Chevrolet struggled at the beginning of 2018.
That contributed to slow starts for nearly all of their drivers, but Kyle Larson had the reputation as their leading pilot through June. He qualified on the first five rows in the first nine races of the year, culminating with a pole at Dover. He finished among the top 10 in six of those races. From the May Dover race that he led to green through June’s Pocono event, he scored four consecutive top-10s.
Firmly established as a favorite by the midway point, his results became much less consistent in the second half. He posted back-to-back top-10s on three occasions, but was never able to string three strong runs together. Three consecutive results outside the top 10 during Round 2 of the playoffs ensured he would not be part of Round 3.
Still, Larson was a good value more often than not. He scored 19 top-10s – just over 50 percent – with the majority of these (12) top-fives. He did not win, but six runner-up finishes and another four thirds kept him fantasy relevant even during the periods in which he struggled.
Equally important, Larson finished off the lead lap only seven times. Four of these were because of crash damage; once because of a blown engine.
The general consensus among his competition is that Larson is going to be tough to beat if he ever gets to Homestead in playoff contention. That track is his third best in terms of career average finishes and he has a reputation for the rim-riding style that course demands.
His affinity for the top line is also one of his weaknesses, however.
Hall of Fame driver Darrell Waltrip is fond of telling a certain story about Richard Petty. When asked why he ran the high line, Petty answered that he did so because it hurt less to hit the wall. Waltrip replied with another question: “Yeah, but don’t you hit it more often?”
Waltrip never goes on to finish that story, but the answer is almost certainly ‘yes.’ And whether that was the case for Petty, it is for Larson. He can get a little enthusiastic in the high line and slap the wall fairly when he loses a moment of concentration.
Each passing year improves his car control and that means he will get exponentially better. He remains a risky proposition until he proves to be capable of string more than four consecutive top-10s together, however.
Larson has a reputation as being one of the drivers to beat on the two-mile tracks of Michigan International Speedway and Auto Club Speedway, so watch him early in the season when the series first rolls into California.
Three Best Tracks
Chicagoland (7.0 in 5 attempts)
Darlington (7.6 in 5)
Homestead (8.5 in 6)
Three Worst Tracks
Daytona (24.9 in 10)
Martinsville (24.2 in 11)
Kentucky (21.0 in 5)
Victories: None, Best of second six times (Auto Club, Bristol I & II, Pocono I, Chicagoland, Las Vegas II)
Top-fives: 12 (.333)
Top-10s: 19 (.528)
Top-15s: 25 (.694)
2018 Finishes at or above their rank? = 13 (36.1%)