Another late-race defeat leaves Kyle Larson deflated

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DOVER, Del. — Confetti flew through the air, floating from a celebration 75 yards from Kyle Larson.

Instead of being in the middle of hugs and high fives, Larson stood on pit road and tried to reconcile losing another race he seemed to have all but won.

“I run second all the time,’’ Larson lamented. “All the time.’’

It seems that way.

He has been the runner-up in six of the last 14 Cup races, dating back to last year’s season finale at Homestead. It’s an astonishing record but one that is frustrating for so many close calls.

Three times, including Sunday at Dover International Speedway, Larson has finished second to Jimmie Johnson.

“I’m really disappointed,’’ Larson said on pit road. “I’m not going to show any anger like Kyle (Busch).’’

Asked a few minutes later in the media center if this was the biggest disappointment of his career, Larson briefly laughed and said: “That’s a dumb question. No, No, I mean, I’ve had bigger disappointing races, I guess. I don’t know. I mean, it’s disappointing that I didn’t win, but it’s also a positive that we led more than half the race and held off guys on four tires when we had two, and we were at a disadvantage a lot of the times and I was able to hold people off. 

“So I’m disappointed that I didn’t win, but I’m proud of the effort that our team put in and proud of myself for the effort I put in most of the race. Just, yeah, just got to get better.’’

Larson was discouraged by his final restart. He was the leader, chose the outside line — the preferred line — and gave up the win to Johnson, who said in victory lane that he had “the restart of my life.’’

As Johnson celebrated tying Cale Yarborough’s career record of wins, Larson contemplated what went wrong.

Larson spun his tires on the final restart, as he had done throughout the race. Johnson got the lead into the first turn and crossed the overtime line in the middle of the backstretch before the caution came out for a nine-car accident.

The race was over. Johnson was the winner. Larson was second. Again.

“I haven’t had much luck in my NASCAR career,’’ Larson said on pit road. “Gosh, (Johnson)’s the luckiest human being on this planet, but he’s also extremely good and can execute like nobody else.’’

That’s the next step for Larson, who has been fast all season and has many expecting him to be the sport’s next breakout star. He can’t be one of the sport’s next superstars, though, if he doesn’t win.

Keep this in mind. This was Larson’s 124th career Cup start compared to Johnson’s 556th. Johnson has been in more pressure situations with his seven titles and 83 career victories. That includes Johnson’s win in last year’s season finale at Homestead.

Just like Sunday, Johnson beat Larson on the final restart at Homestead. Johnson was on the inside with two laps to go and outran Larson to Turn 1 to win the race and title.

Johnson outfoxed Larson then and beat him again Sunday.

“It’s good to be the leader, but a lot of times you are at a disadvantage being the leader,’’ Larson said. “They can time the restarts better than you. They lag back a little bit. We were both playing games with each other.’’

It is such lessons Larson will learn. If not, he will only face more angst.

“I know he’s hungry,’’ Johnson said of Larson. “I think the wins are going to keep coming for him. They’re never easy when they go away. He’s a great talent.’’

Along with losing a race, what also could hurt Larson is the loss of the five playoff points. Johnson has 15 playoffs points to Larson’s seven (Martin Truex Jr. has a series-high 18 playoff points).

With those points carrying through each round of the playoffs, it could make a difference on who advances.

“Winning is still everything,’’ Johnson said. “That’s where my focus has been. When we get to the end of the year, I’ll start paying attention to points more often, but right now is all about trophies.’’

For Larson, it’s about trophies he doesn’t have.

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NASCAR America: Ken Squier on the ‘Mark of an Earnhardt’ at Daytona

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Ken Squier was there in 1979 when Dale Earnhardt Sr. made his first start in the Daytona 500 and Squier was there when Earnhardt finally won the race in 1998.

There’s no one better than Squier to narrate an essay on the importance of the history of the Earnhardt name and family to the track.

“Dale Earnhardt Sr. needed Daytona and Daytona needed Dale Earnhardt,” Squier says. “As Daytona grew, Dale grew.”

The Intimidator won 34 times at Daytona and his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr., has added 17 of his own wins in his NASCAR career. His last chance to add to the “Earnhardt mark” on Daytona comes Saturday in the Coke Zero 400 (7:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

NASCAR America’s analysts discussed what the legacy of the Earnhardt name is with Earnhardt Jr.’s impending retirement.

