“I’m ready to race it”

The car may have changed, but Kyle Larson still reigns – at least temporarily – at Phoenix Raceway.

Larson, who won the 2021 season finale in Phoenix — and his first NASCAR Cup Series championship — less than three months ago, led Tuesday, the first day of a scheduled two-day test of the Next Gen car at the track.

And while the Next Gen car is a big change from NASCAR cars of the past few years, Larson didn’t think his first day of testing was entirely out of place.

“As far as driving the car, I was surprised that it didn’t seem much different from the previous car here,” Larson said. “The steering was maybe a little faster, just the little things all seemed to happen a little faster. The moments when you came loose – that sort of thing.

“Other than that, it felt pretty normal, which I was happy about. My balance didn’t seem to change that much – I didn’t seem to get as tight in the middle (of the corner), which is good.

“We need to work on our brakes. The brake pedal went further and further as the runs went on. That was not a comforting feeling, but we are going to try some things tomorrow to make it better.”

Speeds in the Phoenix test were slightly lower than in last fall’s championship race, as the Next Gen car uses a 670 horsepower package on all tracks except superspeedways and the newly configured Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Last year’s package at Phoenix was 750 horsepower. In comparison, Brad Keselowski led the final practice of the Cup Series at 135.384 mph last fall.

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This week’s test in Phoenix is ​​pretty much determined by each team’s agenda. After agreeing a race package for the 2022 season, NASCAR was more of a spectator.

Larson said his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team took full advantage of the opportunity to try new things.

“We’re just trying to learn as much as we can, even if it’s the wrong changes; changes that you know are not in the right direction. You make them to try and learn in the future,’ he said.

“I was happy with how today went. I thought it was a smooth day and I thought we did well with the changes we made and learned a lot. I’m looking forward to starting the series.”

Ready for the race

With Phoenix as the last scheduled test of the Next Gen car in the off-season, Larson was asked if he thinks the car is ready to race and if he has any idea of ​​what to expect when it hits the track.

“I’m ready to race it,” Larson said. “Like any race car, you’re going to learn things and adjust things all year round, whether it’s for comfort, or to make your braking package better. Yes, I think we are ready to race.

“I was happy with the balance of my race car when we unloaded today. I am confident that we can compete and be competitive right away.

“I’m ready to get started. I think we’re all ready to get started. I’m excited to go to LA (for the Busch Light Clash). It should be a fun event.”

Larson said his extensive background in all types of racing has prompted him to be much more flexible when it comes to changes, which is probably a plus given that the Next Gen car is vastly different from previous Cup series cars.

“I feel like I adapt quickly to new cars and new situations,” he said. “Just because of my experience in all kinds of cars, I don’t know if I have ‘bad’ or other ‘habits’. I try to learn new things every week.”

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