New NASCAR Champion Takes a Scouting Trip to La-La-Land

Nascar Cup Series champion Kyle Larson, center, is featured during the first half of an NBA basketball game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Charlotte Hornets in Los Angeles on Monday, November 8, 2021 (AP Photo / Ashley Landis)

Nascar Cup Series champion Kyle Larson, center, is featured during the first half of an NBA basketball game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Charlotte Hornets in Los Angeles on Monday, November 8, 2021 (AP Photo / Ashley Landis)


Kyle Larson was running on empty, still trying to get over the celebration.

His wife had a headache and his foreman was last seen dancing somewhere in Arizona at the Hendrick Motorsports party. The NASCAR champion slept two hours unnecessarily before being whisked to Los Angeles for a whirlwind tour with his all-new Cup.

When it reached I-10 towards LA Live, the interstate electronic billboards displayed a promotion for NASCAR’s big comeback in La-La-Land. It was still dark on Tuesday when Larson got his first glimpse of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where NASCAR kicks off 2022 with an all-star show run on February 6.

It will be called the Busch Light Clash, and a version of it has been held in Florida every year since its inception in 1979 as the kickoff of the Daytona 500, the flagship event on the NASCAR calendar. But NASCAR has promised to do great things, and this Coliseum race is scheduled just a week before the Super Bowl, which will be played within 10 miles at SoFi Stadium.

So here is Larson in California, his remarkable comeback season and his brand new title won on Sunday has yet to fully penetrate. Due to COVID-19 protocols, one of the strongest seasons in NASCAR history had never been celebrated between Larson and his No.5 team although they made up for lost time in Scottsdale, Ariz. , where the whole team celebrated until closing time at Whiskey Row before heading to nearby Jeff Gordon’s hotel.

“It was my first time going out with my team and everyone went wild,” said Larson. “Seeing everyone’s personalities come out when they have alcohol in their system was fun, and getting to know them even better.”

Yet standing inside a sea of ​​red seats at the Colosseum after sunrise, Larson suddenly felt the urge to start 2022.

“The season just ended, but now that we’re here I’m already excited for the start of the next season,” Larson told The Associated Press on Tuesday while touring the historic venue.

Larson was also ready to do the promotional work. He grabbed a steak at Fleming’s in LA Live before NASCAR put him on court in Monday night’s game between the Charlotte Hornets and the Los Angeles Lakers. Elk Grove, a native of Northern California, 29, was surprised to find fans at Staples Center recognized him, but he and Katelyn left at halftime for some much-needed sleep. He was to be at the Colosseum at sunrise with the Cup.

He thinks it might start to settle into being the champion after next month’s awards show in Nashville. Larson is used to winning races – but never a championship at the highest level – and so far a text from Blake Shelton among the 400-plus he has received has been the only difference between Sunday’s victory and the 10 who came before him this season.

But the truth is, Larson finally reached the potential predicted a decade ago by Gordon and Tony Stewart when Chip Ganassi took the 19-year-old out of sprint cars to prove Larson was as good as they said he was. .

“I felt like I could do it, but once I wasn’t I was like, ‘Maybe I’m just not a stock car racer? Am I just a bad guy? ‘ Larson told AP. “I’m proud to finally live up to the hype because for a while, man, I was definitely the most horny guy in sports.”

That day, the championship hadn’t changed anything for Larson yet. It’s back to gravel racing and has a three-day event coming up next weekend at the quarter-mile Placerville Speedway in California, followed by races at Merced Speedway and Ventura Raceway.

At the Coliseum, one of the most venerable stadiums in the world, Larson was very interested in knowing more about a place where he could claim another victory. He wanted to know where the garage was (a staging area off Phil Robertson Lane), what would happen in the event of an accident (no live pitstops) and what portions of the football stadium would be tracks race.

The quarter-mile asphalt track will be built on the ground from December 20 and removed after the race. The race will be 150 laps for 23 guest drivers, and only Larson is in the peloton so far. All others will have to qualify through qualifying races.

It will be the smallest track NASCAR has ever competed on and perhaps create the rowdy and boisterous atmosphere of a typical night at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston Salem, North Carolina. As Larson stood on the red dirt between what will ultimately be the first and second corners, he took a good look at the walls, the vastness of the stadium – and the comfortable, familiar terrain he loves to run on.

“Sounds familiar to me,” he smirked, his feet crunching in the dirt.

Naomi C. Amerson