Kyle Larson still won’t spin someone for a win at Dover: ‘It’s a bad time to piss people off’

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CHARLOTTE — If push comes to potentially shoving Sunday at Dover International Speedway, Kyle Larson says he again won’t play rough to win the first-round Chase for the Sprint Cup finale.

Even though a victory would guarantee advancement in the playoffs, the big picture still looks good for Larson if he is running second with a faster car in the closing laps as he was to Matt Kenseth at Dover in May.

“If I win, I go to the next round, but if I run second, I probably still go to the next round,” Larson told NBC Sports in a Tuesday interview. “It’s a bad time of the year to piss people off. Matt can tell you about that last year.

“Yeah, I’d always try to race with respect. So there’s a lot on the line, but also if I’m running up front, I’m probably going to transfer anyway.”

Provided the race winner isn’t Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Jamie McMurray, Austin Dillon, Tony Stewart or Chris Buescher, Larson will be guaranteed of reaching the Round of 12 with a second, third or fourth-place finish on the 1-mile oval.

Ranked 12th with a five-point edge on McMurray and Dillon through the first two races of the Round of 16, Larson believes that he likely will be safe if he can finish in the top 10. In five starts at Dover, he has four top 10s and an average finish of 6.2, his best in Sprint Cup.

He nearly scored his breakthrough victory on the concrete on May 15 but declined to put a bump-and-run maneuver on Kenseth. More than four months later, and with the vindication of an Aug. 29 victory at Michigan International Speedway, he has no second thoughts.

“I was proud of myself for the way I raced him,” Larson said. “There’s times in the year where it’s like, ‘Oh, if I’d just got into him a little bit, I’d be in the Chase right now.’ But then we won Michigan, and it was over. Didn’t matter.

“I felt like not only did I gain Kenseth’s respect, I probably gained a lot of other competitors’ respect that day by racing Matt cleanly. I was fine with how I raced.”

He certainly was encouraged by his No. 42 Chevrolet’s speed, which improved significantly during May. Larson ran in the top five a week earlier at Kansas Speedway, finished second at Dover and then led 18 laps in the All-Star Race before crashing.

“From then on, I was like, ‘OK, that was three races where we are capable of getting top-three finishes and wins,’” he said. “From then on, I was like our team is good. Each and every week we’ve gotten a little bit better, so that’s been a lot of fun.”

Larson credits the improvement to crew chief Chad Johnston, who initially was reluctant to overhaul the cars after joining Ganassi in the offseason from Stewart-Haas Racing (Johnston won with Martin Truex Jr. at Michael Waltrip Racing prior to that).

The approach changed after only two top 10s in the first 10 races.

“I think early in the year, Chad was new to the team, so it’s hard for someone new to come in and immediately make all the changes they want,” Larson said. “Well, we sucked early in the year. Chad took it on himself to say, ‘All right, now it’s my calls.’ I think he’s taken what he’s learned from the teams he’s been on in previous years and what they’ve done, and it’s kind of helped us.

“You could see that in his personality. I think early in the season he was still quiet and trying to feel everyone out. Now he’s not quiet at all.”

NASCAR releases Cup rules packages for 2021

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NASCAR announced Thursday its rules package slate for the 2021 Cup Series season, a day after next year’s schedule was unveiled.

For returning tracks to the 36-race schedule, the rules are largely unchanged save for Darlington Raceway.

Cup teams will use the 750 horsepower, low downforce race package at the 1.366-mile track. It’s the package that’s been used this season on road courses and short tracks. Nashville Superspeedway, the 1.333-mile track being added in 2021, will use the same package.

The packages for the other new race tracks – Road America, Circuit of the Americas and the Indy road course – have not been decided on.

“We constantly review the race packages to try to put on the best possible racing for our fans,” John Probst, NASCAR’s Senior Vice Presiden of Innovation and Racing Development said in a media release. “When he brought in the short track / road course package this season, Darlington was not part of it due to its unique size. We’ve been evaluating data from both race packages, as well as feedback from drivers, teams and OEMs and feel that the 750 hp / low downforce package best fits the track.”

Other rule changes include:

  • Teams are restricted to 150 restricted computational fluid dynamics runs per calendar month.
  • Teams must compete in a minimum of 16 points events with a short block sealed engine (up from 13).

Click here for the rule packages for each Cup race in 2021.

Team Penske looks to extend Talladega dominance amid 2020 woes

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If there’s one thing Talladega Superspeedway is known for, it’s chaos.

But for as much chaos as the 2.66-mile track can provide, Talladega has another quality it produces: consistency in Victory Lane.

In the 2010s and up through the June Cup race, the consistency has been produced by Team Penske.

Since May 2012, Penske drivers have won nine of 17 races. Brad Keselowski has four of his five Talladega wins, Joey Logano has three and Ryan Blaney has won each of the last two races by .007 seconds.

