Winning not only meant a celebration for Kyle Larson but the end of a discussion.
For more than three months after his clean driving was not enough to beat Matt Kenseth at Dover, Larson endured questions and people second-guessing his motives, suggesting it would have been worthwhile to punt Kenseth to win and earn a Chase spot.
“We don’t have to talk about that anymore,’’ Larson said after his win Sunday at Michigan International Speedway.
He doesn’t, but his victory still raises an issue. Did Larson’s victory reaffirm that good things come to those who wait? Or did it show how tough it is to win a Sprint Cup race and that sometimes it is better to grab what one can?
This is about more than winning a race. It’s the chance to win a championship. Even with the team’s struggles at the beginning of the season, Larson could be crowned series champion in less than 12 weeks.
With a championship comes prestige and the possibility of enticing more sponsorship. That could help elevate Chip Ganassi Racing, which ended a 99-race winless drought Sunday, and make the two-car organization more competitive. That also could provide additional money for those working there and make additional jobs available, enhancing the team’s resources.
That’s why the debate on if Larson should have knocked Kenseth out of the lead — and taken the chance of wrecking him — at Dover to win. No driver or team operates in a vacuum.
NASCAR is physical sport. Chairman Brian France has said so. Of course, with all things there’s a limit. Still, the question that Larson raced Kenseth clean rubbed some critics wrong.
“Everybody said, Why didn’t you hit him, why didn’t you do this or that?’’ car owner Chip Ganassi said. “That’s Kyle.
“I think it’s important to understand that these guys are not robots. We want to cookie cutter them into saying, he’s this, this driver is this, this team is that, this team is that. Really, they’re all different. They’re all different personalities. I couldn’t be more proud of how he’s developed over the last couple of years in Cup.’’
Many expect Larson’s win at Michigan to be the first of many. Did his win carry a message to all drivers that there can be a reward for patience? Or is that being too naive?
OH WOE IS THEM
In a 36-race season, problems are going to occur. Nobody is going to be perfect for every lap, every pit stop and every moment of a race.
But it is almost becoming a regular thing to see what else can happen to Martin Truex Jr. and his team, which fell inches short of winning the Daytona 500. In some cases, bad luck has befallen the team. In other cases, it has been mistakes that will need to be avoided when the playoffs begin next month.
In 19 of the 24 points races thus far this season, the team has had some sort of issue, ranging from incidents on pit road to those on the track. The team has shown when it is mistake-free, no one is going to beat them — as was the case in the Coca-Cola 600 when Truex led 392 of 400 laps.
Sunday’s race at Michigan was not clean. The left rear tire was not set when the jack dropped. The incident damaged the left rear quarter panel and created issues the rest of the race, resulting in a 20th-place finish.
That hasn’t been the only time this season that a pit stop has not gone well for the Furniture Row Racing team. Other instances include:
Pocono (Aug. 1) — Lug nut knocked off inner valve stem on pit stop while leading, caused a flat tire and contact with the wall. He finished 38th.
Kentucky (July 9) — Truex was penalized for passing the leader on pit road as he headed to his pit stall. Truex finished 10th. NASCAR later updated its rules to provide more clarity on the issue.
Pocono (June 6) — Contact with Matt DiBenedetto after Truex, who entered pit road 12th, exited his stall. Later in the race, a lug nut landed behind the wheel and sheared off the tire’s inner valve stem, causing the tire to blow after Truex was back on track. He finished 19th.
Kansas (May 7) — Had to pit from the lead because of a loose wheel. The culprit was a broken head bolt off the brake that got caught behind the right front wheel. He finished 14th.
Richmond (April 24) — Had to pit a second time after a lug nut got jammed and caused the right rear wheel to become loose. He was eighth before the sequence. He finished ninth.
Bristol (April 17) — Twice had to pit a second time because of loose wheels. He finished 14th.
Martinsville (April 3) — After running in the top 10, a loose wheel and a speeding penalty on pit road late in the race hurt his result. He finished 18th.
Las Vegas (March 6) — Loose wheel while running seventh forced Truex back to pit road. He finished 11th
Atlanta (Feb. 28) — On two separate pit stops, right front tire got hung up when being put on, costing him a total of 10 spots. He finished seventh
For the first time in NASCAR history, the winners in each of the sport’s top three national divisions scored their first series win on the same weekend.
Brett Moffitt, driving in place of Matt Tifft as he recovers from recent brain surgery, won Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race at Michigan for Red Horse Racing. It was Moffitt’s first NASCAR win since 2012 when he competed in the K&N Pro Series East. Moffitt was the rookie of the year last season in the Sprint Cup Series.
Michael McDowell, whose background is in road racing, won Saturday’s Xfinity race at Road America for Richard Childress Racing. It was McDowell’s first national series victory in 298 career starts across the Sprint Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series.
Kyle Larson, who has four career Xfinity and two career Truck series wins, scored his first Cup victory Sunday at Michigan International Speedway.
— In the three points races that used the proposed 2017 rules package, Brad Keselowski had an average finish of 2.7.
— Joey Logano’s 10th-place finish marked his eighth consecutive top 10 at Michigan, the longest active streak.
— In the six races that Dale Earnhardt Jr. has missed, the No. 88 car has finished an average of 20.2. Jeff Gordon will drive the car this weekend in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
— Jamie McMurray scored his third consecutive eighth-place finish Sunday.
— Carl Edwards finished seventh, marking the first time in the last six races he’s been the highest-finishing Toyota.
— Kyle Larson’s win marked the seventh consecutive Sprint Cup race with a different winner, the longest streak of the season.