Kevin Harvick: Kyle Larson is the best driver to enter NASCAR since Jeff Gordon in 1993

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Kevin Harvick made his debut as a SiriusXM Satellite Radio host Tuesday night and made some news by announcing Stewart-Haas Racing was withdrawing its Phoenix appeal.

But those weren’t the most interesting comments made by the 2014 champion, who had a strong opinion on the most recent winner in NASCAR’s premier series.

Kyle Larson is the best driver to come into this sport since Jeff Gordon, in my opinion,” Harvick said. “I think Kyle Larson is that good.”

How good is that?

Well, let’s peruse a partial list of drivers (and their credentials) who have entered NASCAR’s premier series since Gordon’s arrival in 1993 and Larson’s in 2014:

Jimmie Johnson: Seven championships, tied for the most in NASCAR history. Also led the points and scored three wins as a rookie. He is the only driver who has qualified for the playoffs in all 13 seasons.

–Tony Stewart: The three-time series champion became the first Cup rookie to win in 12 years (and notched three victories in his first season). The 1997 IndyCar champion is regarded by many as his generation’s greatest.

Matt Kenseth: The 2000 rookie of the year won the 2003 championship and has failed to qualify for the playoffs only once in his career.

Denny Hamlin: The 2006 rookie of the year has made the championship round twice and has won in 11 consecutive seasons in Cup.

Kyle Busch: The 2015 Cup champion has won in 12 straight seasons in Cup and has 171 victories across NASCAR’s top three national series.

Kurt Busch: The 2004 series champion has 29 wins on the premier circuit, finished sixth in the 2014 Indianapolis 500 and also qualified for a Pro Stock event in the NHRA.

Brad Keselowski: The 2012 series champion has 21 victories with Team Penske since 2011 and has emerged as NASCAR’s top restrictor-plate racer.

Joey Logano: Two-time championship round contender and is tied with Johnson for most victories (14) since the 2014 season.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: A two-time Daytona 500 winner missed the last half of the 2016 season but was a title contender in 2014 and ’15.

–Harvick: His performance since aligning with crew chief Rodney Childers at SHR three years ago has been astounding: the 2014 championship, 12 victories and more than 5,700 laps led on NASCAR’s premier circuit.

So given all of those names … what would be the purpose of Harvick’s effusively praising the Chip Ganassi Racing driver?

“He’s just a kid that not enough people know about, but he’s won and wins in everything that he’s ever driven,” Harvick said. “He’s just a racer. … I think he’s laser focused on what he does as a race car driver, and I think he’s the best talent to come through this sport in a long, long time and is going to win a ton of races because he’s that good.”

Hey, wait a minute. When is the 24-year-old’s contract up?

Chip Ganassi notoriously is secretive about the lengths of his drivers’ deals (in IndyCar and NASCAR, particularly because the team wants to avoid having its stars poached by other teams). Larson reportedly re-signed toward the end of 2015, but it’s unclear how long his deal runs. It’s believed to run through at least the 2018 season.

That’s why the last part of Harvick’s riff on Larson could have been telling.

“I hope Ganassi has a good contract with him because every team in the garage wants a Kyle Larson. He’s a guy that you can put in your race cars and win races even on a day when they’re not the best race cars. He’s going to make them look good.”

By the way, it also is worth noting that Ganassi was miffed four years ago when Stewart and Gordon had high praise for Larson. The team owner hinted he thought both drivers had motives of courting Larson to join their teams (Gordon openly has spoken about meeting Larson in his Hendrick Motorsports office years ago and pitching him on the organization).

Larson responded to Harvick’s comments in a SiriusXM interview Wednesday afternoon.

“Man, that’s so cool,” Larson said. “I look up to Kevin Harvick a lot. For people I race, there’s not anyone more talented and focused, definitely as focused as it comes, then Kevin Harvick. To see what he’s done since he’s gotten in the No. 4 car has been amazing.

