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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AJ Allmendinger making return to Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2018

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After a one-year absence, AJ Allmendinger will return to the Rolex 24 at Daytona next month.

Allmendinger, who drives for JTG Daugherty Racing in the NASCAR Cup Series, will once again drive for Michael Shank Racing in the endurance race at Daytona International Speedway, which will be held Jan. 27 – 28.

A winner in the 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona, Allmendinger will split time in the No. 93 Acura NSX GT3 in the GTD class with Justin Marks, Lawson Aschenbach and Mario Farnbacher.

Allmendinger drove for Michael Shank Racing in the endurance race from 2014-16. His best result during that stretch was fifth in the Prototype class in 2015.

“I am pumped to be back racing for Shank in the (Rolex) 24. I missed the race last year and I hated to, so I’m really glad to be back,” Allmendinger said in a press release. “His whole team did an awesome job with the Acura last year and it is awesome to be back with him for the Rolex. After racing for the overall win so many years in Prototypes, it will be a completely different experience to be racing in the GTD class, but I’m looking forward to it. Mike (Shank) always puts an awesome team together and this year is no different so I am counting down to get my first shot in this car.”

Allmendinger is coming off his fourth full year of driving the No. 47 Chevrolet for JTG Daugherty Racing. He finished the season 27th in the standings, his worst during his tenure with the team. He earned one top five and five top 10s.

Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s to sponsor RCR in Cup, Xfinity in 2018

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Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s will sponsor Richard Childress Racing in multiple races in the Cup and Xfinity Series next year, the team announced Monday.

Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s merged in September 2017.

The outdoors brands will be on Ryan Newman‘s No. 31 Chevrolet during the 60th Daytona 500 on Feb. 18 and in several other races during the season.

Richard Childress Racing

They will also be a primary sponsor for Austin and Ty Dillon on the No. 3 Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series for several races.

“Our relationship with Bass Pro Shops dates back to the mid-1990s and we’re thrilled to be able to continue it during the 2018 season,” team owner Richard Childress said in a press release. “Austin, Ty and Ryan are terrific ambassadors for the great outdoors. They are all passionate about our hunting, fishing and conservation heritage which has made this partnership thrive.

“Next season will be exciting as we welcome Cabela’s, the iconic outdoor brand acquired by Bass Pro Shops, to the RCR family.”

Bass Pro Shops, founded in 1972 by Johnny Morris, is also a primary sponsor of Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 78 Toyota owned by Furniture Row Racing.

The store chain will be on the hood of the No. 78 in 16 races and on the sides of it in 14 others.

Here’s the eligible drivers for the 2018 Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona

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NASCAR has officially announced the 20 drivers who are eligible to take part in the Cup Series’ season-opening Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway.

The 75-lap exhibition event is set for 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, Feb. 11, the same day as qualifying for the Feb. 18 Daytona 500.

The race will be divided into two segments. A competition caution on Lap 25 will divide them.

Drivers become eligible for the Clash by winning a pole the previous season, being a Daytona 500 pole-winner who competed full-time the previous season or being a playoff driver the previous season.

Here are the eligible drivers.

2017 Coors Light Pole Award Winners (14)

Former Daytona 500 Coors Light Pole Award Winners (3)

2017 Playoff Drivers (3)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth are not expected to compete in the race. Earnhardt retired from Cup competition following the 2017 season and Kenseth doesn’t have a ride for the 2018 season.

Danica Patrick, the 2013 Daytona 500 pole-sitter, announced last month she was done as a full-time driver but that she planned to race in the Daytona 500. No definitive team plans have been announced for her.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Jack Ingram injury update: still in ICU, but continues to show progress

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NASCAR Hall of Famer Jack Ingram continues to show improvement from the serious injuries he suffered in a December 3 car crash in his native Asheville, North Carolina.

In an update Sunday written on CaringBridge.org, Ingram’s daughter, Ingrid Jones, said her father remains in the Intensive Care Unit at Asheville’s Mission Hospital.

According to Jones:

“Daddy continues to hold his own, making healing steps forward and then a step back, which we fully expected-but he’s surprising us each and every day with his strength and courage to overcome this. Overall, he’s doing amazingly well.”

Ingram’s family had hoped he could have moved out of ICU and into the Trauma Unit as the next phase of his recovery, but he remains in intensive care.

Said Jones:

“For now, he’ll remain in ICU until he can go a full 24 hours without ventilator assisted breathing. We’re almost there … but may still be a few days.”

Ingram, who turns 81 on Dec. 28, was able to sit in a chair and watched part of Sunday’s NFL game between the Carolina Panthers and Minnesota Vikings with his family. Jones wrote that Ingram also was surprised to learn that the mountain near the family’s Asheville-area home received a total of 16 inches of snow Friday and Saturday.

Jones added, “We continue to be optimistic for his health, and we also continue to appreciate the prayers and encouraging thoughts.”