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NASCAR America: Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi relationship pays dividends

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Chip Ganassi and Kyle Larson have a most unique relationship that transcends most other owner-driver unions.

When Larson won the A-Main last Wednesday at the Knoxville Nationals, it put him in the championship race on Saturday.

But Larson admitted a bit of hesitation when it came time to ask Ganassi for permission to fly from Michigan International Speedway after Saturday’s final practice.

As it turned out, Larson finished a career-best second at Knoxville and followed it up with his third consecutive Cup win at MIS.

But there was a point in Sunday’s race that Ganassi started questioning himself for allowing Larson to go to Iowa.

Photo courtesy Chip Ganassi Racing

“I was questioning myself in the middle of the race,” Ganassi said. “I was getting ready to take a lot of heat in the media for that, if we didn’t have a good day.

“I don’t want to do something that’ll slow him down, and you run the risk of that when you have a talent like that that wants to go drive other kinds of cars and things.

“I’ve never been a team owner that keeps my drivers from driving other types of cars. You want to do the best you can for the guy all the time and do what you can do.”

In a sense, Larson paid Ganassi back for his faith in him and allowing the Knoxville trip by winning Sunday.

“I think our guys saw the opportunity in front of them with how much exposure I could get if I ran the Knoxville Nationals. I think Chip also understood that,” Larson said. “There’s been so much exposure this week behind me, and to run good at both races will hopefully help us in the search for a replacement sponsor at the end of the year.

NASCAR America analyst Jeff Burton concurred with Ganassi’s ultimate decision.

“I think you have to let him race,” Burton said. “I think that when you have a guy like Kyle Larson’s that’s young, wants to go race other cars and has proven he can do both successfully, I think it’s okay.

“But there will come a time that when it comes to winning a championship, Kyle needs to focus on what he needs to focus on. And if Kyle can do both and that makes him better on Sunday, then it’s all good.

“What Chip has to decide is that what he does on Saturday night help him on a Sunday afternoon. If there’s ever a question that it doesn’t help him, then Saturday nights will cease.

“You have to be successful on Sunday afternoons if you want to continue your career. It hasn’t been a problem yet, but if you start to see a decline and performance and those kinds of things, I think they’ll have to have a conversation.”

On another front, Larson and Ganassi are almost like son and father, rather than driver and owner.

That’s why with such a close relationship, Larson would likely never go anywhere else because Ganassi gives him so much latitude.

But admittedly, even with their relationship, Larson was still a bit nervous when it came time to ask Ganassi if he could race Saturday night in the sprint car main event in the Knoxville Nationals, where he eventually finished a career-best second place.

Ganassi’s reaction when Larson won Sunday was one of the best seen in NASCAR in a long time.

Not only did Ganassi almost choke crew chief Chad Johnston in joy, he practically gave Larson a concussion when he hit him in the head, also in joy, on the front stretch.

Watch our crew’s analysis on that, as well, and their thoughts on where Ganassi’s reaction ranks among other celebrations this season.

Kyle Busch seeks alterations to Charlotte Roval after test

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Kyle Busch says he’s raised concerns about a couple of turns on Charlotte Motor Speedway’s road course to track officials after taking part in a Goodyear test there this week.

Busch, Trevor Bayne, Kyle Larson and Paul Menard tested Tuesday. Wednesday’s session was rained out and rescheduled for May 1. Busch is the winningest active Cup driver on road courses. He has four career road course victories (two at Sonoma and two at Watkins Glen).

Busch, said he talked with Marcus Smith, president and CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc., and Don Hawk, SMI’s senior vice president of business affairs, about his concerns.

“They have an idea for changes to one of them, but not the other one,’’ Busch said Saturday at Martinsville Speedway.

One area of concern is the chicane on the frontstretch.

“When you’re coming down onto the front straightaway and you have that zone in the infield grass and then you turn (right), you have a direct, head-on impact into the wall on the front straightaway there so that’s kind of a concern,’’ Busch said.

“The chicane on the frontstretch, when you turn to the right (Turn 16 in the above diagram) heading head-on into a wall and then you have to turn back left going along the front straightaway (was an issue raised). When we were testing, it wasn’t bad because you could hop this curve and hop that curve, but then they wanted to straighten that out more from turn seven like at Sonoma, which is more of a 90-degree turn, and would make that angle worse.

“I expressed my displeasure with that idea and then we also had the same thing coming from Turn 7 to Turn 8 where you’re braking in a zone and heading head-on into the front straightaway wall to get back (from the infield course to Turn 1 of the oval). Softening up that corner as well and making that tighter and a softer corner where you can … get back on the main track a little safer.

“Those are some instances that I felt were kind of the worst instances. Other than that, I thought the track was kind of OK. It’s a bit narrow and tight in places, but I think you have that at some other road courses that I have not been at that NASCAR has. Montreal is really narrow, too and it puts on a decent show. I think it will be fine, it will just be different. I think it’s going to be about survival more than anything.”

The Cup series races on the Charlotte’s roval on Sept. 30 on NBC. It is the final race of the first round of the playoffs and will cut the number of title contenders from 16 to 12.

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Cup starting lineup at Martinsville Speedway

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Martin Truex Jr. will start on the pole for Sunday’s Cup race at Martinsville Speedway after qualifying was canceled by rain and snow Saturday.

“It’s definitely a big advantage to start out front,” Truex said. “First pit box obviously, everyone knows it’s a big deal here and that’s where you want to be so you get that clean stall in and out and not get torn up on pit road.”

The lineup was set by car owner points.

Kyle Busch will join Truex on the front row.

Row 2 will feature Team Penske’s Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski. Teammate Ryan Blaney starts fifth.

Click here for starting lineup

Martinsville Truck race postponed to Sunday after Cup race

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The Alpha Energy Solutions 250 Truck race at Martinsville has been postponed until Sunday afternoon, following the Cup race.

Ben Rhodes led the field to green 2:05 p.m. and held the lead until Mike Senica stalled on the track. Rhodes led the first 23 laps until precipitation red flagged the event at 2:17.

The Truck race will be televised on FS1.

Martin Truex Jr. sweeps Martinsville Cup practice

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After posting the fastest single lap and quickest 10-lap average in the first practice, Martin Truex. Jr. also topped the fastest lap chart in final practice for the STP 500 with a speed of 95.415 mph.

Also repeating his performance from the first practice, Brad Keselowski was second on the leaderboard. Keselowski was fast on long runs with the quickest 10-lap average of 94.579 mph.

Sophomore Daniel Suarez was notably fast. His lap of 95.588 mph was third on the chart.

Kyle Busch (95.122) and Ryan Newman (94.756) rounded out the top five.

Jimmie Johnson (93.831) was hoping to carry over momentum from last week’s top 1o at Auto Club, but struggled to find single lap speed. He landed 28th on the speed chart.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wheel hopped entering turn three with 33 minutes remaining. He rolled out a backup car and will start at the back regardless of where he qualifies.

Click here for the full final practice times.