DARLINGTON, S.C. – Kyle Larson had a chance to be last year’s toast of the Bojangles’ Southern 500.
But on a late pit stop, Brad Keselowski beat him off pit road to take the checkered flag.
Larson returns to Darlington Raceway this weekend, however, and he’s excited.
“This is one of my favorite tracks,” Larson said. “It’s probably one of my three favorites. I enjoy coming here. When you drive at this place, you feel like you’re at a race track. I know it’s a throwback weekend, but even before that I always got that vibe because I had felt like this race track has fairly small stands for how big this place is. The painted walls and campground feels like a grass-roots kind of track.”
Now, Larson just wants to win there after finishing third last year behind Keselowski and eventual points champion Joey Logano.
“I just think these tracks that are worn out, old surface, we have a good setup for those places,” Larson said. “I led the most laps at Atlanta, Chicago, we almost won. We led a ton of laps here last year, and we’re always good at Homestead. There’s just something about this mile-and-a-half – I don’t even know if this is a mile-and-a-half track – but about intermediate tracks that suit us. It’s just unique. You run close to the wall, so obviously we’re comfortable with that. I just get excited about this place and look forward to it.”
Again, it’s about winning this year. But Larson learned his lessons from 2018.
“We had the best car all race long last year, and Keselowski’s team did a bit better than us off pit road that final stop and beat me off pit road by a foot or whatever it was,” Larson said. “And with not a lot of laps left – I was really good on the long runs – I didn’t have enough laps to get anything going. I don’t think there was anything I could have done differently there at that point.
“I felt like I ran a really good race and took care of my stuff, kept out of the wall. We had a car capable of winning. We didn’t have a bad pit stop. Keselowski’s was just really good. He was able to control the restart and control the last little run.”
This season, Larson has 11 top-10 finishes and five top-fives. His best finish so far was second at Chicago.
With one pole position (Sonoma) this season, Larson knows he must qualify well to have a better chance of staying out front and getting clean air.
"Yeah, clean air is important,” Larson said after last year’s race. “You know, that was the first time (Keselowski) was out front all race long. He showed that he was really fast in clean air. But yeah, I think if I could have been the control car for that restart – he beat me by just a nose off of pit road and kind of won the race. I was really loose in traffic behind those guys trying to run hard. But I was loose. Even when I'd catch lap traffic, I'd get extremely loose. Something about the dirty air here this weekend affected the balance I felt like a little bit more than normal.”