“The way their lives were intertwined, what they did on the race track has been intertwined,” Kyle Petty said. “The way the fans perceive what Senior was, what Junior is and what Junior has meant for this sport. What he has done recently as a leader of the sport, he has stepped into his father’s shoes. … When Junior stood up last year and said I’m not getting in that car because of my head injuries, I’m going to sit out.’ That’s leadership.

NASCAR America teaming up with SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

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Wednesday will mark the beginning of a new relationship between NASCAR America and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Every Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. ET, a NASCAR on NBC personality will appear on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive,” which is hosted by Pete Pistone and Mike Bagley.

Analyst Steve Letarte will be the first guest.

Pistone will also make regular appearances on NASCAR America.

Pistone joined NASCAR America Tuesday night to preview the new relationship and the storylines heading into the second half of the NASCAR season.

The main theme of the discussion was the building frustration for Joe Gibbs Racing, which is winless through 16 races. Though the driver getting the most attention has been Kyle Busch, there’s three other drivers who are looking to win, including Denny Hamlin.

“We had his crew chief Mike Wheeler on the ‘Morning Drive’ last week and the frustration, you can feel it there,” Pistone said. “They also felt a bit optimistic, especially going to Sonoma because he runs so well there, he ran so well and almost won the race last year until Tony Stewart got him on the last lap. … I still think there’s optimism there in the 11 camp, they’re finding the speed they’ve been missing so far in the first half of the year. The next race at Daytona could be the place you see Denny Hamlin bust down the door to victory lane.”

Watch the above video for more from Pete Pistone.

NASCAR America: Sprint racing keeps Kyle Larson in shape for NASCAR

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Kyle Larson is in the midst of his best NASCAR Cup Season to date. He leads the points standings and has two wins, at Auto Club Speedway and Michigan Speedway.

You might be able to attribute his hot streak to another form of racing.

Larson, a product of the dirt racing circuit, told NASCAR America’s Marty Snider the 25 sprint car races he’s allowed to drive in each year by Chip Ganassi Racing keep him on his toes physically.

“I’ve gotten a little bit into working out this year, I’d rather race to get my exercise in,” Larson said. “Racing to me is fun, but also exercise and it keeps your mind in it. You’re putting yourself in more racing situations than everybody else in the field. I think it definitely benefits me.”

Larson maybe spent by this time next week. Following Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona (at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC), Larson will compete in four straight days of sprint cars race in Pennsylvania.

The Ganassi driver goes to Daytona looking to finish what he started in the Daytona 500. He was leading at the white flag before he ran out of gas in Turns 1 and 2.

“It’s difficult, it’s a long race,” Larson said. “There’s so much that goes on throughout the race, it’s hard to catch on TV. But we’re figuring it out all it in the car and learning who is good to work with and who is not. It’s interesting. It’s definitely a different style of racing I’m getting used to.”

Larson’s best finish in at Daytona was sixth place in last year’s July race.

Watch the above video for the full interview.

 

NASCAR America: Scan All: Anger and miscommunication at Sonoma Raceway

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Some people like to call road courses the new short tracks in NASCAR and at the end of Sunday’s Cup race at Sonoma, many cars backed up that assessment.

When there’s beat up cars, that means tempers flared, which makes for an interesting edition of NASCAR America’s Scan All. This week’s version gives you some of the best scanner traffic from Kevin Harvick‘s win at the California track.

Highlights include:

  • Israeli-born driver Alon Day, making his Cup debut, telling crew chief Randy Cox he can’t understand his accent. “You have to talk a bit slower so I can understand every word.”
  • “I needed a lot more help on that. The spotter doesn’t tell me ****.” – Danica Patrick after her Lap 14 accident with Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  • “We’ve got your in-car camera here. That was fun to watch. A little scary, but fun to watch.” – Crew chief Ernie Cope to AJ Allmendinger after he went from 11th to first in one lap on a restart.
  • “This year just could not get any better,” the sarcastic response of Kyle Busch to receiving a pit road speeding penalty.

Watch the above video for more from Scan All.