“I always enjoy racing with him. He’s the one guy always on my tablet that I’m watching his lap times. I’m always learning off Kevin. I feel our driving styles are very similar. He’s really aggressive and gotten really good at running the top the last few years. That’s really cool to hear a guy I look up to talk about me like that.”

VIDEO: See what what Jamie McMurray thinks about his teammate’s surge in success in the video above.

Tonight’s Cup race at Richmond: Start time, lineup and more

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Kyle Busch looks to win his third consecutive race of the season tonight at Richmond Raceway and become the second driver to accomplish that this season, matching what Kevin Harvick did earlier in the season.

Here is all the important information for the race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Lauren Fulcher, Toyota car owner, will give the command to start engines for the Toyota Owners 400 at 6:37 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 6:44 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 400 laps (300 miles) around the .75-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 100. Stage 2 ends on Lap 200.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 1 p.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 4:30 p.m. Driver introductions are at 6 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEMElliott Yamin will perform the anthem at 6:31 p.m.

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the race beginning at 6:30 p.m. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 5:30 p.m. and also can be heard at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have MRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for a high of 64 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Kyle Larson won the September race, finishing ahead of Joey Logano and Ryan Newman. Logano won this event a year ago (but his car failed inspection after the race). Brad Keselowski was second. Denny Hamlin placed third.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.

Daniel Hemric “making the most” of first Cup start at Richmond

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Daniel Hemric made the rounds this week.

Hemric “talked to just about every car owner” he raced for in the last 22 years to thank them.

Without them, he wouldn’t be making his Cup debut tonight at Richmond Raceway.

The 27-year-old driver will start 22nd in Richard Childress Racing’s No. 8 Chevrolet. It caps a busy weekend as Hemric pulled double duty with his regular job driving the No. 21 for RCR in the Xfinity Series.

“I have a newfound respect for those guys who do double duty every week,” Hemric said Friday in the midst of a day filled with four practice sessions, two qualifying sessions and the Xfinity race, where he finished 29th following tire problems. “It’s been a lot to take in. It’s been a good time and a great problem to have trying to figure out how to get from one place to the next in the manner that you need to.”

Before qualifying, Hemric was 23rd fastest in the first practice session. He improved to eighth best in final practice.

The busy pace helped Hemric stay focused in his preparation for the most important race of his career so far.

“I think between getting in the Xfinity car and having time on the race track, and then just running straight over and getting in the Cup car has made the transition as easy as possible,” Hemric said Friday. “Think that’s helped to calm the nerves and staying busy has kept all that stuff kind of in-check as well. … It’s been a lot going on but it’s been fun.”

Hemric would consider it a “home run” if he ended the 400-lap race in the top 20.

“I think if we can do that as a group with only being a one-off race right here, obviously knowing we’re going to come back at it in the fall at (the Charlotte) road course, but it’s tough to do,” Hemric said. “It’s tough to bring guys out of the shop and know what the expectations are. That’s why I say we’ve got to take it a step at a time. That’s what we’ve done do far.”

Hemric is somewhat an oddity in modern NASCAR as he makes his first Cup start at the age of 27. He enters tonight’s race with 90 combined starts in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series. He’s yet to win in either national series.

Despite not winning last year, he made it to the championship four last year in the Xfinity Series.

Cup driver Kyle Busch believes Hemric is “ready for the opportunity.”

“I think he’s done a really good job,” Busch said. “Maybe not has scored as many wins as he would have wanted to in Truck of Xfinity competition, but I think talent pool wise, I’ve seen him race in late models and I’ve seen what he can do in those things and he’s made a name for himself in being able to come up through these ranks and hasn’t caused chaos while doing it. He’s done it really, really clean. He’s raced his competitors as well as you can ask of anybody to race their competitors. I think the only thing lacking is just the win column, so I think Daniel is a great kid and look forward to seeing what he can do at the next level.”

Hemric said if he’d been asked two or three years if he would be about to make his Cup debut, he would have replied, “there ain’t no way.”

