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‘Inches away from anything’: Kyle Larson explains his love of the high lane

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FORT WORTH, Texas – Kyle Larson swears perception isn’t reality.

“I don’t get into the wall every race,” Larson said last Saturday, causing a ripple of laughter in Texas Motor Speedway’s media center.

In the closing laps of the O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge, with Brad Keselowski less than a second behind him, Larson took his No. 42 up high and zipped around the track right next to the wall.

And yes, he brushed said wall. But like the 2015 Xfinity finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Larson went on to win.

Larson, who has won twice in the Xfinity Series this year and earned first Sprint Cup victory, admits he thought his chance of winning ended after he made contact with the wall.

“I looked up in the mirror and (thought) ‘All right, here (Keselowski) comes. He’s probably going to get a big run and clear me into (Turn) 3 and take my line away,'” Larson said. “I was able to have a big enough gap on him from when I did hit the wall that he wasn’t able to get too close to me. It took me a corner, probably a lap to make sure I was all good.”

Larson’s Xfinity crew chief, Mike Shiplett, knows his driver’s tendency to run the highest of grooves for laps on end goes against conventional wisdom.

“We’ve made a point in practice to run on the bottom a little bit more, but he still went up there,” Shiplett said. “You cringe when he goes up there because you know he’s inches away from anything. With a bumpy race track, it’s a little bit harder, it’s easier to lose the car. On a smoother track, it’s not that big of a deal.”

Larson’s rim-riding ways originated in his sprint car days and he’s transitioned them into the Xfinity and Sprint Cup cars, with varying levels of success. Though it’s more likely to be successful when he’s piloting a Xfinity car.

“They’re really easy to run up by the wall,” Larson said. “It seems like I can go a lot faster than most people up there. I can enter higher, I can enter faster.”

Larson acknowledges there’s “more risk” in racing right next to the wall. But in a situation like Saturday’s, with Keselowski within striking distance, Larson considers the reward worth it, even if his car takes a little beating.

“I can go I feel a half-second faster a lap when I run the top,” Larson said. “That’s why I do it. It’s a lot harder in the Cup car. Xfinity cars you can actually hit the wall and like I said, go faster the next lap. Cup cars, you can barely touch the wall and you can ruin your race. I don’t seem to run the top as much in the Cup series, because the risk is a lot bigger.”

Larson doesn’t run for points in the Xfinity Series as he does in Cup. That’s why Larson has been working this season to improve his racing in the conventional driving line.

“(I’ve) been trying hard this year to get better on the bottom, but (I’m) still able to run the top as good as I have in the past,” Larson said. “Been trying to become a better all around driver and move around. But today, didn’t have to. I was fast on top.”

Even though Shiplett cringes when his driver goes higher than everyone else, he’s confident in Larson’s talent.

“He knows what he’s doing and he gets the job done,” Shiplett said.

NASCAR America: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. talks Phoenix finish, racing roots

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. joins NASCAR America to go over his fourth-place finish at Phoenix Raceway.

The Roush Fenway Racing driver also shares his racing origins in Mississippi and the hobbies he and girlfriend Danica Patrick share with each other.

Stenhouse is in his fifth full-time year competing in the NASCAR Cup Series with Roush Fenway Racing.

NASCAR America: 50 States in 50 Shows: Alaska

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NASCAR America continues its journey through the United States with the second chapter in “50 States in 50 Shows.”

Following South Alabama Speedway, the show features Capitol Speedway and Alaska Raceway Park in Alaska.

Owned by Nancy and Wes Wallace, Capitol Speedway is a 3/8th-mile oval and features sprint car racing and demolition derbies.

 

Kevin Harvick crew chief fined, suspended one race for encumbered finish

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Kevin Harvick‘s crew chief, Rodney Childers, has been suspended for one NASCAR Cup Series race and fined $25,000 for an unapproved track bar slider assembly last weekend at Phoenix Raceway.

The penalty, a L1 infraction, results in an encumbered finish. Harvick placed sixth in the Camping World 500.

The No. 4 team has also been docked 10 driver and owner points. Harvick was seventh in the standings after four races. He trailed leader Kyle Larson by 61 points. The loss of points drops Harvick one spot to eighth behind Jamie McMurray.

Harvick has not won a race yet, which would qualify him for the playoffs.

MORE: Brad Keselowski closes crew chief for three races, team docked 35 driver points

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NASCAR docks Brad Keselowski, Team Penske 35 points; suspends crew chief Paul Wolfe

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NASCAR docked Brad Keselowski 35 points, suspended crew chief Paul Wolfe three races and fined Wolfe $65,000 because Keselowski’s car failed inspection after finishing fifth in last weekend’s race at Phoenix Raceway.

NASCAR also docked the team 35 owner points for the L1 infraction. NASCAR stated that Keselowski’s result is an encumbered finish.

NASCAR cited Keselowski’s car for failing weights and measurements on the laser platform. NASCAR stated in Wednesday’s penalty report that the team failed the rear wheel steer on the Laser Inspection Station. 

MORE: NASCAR suspends crew chief Rodney Childers one race

Team Penske issued a statement Wednesday:

“We have acknowledged the penalties levied against the No. 2 team following last weekend’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway.  The race cars returned to the race shop today and we are in the process of evaluating the area in question. In the meantime, we have decided Brian Wilson will serve as Brad Keselowski’s crew chief at Auto Club Speedway while we evaluate our approach relative to today’s penalties.”

The penalty drops Keselowski from second in the standings to fourth heading into this weekend’s race at Auto Club Speedway.

The more significant issue is how this could impact Keselowski, who already has a win, in the playoffs.

The top 10 in points before the playoffs begin earn additional points. The points leader earns 15 playoff points. The driver second in the standings earns 10 playoff points, the driver third in the standings earns eight playoff points, the driver fourth in the standings earns seven playoff points. It goes down to the driver 10th in the standings earning one playoff point.

Those playoff points carry through the first three rounds, which is different from last year. Falling behind in the regular season – or losing points because of a penalty – could have ramifications in the playoffs. 

“I think it’s real important to explain why points matter this year,” Keselowski said on Fox Sports 1’s “Race Hub” on Wednesday night. “Last year, you got a win and you locked in and you got to the next round. This year with points, you still lock in with wins. The difference is there’s a huge points bonus for having the most points at the end of the season that carries all the way through the playoffs, and you only get that bonus if you’re one of the best cars and leading up front at the end of the regular season, which requires having a lot of points. Thirty-five points is a pretty big deal, and so is 10 points for Kevin (Harvick) and his team.”

 

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