Kyle Larson Returns to NASCAR’s Next Gen Car Tests and Finds Familiar Territory, the Lead

Kyle Larson was a no-show for a few of the previous Next Gen car tests. Hendrick Motorsports’ officials granted the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion permission to spend the offseason playing with different race cars at various forms of tracks.

Last month at Daytona International Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. pleaded with Hendrick Motorsports’ brass for a chance to replace Larson, which he did.

Now back with the No. 5 Chevrolet team, Larson looked pretty much the same in the new car.

He finished in the lead.

Back behind the wheel of the No. 5 Chevrolet, Kyle Larson found himself in familiar territory 

2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson drives during the Next Gen car test at Phoenix Raceway on Jan. 25, 2022, in Avondale, Arizona | Chris Coduto/Getty Images

Fear not if anyone thought Larson would not be ready for the upcoming title defense. His offseason foray into short dirt-track racing did not appear to affect his ability to learn NASCAR’s new technology.

During the first day of Next Gen car testing at Phoenix Raceway on Jan. 25, Larson’s average lap speed spin of 131.728 mph topped the field.

Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick placed second at 131.033, capping Chevrolet’s 1-2 finish. Team Penske’s Joey Logano claimed Ford’s top spot on Jan. 25, placing third at 130.909. Defending Daytona 500 champion Michael McDowell placed 16th (128.553), driving a Front Row Motorsports Ford.

Looking back to the final practice before the Championship 4 race last fall, Brad Keselowski turned the fastest lap at 135.384 mph.

Larson: ‘As far as me driving the car, I was surprised it didn’t seem that much different here than the previous car’ 

In an interview with Motorsport.com, Larson was asked how he felt behind a Next Gen wheel for the first time since last year. He replied he developed an early comfort level.

“As far as me driving the car, I was surprised it didn’t seem that much different here than the previous car,” Larson said. “The steering was maybe a little bit quicker, just the little things all seemed to (happen) a little quicker. The moments when you got loose – stuff like that.

“Other than that, it felt fairly normal, which I was happy about.”

NASCAR teams used the 670-horsepower package for the first day of tests. For the 2021 Championship 4 race, teams utilized 750-horsepower engines, generating speeds around 135 mph.

Handling problems that plagued early Next Gen car tests were virtually nonexistent on Jan. 25. Kyle Busch was the lone driver to lose control of his machine, spinning out along Turn 4.

Concerned over the supply-chain disorder, pit crew members must have felt relief over Busch regaining control and not damaging the No. 18 Toyota.

Larson and the No. 5 team need to work on the Next Gen car’s brakes

NASCAR teams face the pressure of ensuring they have the correct setup for Phoenix Raceway. As the climax of two scheduled NASCAR weekends, the desert facility will again host the season-ending race, determining the drivers’ champ.

Larson may have turned in the fastest average lap time on Jan. 25, but not everything went well.

“We need to work on our brakes,” Larson said. “The brake pedal continued to travel further and further as the runs went on. That wasn’t a comforting feeling, but we’re going to try some stuff tomorrow to make it better.”

Now that Larson is back with the No. 5 team, he will have time to work on it.

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