Larson, the driver of the No. 42 Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, ranks 13th in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings, 71 points ahead of 17th-place Daniel Suarez and 77 ahead of seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson.
With just three races left in the regular season, a good showing by Larson at Bristol will virtually wrap up a berth in the 16-driver playoff — and there isn’t anywhere he’d rather be than the high-banked .533-mile oval.
“It just feels like a dirt track and how you would race a dirt car,” Larson said. “It’s really aggressive and you can move around. It just suits my driving style. I love it. It’s my favorite track by far, so that helps.”
While making the playoffs is a goal, Larson wants to win. His last victory outside the non-points NASCAR All-Star race came in 2017 at Richmond. While it’s Larson’s favorite track, Bristol has doled out a particular brand of frustration in the form of the Busch brothers.
Larson ran second to each one of them in 2018, finishing behind Kyle in the Food City 500 and Kurt in the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race.
Although his position in the points is good coming off a third-place finish at Michigan, this has been a frustrating season for Larson and he shouldered the blame for the team’s earlier struggles. He has turned it around, however, by posting four top-five finishes in his past seven races.
Asked why he blamed himself earlier, Larson was specific in his response.
“It’s probably being too aggressive at the wrong times,” he said. “I just have to work on that and not make mistakes.”
Coming from the world of high-powered open-wheel cars racing on dirt, the 27-year-old California native finds it tough to rein himself in. He still loves that type of racing and in June he won back-to-back sprint car races on the World of Outlaws tour.
Larson, now teammates with Kurt Busch, is often asked if driving sprint cars, midgets and other cars hurts his efforts in stock cars. He feels it’s the opposite.
“The way I view it is the more often I get to race, the better I’m becoming, so I would race every single day of the week if I could,” Larson said. “People could look early in my career and say, ‘Oh, he ran bad because he’s not focused.’ When we got our cars better, I was racing more sprint car races and it’s, ‘Oh, it’s because he’s racing all the time.’ In 2017, we had that really good year and that really convinced my team that it doesn’t hurt when I race sprint cars.”
Now stock cars at Bristol Motor Speedway are on his Saturday night slate. That’s fine with Larson, who after two pole positions and two runner-up finishes at the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile” is ready to park his car in victory lane.