Kyle Larson: ‘I feel like we’ve made it a round further already’ in playoffs this year

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — This postseason sees Kyle Larson in his second NASCAR Cup Series playoff appearance.

Not that Larson himself sees it that way.

“I don’t really feel like I was in the playoffs last year,” Larson said Wednesday during the playoff media day.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver made a quick exit last year when he was eliminated after the first round.

After qualifying for the playoffs via his first Cup win at Michigan, Larson finished 18th in the opener at Chicagoland after cutting a tire in the final 10 laps. He then placed 10th at New Hampshire before a battery issue early at Dover ended with Larson getting “kicked out the first round.”

But that doesn’t mean the fourth-year driver didn’t learn something from the experience.

“Even if you’re not in it, you still get an idea of what you need to do,” Larson said. “I mean, really you’ve got to make no mistakes. If you do have a mistake, you know you have to win the next race.”

Larson and his No. 42 team have done their fair share of winning this season, capped off by Saturday’s overtime win at Richmond Raceway. Somewhat overshadowed by rogue ambulances and caution controversy, the win was Larson’s fourth of the year.

It was also his first on a track shorter than 2 miles.

“I didn’t really think of it at the time, but it’s cool to finally win somewhere that’s not two miles,” Larson said. “Obviously, I’ve been really fast at a lot of different styles of racetracks. I’ve ran second, I feel like, at every racetrack. I mean, I’ve been close to win. It’s not like I’m only good at two-mile tracks.”

Larson has finished second seven times this year, including at the playoff tracks of Texas Motor Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Phoenix Raceway and Dover International Speedway.

The Texas and New Hampshire results came after Larson had to start at or near the rear of the field. New Hampshire and Dover follow Chicagoland, a 1.5-mile oval, in the first round.

“Yeah, I could have a lot of mile-and-a-half wins,” Larson said. “I could have won the Daytona 500 this year. But it was nice to win at (Richmond), a track where I would put it down there with Martinsville as being my worst tracks. Richmond and Martinsville would be my worst tracks. For me to win at Richmond was a huge confidence booster.”

The confidence fueled by Larson’s four wins, his second seeding in the playoffs and his team’s generally faster cars than last year has Larson feeling “more relaxed” entering the postseason.

“This year I feel like we should hopefully make it through the first round,” Larson said. “I feel like we’ve made it a round further already this year. I don’t want to jinx myself, but I just feel more confident this year. I think I should be with four wins rather than one at this point last year.

“But anything can happen. I mean, we could win these next 10 or we could be off also. I could have one bad race, then not win the next two, be out in the first round.

“We’ve just got to do everything right.”

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Truck practice report at Atlanta

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Justin Haley was the fastest in the first of two practices Friday for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He had a top lap of 178.029 mph.

Daytona winner Johnny Sauter was second with a lap of 177.040 mph. He was followed by Myatt Snider (177.040 mph), Stewart Friesen (176.995) and Noah Gragson (176.589).

There were no incidents in the session.

Final Truck practice will be from 4:05 – 4:50 p.m. ET.

Click here for Truck 1 practice

Police investigating vandalism, theft at North Wilkesboro Speedway

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The Wilkes County Sheriff’s Office is investigating a report of vandalism and theft at North Wilkesboro Speedway.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, the track, which last hosted a NASCAR Cup race in 1996, suffered damage of about $10,000 when several trespassers were on the grounds last weekend. No arrests have been made.

The report states that several windows were broken and other damage was done to the structures. Also, large amounts of electrical wire and circuit breakers were reported missing.

The investigation continues.

North Wilkesboro Speedway hosted NASCAR Cup races from 1949-96. Winners included Fireball Roberts, Buck Baker, Junior Johnson, Lee Petty, Richard Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison, Dale Earnhardt, Terry Labonte, Rusty Wallace and Jeff Gordon, who won the final race there.

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Others’ predictions motivating Austin Dillon after Daytona 500 win: ‘I guess they don’t believe it yet’

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HAMPTON, Ga. – Fresh off the greatest victory of his NASCAR career, Austin Dillon already has motivation to win the next.

The Richard Childress Racing driver heard others predict this week that the Daytona 500 would be his only victory this season.

“I think on Race Hub, Brad (Keselowski) and Chad (Knaus, crew chief for Jimmie Johnson) saying that we weren’t going to win again,” Dillon said Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. “So, that was good to hear. That was something to get me fired up a little bit more and our team, get those competitive juices flowing again. So, we will just keep rocking it however we can. We still have a lot to work on.”

Prior to Daytona, Dillon’s lone win in four seasons as a full-time Cup driver came in the 2017 Coca-Cola 600. His No. 3 Chevrolet qualified for the playoffs the past two seasons, but his top 10s (13 to four) and average finish (15.9 to 18.6) slipped demonstrably from 2016 to ’17.

“So yesterday in my group text with my buddies they watched Chad Knaus and Brad Keselowski, and it was like, ‘All right, it’s time to keep knocking them down, I guess they don’t believe it yet,’” Dillon said. “We’ve got to step up though at RCR. We’ve still got a lot to prove. It’s a speedway race, even though it’s the biggest race in our deal, it’s a speedway race.  We’ve got a lot more to prove.

“(Competition executive) Andy Petree and all the guys are RCR are working hard. I think coming down to a two-car team move is big for us. We’ve got to take advantage of that. I’m not going to lie, I’m tired right now, but we are going to kick butt this weekend and get back regrouped and get in the groove and try and gain as many bonus points as we can.”

But qualifying for the playoffs by winning the season opener should be a morale booster that avoids any letdown.

“The one thing they don’t have right now that we have is a win,” Dillon said. “So, we are on top right now, and no matter what they can’t take that away, and we are going to keep working.  I don’t expect us to lay down at all. I feel like now more than ever we need to go head on and go after it.”

Xfinity practice report from Atlanta

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Christopher Bell posted the fastest lap in the first of two Xfinity practice sessions Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Bell posted a lap of 178.447 mph. He was followed by Joey Logano (177.323 mph), Cole Custer (175.933), Ryan Reed (175.688) and Kevin Harvick (175.487). Daytona winner Tyler Reddick (175.388) was sixth on the speed chart.

There were no incidents in the session.

Final Xfinity practice will be from 3:05 – 3:55 p.m. ET

Click here for practice 1 report