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Kyle Larson: Teams ‘we ran around last year’ are now better

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Four races into the season, Kyle Larson is checking the points standings.

Larson said he and the rest of his Chip Ganassi cohorts have to do so.

“Especially … where we haven’t been that fast because we have to make sure we are finishing races consistently,” Larson said Friday at Auto Club Speedway.

Larson and teammate Jamie McMurray are 17th and 15th in the standings, respectively, and are grasping for all the speed they can.

“There are a lot of other teams that we ran around last year that are better than we are I feel like this year,” Larson. said “That has been a little disappointing.”

Through four races, three with the new low-downforce package, Larson’s seventh-place finish at Daytona is Ganassi’s only top-10 result. McMurray, who addressed Ganassi’s search for “fresh ideas” earlier this week, has yet to finish better than 16th.

“I feel like our balance has been close for the few races we’ve ran, just lack speed,” Larson said Friday. “Especially on the long runs. That is where I feel like we struggled at last year and so far this season we have struggled with that as well.”

The struggles of Larson and McMurray for Chip Ganassi Racing come as Roush Fenway Racing and Richard Childress Racing have shown gains in speed this season.

“If one car was a lot better than the other then we could place blame on the driver more,” Larson said. “Everybody at the shop is working really hard, we just haven’t hit on the right thing.”

The No. 42 team wasn’t helped at Atlanta when Larson finished three laps off the lead and then placed 34th at Las Vegas.

“Having that stuff happen early in the year it makes everybody work really hard,” Larson said. “I’m confident in everybody at the shop. They’ve got the brains, I just hold the wheel.”

The third-year driver is holding the wheel extra this weekend at Auto Club Speedway, as he competes in both the Xfinity and Sprint Cup Series events. It will be his third Xfinity race of the year.

Larson has one win and three top-10 finishes in his three Xfinity starts at the track in Fontana, California.

“I think anytime you can run more on a race weekend on the same race track it’s going to help,” Larson said. “You look at 2014 and the rules were, I guess, probably more different than they are now, and I feel like I learned just as much then as I do now. I like racing double duty most of the time. There are some race tracks where I feel like it doesn’t really help you, it could kind of hurt you, but this is not one of those places.”

In 2015, Larson competed in 14 Xfinity Races compared to 28 the year before during his rookie campaign in Sprint Cup. The added time in 2014 began to take a toll on Larson.

“I ran every Xfinity Series race I could that was a companion race and got kind of burned out,” he said. “But last year I thought I was going to have a good number and I was bored. We added, I think, three or four races maybe from last season to this season. I’m looking forward to that. I picked little different tracks, tracks I normally run well at so hopefully I’ll have more fun.”

Larson will have a lot of work to do in order to have the fun his team needs Sunday. Larson will start 32nd in the Auto Club 400. Jamie McMurray will start 10th.

Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas: Start time, TV channel

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The second round of the Cup playoffs begins with the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The 1.5-mile track kicks off the Round of 12. Winning the race and stage points are a premium for playoff drivers before the races at Talladega and the Charlotte Roval.

Kevin Harvick, who won at Bristol, starts from the pole.

Here is all the info for the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given by Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis at 7:07 p.m. The green flag waves at 7:17 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at Noon. Drivers report to their cars at 6:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 7 p.m. by Motor Racing Outreach Chaplain, Billy Mauldin. The national anthem will be performed by Sierra Black at 7:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 267 laps (400.5 miles) around the 1.5-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 80. Stage 2 ends on Lap 160

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 6 p.m with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 6:30 p.m. Race coverage begins at 7 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 6 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.

STREAMING: Watch the race on the NBC Sports App

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for sunny skies with a high of 96 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Kevin Harvick beat Kyle Busch to win at Bristol and claim his ninth win of the season.

LAST POINTS RACE AT LAS VEGAS: Joey Logano beat Matt DiBenedetto and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in February.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the lineup.

CATCH UP ON NBC SPORTS’ COVERAGE:

Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win but without hometown fans

Michael Jordan excited for NASCAR future with Denny Hamlin

Carolina Blue: Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan bonded by NASCAR

Germain Racing sells charter, will exit sport at end of season

Charlotte Roval to host limited number of fans

Friday 5: Team’s departure adds to ‘extremely stressful’ time

NASCAR fines Hendrick Motorsports $100,000

NTSB releases final report on Dale Jr. plane crash

Bubba Wallace to receive Stan Musial award for extraordinary character

Long: 100 days left in 2020, what else can happen?

Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win, but without hometown fans

Kurt Busch
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A win by Kurt Busch in tonight’s Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) couldn’t come under more bittersweet circumstances for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver.

Should Busch claim the victory on the 1.5-mile track, he’d go from being the last driver on the playoff grid (3,001 points entering the race) to the first driver to advance to the Round of 8.

While it would be his first victory of the year, it would also be his first NASCAR win at his home track in 23 starts across the Cup and Xfinity Series.

More: Stage points critical at Vegas

“The Vegas track has definitely been one of the tough ones for me over the years with results and finishes not where I would have expected them to be,” Busch said this week. “And the teams that I’ve raced for just have never quite found that right magic set-up or combination. And then for me, it’s a track that I just have that trouble with.

“There are a few tracks like Indianapolis and Martinsville; those are a few places where I struggle. And so with Vegas, I always put that little extra hometown pressure on myself and I would love to win there.”

The 42-year-old Las Vegas-native rolls off ninth on the 1.5-mile track. It’s his fourth while driving for Ganassi.

In his 21 Cup starts in Las Vegas, Busch’s best result is third in 2005 when he competed for Roush Fenway Racing. He has just one other top five. That came in last year’s spring race when he drove a throwback paint scheme to his 1999 NASCAR Southwest Series championship.

That day he led 23 laps. It was only the seventh time he’d led laps there and just the third time he’d totaled more than six laps led.

In February, Busch finished 25th.

If Busch were to finally make it to Vegas’ Victory Lane, the celebration would be somewhat muted.

It was announced last weekend that fans would not be allowed to attend the races at Las Vegas due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would love to win through the spirit of the camera and everything on NBC Sports; and I know the fans there, local, will be watching and cheering on the Busch brothers,” Busch said. “So, that’s where I would connect. And hopefully do it through the TV side of it. We’ll get fans back one day and we’ll come back and race.”

Busch enters the Round of 12 having earned just one top 10 in the first round, an eighth-place finish at Darlington. He finished 13th at Richmond and 15th at Bristol.

“What I like is we have had better lap times at all three races so far compared to maybe the five or six races leading into the playoffs,” Busch said. “We know that our cushion is gone. We ended Bristol with 33 points to the good. And now we start Vegas minus four (points behind Austin Dillon in the cutoff spot). So that’s just part of the system and now we have to be perfect. We have to get every point possible that we’re able to get on our own at Vegas, Talladega, and the Roval. And, that should help us advance.”

Carolina Blue: Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan bonded by NASCAR

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Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan were teammates from 1982-84 at the University of North Carolina and Eastern Conference rivals throughout the 1980s and ’90s in the NBA.

But their friendship was about more than just hoops. While growing up on opposite ends of the Tar Heel State, Daugherty and Jordan both developed a passion for following NASCAR.

Tobacco Road meant fast cars and hard-driving heroes for these two North Carolina natives.

LIFELONG FAN: Michael Jordan explains why he’s partnering with Denny Hamlin

In a NASCAR on NBC feature, Daugherty recalls how NASCAR impacted his life and Jordan’s and led both into team ownership. Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin announced they will form a team to field cars for Bubba Wallace next season.

Daughterty notes in the feature that Wallace “has led a dynamic transformation as NASCAR banned Confederate flags and recommitted to inclusion amidst times of great unrest. This is a huge moment for NASCAR, a cultural momentum shift. This is people of all colors coming together to create an all-American race team already with championship lineage.

“With proper funding, equipment and crewmembers, this will be the best chance ever for a Black driver to win – and while driving for a Black owner. An opportunity to shock the world like Muhammad Ali once did.”

Watch the feature above on Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan or by clicking this link.

Las Vegas Xfinity results, driver points

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Chase Briscoe‘s victory Saturday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway sends him into the next round of the Xfinity playoffs.

Noah Gragson led a 2-3-4 finish for JR Motorsports. Gragson was second and followed by Daniel Hemric and Justin Allgaier. Ryan Sieg finished fifth.

Briscoe dominated the race, leading 164 of the 200 laps.

Click here for Xfinity race results

POINTS

Ross Chastain finished 16th, last among the playoff drivers, and fell out of a transfer spot to the second round. He’s two points behind Harrison Burton for the final transfer spot. Michael Annett is 10 points behind Burton. Riley Herbst is 14 points behind Burton. Brandon Brown is 20 points behind Burton.

Click here for driver points report