By Cole Cusumano
No team has been more successful than Kyle Larson at Hendrick Motorsports this season. Everyone has bare witness to the No. 5 crew’s dominance in 2021, but spotter, Tyler Monn, has had the best seat in the house, while playing a pivotal role.
Beginning with Darlington Raceway on May 9, Larson and his team put together one of the most captivating performances in NASCAR history. Over seven weeks, they failed to finish below second, leading 915 laps and winning three consecutive events (four counting the All-Star Race).
It’s been a long road for Monn, who made the move from Pennsylvania to North Carolina in 2011. His spotting career began in 2013, where he was working for Dave Moody’s late model team. From there, he was paired with Austin Wayne Self, and now found his home at Hendrick Motorsport with Larson, on a run he called, “unreal.”
“Kyle’s done such a great job and Cliff [Daniels, crew chief] has led a great team,” Monn told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “Everyone on the 5 team in the shop and traveling to the race track does such a tremendous job for us. I’m just glad to be a part of it.”
This weekend, the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Atlanta Motor Speedway in July for the first time in 47 years. Although many are complaining of the imminent heat — and rightfully so — there is a buzz of excitement surrounding the No. 5 camp.
In March, Larson asserted himself as the favorite to win the Fold of Honor QuikTrip 500 from Atlanta after leading a race-high 269 laps and winning both stages. In the end, Ryan Blaney capitalized with nine laps to go, after the driver of the No. 5 used up his tires too quickly.
Larson and his team have not forgotten what happened in Georgia earlier this season, and they have redemption on their minds.
“It’s definitely going to be a hot one,” Monn said. “It’s going to be way more slicker, but I think we’ll have a shot. We roll off sixth and I’m sure we’ll storm to the front before it’s all said and done.”
Monn took it upon himself to take notes while watching film from some of the most historic finishes at Atlanta to prevent history from repeating itself. He studied how the track transitioned throughout the day and which grooves drivers like Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson used to properly execute.
Although the largest form of preparation came in bracing for the southern heat — something he feels ready to tackle. In what he called “one of the hottest” days he ever spotted, Monn pulled double-duty at Texas Motor Speedway this year serving as the eyes in the sky for both Justin Allgaier and Chase Elliott in NASCAR’s developmental series.
“Looking at the temperature and how humid it is at Atlanta, I think it will be just like Texas — if not worse,” Monn admitted. “The race starts around the hottest part of the day (3:30 p.m. ET), and obviously it’ll race all the way in the daytime. It’ll be pretty brutal on the boys this weekend.”
For Monn, the key to combating harsh conditions is hydration. Everyday leading up to the race he makes it a priority to drink a gallon of water, and then an additional gallon throughout. If he’s anticipating rougher than normal summertime weather, he’ll drink Pedialyte the night before or morning of when he’s scheduled to spot.
On race day, spotters will either sit in their rental cars or stay in empty suites provided by NASCAR and the track to keep cool. They’ll also bring individual coolers packed with ice and water, but some tracks will supply a community one for them (like Atlanta).
Typical spotter attire consists of face masks, hats and sun sleeves — basically anything to avoid skin coming in contact with the sun. Sunscreen is top priority, mainly on their necks, which is the most common area to succumb to sunburn.
“In Atlanta, you aren’t getting away from the sun at all,” Monn said. “You’re on top of the roof baking, but you really don’t think about it as the race goes on. As the race is going, you’re focused on spotting. You don’t start thinking about it until a caution comes out.
”You just can’t think about it. You have to go about it and do your thing.”
The Perfect Lap: Monn and Larson entered the most recent event at Atlanta Motor Speedway with a set game plan that worked for a majority of the day.
“You get into [Turn] 1, it’s a wide arc, get down to the bottom, straight up off the corner,” Monn explained. “Some of those guys get in there and they paint that white line, and I know we’ve done that through [turns] 3-and-4.“
After learning their lesson the hard way with nine laps to go, they have a better understanding of how to adapt as the abrasive 1.54-mile track transitions.
“We noticed Blaney was really up there and he was good up there when he ran us down earlier this year — same thing with [turns] 1-and-2,” Monn said. “Paint the white line right around the bottom, but it’ll change grooves from the middle to the top. The biggest thing is trying not to wear your [tires] out.”
See if Monn can navigate Larson to redemption in the Quaker State 400 from Atlanta Motor Speedway on July 11 at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.