Upon Further Review: Dover

Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

It’s easy to believe that Kyle Larson will have other chances to earn a playoff spot with a win this season.

But what if Sunday was it?

What if he fails to make the Chase because he didn’t put the bumper more aggressively to Matt Kenseth late in Sunday’s race at Dover International Speedway? What if politeness and decency are trumped?

Larson showed restraint Sunday in his duel with Kenseth. Drivers say it doesn’t take talent to wreck somebody out of the lead, but it takes talent to pass them for it. While Sunday’s finish might not have pleased fans wanting to see drivers squabble, Larson showed that there can be civility in sports.

Now the question is if he’ll be penalized for it.

With 14 races left until the Chase field is set, Larson has time to put himself in a playoff position. Four of his six best tracks (based on average finish) remain with Indianapolis, Watkins Glen, Darlington and Pocono. He has an average finish between 8.0 and 9.0 at those tracks.

Yet, challenges remain.

Kenseth’s win was the seventh in the 12 races this season for Joe Gibbs Racing. Of the 14 races left before the Chase field is set, Gibbs cars won nine of those events a year ago. A question all of the garage is asking — not just Larson and his team — is how to beat the Gibbs cars? One of those Gibbs drivers, Carl Edwards, wrecked after contact with Larson with less than 50 laps left. Will that change how Edwards races Larson in the coming weeks? How could that impact things for Larson?

After Sunday’s runner-up finish at Dover, Larson is 43 points out of the final Chase spot — nearly a full race. A month ago, Larson was 24 points out of the final Chase spot. He’s fallen 19 points further behind in the last five races.

Take a closer look at his recent runs. It’s hard to imagine he’ll have any worse four-race stretch than what he did (28.5 average finish) before Dover.

Yet, that stretch was only slightly worse than his average finish (27.8) for races at Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Auto Club Speedway earlier this year.

Challenges remain for Larson and his Chip Ganassi Racing team.

So, should Larson look back upon Sunday with regret?

Time will tell, but had he knocked Kenseth out of the way, would Larson have looked back upon his first career Cup win with greater regret?

— Sunday marked the second consecutive Sprint Cup race at Dover won by a two-tire pit stop.

In the 2015 fall race during the Chase, Kevin Harvick pitted on Lap 359 for two tires and restarted second to Matt Kenseth, who did not pit. Harvick won and Kenseth finished seventh.

Sunday, Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson were the only leaders to change two tires during a pit stop on Lap 349. Johnson never made it to the finish but Kenseth won.

“I’m surprised more guys didn’t do two tires at the end,’’ said Jason Ratcliff, crew chief for Kenseth. “But it worked out for us. Earlier we had done four and lost our track position. It was a good opportunity for us to get that back.’’

— Is Martin Truex Jr. the unluckiest driver in the Sprint Cup garage?

A week after dominating at Kansas only to see his chances to win end because of an unusual part failure, Truex seemed to be in a good spot to challenge for the win Sunday. He restarted in the second row, behind leader Jimmie Johnson on the outside lane with less than 50 laps to go.

Johnson’s car locked in gear and he didn’t get up to speed, triggering a chain-reaction accident that ended any hopes of Truex winning.

Already this year, Truex lost the Daytona 500 by inches to Denny Hamlin and Truex had been strong at Auto Club Speedway before an incident with Joey Logano sent Truex’s car into the wall there.

Chase Elliott’s career-high third-place finish Sunday was his eighth top-10 finish of the season. He has more top-10 results this season than every Cup driver except Kurt Busch (10 top 10s), Kevin Harvick (nine) and Kyle Busch (nine).

— Joe Gibbs Racing has won 19 of the last 37 points races, dating back to last year’s Coca-Cola 600.

Ryan Blaney scored his fifth top-10 finish of the season. It’s the most for the Wood Brothers in a season since Ricky Rudd had nine top 10s in 2005. This is the first season the Wood Brothers have run the full schedule since 2008.

The last time the Wood Brothers had double digits in top 10s was 1996 when Michael Waltrip had 11 top 10s in 31 races.

Danica Patrick, who was two laps behind the leaders by Lap 90 on Sunday, escaped the multi-car crash late to finish a season-best 13th. Her previous best this season was 16th at Martinsville.

Charlotte Cup race postponed to Monday by weather


CONCORD, N.C. — All-day rain Sunday forced the postponement of the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Cup Series race to Monday.

The postponement means that Charlotte Motor Speedway is scheduled to host 900 miles of stock car racing Monday. A 300-mile Xfinity Series race, originally scheduled Saturday and first postponed to noon Monday, has been rescheduled for 11 a.m. ET Monday (FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The Cup race is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. (Fox, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Sunday’s Cup race was scheduled to start at 6:21 p.m. ET, but light rain was still falling at that time in the speedway area near Charlotte. Rain intensified a few minutes later and, despite an evening forecast that showed slight improvement, officials decided at 6:30 p.m. to postpone the race.

Monday’s forecast calls for a 34% chance of rain at the start of the Xfinity race and a 30% chance at the start of the Cup race.

William Byron will start the race from the pole after qualifying was washed out Saturday night.

RFK Racing gains sponsorship from submarine recruiting group


CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR racing and submarines? Yes.

