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.

COTA Xfinity starting lineup: AJ Allmendinger takes pole

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AJ Allmendinger, who won this race a year ago, will start on the pole for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Circuit of the Americas.

Allmendinger earned the pole with a lap of 92.173 mph Friday on the 20-turn, 3.41-mile road course.

MORE: COTA Xfinity starting lineup

He will be joined on the front row Sammy Smith (91.827 mph).
Ty Gibbs (91.665) will start third. Sheldon Creed (91.652) qualified fourth. Parker Kligerman (91.195) will start fifth.

Cup driver William Byron will start ninth. Byron’s time was disallowed for cutting the esses. Cole Custer, who will start 10th, didn’t make a lap in the final round of qualifying.

Cup driver Aric Almirola (91.269) qualified 13th. Truck Series racer Carson Hocevar (90.669) will start 17th. Alex Labbe (90.476) will start 23rd. He’s filling in for Josh Williams, who is serving a one-race suspension for parking his car at the start/finish line of last weekend’s race at Atlanta.

COTA Truck starting lineup: Ross Chastain wins pole

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Ross Chastain will start on the pole for Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas.

Chastain earned the top starting spot in Friday’s qualifying with a lap of 91.877 mph. He’ll be joined on the front row by Kyle Busch (91.490 mph).

More: COTA Truck starting lineup

Ty Majeski qualified third with a lap of 91.225 mph. Rookie Nick Sanchez (90.993) will start fourth, and Christian Eckes (90.937) will complete the top five.

Alex Bowman failed to make the race. Bowman had a flat right front on his qualifying lap.

Tyler Reddick leads Cup practice at COTA

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Tyler Reddick posted the fastest lap in Friday’s Cup practice at Circuit of the Americas.

Reddick, who won two road course races last season, topped the field in his 23XI Racing Toyota with a lap of 92.989 mph. Kyle Larson was next, posting a lap of 92.618 mph around the 3.41-mile road course.

MORE: COTA Cup practice results

Ross Chastain, who won this race a year ago, was third on the speed chart in practice with a lap of 92.520 mph. He was followed by Kyle Busch (92.498 mph) and Daniel Suarez (92.461 mph).

Jordan Taylor, subbing for the injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports, was 10th on the speed chart in practice after a lap of 92.404 mph.

Former world champion Jenson Button, driving for Rick Ware Racing, was 28th in practice with a lap of 91.759 mph. Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen, driving the Project 91 car for Trackhouse Racing, was 32nd in practice after a lap of 91.413 mph.

Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, driving in his first race for Legacy Motor Club since the Daytona 500, was 36th in practice after a lap of 91.072 mph. IndyCar driver Conor Daly was last among the 39 cars in practice with a lap of 90.095 mph.

Cup qualifying is Saturday. The series races Sunday.

 

Saturday COTA Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather

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Austin Hill, the dominant driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series through the early weeks of the season, will be looking for his first Xfinity road course win Saturday.

Hill has won three of the season’s first five races, scoring victories at Daytona, Las Vegas and Atlanta.

Hill has been close in previous road course runs. He has a second at COTA, a third at Portland, a fourth at Road America and a ninth at Indianapolis.

MORE: Dr. Diandra takes a look at top Cup road course drivers

Kyle Busch and AJ Allmendinger own wins in the previous Xfinity races at COTA.

Allmendinger and three other Cup Series regulars — Aric Almirola, William Byron and Ty Gibbs — are scheduled to race in the Xfinity event.

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Circuit of the Americas

(All times Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 5:08 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled at 5:19 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 2 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Jordan Thiessen of Pit Boss Grills at 5 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed by recording artist Payton Keller at 5:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 46 laps (156 miles) on the 3.41-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 14. Stage 2 ends at Lap 30.

TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race at 5 p.m. … NASCAR RaceDay airs at 4 p.m. on FS1. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. and can be heard at goprn.com. …SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Mainly sunny. Temperature of 82 at race time. No chance of rain.

LAST TIME: AJ Allmendinger won last March’s Xfinity race at COTA. Austin Hill was two seconds behind in second place. Cole Custer finished third.