Team: #42 (Chip Ganassi Racing)
Top 5s: 9
Top 10s: 15
Best finish: 1st (Michigan)
Points finish: 9th
2016 was the year that Kyle Larson well and truly stepped up to the plate. Since joining NASCAR’s top-tier full-time back in 2014, it has been a case of waiting for him to win; especially after finishing second in just his fifth race that season.
Not only did Larson finally secure his first win at the 2016 Pure Michigan 400 after a stunning drive, he also managed to get into the chase for the first time too. In fact, after winning his first race he began a run of good form that made him an early dark horse to get to the championship four.
Sadly, that wasn’t to be for the #42 Target Chip Ganassi Chevrolet driver. He made it through to the second round of the playoffs and managed to get two top ten finishes at Charlotte and Talladega, but it was the round in between at Kansas where his championship hopes came unstuck. A 30th place finish at Kansas would put him too far back on points by the end of the round of 8, meaning he would be eliminated from the running.
Larson put his chase elimination behind him and had a strong end to the 2016 season. A third place would come his way at the penultimate round at Phoenix before a dominating performance at the championship round at Homestead. He led the most laps of the race and looked to be the quickest car all race, only to be beaten by our champion, Jimmie Johnson, on the final restart of the race.
Undoubtedly, Kyle Larson’s highest high of the 2016 season will have been finally getting the monkey off of his back by winning his first race at the 2016 Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
It was a race that would be highlighted by the battle between two of NASCAR’s youngest stars, with Larson battling Chase Elliott for the race win in the closing stages; both vying for their first victories in the series. It would come down to a late-race restart, with Larson getting the superior help from the car behind to help push him clear of Chase.
From there, nine laps separated Larson from victory, with Elliott trying to hunt him down but to no avail. Larson would cross the line first to take victory whilst also securing himself of a spot in the chase. What made the win even more special was that he dedicated it to the recently departed Bryan Clauson; who had been great friends with Larson.
“I was teared-up that whole last few laps, because I could just feel it,” Larson said in victory lane, “It was finally going to be it. This one is for the Clauson family. We really miss Bryan. We’re going to miss him. We parked it for him, so that’s really cool.”
The end of his race at Watkins Glen. At the time of the 2016 Cheez-It 335 at the Glen, Larson had yet to win his race at Michigan and was still hoping to get into the chase on points if possible. This is why a last corner loss of a top five finish would be a major blow and a disappointment for him.
Larson had been running well all race long after qualifying on the front row in second place. However, on the last lap he’d come under attack from AJ Allmendinger, with the #47 hopping the kerb on the final corner to get up the inside of Larson’s #42 car. The move would result in contact, with Larson being sent spinning into the inside wall and falling all the way down from the top five to an eventual 29th place finish.
Allmendinger would immediately take full responsibility for the incident, with Larson slamming his actions after being released from the medical center:
“We were about a 10th-place car and we were going to get a top-five day out of it,” Larson said in his post-race interview, “We were running sixth coming to (Turn) 7; the No. 47 was behind me. He is always aggressive. I figured he would be smart.
“… He had already ran me down to the front stretch wall once with about 15 to go or so. Pretty dumb move right there too, but I was the smarter one racing for points, lifted, could have wrecked him, but didn’t.
“I don’t know. He wrecked me earlier in the year at Vegas. He has run me hard, but we always race pretty well. But today was flat-out stupid. I love his crew chief to death; he was our engineer last year. It just sucks they are going to have to start building some more race cars because he has got a few coming.”
This was a breakout year for Larson. Everyone said that once Larson got his first win, he’d race even better than he had before and that showed post-Michigan. His end-of-season run of strong results showed a new-found confidence now that he knew what it was like to win and, despite not making it past the second round of the playoffs, he’ll end the year in a much stronger mindset than he entered it with.
I fully expect Kyle Larson to be a contender next year. He could very easily claim multiple victories in the regular season next year, with a strong chase campaign potentially following on from that. It also can’t be ignored how well Larson has raced at Homestead the last few years. If he does manage to get to the championship round, you can bet that Larson will be tough to beat when a title is on the line.
Featured image courtesy of NASCAR.com – http://static.nascar.com/content/dam/nascar/articles/2016/8/28/main/Larsonjubo-main.jpg/jcr:content/renditions/original