Column: Championship Favorite Kyle Larson Tempers Expectations As NASCAR Cup Playoff Approaches

Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – CONCORD, NC – Kyle Larson has won five races this season, more than any other driver in the NASCAR Cup Series.

His No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet has been the dominant car for the majority of the first 26 races.

In his first year in the Hendrick ride, Larson won the Regular Season Championship and carries 52 Playoff points into the postseason, 28 more than second-place Ryan Blaney and third place Martin Truex Jr.

The Playoff tracks line up favorably for Larson, and at Phoenix, the speedway that will decide the championship, he has finished no worse than seventh in his last five starts.

Oddsmakers have anointed Larson the heavy favorite to win the title, but the driver himself is reluctant to say he expects to do so, even in the light of his regular season dominance.

“You see how tough the series is, really,” Larson said. “Ten weeks is a long time—four weeks is a long time. So ten’s a long stretch here, and a lot of stuff can happen. It seems like always each year there’s adversity that you have to overcome at some point.

“There’s teams that come and go still. I’m sure there’s teams out there that haven’t peaked yet. Who knows if we’ve peaked already—I don’t really know. It’s hard to predict and expect anything in this series… Yeah, I mean we’ve got a great opportunity, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to go do it.”

Kyle Busch says it will take perfection for him to win the Cup title

The only active driver to hold more than one NASCAR Cup Series title, Kyle Busch acknowledges the challenges he faces in trying to win a third, given the strength of the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets this year.

Though Busch has advanced to the Championship 4 race in five of the seven Playoffs conducted under the elimination format, he sees no margin for error for his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team in this year’s postseason run.

“The Hendrick guys, obviously they’re strong,” Busch said. “Look, we’ve had our years of dominance where you guys have probably asked those guys, ‘Where are those guys beating you—why is Toyota better?’

“I get it, but it’s just a thing where we’ve got to work hard with what we’ve got. Unfortunately, we feel as though we have to be perfect in order to be able to compete with them. They don’t have to be perfect, and they’re still going to be fast. We wouldn’t be close if we weren’t perfect.

“That lends itself to a much tighter box that we’ve got to race in.”