DAYTONA BEACH, Florida — Kyle Larson has become a master of finding speed near the wall at intermediate tracks. Will he be able to do that in 2019?
NASCAR has taken horsepower away from Cup Series cars and added downforce to them for the upcoming season. That means less top-end speed and more corner speed as drivers will have more aerodynamic grip. The previous combinations of horsepower and downforce have allowed Larson to use the skills he honed in sprint cars to his advantage at bigger tracks and make gains in the corners up by the wall.
The early returns from offseason testing have shown that drivers can stay flat out for multiple laps with fresh tires at tracks like Fontana and Las Vegas. With everyone full-throttle (or close to it), Larson isn’t sure how the new rules are going to impact his driving style.
“I was excited talking with Eric Jones the other day; he said the top was really fast at Atlanta [during a test],” Larson said Wednesday. He hasn’t tested a Cup Series car in the offseason. “I think that there will be a lot of places where now you’ll be able to run the top, but, then again, I think that hurts me because everybody will be able to run the top.
“I feel that as we’ve taken the spoiler away from the cars it’s just made it harder for other people, so it kind of opens up a lane for me up there. So, I think the tracks where I’ve had my own line up around the wall, I think it will be easier for other people to run up there. But it could benefit me more than others. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
When Kyle Busch made his comments at a Las Vegas test in January about NASCAR’s 2019 rules minimizing the impact of driver skill levels, it was easy to think of Larson. The 26-year-old is considered one of the best driving talents in NASCAR and sprint cars have lots of horsepower relative to their downforce level.
Larson won four races for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2017, the most of any driver during a single season in the team’s 18-year history. But Larson went winless in 2018 despite finishing second six times and failed to advance out of the second round of the playoffs for the second straight season. A breakthrough in 2019 is certainly possible. But chances are hindered if Larson’s ability to zip around people near the wall is mitigated.
“I think people think of me as being used to high-horsepower cars and lightweight vehicles and now we have no horsepower and a ton of downforce, so I don’t know,” Larson said. “Like I said, I haven’t been in it yet so we could all be wrong. I wouldn’t say I had an advantage with the other stuff. I would say it probably suited me better than what this new package will be, but I’ll just have to wait and see.”
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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