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.

NASCAR America: Don’t count out Kyle Busch at Kansas (video)

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Kyle Busch is ranked ninth, seven points below the cut-off line to advance to the Round of 8 in the NASCAR Cup playoffs, heading into Sunday’s Round of 12 finale at Kansas Speedway.

While many of his fans may fear that with back-to-back poor finishes at Charlotte and Talladega, Busch will be eliminated at Kansas, the NASCAR America crew on Monday felt exactly the opposite.

They’re bullish on the younger Busch’s chances of advancing to the third round of the playoffs – very bullish.

Here’s why:

Dale Jarrett: “Other years, you have two bad races like he’s had, he wouldn’t have a chance of going to Kansas other than winning. I think he’s very capable of winning at Kansas. He has two opportunities here: he runs well in both stages, let’s say he earns 17 to 20 points and he gets himself in a good position and then he runs in the top-five, which he’s done on a regular basis recently. I think he has great opportunity and gets through (to the Round of 8) with no problem.”

Nate Ryan: “At one point, Kansas Speedway was a house of horrors for Kyle Busch. It took him 10 years to get his first win there. Now, he’s had five straight top-fives there. He had 16 stage points in the race there at May. And because Toyotas are running really well on mile-and-a-half speedways, he’s qualifying well, I think you can count on him amassing a significant number of stage points and probably more than the guy he’s below on the cutline right now, Jimmie Johnson.”

Kyle Petty: “I know we’re looking at the points; don’t look at the points. In the first 26 races, he was in contention almost every week. Honestly, I don’t think the stage points are going to matter … Kyle Busch can go there and win this race and all this speculation, all this doubt, can be thrown out the window. He’s still a favorite, as far as I’m concerned.”

NASCAR America: What Talladega win meant to Yates family (video)

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It was a heartwarming day Sunday for engine builder Doug Yates.

While he was happy that Brad Keselowski and his Ford – powered by a Roush-Yates engine under the hood – won the Alabama 500, it was also a strong reminder of his father, Robert, who passed away nearly two weeks ago.

“My dad and I loved racing here together so much, from the time we started with Davey Allison back in 1987 when he won here,” Doug Yates said. “It’s an emotional time.

“It’s a great place, I’m glad I’m here, feels like coming home, and I know he would be so proud of us and all the hard work that everybody at Roush-Yates Engines put in, and Ford Performance and the drive that Brad Keselowski and Team Penske put on was really special.

“We’re really proud to be here and I know my dad’s smiling today.”

Also, check out what Dale Jarrett, Nate Ryan and Kyle Petty had to say about the significance of the Yates family legacy to NASCAR over the years.

 

 

NASCAR AMERICA: How working radio, Joey Logano helped Keselowski win at Talladega

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Sure, Brad Keselowski had to dodge much of the mayhem Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway to win the Alabama 500.

But there was more to it than just Keselowski crossing the finish line.

His win also proved the importance of spotters and radio communications at Talladega. When Keselowski lost an antenna on top of his car, the team was forced to pit and give up track position temporarily to allow his team to fix the radio for the long haul.

That moved proved pivotal as it’s likely Keselowski wouldn’t have won if not for his spotter steering him away from problems and to keep him abreast of all the cars around him on the final laps.

The NASCAR America crew discussed that on Monday’s show. Check out the video above.

And then, check out the video below, where Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate, Joey Logano, helped get Keselowski to victory lane.

Sure, Logano wanted to win himself, but when it appeared that wouldn’t happen, Logano helped keep Keselowski at the front of the field all the way to the checkered flag.

Check out what our NASCAR America analysts had to say about how Logano and Keselowski worked together in the video below.

 

NASCAR America: Talladega brings Dale Jr. retirement into focus (video)

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans that have been in denial about his retirement at season’s end may have been slapped with a huge sense of reality in Sunday’s Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

There’s no other track that has been as synonymous with Junior and his father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Sr., than NASCAR’s largest track, the 2.66-mile facility about 50 miles east of Birmingham, Alabama.

Now that Talladega is in Junior’s rearview mirror, reality is quickly setting in that he has just five races remaining in his NASCAR Cap career: this Sunday at Kansas, followed by Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix and the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, our team of analysts explored the reality that Junior’s storied career is indeed coming to a conclusion.

“This weekend really felt like this was it,” said NBCSports.com’s Nate Ryan. “It had the right amount of sentimentality, there were the feel-good moments, and even though he didn’t win, there’s no other track where you can hear the roar of 100,000 people over the engines going down the frontstretch at Talladega.

“I really feel like you had that this weekend. Giving him that No. 2 car his father owned and him being on the pole, this really felt like this was the moment when there was a great appreciation for everything Dale Jr. has done in his career. It felt like this was the race this season where we’re really finally honoring Dale Jr.’s  last year.”

Added Jarrett, “With everything I saw the entire weekend, you could tell just from his voice the appreciation he felt of everything that was being done for him and I think it’s finally setting in to him that this is coming to an end.

“But I think he also realized that realistically, yesterday was going to be their best opportunity to get back to victory lane that one last time. Sure, he has a chance at the rest of these races, they’ve been running better and we know anything can happen, but I think that would have been more special to him if he had been able to do that.”