this year, despite his Watkins Glen win, he’s largely struggled. So while he won the ROVAL last October, I don’t necessarily trust he’ll back it up with another win next month. 

His road course finishes in 2022 are 29th, 15th, 4th, 35th and 1st respectively. If he doesn’t do well in the opening round race at Las Vegas (he finished 2nd in March) then he could be a shock early round exit.

“I do still feel like we are prepared for the playoffs. I feel like here lately, our pit crew has been performing well. Our cars have been fast all year long,” Larson said. “Cliff (Daniels) and our guys have been making good calls on top of the box.

“I’m doing a little bit better job of taking what I can get out of the race car and not overstepping things. So, I feel like we’re prepared. We just have to hope that everything comes together and this is the time of the year for that.

“I know we have a championship caliber team. We proved that last year and we just have to do it again.”

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