ROSSBURG, Ohio — While Kyle Larson watched a heavy rainfall from his trailer Thursday night at Eldora Speedway, feeling a tad anxious he’d likely have to wait to compete in his first Kings Royal, he sent his NASCAR Cup Series owner and boss, Rick Hendrick, a text.
“Hey, you know, this thing pays big money … would you have a plane available so I can race Saturday?” Larson posed to the man who has the most authority over his decisions these days.
Larson had to be in New Hampshire by Saturday evening for Cup Series commitments, typically a strict order in the Hendrick Motorsports camp. Hendrick, though, made a swift accommodation.
“We’ll get you that plane,” Hendrick texted Larson not long after the driver sent the request.
Usually stringent with his drivers, Hendrick has loosened his collar more than ever this year. Larson’s undeniable drive to race — and win — will do that.
The NASCAR Cup Series wins leader is set to compete in the 38th and 37th Kings Royal events today at the famed half-mile oval, hungry to win one of racing’s most prestigious races.
“It’d be right up there with some of my biggest wins I’ve ever had,” said Larson, bearer of 16 wins in 55 races across four disciplines this year.
“I don’t think I’ve ever won any Crown Jewels in sprint cars … honestly, I don’t think I’ve won any Crown Jewels on dirt,” he said before shifting into deep thought. “Well, in midgets … Chili Bowl (in 2020 and ’21) … and Belleville (Midget Nationals in 2011) …”
Larson stopped there. He knows the prestigious sprint car win is missing from an otherwise acclaimed body of work. In his defense, Larson hasn’t had ample opportunities to check that box. He’s only raced in a half dozen Knoxville Nationals and two Williams Grove National Opens.
He did win “The One and Only” at Knoxville Raceway last year, the makeshift Knoxville Nationals in essence, but it’s still not the Nationals.
“Obviously, we all want to win the big ones,” Larson said. “Thankfully, I’m still really young though and I’m not really too stressed out about it.”
Larson is in for some tough sledding in his first heat of the day, starting third with reigning World of Outlaws champion Brad Sweet in front and Wednesday’s winner Carson Macedo to Sweet’s outside.
He and car owner Paul Silva are also trying to put behind back-to-back races with mechanical issues earlier this week.
The duo does have seven wins together in 19 races this year, but in those other 12, they have an average finish of 9.3.
“Not being able to race 90 something times like last year, I’m not as fresh, I guess … I’m not in a rhythm,” Larson said, starting a long train of thought. “I think Paul and I both aren’t in a rhythm. I think we’re still trying to figure out the tires and adjusting our car to that. I think we’ve definitely gotten better these past couple weeks but before that we were really inconsistent.”
“Before that we were really inconsistent,” he added. “I felt like I was either winning or hardly running in the top 10, or fighting to run in the top 10. Now, I feel like we’re closer. We’re just not qualifying as good, and it’s making the nights a lot harder. Our car is probably just a little bit off to where we were last year.
“I mean, I hate to complain about luck, but I’ve had no luck in any of the dash draws or redraws this year,” Larson continued. “I’ve been in the last row in every single one of the except two, and then we broke the rear end the other night.
“This week has been a lot of bad luck, but hopefully we’ll change it tomorrow,” he added.
His boss sure wants him to. Hendrick checks in on his prized wheelman regularly when he’s doing non-NASCAR things. Heck, Hendrick’s brand, HendrickCars.com, just joined Larson’s dirt racing endeavors this week.
“He wants to win every race,” Hendrick said after Larson led 264 of 300 laps in his win on June 20 at Nashville Superspeedway. “I think about him getting tired. But if you run 600 miles, go win another race that night, win two more races, his stamina is unbelievable. But I’ve never seen anybody more intense that wants to race every minute of every day, and he wants to win.”
Hendrick ordered a plane to Rossburg, Ohio, on Saturday night because he’s seen what happens when you just give Larson a chance. Now, the driver is trying to fill out his wishes and a desired place in the sport’s history.
“If you can add your name to that list, I think it verifies your name in history books,” Larson said. “I think that’s why we all want to win the big ones. We all want to end up in the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame someday, and I think it’s hard to do that if you don’t win some big events.”