NASCAR: Is a Kyle Larson win an ominous sign?

Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images) /

Kyle Larson dominating NASCAR Cup Series races is nothing new. The fact that he actually won one he dominated, however, could be an ominous sign for everyone else.

Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson dominated Sunday evening’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the Coca-Cola 600, after taking the pole position in Saturday morning’s single-car qualifying session.

He won stage one, he won stage two, and he won stage three, and by the time the checkered flag flew in the four-stage race, he had led 327 of the 400 laps around the four-turn, 1.5-mile (2.414-kilometer) oval in Concord, North Carolina.

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In other words, the race had sort of a second place vibe to it for the driver of the #5 Chevrolet, given Larson’s history of being the runner-up.

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Already this season, Larson dominated multiple races yet failed to take the checkered flag. He did win the race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in early March, leading 103 of the 267 laps, but beyond that, he simply hadn’t been able to close the deal.

He led 269 of the 325 laps at Atlanta Motor Speedway before finishing in second place behind Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney. He then led 132 of 267 laps at Kansas Speedway before late contact with Blaney led to a 19th place finish.

Then at Dover International Speedway, he led 263 of 400 laps before finishing in second place behind teammate Alex Bowman in what was Hendrick Motorsports’ first ever 1-2-3-4 finish.

These instances could have triggered some serious flashbacks for Larson fans.

He dominated the race at Bristol Motor Speedway in April 2018, leading a race-high 200 of 500 laps. But Kyle Busch moved him out of the way late and went on to win ahead of Larson in second place.

Then at Kansas Speedway that May, Larson started in last place and still managed to lead a race-high 101 of 267 laps. But, like in 2021, late contact with Blaney knocked him out of contention. He rebounded, but he could only finish in fourth.

Chicagoland Speedway that July featured another Busch vs. Larson battle, and it was again Busch who prevailed. Larson made contact with Busch on the last lap and briefly took the lead, but Busch got back at him, sending him spinning. Larson still managed to finish in second place.

At Darlington Raceway that September, Larson drove what was arguably his best race ever, leading a race-high 284 of 367 laps. But a slow final pit stop during the race’s final caution flag period knocked him out of the lead, and poor execution on the final restart led to a third place finish.

Later in the month, he led a race-high 47 of the 109 laps in the inaugural race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. But he crashed late and nearly cost himself a spot in the round of 12 of the playoffs.

That November, Larson led 45 of the first 163 laps of the 267-lap season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but he hit the wall on lap 199 and only managed to recover enough to finish in 13th place.

At Atlanta Motor Speedway the following February, he led 142 of the first 223 laps of the 325-lap race and appeared to be poised for a victory, much like he appeared to be on several occasions throughout his winless 2018 season. But a pit road speeding penalty sent him to the back of the pack, and he could only bounce back to finish in 12th place.

Then in June 2019, Larson secured another runner-up finish. Much like the previous season, he was running in second place in the late stages of the race and then took the lead. But he took the lead from the driver who ended up winning, just like in 2018. This time, it was Bowman who re-took the lead and secured the victory, the first of his career.

Now skip ahead to this year’s Coca-Cola 600.

Larson won each of the race’s first three stages after starting from the pole position, and he was actually able to secure the win after leading 327 laps.

He won the race by 10.051 seconds ahead of Elliott in second place, and Hendrick Motorsports took four of the top five spots once again. Elliott, Byron and Bowman led 46 of the 78 laps that Larson didn’t lead.

Larson has now led a series-high 1,105 laps this season. In fact, even before the Coca-Cola 600 saw him lead nearly 500 miles, he led all drivers in laps led. Nobody else has led more than 754 laps through 15 races this year.

Now he has finally secured another win to back up that speed.

To put that in perspective, through 15 races last season, Kevin Harvick had led 572 laps. He ended up winning nine races, the most since Carl Edwards won nine races in 2008, and leading a series-high 1,531 laps.

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If Larson can keep it up, or if he can at least turn more near-wins into wins and avoid letting should-be wins slip away, it is going to be tough to beat him, and the fact that he was not only able to perform the way he performed at Charlotte Motor Speedway but secure the victory as well could be an ominous sign for everybody else moving forward.