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Kyle Larson won the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series title at Phoenix Raceway, the last-ever race in the Gen 6 car. The Next Gen car debuted several months later.  

While the Hendrick Motorsports driver hasn’t since come close to the success of that championship season when he won 10 times, he has run well, winning six times, three in each of the last two seasons. However, over the last three-race stretch, which included a win in the first race of the 2023 playoffs at Darlington, he achieved something in the new car that he hadn’t done since the start of 2022, and it’s a bad sign for the competition.

Kyle Larson has solid first year in Next Gen car

Most experts believed Kyle Larson, of all drivers, was the best equipped to smoothly transition from the Gen 6 car to the Next Gen car to start 2022 because of his diverse background racing on various styles of tracks in different kinds of cars.

After crashing in the season-opening Daytona 500, the No. 5 showed his ability to adapt to the new car, winning the second race of the year at Fontana. However, after a second-place finish at Las Vegas the following week, he suffered a pair of back-to-back DNFs at Phoenix and Atlanta. 

Those rollercoaster finishes were the start of a trend for Larson. He finished the 2022 campaign with 19 top 10s, 13 inside the top five. He also recorded six DNFs. He finished seventh in the final points standings. 

Larson achieves something in Next Gen car for first time in 2023

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Larson has followed a similar path this season, with finishes dramatically different from week to week and nothing really consistent. It can be summarized by looking at the No. 5 team’s first 10 races in 2023, which included four top fives, two wins, and four DNFs. No, that’s not a misprint. 

Since those initial 10 races, the HMS driver has slowed down the rate of accumulating DNFs (only two additional) and recorded better finishes on a more consistent basis. Through the first 29 races this year, Larson has 15 top-10 results, including 13 inside the top five, or the same total he achieved in all of 2022. 

What’s noteworthy is he added three top fives to his total in the last three races, or the first three events of the 2023 postseason, including his win at Darlington. Incredibly, that’s the first time since the introduction of the Next Gen car that the No. 5 has recorded three consecutive finishes inside the top five. 

It’s a remarkable statistic when you consider that he’s had a total of 26 top-five finishes in the last 65 races but never done it three times in a row. Finding that level of consistency should be concerning for his Cup Series competition heading into the final stretch of the playoffs. However, those same competitors can find solace by taking a wider snapshot of Larson’s last five races. Before his top-five streak, he scored a pair of finishes of 26th or worse at Watkins Glen and Daytona.

This weekend at Texas, where he won in 2021, could provide even more clarity on where Larson is headed, especially if he scores another finish inside the top five.

To stay up to date on the latest happenings in NASCAR, including breaking stories you can’t find anywhere else, follow Kyle on YouTube and Twitter