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The moral choice that Kyle Larson made in the closing laps at Miami

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CHARLOTTE – Every NASCAR driver has a code of ethics, and the closing laps of last season’s finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway presented a quandary for Kyle Larson.

If you can’t pass two title contenders with a championship on the line, does discretion become the better part of valor in choosing to pass neither?

It did for Larson, who reflected on his most recent Cup race this week.

With eventual champion Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch dueling ahead of him in the final 20 laps, Larson elected to stay in third place and let them settle the title instead of passing Busch and then taking a shot at Truex with his No. 42 Chevrolet, which led a race-high 145 laps.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver, who has led the most laps at Miami the past two years, said his only option in vying for a victory would have been having the consistent speed to assure he could overtake Truex and Busch.

“I think there were some laps I was faster than them,” he told NBC Sports during a Tuesday announcement to announce DC Solar as an expanded primary sponsor in Cup for 2018. “I obviously didn’t want to affect the outcome of the race. The only negative part of the (playoff) format is when you’re not in the final four, you can’t race your hardest.

“I don’t know if I would have won. I think I could have got to second and potentially the lead. I wanted to pass both of them quickly. I didn’t want to pass Kyle and then stall out for three laps and have him be upset or whatever.”

Indeed, Busch was upset with another driver, expressing frustration that he believed Joey Logano blocked him while trying to take fourth after the final restart.

Though Larson made a conscious choice to avoid separating Truex and Busch, he also dispelled the notion that he still wasn’t trying to muster the speed to win.

“I was driving my ass off,” Larson said. “Obviously, I ran into the wall a few times trying to pass them or get the run to pass both of them quickly, but I could never get it going. So no, I didn’t let (Truex) win or whatever. I was still racing hard.”

Larson, who scored a career-best four wins last year, seemed a good bet to be racing for a title until an engine failure at Kansas Speedway. After a busy offseason of racing sprint cars around the world, a refreshed Larson returned to his team’s NASCAR shop this week and ready to reset his focus.

“I don’t even think about NASCAR until now,” he said. “I feel like today is Day 2 of my offseason. I’m just now getting back into the swing of things.

Larson is enthused about a Jan. 31-Feb. 1 test of Chevrolet’s new Camaro at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (“You can kind of get an idea of how the start of your season will be there.”) before heading to Daytona International Speedway for Speedweeks.

“Last year, I didn’t know we were going to be that good, and then we started the year off really good, and we maintained that consistency and competitiveness,” said Larson, who led the points standings after the fourth through 11th races of the 2017 schedule. “I hope that we can do that again. I feel like when you get close like we did last year, it pushes everybody to be as good or better than what we were.

“I expect that we’ll be contenders again, but it’s hard saying with the new body and stuff like that. I’m sure there’ll be growing pains throughout it, but I definitely feel we have an extremely smart group of people who can do what it takes to get our cars better every week to have a shot.”

Guide to 2018 Cup Series paint schemes

Team Penske
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The 2018 NASCAR Cup season begins in five weeks on Feb. 18 with the 60th Daytona 500

But it’s not too soon to start getting familiar with the various Cup Series paint schemes that will be in action.

Some teams haven’t made many changes to their cars (Team Penske, Joe Gibbs Racing), while others have completely revamped their looks (Hendrick Motorsports).

Here’s your look at all the released paint schemes so far for the upcoming season.

This post will be updated.

Jamie McMurray

Brad Keselowski

 

Source: Lionel Racing
Lionel Racing
Lionel Racing
Lionel Racing

Austin Dillon

 

Lionel Racing
Lionel Racing

 

Kevin Harvick

Lionel Racing
Lionel Racing

Trevor Bayne

Roush Fenway Racing
Lionel Racing

Chase Elliott

Lionel Racing

Aric Almirola

Stewart-Haas Racing

Denny Hamlin

Lionel Racing

Ryan Blaney

Team Penske
Team Penske

Ty Dillon

Germain Racing
Lionel Racing

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Lionel Racing

Kyle Busch

Lionel Racing

Daniel Suarez

Lionel Racing

 

Lionel Racing

Erik Jones

Lionel Racing

Paul Menard

 

Lionel Racing

Joey Logano

Team Penske
Lionel Racing
Lionel Racing

William Byron

Hendrick Motorsports
Lionel Racing
Hendrick Motorsports

Ryan Newman

Richard Childress Racing
Lionel Racing
Lionel Racing
Richard Childress Racing

Matt DiBenedetto

GoFas Racing

David Ragan

Kyle Larson

 

Chip Ganassi Racing

Darrell Wallace Jr.