RFK Racing announced Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway that it has entered a partnership with BlueForge Alliance, which is involved in securing workers for the U.S. Navy’s Submarine Industrial Base (SIB) program. BuildSubmarines.com will be a primary sponsor for RFK drivers Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher in 10 Cup Series races this year and in 18 races per season beginning in 2024.

The sponsorship will showcase the careers related to the submarine-building program across the nation.

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“I’m proud to support a cause of such vital significance to our country with this new partnership,” Keselowski said. “The synergies between a NASCAR team and our military’s needs to stay on track fast are countless. We hope to inspire the workforce of the next generation across the country when they see RFK race and hear our message.”

The sponsorship will support the mission to recruit, hire, train, develop and retain the SIB workforce that will build the Navy’s next generation of submarines, the team said.

“We are excited and grateful to be teaming with RFK Racing to drive awareness of the thousands of steady, well-paying manufacturing jobs available across the nation. Innovation, working with purpose and service to others are hallmarks of both of our organizations,” said Kiley Wren, BlueForge chief executive. “Together, we aim to inspire NASCAR fans and all Americans to pursue career opportunities that will support our national defense.”

Kyle Larson visits Indianapolis Motor Speedway to survey the scene


Former NASCAR champion Kyle Larson, who is scheduled to run the Indianapolis 500 in 2024 as part of an Indy-Charlotte “double,” visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage area Sunday on Indianapolis 500 race day.

Larson said he wanted to familiarize himself with the Indy race-day landscape before he becomes immersed in the process next year.

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Larson later returned to Charlotte, where was scheduled to drive in the Coca-Cola 600 Sunday night. Next year, he’s scheduled to run both races.

“I love racing,” Larson told NBC Sports. “I love competing in the biggest races. In my opinion, this is the biggest race in the world. I wanted to be a part of it for a long time, and I finally feel like the timing is right. It’s pretty cool to have a dream come true.

“I wanted to come here and kind of experience it again and get to experience how crazy it is again before I’m in the middle of it next year. I kind of want as little surprise as possible next year.”

In the 2024 500, Larson will be one of four drivers with the Arrow McLaren team.

Earlier this month, Larson and Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman Jeff Gordon attended an Indy 500 practice day.

Larson said Sunday he hasn’t tested an Indy car.

“I don’t know exactly when I’ll get in the car,” he said. “I’ve had no sim (simulator) time yet. I’ve kind of stayed back. I didn’t want to ask too many questions and take any focus on what they have going on for these couple of weeks. I’m sure that will pick up after today.

“I look forward to the challenge. No matter how this experience goes, I’m going to come out of it a better race car driver.”




Jimmie Johnson: Building a team and pointing toward Le Mans


CONCORD, N.C. — These are busy days in the life of former NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson is a co-owner of Legacy Motor Club, the Cup Series team that has struggled through a difficult first half of the season while it also is preparing for a switch from Chevrolet to Toyota next year.

Johnson is driving a very limited schedule for Legacy as he seeks to not only satisfy his passion for racing but also to gain knowledge as he tries to lift Legacy to another level. As part of that endeavor, he’ll race in the Coca-Cola 600 in Legacy’s No. 84 car, making his third appearance of the season.

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And, perhaps the biggest immediate to-do item on Johnson’s list: He’ll race June 10-11 in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s biggest endurance race and another of the bucket list races the 47-year-old Johnson will check off his list.

“I’m excited, invigorated, exhausted — all of it,” Johnson said. “It has been a really exciting adventure that I’ve embarked on here — to learn from (Legacy co-owner) Maury Gallagher, to be a part of this great team and learn from everyone that I’m surrounded by. I’m in a whole new element here and it’s very exciting to be in a new element.

“At the same time, there are some foundational pieces coming together, decisions that we’re making, that will really help the team grow in the future. And then we have our job at hand – the situation and environment that we have at hand to deal with in the 2023 season. Depends on the hat that I’m wearing, in some respects. There’s been a lot of work, but a lot of excitement and a lot of fun. I truly feel like I’m a part of something that’s really going to be a force in the future of NASCAR.”

Johnson is scheduled to fly to Paris Monday or Tuesday to continue preparations for the Le Mans race. He, Jenson Button and Mike Rockenfeller will be driving a Hendrick Motorsports-prepared Chevrolet as part of Le Mans’ Garage 56 program, which is designed to offer a Le Mans starting spot for a team testing new technologies.

“For me, it’s really been about identifying marquee races around the world and trying to figure out how to run in them,” Johnson said. “Le Mans is a great example of that. Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 — these are the marquee events.”

He said his biggest concerns approaching the 24-hour race are being overtaken by faster prototypes in corners and racing at night  while dealing with the very bright lights of cars approaching in his rear view mirrors.

At Legacy, Johnson has work to do. Erik Jones has a top finish of sixth (and one other top 10) this season, and Noah Gragson is still looking for his first top-10 run. He has a best finish of 12th – at Atlanta.

“I think Erik (Jones) continues to show me just how good he is,” Johnson said. “He’s been in some challenging circumstances this year and keeps his head on — focuses, executes and gets the job done. I’ve really been impressed with his ability to stay calm and execute and just how good he is.

“With Noah, from watching him before, I wasn’t sure how serious he took his job in the sport. I knew that he was fast, and I knew that he liked to have fun. I can say in the short time that I’ve really worked with him closely, he still has those two elements, but his desire to be as good as he can in this sport has really impressed me. So I guess ultimately, his commitment to his craft is what’s impressed me the most.”