Kyle Larson wasn’t able to pinpoint the defining factor that made his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet rise above the field during Sunday’s NASCAR All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway.
It could’ve been the pit stop crew chief Cliff Daniels called on lap 15, which provided Larson a fresh-tire advantage throughout the subsequent 60 laps. Or it could’ve been Larson’s ability to ride the apron exiting turn four, keeping all four tires on the concrete to maintain grip.
None of his competitors were able to hit the same marks consistently.
Whatever it was, it allowed the No. 5 to gap the remaining 23 cars on the .625-mile track — at one point, his lead was more than 10 seconds — and earn an elevator ride to North Wilkesboro’s victory lane during one of NASCAR’s most memorable All-Star weekends.
But for those who came up short of the $1 million win, their thoughts instantly turned to Larson during post-race reflection, as they attempted to analyze where they went wrong.
“We were really, really fast at the end. I feel like if I could’ve ever just got to the lead, I would’ve been hard to beat, but I’m sure a lot of other guys would say that, too,” said Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe.
The No. 14 driver has raced with Larson for most of his professional career, on pavement and on dirt, and simply attributed his loss to Larson’s irrefutable talent.
“To me, he’s the greatest of all time in anything he gets in. You put an incredible driver in an incredible race car, and once he gets the lead, he’s going to be hard to beat,” Briscoe said.
Bubba Wallace, who finished 4.537 seconds behind Larson, wasn’t necessarily fixated on his defeat, but rather the positive strides he took in his 23XI Racing Toyota towards the conclusion of the race.
“I gained a second on him. I don’t know if he felt that, but I did,” Wallace said. As for the No. 5 driver, he added, “He’s one of the best to ever do it … We were just the best of the rest.”
Third-place finisher Tyler Reddick credited Larson for his aggression in making his way through the field, as the track was hard to pass on and was primarily single-groove through the bottom.
“We were ahead of him at one point and I made a mistake and let him get by. And we did take tires there, so, it makes you wonder,” Reddick said. “But it’s no secret that clear air is great for taking care of tire degradation. Would’ve been interesting to see what would’ve happened if roles were reversed and he was behind us, trying to run us down.”
When asked if he was surprised that Larson was able to gain 13 positions in 35 laps after taking new tires, Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott had a two-word response, “Not really.”
Elliott was then asked, would the No. 9 Chevrolet have been in the same position, could he have matched Larson’s performance?
He answered, “Probably not.”