Richard Petty Motorsports

 

(Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

AJ Allmendinger

Jimmie Johnson

Martin Truex Jr.

Getty Images
Lionel Racing

Alex Bowman

Nationwide

Kasey Kahne

Photo: Daniel McFadin

 

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Friday 5: How soon until the next female driver arrives in Cup?

Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
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Danica Patrick’s departure after the Daytona 500 (provided she secures a ride for that race) will leave NASCAR without a female driver in its top series.

It could be years before the next female driver arrives in Cup.

Only two of the 114 drivers who attempted to qualify for an Xfinity race last year were female — Angela Ruch ran four races and Jennifer Jo Cob ran one. Cobb was the only female driver among 103 who attempted to qualify for a Camping World Truck Series race last season.

The last four NASCAR Next classes — which spotlights talented young competitors — featured four female drivers among the 44 racers selected. Those female drivers chosen: Kenzie Ruston (2014-15 class), Nicole Behar (2015-16), Julia Landauer (2016-17) and Hailie Deegan (2017-18).

The 16-year-old Deegan will run the K&N West Pro Series schedule for Bill MacAnally Racing, which has won the past three K&N West titles.

Landauer finished seventh in the points last year in the K&N West Series (after placing fourth in 2016) and Behar was eighth in her second full-time season in that series.

In ARCA, Natalie Decker will run the full season with Venturini Motorsports. She stands to become the fifth female in modern-day ARCA history to compete for a driver’s title, joining Shawna Robinson (2000), Christi Passmore (2003-04), Milka Duno (2013) and Sarah Cornett-Ching (2015).

Former champion crew chief Ray Evernham understands the challenges female drivers face. His wife, Erin, competed in 10 Xfinity races from 2005-06 and 29 Camping World Truck races between 2005-08.

“I think that we’ve got to keep providing opportunities for girls to get that experience,’’ said Evernham, who will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Jan. 19.

“Now with the technology of the cars, the way they’re doing the setups, things like that, it will make it a little bit easier for newer people to come in. But we’ve just got to continue to provide an opportunity or a path for ladies to get experience.

Just as important will be how well they’ll handle the scrutiny.

“I know it stinks that so many people are so critical of lady drivers, much more critical than they are of a male driver of the same performance,’’ Evernham said. “Each time one of those girls weathers that storm, gets a little bit further down the road, gets some credibility, it gets a lady closer to Victory Lane in NASCAR.’’

NASCAR lists 16 women who have competed in at least one Cup race from Louise Smith, Sara Christian and Ethel Mobley in 1949 to Patrick. Patrick’s 190 career Cup starts are more than the other 15 women combined. Janet Guthrie was next with 33 starts between 1976-80 and followed by Smith with 11 starts from 1949-52 and Robinson, who had eight starts from 2001-02.

Patrick and Robinson are the only females to run a Cup race since 1990.

NASCAR lists 22 females having competed in the Xfinity Series. Patty Moise started 133 races, more than any other driver.  Patrick and Robinson are next with 61 starts each, followed by Johanna Long (42 starts) and Jennifer Jo Cobb (29 starts).

2. “The Great American Race”

The phrase has long been used as the nickname for the Daytona 500, but where did it originate?

Australia.

True story.

Let Ken Squier, who will be among the five men inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Jan. 19, explain how he came up with the phrase for the race.

“Well, (Bill) France Sr. had me (in Daytona) from the ’60s.  Daytona always stood out separately, individually, for one thing, the time of year, because most race tracks in America were closed. 

“It was the gathering of the tribes in Daytona Beach, which went all the way back to the turn of the century, when Henry Ford, the Chevrolet brothers, all of that tribe went down there.  They raced down that hard‑packed beach. That never stopped.  One way or another, they continued to go down there in the month of February and toast a few of their friends from the past and turn some wheels.

“That spirit of Daytona is more prevalent than any other when you talk about tracks and parts of the country. In my mind, it needed something that set it aside. Indianapolis was always the greatest spectacle in sports. Indeed, it was.

“But what was Daytona? Well, it was All‑American stock cars in those days, and pretty much the neighbors sounded like your neighbors, particularly if you came from a small town. What would come to mind? I fooled around with that for a long time.

