Thirteen is anything but unlucky for Kyle Larson.
After 12 trips to the Chili Bowl Nationals, Larson’s 13th outing at Tulsa Expo Raceway ended with victory last January. Under the guidance of mechanic extraordinaire Paul Silva, Larson won his qualifier and the qualifying feature before holding off Christopher Bell in the A-Main on Saturday to score his first Golden Driller.
Larson was overcome with the emotions of relief and elation as he embraced wife Katelyn just moments after the most cherished win of his career.
“I had tried for so long,” Larson said. “That was my 13th attempt at winning that race. I had been competitive enough. I had come so close to winning it. I feel the previous seven years, I either had mistakes on my part or just plain bad luck—blown engines or people spinning out in front of me that kind of hurt my week. Just little things that keep you from winning it.
“The year I had before, where I led everything until the last lap and allowed Christopher to get by, that was a tough pill to swallow, getting beat in a race that big on the final lap. So to come back the next year and have that pressure from the year before and to just be able to close it out in my own car with Paul Silva was amazing, and definitely that picture definitely captures the relief (laughs) with me. It was awesome. I look forward to going into that building and see if I treat it any different now.”
Larson, 28, will bring another Silva-prepared car to the 2021 Nationals. His winning midget from the 2020 event is sitting in mothballs, for now.
“We had a lot of success with that car, so we just kind of parked it, cleaned it off after Chili Bowl and left the same tires on it,” Larson said. “It’s a car that, if someday I ever collect race cars, it will be one of my collection.
“Because of that, we had to build a new car. But it’s all the same stuff.”
Given Larson’s dirt dominance in 2020, will the momentum of 46 wins carry over when he arrives in Tulsa next month?
“I don’t know,” Larson said. “Normally before Chili Bowl, I’ve gone to New Zealand for a couple of weeks and raced midgets—and that leads you right into Chili Bowl. I think that helps a lot. It helps you with momentum. So I’m not really sure how this month-off break I’m going to have—with not being behind the wheel—how that will affect everybody or not.
“And I think, too, with having that break—at least with me—you kind of forget about the success that you had all throughout the year, and the Chili Bowl even in the past year. I think everybody will be pretty fresh, but I don’t think anyone can go in there with momentum this year. It will be like 30 days until I’m in a car again. That’s really an eternity for me. When you race as much as me, you forget about a race in a day or two.”
With Larson’s commitment to drive the No. 5 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports in 2021, he’s uncertain where or when he will race on dirt following the Chili Bowl Nationals. But he’s encouraged by the possibilities since NASCAR has streamlined its weekends. Normally, Larson would run with the World of Outlaws during the DirtCar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park. However, he wants to remain focused on getting off to a strong start during Speedways at Daytona International Speedway.
“I think I’m going to be able to do quite a bit with the one-day schedules,” Larson said. “There’s no set number on anything but I think I need to be smart with what I choose to do.
“I’d say there’s less than a 50-percent chance I’ll be at Volusia, but things could change. It depends on my NASCAR obligations. If I can’t run all of it, it doesn’t make sense for Paul to tow his stuff all the way out here (from Sacramento).”
Having Jeff Gordon in his corner will help Larson as he navigates his responsibilities at Hendrick Motorsports. The Elk Grove, California, driver was a fan of the four-time champion long before Gordon moved east and turned his attention to stock cars. Gordon returned to his racing roots as a spectator in Tulsa earlier this year and offered moral support to Larson.
“Jeff is, obviously, someone a lot of us have looked up to for a long time, but especially me being an hour-and-a-half from where he grew up,” Larson said. “If you look at my career path, it follows his path almost to a ‘T.’ I’ve gotten to know him well since coming to NASCAR. I’m excited to not necessarily learn driving stuff from him but off the track things. He's really business-savvy.
“I’m excited to learn what I can from him and more about the sport in general.”