‘You never know’: Kyle Larson goes all out to finish second in All-Star Race

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CONCORD, N.C. – A loud roar went out over Charlotte Motor Speedway on the final lap of the Monster Energy All-Star Race.

It was the kind of roar one would expect when a driver makes a bold, edge-of-your-seat maneuver in hopes of winning $1 million.

Even though it wasn’t, Kyle Larson treated it like it was.

Larson was running right on Jimmie Johnson‘s bumper when he dove low on the No. 48 Chevrolet as they neared Turn 3. No part of Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet touched Johnson’s car as he cleared him … for second place.

Just over a second ahead of Larson, Kyle Busch was preparing to take the checkered flag to win the race and the money after his own bold move 10 laps earlier on a restart.

It was the fact that Busch hadn’t crossed the finish line yet that inspired Larson to give Johnson all he had.

“You never know,” Larson said afterward. “You never know what’s going to happen. I just want to be running second if something was to happen.”

Nothing happened. No miracle part failure, tire blow out or empty gas tank improved or worsened Larson’s position.

Which is a positive for Larson after last years’ All-Star Race, where a power move by Joey Logano with two laps to go put Logano in victory lane and Larson in the wall.

“Probably a little more heartbroken last year than this year,” Larson said. “But this year it was nice to be able to watch the (Monster Energy) Open … in my motorhome, then dominate the first two stages.  The third one, we were really good.  Then our issues kind of evolved right there.”

A year after getting into the All-Star Race by winning the Open in a dramatic drag race with Chase Elliott, Larson qualified on the pole for Saturday’s main event. From there, he led every lap in the first two stages for 40 laps total.

The actual unexpected occurrences that shaped Larson’s night happened on pit road.

After the second round, Larson put on his four option tires and would have been first off pit road had it not been for Ryan Blaney and Clint Bowyer taking two tires each. In the general chaos of the restart, Larson wasn’t able to get back to the point position and he finished the stage in third.

On the final visit to pit road, a slow pit stop resulted in Larson being the fifth car to exit.

“I thought initially our pit crew struggled that last stop,” Larson said. “Our jack post on the right side broke off at some point throughout the race.  So the jackman had to make a couple more pumps to get the car up.  It slowed the stop down enough that we got beat off pit road by three cars.”

Nine green flag laps later, the driver who believes he’s the “last true racer” found a way to be put the pressure on a seven-time champion.

Just in case.

“Ten laps is fun and exciting,” Larson said. “It’s just not enough time to make any ground. I was able to start making ground there the last couple laps. Yeah, I slid Jimmie into three there on the last lap. He was a little upset with me after the race.”

On the cool down lap, Johnson stuck a hand out his window, his way of asking Larson “what are you doing?”

It’s only second place.

“No big deal, really,” Larson said. “I always race hard with Jimmie and I expect the same from him. To me, Jimmie is the greatest driver of all time. So anytime I can race hard with him and pass him, even without getting into him, I’m proud of that.”

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Grant Enfinger wins Truck pole at Gateway

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With a speed of 138.867 mph, Grant Enfinger scored his second career Camping World Truck Series pole and will lead the field to green tonight for the Eaton 200. His first pole came on the restrictor plate Daytona International Speedway in February 2016.

Noah Gragson set a track record in round two of qualification with a speed of 139.035 mph. He slipped to third in the running order during round three.

Enfinger beat Christian Eckes (138.594 mph) by .064 seconds. Eckes is making only his second start in the Truck series. Last week he started ninth and finished eighth at Iowa Speedway.

Gragson (138.402), Justin Haley (138.325) and Ben Rhodes (138.211) rounded out the top five.

Johnny Sauter (137.358) failed to advance to the final round of qualification and will start 13th.

Camden Murphy and BJ McLeod failed to qualify.

Click here for the complete lineup.

Starting lineup for Sunday’s Cup race at Sonoma

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Kyle Larson won his second consecutive pole at Sonoma and will lead the field to the green flag for Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.

Martin Truex Jr. will line up alongside Larson on the front row.

Chase Elliott qualified third, the best of three Hendrick Motorsports drivers who advanced to the top 12. Jamie McMurray qualified fourth to place both Chip Ganassi Racing on the first two rows.

AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top five.

Click here for full qualification results.

 

Kyle Larson wins pole for Sonoma Cup race

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Kyle Larson posted a lap of 94.597 mph to win the pole for Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350. It was his second consecutive pole at Sonoma and the sixth of his career.

Larson beat Martin Truex Jr. (94.484 mph) by .090 seconds.

Chase Elliott (94.461), Jamie McMurray (94.227) and AJ Allmendinger (93.925) rounded out the top five. He was fastest in round one of qualification with a speed of 94.477 mph.

Hendrick Motorsports placed three of their drivers in the final round. Jimmie Johnson (93.824) qualified seventh. William Byron (93.756) qualified eighth. Alex Bowman (93.267) qualified 17th.

In his first race back since Matt Kenseth took over the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, Trevor Bayne barely missed advancing to the final round. With a speed of 93.455 mph, he qualified 13th.

Clint Bowyer (93.252) was unable to back up his time from Friday’s practice and will roll off the grid 19th.

Click here for full qualification results.

For Clint Bowyer, Sonoma Raceway is a lot like Martinsville

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Clint Bowyer didn’t grow up road racing; he cut his teeth on dirt tracks in the Midwest. And yet, he had an immediate affinity for Sonoma Raceway. In his second start there, while driving for Richard Childress in 2007, he finished fourth.

In fact, Bowyer enters the Toyota/SaveMart 350 with seven top-five finishes in 12 starts that includes a runner-up finish in last year’s Sonoma race. If not for a couple of misfortunes (crash damage in 2010 and an electrical problem in 2016), he might well have swept the top 10 since scoring that first top five as a sophomore.

Perhaps the reason for that immediate success is that he considers Sonoma to be a twisted version of Martinsville Speedway – a track on which he won this March to snap a 190-race winless streak.

“I think you embrace this track and road racing in general just like you do Martinsville,” Bowyer said on Friday before heading out to put his No. 14 Ford at the top of the first practice speed chart. “Nobody shows up at Martinsville and goes to the top of the board and is fast and has success and navigates traffic to win that race right off the bat. It just doesn’t happen and it doesn’t happen here either.”

His Sonoma success has not translated to road courses in general, however.

Yes, Bowyer swept the top five on NASCAR’s two road courses last year, but the fifth-place finish he scored at Watkins Glen International was only the second of his career on a track that many drivers consider to be less technical than Sonoma. In 12 starts there, he has earned only five top 10s.

“Watkins Glen is so fast. It is just dive-bombs and you are really carrying a lot of speed at a place like Watkins Glen.

“Here, it is like that short track. It is like being at Martinsville. Did you see my car at the end of the race last year? It was destroyed. I drove up through and passed the field twice because of mistakes that we made and got spun out once. It was a wild race to be able to finish second. You can’t do that at Watkins Glen. That car wouldn’t have ran in the top 10 at Watkins Glen.”

Nine different drivers have won at Sonoma in the last nine races. Given the dominance of Harvick (who won last year) and Kyle Busch (the 2015 winner), many think they are the most likely to end that streak. But Bowyer also has an opportunity to end the streak of unique winners. He won the 2012 edition of this race by holding off Tony Stewart – the driver with the second-most road course wins in NASCAR history.

“You have to be able to have fun on this race track,” Bowyer said. “It is a challenge. Each and every corner is different. There is no perfect setup or perfect line. It is literally one of the only tracks you go to where you are out there racing and have a smile on your face. You might even get a chuckle.”