The other eight races were won by Roush Fenway Racing (two wins), Hendrick Motorsports (two), Front Row Motorsports (one), Chip Ganassi Racing (one), Stewart-Haas Racing (one) and Joe Gibbs Racing (one).

When it comes to races like this weekend’s playoff event (2 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC), one would expect even more chaos and less consistency among winners.

You’d be wrong on the latter.

Penske’s three drivers have combined to win five of the last six Talladega playoff races. The winner of the sixth race was Aric Almirola in the 2018 playoff race.

Last week Keselowski observed how races at superspeedways have “ebbs and flows” with them currently resembling “a MAVTV demo derby just a little faster.”

On Thursday, the 2012 Cup champion credited Team Penske having a “great” driver lineup with its ability to win in a form of racing that’s constantly evolving.

“I think we have the strongest driver lineup in Cup right now,” Keselowski said. “I know that’s probably arguable and it’s completely subjective. That’s played to our favorite tracks like the plate tracks and we’re going to continue to try and leverage it.”

While Blaney has enjoyed recent success at Talladega with his two victories, Keselowski looks to re-establish his winning ways at the track he has five victories, the most among active drivers.

After winning the 2017 playoff race, he has five consecutive finishes of 13th or worse, including two DNFs for wrecks.

“It’s been up and down for me,” Keselowski said. “The last few races have probably been down. Last fall I thought we were going to win the race with two or three (laps) to go. We were making the pass for the lead and the next thing I know we’re all wrecked. It’s a love-hate affair with that track for sure and hopefully we’ll love it. I feel like we’re due for a good finish there.”

Keselowski enters Sunday’s race after miserable outings in the last two playoff races. He finished 34th at Bristol (power steering problems) and 13th at Las Vegas.

Talladega could be the relief Keselowski’s teammates are looking for as well.

Blaney, who was eliminated from the playoffs after the Round of 16, hasn’t had a top-five finish in the last nine races. Logano, while he has two top fives in the playoffs (third at Darlington and Richmond), hasn’t won since the March race at Phoenix. That was the last race before the COVID-19 shutdown.

Keselowski said “it is a bit strange” that Team Penske can view Talladega as a track where it can turn its season around.

“We haven’t been where we want to be on the mile-and-a-halfs, there’s no doubt about that,” Keselowski said. “The mile-and-a-halfs and road courses have been a weak spot for us. The superspeedways and short tracks have been a strong spot for us. Thankfully we have the superspeedway this weekend and couple of short tracks coming up in the next round (Martinsville).

“We need to kind of maximize out strengths and minimize our weaknesses. This weekend is certainly looking like a strength for us. We have high expectations.”

Kaz Grala subs for Natalie Decker in Talladega Truck race

Kaz Grala
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Natalie Decker has not been medically cleared to compete in Saturday’s Truck Series race at Talladega (1 p.m. ET on FS1) and will be replaced by Kaz Grala in Niece Motorsports’ No. 44 Chevrolet the team announced Thursday.

Decker withdrew from last weekend’s race at Las Vegas after she was not medically cleared shortly before the race. She was credited with a last-place finish.

Decker tweeted Saturday that she was flying home where “more tests (would be) run so they can further evaluate and diagnose.”

No further details about Decker’s condition have been announced.

“We are thankful that Kaz is able to fill in for Natalie this weekend and appreciate him working with our team,” team general manager Cody Efaw said in a press release. “We wish Natalie the best as she works to be as healthy as possible to return to racing.”

Grala will make his first Truck Series start since 2017. He has 32 career starts in the series, including one win in the 2017 season-opening race at Daytona.

He drove in Austin Dillon’s place earlier this year in the Cup race on the Daytona road course after Dillon tested positive for COVID-19.

“My thoughts will be with Natalie this weekend as I wish her a quick recovery,” Grala said in a press release. “I know she loves the restrictor-plate races, so I feel bad that she’ll have to miss this one, but I hope I can give her something to cheer for on Saturday. 

“It’s been a few years since I’ve been in a Truck, but the superspeedway races have been very good to me in the past, so I’m really hoping to be able to go grab a win for Niece Motorsports at Talladega.”

FanVision closes due to impact of COVID-19 pandemic

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FanVision Entertainment, the company that produces video devices used by race fans at NASCAR events, has ceased operations due to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The news was announced in a statement from Racing Electronics, the company which sold and supported FanVision devices at NASCAR tracks through a license with FanVision Entertainment.

Racing Electronics, which is owned by NASCAR, can no longer sell or support the devices.

“We recognize this news will be met with disappointment by motorsports fans across the country who utilized FanVision’s products as part of their at-track experience,” Racing Electronics president Chad Willis said in a statement.

“To help fans and industry members transition to Racing Electronics products, we are working with existing FanVision device owners to solve their race day needs. When Racing Electronics returns to the track, fans and industry members will have access to all the sounds that make racing so special.”