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NASCAR America: Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi relationship pays dividends

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Chip Ganassi and Kyle Larson have a most unique relationship that transcends most other owner-driver unions.

When Larson won the A-Main last Wednesday at the Knoxville Nationals, it put him in the championship race on Saturday.

But Larson admitted a bit of hesitation when it came time to ask Ganassi for permission to fly from Michigan International Speedway after Saturday’s final practice.

As it turned out, Larson finished a career-best second at Knoxville and followed it up with his third consecutive Cup win at MIS.

But there was a point in Sunday’s race that Ganassi started questioning himself for allowing Larson to go to Iowa.

Photo courtesy Chip Ganassi Racing

“I was questioning myself in the middle of the race,” Ganassi said. “I was getting ready to take a lot of heat in the media for that, if we didn’t have a good day.

“I don’t want to do something that’ll slow him down, and you run the risk of that when you have a talent like that that wants to go drive other kinds of cars and things.

“I’ve never been a team owner that keeps my drivers from driving other types of cars. You want to do the best you can for the guy all the time and do what you can do.”

In a sense, Larson paid Ganassi back for his faith in him and allowing the Knoxville trip by winning Sunday.

“I think our guys saw the opportunity in front of them with how much exposure I could get if I ran the Knoxville Nationals. I think Chip also understood that,” Larson said. “There’s been so much exposure this week behind me, and to run good at both races will hopefully help us in the search for a replacement sponsor at the end of the year.

NASCAR America analyst Jeff Burton concurred with Ganassi’s ultimate decision.

“I think you have to let him race,” Burton said. “I think that when you have a guy like Kyle Larson’s that’s young, wants to go race other cars and has proven he can do both successfully, I think it’s okay.

“But there will come a time that when it comes to winning a championship, Kyle needs to focus on what he needs to focus on. And if Kyle can do both and that makes him better on Sunday, then it’s all good.

“What Chip has to decide is that what he does on Saturday night help him on a Sunday afternoon. If there’s ever a question that it doesn’t help him, then Saturday nights will cease.

“You have to be successful on Sunday afternoons if you want to continue your career. It hasn’t been a problem yet, but if you start to see a decline and performance and those kinds of things, I think they’ll have to have a conversation.”

On another front, Larson and Ganassi are almost like son and father, rather than driver and owner.

That’s why with such a close relationship, Larson would likely never go anywhere else because Ganassi gives him so much latitude.

But admittedly, even with their relationship, Larson was still a bit nervous when it came time to ask Ganassi if he could race Saturday night in the sprint car main event in the Knoxville Nationals, where he eventually finished a career-best second place.

Ganassi’s reaction when Larson won Sunday was one of the best seen in NASCAR in a long time.

Not only did Ganassi almost choke crew chief Chad Johnston in joy, he practically gave Larson a concussion when he hit him in the head, also in joy, on the front stretch.

Watch our crew’s analysis on that, as well, and their thoughts on where Ganassi’s reaction ranks among other celebrations this season.

Watch NASCAR Cup Awards Show at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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Get settled into your favorite easy chair, make sure you have plenty of snacks and beverages on hand and get ready for the last big event of 2019 on the NASCAR schedule: tonight’s NASCAR Awards Show.

The show will be broadcast on NBCSN from 8-10:30 p.m. ET from Nashville, Tennessee, for the first time. And if you miss some of the show, don’t worry, there’ll be a replay immediately afterward, also on NBCSN.

Kyle Busch will be the main attraction for tonight’s show, being celebrated for winning his second NASCAR Cup championship this past season.

Also, the 2019 NASCAR Cup Most Popular Driver award winner will be revealed. Will it be defending winner Chase Elliott, reigning champion Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr., Matt DiBenedetto … or someone else? You definitely need to tune in to find out.

And to get you in the mood, we’ll replay Wednesday’s Burnouts on Broadway at 7 p.m. ET, also on NBCSN.

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Will Daniel Suarez race for Richard Childress Racing in 2020?

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The president of Richard Childress Racing said it is a “longshot” that Daniel Suarez will drive a third Cup entry for the organization in 2020 but said RCR would like to have Suarez drive its No. 2 Xfinity car next year.

Suarez has not decided where he’ll race in 2020 after losing his ride with Stewart-Haas Racing this year.

Suarez has been linked with RCR. A third Cup entry would require RCR to acquire another charter for that car. It also could mean that the organization would need to hire additional people if they expanded to three full-time cars.

