Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – DAYTONA BEACH, FL – Fifth-year Monster Energy NASCAR Cup driver Kyle Larson was understandably disappointed – perhaps even miffed – in finishing runner-up to Kyle Busch in Monday’s rain-delayed Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Larson led a race best 200 laps compared to 117 for Busch. And in the final 129 laps, the two drivers exchanged the lead four times between themselves. Larson led 65 of those laps, and Busch led 64 – including the final one.
Although the expression on Larson’s face after the race hardly disguised the discontent, he was stand-up in doing a live television interview and later addressing the gathered press.
The popular 25-year old Californian driver has – for the good or the bad, depending on how you look at it – gotten plenty of experience talking about his near-misses. And if history is a good indicator, he’ll be smiling one day and reflecting positively on the effort.
It should be duly noted that Larson has won five Cup trophies, including a rare Michigan Speedway sweep last year. And he won the Fall race at Richmond (Va.) Raceway where the series stops this weekend for Saturday’s Toyota Owners 400 (6:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
And while Larson is still eager to hoist the first trophy of 2018, his overall statistics when it comes to being “so close,” are simply remarkable.
He has a pair of second-place finishes already this year. In four seasons (plus eight of the 36 races this year), Larson has 16 runner-up finishes. And counting. That’s an impressive 42 percent of his 38 top-five finishes.
Compare that to the 2016 Cup champion Busch, who had 14 runner-up finishes in his first five full seasons and 2014 Cup champion Kevin Harvick, who had 10 in that same time frame of his career. Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson holds the high mark among current drivers with 16 – a number Larson is poised to eclipse.
Overall, Busch has 43 career runner-up showings among his 167 top-five finishes – an amazing 25 percent. Since finishing second to Martin Truex Jr. in the 2017 Homestead championship finale, Busch has four runner-up finishes in the past nine races — 44 percent of the time he has finished second. Add in his two victories the past two weeks and that means six of his last nine races he’s finished either first or second (and actually, he has a third place in there too).
Interestingly, Larson has a runner-up finish at Richmond (spring, 2016) and Busch leads all active drivers with six second place finishes here.
Harvick is another who has made headlines for his career podium finishes. His 10 runner-up finishes among 30 top-fives in his first five seasons is a remarkable statistic. And he leads all active drivers with 51 career second-place finishes – an impressive 29 percent of his top-five showings.
Of those with a history of headline-grabbing runner-up finishes, Kasey Kahne had 11 in his first five seasons – 31 percent of his first 35 top-five finishes. He has a respectable 23 career runner-up finishes – 25 percent of his 92 career top-fives.
Perhaps, not too surprisingly, that certain seven-time champion leads all active drivers in quick starts – trophy hoisting and almost-trophy hoisting. Johnson’s 16 runner-up finishes in his first five Cup seasons were among 66 top-five finishes in that span.
He has 48 career runner-up finishes to add to his Hall of Fame 83 current victories – meaning Johnson has 131 first or second-place finishes among his 223 top-five tally or a staggering 58.7 percent.
So while Larson may understandably bemoan coming so close to a win. His early career is already comparable to some of the most accomplished drivers in NASCAR history. He’s in good company even if it’s not always in Victory Lane.
DASH 4 CASH PROVIDES BIG INCENTIVE
For the second straight week NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers are competing for a $100,000 Dash 4 Cash prize. Ryan Preece won the money Saturday at Bristol, Tenn. but he isn’t competing this week so Spencer Gallagher takes the eligibility joining Justin Allgaier, Daniel Hemric and series points leader Elliott Sadler.
The four highest finishers in Friday night’s ToyotaCare 250 (7 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) will compete for the money at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway – the first time the program has included the always exciting 2.66-miler in its four-track incentive lineup. Dash 4 Cash concludes at Dover, Del. the following week.
None of the four drivers eligible to win the extra prize money this week have won previously at Richmond. Allgaier and Hemric came close, finishing second and third last year in this race. Hemric has the best overall average finish (3.5) among the four. Sadler has the most starts at the track (29).