What a difference a year makes. A year ago, NASCAR had suspended Kyle Larson for using a racial slur, and he returned to his roots, racing on a variety of smaller tracks across America. The 28-year-old has made a major statement in his return to the Cup Series with Hendrick Motorsports this season, earning 11 top-10 finishes in the first 16 races, including three wins.
He’s currently on an amazing streak where he’s finished runner-up or better in the last five races. This last weekend’s race at Sonoma was yet another dominant performance from the No. 5 car winning every stage en route to victory. Unfortunately, after the race things took a bizarre turn when Larson’s celebration went horribly wrong and he spit wine all over Sonoma general manager Jill Gregory.
Kyle Larson has been stellar in 2021
Entering the 2021 season, Kyle Larson had been impressive on the Cup Series in six full seasons (excluding 2020’s four races), winning six times, with the most wins coming in 2017 when he won four times. In 2018, he had his best overall season in the points, earning 17 top-10 finishes, including one win. He finished sixth in the standings.
However, with the combination of his past record and joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2021, many pundits suggested Larson would be a top contender for the championship this year. He has proven them right.
In 16 races, Larson has been stellar, and that might actually be understating his performance. He’s earned 11 top-10 finishes, but more impressively, nine of them have been in the top 5. In the last month, Larson has had a legitimate chance to win each race. Instead, he’s settled for three runner-up finishes and two wins at Charlotte and Sonoma.
Larson wins race at his home track of Sonoma
With his impressive run of late and starting from the pole at Sonoma, Larson was understandably the odds-on favorite to win the race. He proved the oddsmakers right. From the drop of the green flag, Larson was dominant.
When it was all said and done, he led 57 of the 92 laps and won both the first and second stage before making his way to victory lane, a feat never done before at Sonoma. Even near the end of the race and numerous restarts due to late-race cautions, the No. 5 car always managed to surge out in front and maintain it.
Larson’s clinical performance sent a frightening message to the rest of the field for the remainder of 2021 as it was the first road course win of his Cup career. In other words, on any type of track, he’s a favorite to win.
Postrace celebration goes horribly wrong
Following the race, Larson celebrated with the team and participated in the tradition of drinking a glass of wine in the middle of wine country. However, Larson put his own spin on it, and it went horribly wrong. When he spit the wine up in the air in a re-enactment of sorts to a previous win in another series back in 2014, the windy conditions distributed the red spray directly on Sonoma Raceway General Manager Jill Gregory standing nearby.
“I won a K&N race here in 2014,” Larson told reporters afterward. “Apparently, it wasn’t windy that day because it shot out perfect. Was a cool picture. I was like, ‘Man, I’m going to do that again today.’ But totally blew it. It was way windy. I feel super bad. I got it all over Jill Gregory. That was my bad. I messed that up. I wasn’t spitting the wine out because it was bad or anything. I was doing it for a cool photo like it was in 2014.”
Larson has proven he’s undeniably one of the best drivers on the NASCAR Cup Series in 2021. By his own admission, he’s got some work to do when it comes to his celebrations.