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Kyle Larson: getting second Cup win ‘just as important’ the first

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – This offseason is different for Kyle Larson in one big way.

For the first time in four years of racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Larson doesn’t have to worry about getting his first win.

Larson finally earned his first Cup victory at Michigan International Speedway last August. The victory was the first for Chip Ganassi Racing since 2013.

But Larson doesn’t feel any different heading into the 2017 season than he did the previous three offseasons.

“I just continue to want to win,” Larson said Wednesday at the NASCAR Media Tour. “Wanting to win the second win is just as important as wanting to win the first win, to me. So yeah, it doesn’t feel any different. I’m just going to go out there and try to do the best job I can every single week and hopefully we can get some more wins this year.”

Larson’s win put him in the playoffs for the first time with teammate Jamie McMurray, though both were eliminated after the first round. What will it take for Ganassi to capitalize on its most successful season in more than four years?

“I don’t know if there is one thing you can pinpoint,” Larson said. “I think everything needs to be better. Aero. To be a championship team, you need to just be better than everybody at everything. I could do a better job at executing. Our pit calls could be better. I’m not saying that anything is bad, but I’m saying that everything could be a little bit better to gain lap time and improve on finishes. So, we just try to focus hard and dig down deep to make everything a little bit better.”

As in seasons past, Larson won’t confine his racing schedule to the Cup Series this year. The 24-year-old driver will continue to pursue his passion of dirt racing.

Ganassi is permitting Larson to compete in 25 non-Cup races this year and he’s already used up three of those. Larson says he will have to find more mid-week sprint races to fit into his busy NASCAR schedule.

“This season, it’s harder to find races because last year worked out perfectly the way the NASCAR season was, at least where the off-weekends fell,” Larson said. “I got to run six nights of Ohio Speedweek with the All-Stars. I got to run the Knoxville Nationals. But this year, I probably only get to run two nights of (Ohio) Speedweek and maybe I can run Oskaloosa (Southern Iowa Speedway) during Nationals week. I’ll probably do a couple nights of Midget Week again. It will just be harder to find races.”

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NASCAR America Scan All: Kyle Busch wants to know if he got a one- or two-fingered salute

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“P17; you’re making really good time,” Kyle Busch’s spotter Adam Stevens told Busch as he blasted through the field on his way to winning a third consecutive race in the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway.

“Was that a two-fingered or a one-fingered salute,” Busch replied about his experience in traffic.

“The 42 dove-bombed us a little bit, but the 41’s the one that got us,” Jamie McMurray was told by his spotter.

But McMurray was still upset about an earlier incident when the two were racing for the free pass.

“Jamie’s trying to tear up our car now,” Kyle Larson said after getting run into by his teammate. “I got damage on my left side from him.”

Here are some of the other scanner highlights:

• “We got a penalty,” Rodney Childers told Kevin Harvick. “The wedge wrench went over the wall.”
• “Good, we’re coming from the back,” Harvick replied. “That’s what, three or four weeks in a row? I’m used to it.”
• “That 31’s fighting the hell out of the 78,” Childers reported.
• “I’m sorry about all that,” Larson said after missing pit road twice. “I braked later than I did there. Those two times, I just wheel hopped.”
• “That’s pathetic,” Aric Almirola said. “I don’t know how we can be that good for 200 laps and that bad after that.”

Watch the above video for more.

NASCAR America: Matt DiBenedetto will pay tribute to Jeff Burton in Southern 500

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For several years, the Southern 500 has given drivers an opportunity to pay tribute to the legends of NASCAR and this year, Matt DiBenedetto will pay homage to Jeff Burton’s No. 99 from the 2000 Cup season.

“You have no clue how excited I am about this one,” Matt DiBenedetto said. “I’ve been wanting to do this one for a while.

“This actually has a back story on it. And this is what got me into NASCAR and into racing. And the first car that I liked – I bought the diecast cars for – this is like really close to my heart.”

“It’s really exciting for me,” Jeff Burton said in a taped interview. “That 2000 paint scheme was really popular with Jeff Burton fans and Exide Racing fans back in the day. A lot of good things happened that year. We won several races that year.”

Burton won four races that year and finished second on five other occasions.

