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NASCAR’s New Champion Takes Scouting Trip To La-La-Land

LOS ANGELES: Kyle Larson was working on empty, nonetheless attempting to get better from the celebration.

His spouse had a migraine and his crew chief was final seen dancing someplace again in Arizona on the Hendrick Motorsports bash. The NASCAR champion received a pointless two hours sleep earlier than he was whisked off to Los Angeles for a whirlwind tour together with his model new Cup.

When he hit I-10 headed towards L.A. Live, the digital interstate billboards flashed a promo for NASCAR’s huge return to La-La-Land. It was nonetheless darkish on Tuesday when Larson received his first take a look at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the place NASCAR will kick off 2022 with a Feb. 6 exhibition all-star race.

It can be referred to as the Busch Light Clash, and a model of it has been run in Florida yearly since its 1979 inception because the kickoff for the Daytona 500, the marquee occasion on the NASCAR calendar. But NASCAR has promised to do huge issues, and this race on the Coliseum is scheduled only a week forward of the Super Bowl, to be performed lower than 10 miles away at SoFi Stadium.

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So right here was Larson in California, his outstanding comeback season and brand-new title earned Sunday but to actually sink in. Because of COVID-19 protocols, one of many strongest seasons in NASCAR historical past had by no means been celebrated between Larson and his No. 5 crew although they made up for misplaced time in Scottsdale, Arizona, the place your complete crew celebrated till closing time at Whiskey Row earlier than wandering over to Jeff Gordons close by resort.

That was the primary time Ive ever gone out with my crew and everyone let free, Larson stated. To see everybodys personalities come out once they get some alcohol of their system was enjoyable, and attending to know them even higher.

Still, standing inside a sea of crimson seats on the Coliseum after dawn, Larson had the sudden urge to get 2022 began.

The season simply ended however now that have been right here, Im already excited for the subsequent season to start,” Larson told The Associated Press on Tuesday as he toured the historic venue.

Larson came ready to do the promotional work, too. He grabbed a steak at Fleming’s at LA Live before NASCAR slotted him courtside at Monday night’s game between the Charlotte Hornets and Los Angeles Lakers. The 29-year-old Northern California native Elk Grove was surprised to find that Staples Center fans recognized him, but he and Katelyn left at halftime for some much-needed sleep. He had to be at Coliseum by sunrise, along with the Cup.

He figures it might start to settle in that he’s the champion after next month’s awards ceremony in Nashville. Larson is used to winning races albeit never a championship at the highest level and so far a text from Blake Shelton among the 400-plus he received has been the only difference between Sunday’s win and the 10 that came before it this season.

But the truth is that Larson has 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 was not, I was like, Maybe Im just not a stock car racer? I’m just a dirt guy?’ Larson told AP. I’m proud to finally live up to the hype because for a while, man, I was definitely the most overhyped guy in the sport.

On this day, the championship had yet to change anything about Larson. He’s headed right back to dirt racing and has a three-day event coming up next weekend at 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 most interested in learning about a venue where he can get another win. He wanted to know where was the garage (a staging area off Phil Robertson Lane), what happens if there’s a crash (no live pit stops), and what portions of the football stadium will be race track.

The quarter-mile, purpose-built asphalt track will be constructed over the field beginning Dec. 20 and removed after the race. The race will be 150 laps for 23 invited drivers, and only Larson so far is in the field. Everyone else will have to qualify through heat races.

It will be the smallest track NASCAR has ever competed on and create perhaps the rowdy, door-banging atmosphere of a typical night at, say, Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston Salem, North Carolina. As Larson stood on the red dirt between what will eventually be the first and second turns, he got a good look at the walls, the vastness of the stadium and the comfortable, familiar ground he loves to race on.

This feels familiar, he smiled, his feet crunching in the dirt.

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More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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