(KTXL) — It’s been 20 years since Jeff Gordon brought the last of his four NASCAR Cup Series championships back to Northern California.
This year, though, another Northern California product — Elk Grove’s Kyle Larson — enters the playoffs this weekend as the overall favorite to win the title.
“You just have to have confidence,” said Larson, NASCAR’s regular season champion. “Confidence in what got you to this point, and I feel like we are a very strong race team, so that gives me confidence that I need to go out there and not feel a lot of pressure.”
It’s been a heck of a comeback season so far for the Elk Grove local — Larson was suspended by NASCAR and lost his ride in 2020 after using a racial slur during an iRacing event.
When he signed with Hendrick Motorsports, not many sponsorships came calling. But, through it all, Larson and his team have been consistent — five wins in their first 26 races together, the most by any team this season.
In nine other races, they’d finished in the top five.
“It’s just fun to be contending, you know, upfront each week and that’s what we’ve been doing a good job of,” Larson said. “Our pit crew has been doing great. We all have been preparing really hard throughout the week and just trying to get ready for the races on Sunday.”
Larson definitely has found a home at Hendrick Motorsports. Just like Vallejo’s Jeff Gordon had done some 30 years earlier.
The pair have a very strong relationship and it would stand to reason that some of that championship mentality has rubbed off on Larson.
“He’s meant a lot to my career, and especially now with him being at Hendrick Motorsports, he means a whole heck of a lot,” Larson said. “And you can take bits and pieces of that and apply it to your mentality, which is nice. Like I said, having guys who have had the chance to race for lots of championships is good to have in your corner.”
Larson looks forward to following in Gordon’s footsteps by bringing home a Cup championship but said he’s focused on the playoffs first and foremost.
“I might as well bring it with me if I happen to win it, but still a long way to go and I really don’t want to look ahead and start making plans for things,” Larson said. “It’s a long 10 weeks and there really are no guarantees in the playoffs.”
The first of the 10 playoff races on NASCAR’s schedule happens this Sunday afternoon in Darlington, South Carolina.