Hemric continued, “I’m going to continue to get older and I’m not sure how to put myself in any other better position than just making the most of that opportunity. … At the end of the day, nobody knows your story better than you know it.”

Hemric’s story includes one his RCR mechanics and former Legends racing owner selling his own Ford Mustang in order to keep his racing career going just before Hemric turned 15.

Hemric isn’t the only older driver getting their due this season. Last week, 27-year-old Ryan Preece won his second Xfinity race at Bristol. Next week, 37-year-old Timothy Peters will make his Cup debut after years of competing in the Truck Series.

“I saw where Jeff Burton told Ryan Preece last week that he won his first Cup race at 30 years old, so that gave me a little bit more confidence that I was on the right path,” Hemric said. “I never had a path or an age set for whenever I wanted to get there. I’ve just been fortunate to be able to continue that uphill climb and I know the trend is 17 or 18 years old; you’ve got to be in the top three series and doing it full-time. But I’m just doing it the way it’s provided to me and just trying to make the most of it.”

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Kyle Larson moving on from Bristol finish, looking to win again at Richmond

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After losing the lead with six laps to go and finishing second to Kyle Busch at Bristol, a frustrated Kyle Larson headed back to his motorhome.

He was greeted by son Owen, who had a question for him.

“Did you get me some Skittles?’ ‘’ Owen asked.

Even though the candy sponsors Busch, Larson admits he managed to smile at his son’s request.

‘That wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but it kind of lightened the mood, so it helps to get over it a little bit,’’ Larson said Friday at Richmond Raceway.

The runner-up finish for Larson marked the third time he’s finished second to Busch in a Cup race (2014 Auto Club Speedway, 2017 New Hampshire and 2018 Bristol).

Larson enters this weekend having won the most recent race at Richmond. He took the lead from Martin Truex Jr. with five laps to go on pit road and held on in overtime to win in September.

“Typically this hasn’t been a good race track for me, but for whatever reason, the last time we were here we were about a top-three car all race long,’’ said Larson, who starts tonight’s race fifth. “Truex was really fast. But, I was a little bit lucky there at the end with a caution to beat him off pit road and get the win. I think that adds a little bit of confidence coming back here.

“Even though I’ve struggled in the past, I enjoy this track because it is different than what we typically go to.”

Larson enters the weekend with three top-three finishes this season, including the Bristol result.

“I feel like our short track program has become really competitive over the last few years,’’ he said. “Aside from Martinsville, I don’t even know if our package is good or bad there; I think I’m just not very good there. But, for us to get a couple top-two finishes here at Richmond now the last couple of years, at a track that I struggle a lot at, I think says a lot about our short track program. Even Bristol, I think Bristol is my best race track, but a few years ago I would just kind of run around eighth to 12th. But now lately, I’ve been able to lead the most laps and get close to wins.’’

Larson’s Bristol race also included a spin after contact with Ryan Newman but Larson doesn’t blame Newman for the incident.

“I get along with Newman,’’ Larson said. “The line that I run in (Turns) 3 and 4 throughout a run is really fast, but I can get myself in trouble if people poke their nose in on me. That’s the second time I’ve gotten spun by running that line, so I think I just need to be a little more cautious. I don’t think he did anything wrong there. It was getting somewhat toward the end of the race. You’re trying to race for lead-lap spots. So, I cut it a little too close, I think, and ran across his front end.”

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Results, point standings after Xfinity race at Richmond

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Christopher Bell led a race-high 120 laps to win the ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond Raceway. It’s his second career Xfinity win.

Bell beat Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Noah Gragson, Elliott Sadler, Matt Tifft and Austin Cindric.

Elliott Sadler won the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus.

Click here for the race results.

Points

Elliott Sadler continues to lead the point standings through eight races. He has a 29-point lead over Bell.

Completing the top five is Tyler Reddick (-31 points), Daniel Hemric (-38) and Justin Allgaier (-48).

Click here for the point standings.