“I was in Australia doing a show. They had a great race over there. It was a long one, it was a dinger, and it was a national holiday. On the way home, I thought, God, that’s what Daytona is. It’s ‘The Great American Race.’

“I got chewed up pretty good about that. Hadn’t I ever heard of Indy? I sure as the dickens had. This was coming from a different place. Sure enough in 1959, when those three cars came across wheel‑to‑wheel at the end of 500 miles, that was The Great American Race.’’

3. Revamped pit stops

Martin Truex Jr. was asked this week about his thoughts on the changes to pit road with five people going over the wall to service the car instead of six this season.

Truex had an interesting take on what pit crew position might grow in importance with the change.

“I think there’s a lot of question marks from all teams, and I know there’s a lot of talk throughout teams and in the industry of how much different it is,’’ he said during a break in the Goodyear tire test at Texas Motor Speedway. “Everybody is going to think they have a handle on it and then somebody is going to do it different on pit road and whip everybody’s butt in Daytona, so then you’re going to have to re-learn everything and try and figure it out.

“From what I understand, it’s been really difficult. A lot of the weight falls on the jackman as far as making the stops go fast and when all that pressure gets put on one position it makes that one position really important and really different than it’s been in the past.’’

4. Las Vegas test

NASCAR has an organizational test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1. That means that one team per organization is permitted at the test.

Among those scheduled to test are William Byron (Hendrick Motorsports), Kyle Larson (Chip Ganassi Racing), Brad Keselowski (Team Penske), Kurt Busch (Stewart-Haas Racing) and Erik Jones (Joe Gibbs Racing).

5. January racing

While the return of NASCAR can’t come soon enough for many, did you know the last time the Cup Series raced in January was 1981? Bobby Allison won at Riverside, California. That was the season-opening race and the Daytona 500 followed. Riverside opened the Cup season from 1970-81.

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Hair today, gone tomorrow: Ryan Blaney to sport new haircut this week

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images
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Ryan Blaney‘s long mane and mustache will be history this week.

“This will definitely let me know the season is about here and you have to start looking like a professional,” Blaney said Tuesday during a break in the Goodyear tire test at Texas Motor Speedway.

So how did his hair get this way?

“I thought it looked good,” said Blaney, who moves to the No. 12 Cup team at Team Penske this season from the Wood Brothers. “I had a mustache for a cruise. I just decided to keep it, and I decided to keep it for this test, but it will all get cleaned up Friday. I actually have an appointment to shave this and cut my hair off.”

Well, not all off, of course.

But it will be much shorter, mirroring the look of Team Penske drivers and employees.

Blaney was asked if he was sad to see his long hair soon gone.

“It’s just hair,” he said. “It’s facial hair. It’s dead skin that grows out of your head. It’s nothing anything too major. I actually laugh at fans that give me a hard time whether I’m going to cut it or not. It’s just hair. There’s a lot more important things out there, but it’s funny to see the reactions. You can cut anything off that you want and it’s not going to change (me). Personality-wise I’m going to be the same person but just look a little different.

“It will be interesting not having hair touching my neck all the time. It will be a lot less work. I don’t know if you know how much work it takes to have long hair. I actually don’t really like it. It’s almost gotten too much for me. So it will look different. But I think I’ll stay the same. I’ll still be Ryan.”

The tire test concludes today. Chase Elliott, Aric Almirola and reigning series champ Martin Truex Jr. also are participating.

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Images from Goodyear tire test in Texas, including Chase Elliott’s first time in new Camaro

Chevrolet
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A two-day Goodyear tire test is underway at Texas Motor Speedway.

Involved in the test are Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Aric Almirola, Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott and defending Cup champion Martin Truex Jr.

While Blaney and Almirola are debuting with new teams, it’s Elliott’s ride that is the most newsworthy.

With the No. 9 now emblazoned on the side of his car instead of the No. 24, Elliott became the first driver to pilot the new Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 on a track.

“Behind the wheel it’s really hard to tell what changes are when you are out there by yourself,” Elliott said during media availability. “I think the changes will probably become more apparent, hopefully, when we get to say Atlanta or get to some of the tracks that the changes are going to become important at.  Out there making laps it is so hard to tell.  I think until we get into those situations and kind of get some races under our belt as not only an organization, but as a manufacturer as a whole to see exactly how we stack up I think it will be tough to say until then.”

Also of note, Blaney announced he’ll be getting a pre-season haircut.

Look below for images and video from the fog-covered test.

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