Is this finally the weekend for Kyle Larson?
So far, so good.
Larson is now in his third full-time season on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series yet still hasn’t won his first race.
But it would be a fitting scene and stage for Larson to do it at Sonoma Raceway, which hosts Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350.
Larson was fastest in the first of two Cup practice sessions Friday, combining with Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Jamie McMurray to earn the first two fastest spots. Sonoma Raceway is Larson’s home track, as he grew up 80 miles away in Elk Grove, California.
“We have been close a couple of times this year now,” Larson said. “If I was able to get it in my home state here, close to home, that would be awesome.
“This is probably one of my best tracks too. I really enjoy road course racing, especially here with friends and family that will be here. Hopefully, we can stay out of trouble and qualify good. We normally qualify really well here. I think I had the track record here last year. I’m looking forward to it.”
Admittedly, Larson’s road course experience to date has been limited not just in Sprint Cup racing but across all types of racing platforms.
“I’m getting more experience, but still I probably ran a little over 10 road course races in my life,” Larson said. “But, I like them because you can feel the car kind of move around a lot more. You can feel the suspension, so it feels more similar to kind of a dirt track.”
Larson admits he’s starting to feel pressure that he has yet to win a Cup race. But at the same time, he’s made some gains this season.
“It’s kind of a process,” Larson said. “It took some time, a couple of months and now we are building racecars the way (crew chief Chad Johnston) wants them built, the bodies all that stuff.
“It has made our level or speed in the racecars get quicker. I think that has been the main thing is Chad’s influence has been key the last couple of months and we have been building the cars how he wants them. I think Chad and Phil (Surgen) my engineer, they have probably learned me now and the way I communicate and how big of an adjustment I need or small. I just think it takes a little bit of time to get working together right and now we seem to be clicking.”
The stats back up Larson’s claims: he has two top-five finishes in the last four races — second at Dover and third at Michigan two weeks ago. He also finished 13th at Charlotte and 11th at Pocono.
“We all want to win so bad,” Larson said. “We are all working hard to keep our cars fast and keep up with an ever-changing garage area.
“So, I guess the pressure is there to get the win while we are running well. You look at Chip Ganassi in the past, they are probably that team you describe where we get so close and then we lose it and have to spend a year or half a season regrouping and getting back to where we need to be.
“Right now we are closer to getting wins now. We have made huge gains so far this season. We just have to stay on top of it and hope we get a win.”
A win will likely be the best way for Larson to qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, as he enters this weekend 21st in the rankings.
“Prior to our penalty, I thought it was, even if we didn’t win, and we could probably point our way in,” Larson said. “Obviously, it makes it tougher now with losing those 15 points.”
Team owner Chip Ganassi said later Friday afternoon that Larson knows what he has to do.
“I don’t think I put any pressure on him to win,” Ganassi said. “He knows what’s up. He knows he has to win. There is no need for me to remind him of that fact. He knows what it takes and what is expected of him. I don’t feel the need to remind him. He’s a smart guy.”