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: Erik Jones’ racing roots in Byron, Michigan

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After a feature looking at his upbringing in Byron, Michigan, Furniture Row Racing driver Erik Jones spoke with NASCAR America’s Steve Letarte, Dale Jarrett and Marty Snider about the early years of his racing career.

The journey to his NASCAR career began with a yard cart that his late father, Dave Jones, brought home one day when he was 3.

“I rode that all day long around the yard,” Jones said. “Winter time would and we had like a gravel circle driveway in front of our house. When it would snow over I would get the kart out and ride it around in the snow because I could slide and I thought that was pretty cool. I would get it stuck about every five minutes out in the snow.”

Jones would then get out of the kart and find his dad in their barn to come out get him out.

Now 21, Jones also discussed how much his dad was involved in his career until his death in June 2016 after a battle with cancer.

He also explains how he’s never stayed in any series for more than one year in his career.

Watch the video above for the full discussion.

NASCAR America: Scan All from Cup playoff opener at Chicagoland

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“I sure as (expletive) hope that’s all out of our system.”

That’s what Kyle Busch had to say over his radio after he finished 15th, a lap down in the Cup playoff opener at Chicagoland Speedway.

Busch’s day went south after the first stage thanks to two pit miscues the sent him two laps down.

Meanwhile, Martin Truex Jr. dominate the field to win his fifth race of the year and advance to the second round of the playoffs.

In the latest “Scan All,” True and crew chief Cole Pearn recap their day, which saw them bounce back from their own pit road mistakes.

Here are other highlights from this week’s “Scan All.”

  • “Can’t drive in a straight line. Something’s not right with the front end.” – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. just before he made contact with the outside wall. A commitment line violation resulted in Stenhouse finish multiple laps off the lead.
  • “Tell the 1 (Jamie McMurray) I don’t know what happened there but we both got the short end of the stick.” – Ryan Newman after contact between him and McMurray sent McMurray spinning on a restart.
  • (Expletive), that 24 (Chase Elliott) can be so much (expletive) faster than us.” – Kasey Kahne after being told he was two laps down.

Watch the above video for more.

NASCAR America: Erik Jones recounts rookie Cup season, being taught by Kyle Busch

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Erik Jones, the rookie driver for Furniture Row Racing in the No. 77 Toyota, joined NASCAR America Wednesday for a special show from the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

The 21-year-old driver won the 2015 Camping World Truck Series title and is teammates with Martin Truex Jr.

With Marty Snider, Dale Jarrett and Steve Letarte, Jones discussed the challenges and lessons he’s faced in his first full-time season in the Cup Series.

“The biggest (milestones) for me were trying to win a race and making the playoffs,” Jones said. “Obviously, making the playoffs didn’t happen. … I look back at the last few seasons and rookies that have been in the sport and it’s so hard to win races now. You just don’t see rookies do it a lot.”

Jones also discussed finishing second to Kyle Busch in the Bristol night race and his relationship with the driver who brought him into NASCAR beginning with the Truck Series.

“A lot of times when I was racing in Trucks and Xfinity and Kyle would come to race I’d always run second to him,” Jones said. “I’m like, ‘you know what the problem is? This is the guy who taught me how to race these cars. So I’m good at all the same tracks he’s good at. Except he’s been doing about 10 more years than I have.”

Watch the video for more.

 

PJ1 adhesive to be applied again to track for this weekend’s races at Loudon

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With the successful use of the PJ1 compound in July’s NASCAR Cup race there, New Hampshire Motor Speedway officials announced Wednesday they will apply the compound again to the track for this weekend’s racing.

The 1.058-mile flat track will play host to the Cup and Camping World Truck Series playoff races, as well as the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and the American Canadian Tour race series.

“There’s no question that the track bite compound we laid down in July allowed for some awesome racing around the entire racetrack,” NHMS executive VP and GM David McGrath said in a statement. “We received some very positive feedback from the drivers, teams and, most importantly, the fans. The support to do it again in September was overwhelming.”

McGrath said the PJ1 adhesive compound will be added to the first and third grooves in all four turns on Thursday evening. It will be reapplied again on Saturday night to be fresh for Sunday afternoon’s Cup race.

Several drivers gave their endorsement for the move:

Kyle Larson: “I think it’s awesome. I was surprised at how well it worked. I liked the element of it changing quickly and wearing out and then wearing out in different spots and stuff. It just adds an element to us that we have to adapt to. In the past … you kind of just run the same line all race long, but (in July) everybody I got around was running somewhat of a different line, and I thought that was a really cool thing.”

Joey Logano: “The question got put out to a lot of different drivers … from the (NASCAR Cup Drivers Council). We kind of got on our group chat and were talking back and forth about what we thought was best. (In the past) after 10 or 15 laps, everyone is kind of where they are at and passes don’t happen often. The wider we can make the racetrack, the more passes that can be made.”

Kyle Busch: “We always run that one lane here, which I call the middle lane. They were just trying to widen the racetrack a little bit and give a little bit more opportunity for us to be able to run side by side and not feel like we’re crashing here all the time or running into each other on restarts.”

Kevin Harvick: “I like the prospects of us trying different things. As the (summer Cup) race wore on, things changed. You had to move around. The PJ1 is one of those things that can definitely make the race better if you can add more lanes of racing.”

Austin Dillon: “I thought (the PJ1) held on good throughout the race in July; I’m a fan of it. July’s race was a blast and everyone is excited about it this time around. We’re going to be aggressive and just go after it this weekend.”