At the end of the 2020 season, a torch got passed from one driver to another. Jimmie Johnson drove a stock car for the final time at Phoenix, and in doing so watched his teammate, Chase Elliott, secure the win, and his first championship.
The iconic moment on the track between the two drivers is forever etched in our minds.
At that moment, Johnson knew his career had come to a close, another was only just beginning. The time had come for “Seven-Time” to hand the reins of Hendrick Motorsports to a new generation of drivers, and Elliott was the one to lead the organization into the new decade.
Apparently that passing of the torch resulted in an interception.
Sunday’s race at Nashville had everything one could expect in an inaugural event, but it resulted in something fans are getting used to currently in the season. A sold-out crowd, a crowd that got extra time to make it into the track because of traffic issues, saw a three-peat from the newest shoe to be at the wheel of a Hendrick car, Kyle Larson. Add in the previous week’s All-Star Race, and he’s four-for-four, and has won all but one stage in the last three points events.
The packed house in Nashville seemed to be appreciative of what Larson has done the last several weeks, and really this entire season, with his outright domination of the last three events.
Meanwhile, his teammates in the Hendrick stable, seem to be fading behind, almost falling into the mindset of not only being happy their cohort won, but also in their minds are thinking, “how can we beat this guy?”
As it stands right now, Larson is performing like Martin Truex Jr. was in 2017, and already halfway to that win total. He’s quickly becoming the dominant driver in one season that Jeff Gordon was between 1995 and 1998. He’s this season’s dominant driver, with no sign of slowing down and is already the championship favorite.
And yet, despite all this dominance, you don’t hear the crowd being upset about him winning all the time.
Kyle Busch wins one race, or multiple races in a weekend, the chorus of boos that come down from the stands sounds like when a referee upholds a call in the two-minute warning that sets off a stadium of fans. Yet, Larson is in victory lane four weeks in a row, in dominant fashion for three of them, and the entire grandstands are roaring their approval.
Maybe part of it is due to him being gone from Cup competition last year due to his suspension. At the same time, that suspension probably is what fueled the desire for the fans to see him win this season. It’s almost like the longing for Larson to return has fueled the fans desire to see him succeed, and do so quickly.
How long can this run last?
The modern-era record still stands at four wins in a row. Harry Gant, Gordon, and Johnson have all made that a reality, and the fact is, Larson can potentially match that on Saturday, then pass it on Sunday.
Johnson certainly had great intentions when he handed the torch to the Hendrick squad to the current champion. But, Larson came in, grabbed that torch, and is running away with it like an Olympic sprinter. Unless one of the competitors is names Usain Bolt, or can somehow figure out how to bolt past that No. 5 car, it’s not going to change.
Larson has that torch. Who’s going to extinguish it?