One night earlier this week, Kyle Larson took out his phone and scrolled through YouTube videos of his 2021 season — the season that he thoroughly dominated before being crowned the NASCAR Cup Series champion.
He did it, he said with a smile, to “remind myself that I used to be good.”
Larson was the only one who needed any reminding.
The driver of the No. 5 car found Victory Lane at Richmond Raceway on Sunday — prevailing thanks to a great final pit stop and a steadfast performance thereafter by one of the best drivers on any track configuration, let alone short tracks.
It was his first win of the 2023 season.
Larson has gotten the short end of the stick a few times this season already. A late-race caution shrunk a big lead at Las Vegas that led to a second-place finish. A shot at redemption a week later fell short at Phoenix.
It makes sense then, all things considered, why Larson sought out a memory of how it felt to win one night this week.
“It was a great season,” he said, when asked a follow-up on why he watched those old 2021 videos. “And just kind of listening to even post-race interviews, finding where my mindset was at then when I was winning a lot (helped me) compared to what I think I’m like maybe right now.”
Larson added: “The Next Gen stuff, it’s so up and down. Obviously, 2021 was so strong. We were just riding a high kind of all season. Expectations were high. Execution was great. Results were amazing.
“Whereas since we’ve gone to the Next Gen car, it’s hard to get your confidence up. I just really wanted to look at old tape of myself and just kind of see where my mindset was and see my confidence and, yeah, just do all that.”
Larson’s win was threatened Sunday, too. There was an unlucky run-in with Daniel Suárez on pit road that ruined his end of Stage 2, and the damage that the car suffered on the hit almost made his day “fall apart.”
“I felt like before that pit stop we were going to cruise to a Stage 2 win and then I kind of fell apart there,” Larson said. “So I was just mad at the situation and mad at just not knowing if it was the damage why I was bad or if the track had gone through transition and we were going to be average the rest of the race.
“But thankfully that wasn’t the case, and we were able to get refocused there to start the third stage and inch our way forward and then have some things work out for us, cautions work out at the right time, and our pit crew executed a great pit stop at the last one.”
Larson’s win on Sunday serves as the punctuation mark for a lot of different story lines.
There’s Larson’s own aforementioned redemption after being oh-so-close a few times this year already.
There’s the fact that Hendrick Motorsports already had a largely successful week after seeing the points it had deducted by NASCAR be restored on Wednesday — and Larson’s win on Sunday capped that off with more Hendrick success.
There’s the fact that Richmond was the first taste of short-track racing the Cup Series would see this year. Larson said the new short-track package “felt more normal to the previous car model,” adding he was “pleased with that.”
And there’s also the fact Sunday was the birthday of the late Ricky Hendrick, the son of HMS founder Rick Hendrick who drove the No. 5 car at various NASCAR levels before he died in 2004.
Larson’s car had a paint scheme on Sunday that honored Ricky.
It was another reminder in a week full of them for Larson.
“Just a great day all around for Hendrick Motorsports,” Larson said. “Great week especially. So, yeah, a lot of significance to this week. I’ll probably remember it now for a long time.”