You want to know what greatness looks like?
All you had to do was look on pit road Sunday night.
The guy fist-pumping in Victory Lane was one thing: Kyle Larson won in the most dominant of fashions in NASCAR’s All-Star Race at the now-revived North Wilkesboro Speedway, commanding a 13-second lead over the field by Lap 100 and then a four-second lead over the field by the checkered flag. The win marked Larson’s third All-Star Race win — and he became the only driver to win the event at three different venues (Texas, Charlotte and now North Wilkesboro).
But the ultimate show of Larson’s greatness was the shrug Bubba Wallace, who finished second, used when describing the race.
One reporter asked him if next year he feels confident to win the next time he runs at North Wilkesboro.
“I think if you just wreck the 5 (Larson) on Lap 1, it’s fine,” Wallace said with a smile. “Take him out of contention, and then you can go fight with everybody else.”
Another question: Was the rout of a race the result of the track?
“No,” Wallace responded. “It’s been like that ever since he got in the 5 car. Every once in a while he’ll slip up, or Ross (Chastain) will get to him and take him out, but it’s part of it. We just gotta continue to work hard and be better.”
Larson isn’t known for his bravado. The driver who occasionally goes by “Young Money” moves through crowds with a meek smile and an unassuming stride. But the Hendrick Motorsports star did a full-lap burn-out after he won the race on Sunday and then told the crowd and the FOX broadcast with a big smile: “That was an old-fashioned ass-whoopin’ for sure.”
As Larson’s crew chief Cliff Daniels told media members: “He told me he was looking at the crowd with five laps to go. Can you believe that?”
“It was just cool to dominate like that,” Larson added in the media center post-race, “and to do it kind of like how you saw people dominate races back in the 80s and 90s.”
If you listened to Larson earlier in the week, you might’ve thought he’d finish last in Sunday’s race. He and his team “were really bad” during Friday’s practice session — and his Truck Series win on Saturday didn’t teach him much he could apply for Sunday’s race in a Next Gen Cup car, he said.
But to understand who Larson is, listen to everyone else.
Another competitor, Chase Briscoe, tried to explain why Larson was so good on Sunday and struggled to find words beyond: That’s just who he is.
“I feel like he was one of the best two cars, but when you got the tires it makes it where it’s a lot easier,” Briscoe said. He then added, “But a lot of other guys got tires (early), too, and he was the best car to get through there.”
The 2021 Cup Series champion didn’t have many stressful moments Sunday. The one moment perhaps came after a caution with 15 laps to go, when Daniels elected to have his car file down pit road. A few others followed him, but Larson wasn’t in contention then. (He gruffed post-race: “We were dead last.”)
But Larson got on new tires early, using up a limited set of fresh tires earlier than his competitors. He then got into a bigger hole — speeding while exiting pit road which forced him to start at the rear.
“I thought at that point — the caution was at 14 or 15 laps in, somewhere around there — so I knew the lap count was relative to OK, if I have to eat these scuffs later, you could maybe pallet that, and we were so far back in the field at that point that we knew it was a risk,” Daniels said. “Let’s be honest, if the caution came out with 30 to go in that stage we were going to be hosed. The field is going to come in and put on stickers. We are going to have 15-lap scuffs, really big risk.”
But a caution never came.
And neither did another legitimate worry.
Larson thereafter rose up the field unlike anyone else, passing others like they were scant debris on the way to history, and found himself in the lead by Lap 56 and never relinquished it.
It was greatness personified.
In one of the final post-race questions in the media center, with an oversized cardboard check that read $1 million and a big trophy held by members of his team to his left, Larson was asked what he made of all the monikers he’s been bestowed recently.
Denny Hamlin’s crew chief called him “the best driver in the world” after the Cup race at Kansas earlier this month. Briscoe was reportedly equally superlative on pit lane Sunday. So was Darrell Waltrip in the FOX broadcast booth.
Larson absorbed those comments and credited his team and Hendrick Motorsports as a whole.
He didn’t have to speak on his greatness. His results speak on his behalf.
Everyone else does too.