When the checkered flag waved to mark the end of the Ally 400, Kyle Larson was at the front of the pack. He crossed the finish line first and won his third-straight points-paying race. He continues to dominate during the 2021 season, but where does he rank among Hendrick Motorsports‘ stable of all-star drivers?
Larson is currently on pace with a former NASCAR Cup Series champion as the end of the regular season approaches. He has four wins and 12 top-10 finishes. These numbers are actually identical to a mark that Jeff Gordon set during the 1998 season. The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet posted these numbers and went on to win the championship, his third in four seasons.
While Larson is currently on a historic pace, he will have some work to do to match Gordon’s 1998 season. The Hall of Famer won 13 races for HMS, including four straight in late July and early August. He captured the checkered flag at Pocono Raceway on July 26, 1998, and then he rattled off wins at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Watkins Glen, and Michigan.
Gordon posted back-to-back wins two other times during his historic season, starting with wins at New Hampshire and Darlington. He capped off the year with wins at Rockingham Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway.
A Seven-Time Champion Set a High Bar in 2007
Gordon’s 1998 season serves as a very high bar for NASCAR drivers as they chase greatness, as does seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson’s 2007 season. The retired Hendrick Motorsports driver turned in a career year while driving the No. 48 Chevrolet Impala, winning his second of four consecutive championships.
Johnson started all 36 races in the Cup Series season, posting 10 wins, 20 top-five finishes, and 24 top-10s. He captured the checkered flag at several fan-favorite tracks including Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Richmond Raceway, and Auto Club Speedway.
Like Gordon before him, Johnson posted four consecutive trips to Victory Lane during his championship season. He won at Martinsville on Oct. 21, 2007, and then he took the checkered flags at Atlanta, Texas Motor Speedway, and Phoenix Raceway. He held off fellow playoff drivers in Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, and Kevin Harvick among others at the most important time to lock up the Cup Series championship.
Larson Can Match His Predecessors By Avoiding Mistakes
There is no guarantee that Larson will capture the 2021 Cup Series championship and add to the legend of Hendrick Motorsports. He could make costly mistakes during the playoffs and watch his season come to an early end. However, he currently remains the heavy favorite as the end of the regular season approaches.
Of course, the No. 5 team is not resting on past accomplishments. Larson and crew chief Cliff Daniels continue to meet on a regular basis and discuss the previous races and where they can make adjustments for the future. The driver of the No. 5 won’t point to any weaknesses on the team, but he acknowledges that there is always room for improvement.
“I mean, there’s definitely probably areas we can always get better,” Larson told media members during a press conference that Heavy attended. “I think you can always get every area of your game better. Even when we’ve been winning, we still look at things that we could have done better, whether it be on the racetrack, on pit road, just little things to maximize our day.
“I guess I can’t pinpoint like one thing that’s a weakness, but if we can continue to get every area better, I mean, we’ll be really hard to beat. We’re winning and we’re happy, but we’re never content. We’ll have a meeting again tomorrow and talk about how to be better.”
If Larson and his team continue to make improvements and eliminate issues, they will remain the heavy favorites for the remainder of the season. The 28-year-old will also have the opportunity to match the high-water marks that Gordon and Johnson set before him while building upon the championship legacy at HMS. Larson isn’t yet at the same level as his predecessors, but he could surpass them in the remaining 19 races.