Burton didn’t win the Southern 500 that year, but he came close – finishing second to teammate Mark Martin.

Watch the above video for more.

NASCAR America: A Matt Kenseth return to Roush Fenway Racing would mean …

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Roush Fenway Racing will make what it is calling a major partner announcement at 10 a.m. Wednesday, and a report states that it will include details on Matt Kenseth returning to drive for the team.

NASCAR on NBC’s Nate Ryan reported Tuesday that Roush Fenway Racing declined comment on SB Nation’s report that Kenseth would run select races for Trevor Bayne beginning May 12 at Kansas Speedway. Ryan reported that multiple principles, including a former Roush Fenway Racing driver will be at Wednesday’s announcement.

Kenseth, who turned 46 in March, won Cup Rookie of the Year honors with Roush Fenway Racing in 2000 and remained there through the 2012 season.

Kenseth left for Joe Gibbs Racing and raced there from 2013-17. He was replaced after last season in the No. 20 car by Erik Jones, leaving Kenseth without a full-time ride for this season.

NASCAR on NBC’s Kyle Petty said on NASCAR America that should the report of Kenseth’s return to Roush Fenway Racing be true, it would provide a nice homecoming.

“He knows the players,’’ Petty said of Kenseth. “He knows everything about the place. He grew up there. He came of age there. He won (a) championship. He won races there. So from all those pieces, it makes sense for a guy like Matt Kenseth to go back there just as it would if Jeff Gordon said I want to go back to Hendrick. It makes perfect sense. But only Matt can answer that question (of why).’’

Ryan noted it is not unusual for teams to put another driver in a car to benchmark that car’s performance.

Bayne is 26th in the points. The 2011 Daytona 500 winner has not finished better than 12th (Texas) this season. Every driver ahead of him in the points has at least one top-10 finish this season.

“Even in a part-time basis, what could he bring?’’ Petty said of Kenseth. “He brings so much. It’s an intangible. I think we saw it when he went to Joe Gibbs Racing. What did he bring there? That team just, all of a sudden, just took off. Was it all Matt Kenseth? No, but it’s part Matt Kenseth, it’s part that knowledge, it’s part that experience, it’s part that desire to run up front, win races and build something and I think Matt felt he had built something that first go around.’’

Kenseth scored the 39th Cup win of his career in November at Phoenix. A week before that win, Kenseth talked to Ryan on the NASCAR on NBC podcast about realizing the end of his career seemed near.

“But like I said, I feel like the way things have gone that for whatever reason — reasons I don’t understand that I think will become really, really clear in the future — that it’s just not meant for me to race next year,” Kenseth said. “I think it’s that simple. Everything lined up this way because I wasn’t going to make the decision myself, so someone made it for me. It’s just not supposed to happen.”

Car owner Joe Gibbs said Tuesday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that he would look forward to a return by Kenseth to Cup.

“I’ve got to tell you I would love it,’’ Gibbs said. “What a great guy, a great person, a great representative for the sport and for sponsors and extremely competitive. I would love that, and I hope that is going to be the case. I hope he can be there on a steady basis.

“It would be a thrill for us to have Matt back. I think he’s a real credit to the NASCAR Series and love the family. I think that would be great for us. I hope that’s going to be the case. I hope he gets to run a bunch of races.’’

For more, watch the video above.

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Deontay Wilder named Geico 500 honorary pace car driver

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Talladega SuperSpeedway has a reputation for delivering blows to the competition, so it is only fitting that the honorary pace car driver for the Geico 500 will be a man known to deliver knockouts to his opponents. Reigning World Boxing Council (WBC) World Heavyweight Champion and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, native Deontay Wilder will pace the field before the initial green flag Sunday.

Wilder, 32, has a record of 40-0 with 39 of his wins by knockout.

Known as the “Bronze Bomber” because of the 2008 Bronze medal he won in the Beijing Olympics, Wilder found boxing as a way to provide for a daughter diagnosed with spina bifida. He immediately found that he was a natural by scoring a technical knockout over Ethan Cox in November, 2008.

Wilder has held the title since January 2015 after defeating Bermane Stiverne in his only bout that was not decided by a knockout. Wilder scored a unanimous decision and has defended his belt seven times since.