“I think that would be a long shot in a Cup program,” Torrey Galida told NBC Sports about Suarez in a third RCR Cup entry. “We’ve talked to him about an Xfinity program. We’d love to have him in an Xfinity car, and we think we could win another championship next year with Daniel. He’s a very talented young man.”

Richard Childress Racing’s No. 21 Xfinity car will run the full season with multiple drivers in 2020. Myatt Snider and Anthony Alfredo have been announced to drive that car. Galida said the team is looking at Kaz Grala, Austin Dillon and possibly two-time series champ Tyler Reddick driving that car in select races.

RCR ran the No. 21 car in nine of 33 Xfinity races this past season. It ran the No. 2 car in every race.

If Suarez, the 2016 Xfinity champion, drove for RCR in the Xfinity Series next year, it would be with the organization’s No. 2 car.

“We could still do that and we would do that,” Galida said of a full-time Xfinity effort for Suarez. “That’s the kind of opportunity we would be interested in.”

Galida said it just is a matter of hearing what Suarez decides.

“I think he knows what we’ve got to offer, and I think he’s just weighing his alternatives and trying to determine what is best for him,” Galida told NBC Sports. “I’m sure that going back to the Xfinity Series is not his first choice. I think in the right equipment it could be a really good move for him.”

Galida said they could go into January before hearing from Suarez but noted that “the sooner the better. People are your biggest issue. You want to put the right people around him.”

Next April’s Xfinity race at Bristol to have new sponsor

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Bristol Motor Speedway announced Thursday that partner Alsco, along with Darden Restaurants and its Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen brand, will sponsor next April’s Xfinity Series race there.

The Cheddar’s 300 presented by Alsco will take place on Saturday, April 4, 2020.

Alsco is a global leader in uniform and linen rental services. In addition to its entitlement at Bristol Motor Speedway, Alsco will take part in Xfinity Series entitlements at three other Speedway Motorsports Inc. racetracks: Kentucky Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Alsco’s initial entitlement at BMS came this past April with the Alsco 300 Xfinity Series race, won by Christopher Bell, who earned a $100,000 bonus through Xfinity’s Dash 4 Cash program.

Alsco is also a sponsor for Richard Childress Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports and JR Motorsports.

“Bristol is the place for historic finishes and close, hard-knock racing action,” said Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager at Bristol Motor Speedway. “Alsco and our new friends at Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen understand the reputation of racing at The Last Great Colosseum and we’re ready to show them an incredible experience. The Cheddar’s 300 presented by Alsco is a must-see event on the NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule.”

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Cup champion’s celebration painful to those who didn’t win title

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A year after being feted for his first NASCAR Cup title, Joey Logano returned to Champion’s Week with a different feeling.

“These banquets aren’t really the same after you’ve won it and you know what it’s like to see your car plastered everywhere and your team and everyone is having fun together,” Logano said. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we’re in Nashville, there’s a lot of really cool things, but it really stinks for the competitor to come to the banquet because it’s just like another reminder that you got beat. That’s not much fun. I don’t really like that part.

“When you leave the banquet that night, you really wish you could race the next day because that’s about the most motivating thing you could do is go to a banquet that you didn’t win because all you want to do is change that. And you want to do it as quickly as possible but you’ve got to wait until Daytona to get going again.”

The sport celebrates Kyle Busch’s championship at 8 p.m. ET today on NBCSN. This marks the first year the NASCAR Awards Show has been in Nashville. Busch was a part of the WWE event in the city on Monday, was honored by the Nashville Predators before Tuesday’s NHL game and took part in the Burnouts on Broadway on Wednesday with many other playoff drivers.

While Busch basks in the celebration, teammate Martin Truex Jr. deals with the pain of finishing second in the championship for a second consecutive year. Logano passed Truex late to win last year’s championship. Truex’s title run this season was derailed, in part, by his crew putting the wrong tires on the wrong side of the car in last month’s championship race in Miami.

Had things gone a little differently, Truex could have won three consecutive championships, matching Cale Yarborough’s accomplishment from 1976-78.

“I’ll tell you when I get over it,” Truex said of the pain of finishing second again for the title. “It’s a  big deal. Work all year long to put yourself in that position. When it doesn’t turn out the way you hope, it’s tough.

“A lot of people put a lot of effort into it. It’s not something that goes away. It takes time. Honestly, I’m still sour about finishing second last year, too. Two years in a row finishing second hurts. you have to learn from it and move on, but you never forget it.”