Kyle Larson: ‘I feel like we’ve made it a round further already’ in playoffs this year

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — This postseason sees Kyle Larson in his second NASCAR Cup Series playoff appearance.

Not that Larson himself sees it that way.

“I don’t really feel like I was in the playoffs last year,” Larson said Wednesday during the playoff media day.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver made a quick exit last year when he was eliminated after the first round.

After qualifying for the playoffs via his first Cup win at Michigan, Larson finished 18th in the opener at Chicagoland after cutting a tire in the final 10 laps. He then placed 10th at New Hampshire before a battery issue early at Dover ended with Larson getting “kicked out the first round.”

But that doesn’t mean the fourth-year driver didn’t learn something from the experience.

“Even if you’re not in it, you still get an idea of what you need to do,” Larson said. “I mean, really you’ve got to make no mistakes. If you do have a mistake, you know you have to win the next race.”

Larson and his No. 42 team have done their fair share of winning this season, capped off by Saturday’s overtime win at Richmond Raceway. Somewhat overshadowed by rogue ambulances and caution controversy, the win was Larson’s fourth of the year.

It was also his first on a track shorter than 2 miles.

“I didn’t really think of it at the time, but it’s cool to finally win somewhere that’s not two miles,” Larson said. “Obviously, I’ve been really fast at a lot of different styles of racetracks. I’ve ran second, I feel like, at every racetrack. I mean, I’ve been close to win. It’s not like I’m only good at two-mile tracks.”

Larson has finished second seven times this year, including at the playoff tracks of Texas Motor Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Phoenix Raceway and Dover International Speedway.

The Texas and New Hampshire results came after Larson had to start at or near the rear of the field. New Hampshire and Dover follow Chicagoland, a 1.5-mile oval, in the first round.

“Yeah, I could have a lot of mile-and-a-half wins,” Larson said. “I could have won the Daytona 500 this year. But it was nice to win at (Richmond), a track where I would put it down there with Martinsville as being my worst tracks. Richmond and Martinsville would be my worst tracks. For me to win at Richmond was a huge confidence booster.”

The confidence fueled by Larson’s four wins, his second seeding in the playoffs and his team’s generally faster cars than last year has Larson feeling “more relaxed” entering the postseason.

“This year I feel like we should hopefully make it through the first round,” Larson said. “I feel like we’ve made it a round further already this year. I don’t want to jinx myself, but I just feel more confident this year. I think I should be with four wins rather than one at this point last year.

“But anything can happen. I mean, we could win these next 10 or we could be off also. I could have one bad race, then not win the next two, be out in the first round.

“We’ve just got to do everything right.”

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Kurt Busch fastest in final Cup practice at Sonoma

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Kurt Busch posted the fastest single lap in the final practice for the Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway with a speed of 94.061 mph.

He beat second-place Denny Hamlin (94.012 mph) by .040 seconds.

Martin Truex Jr. (93.718) had the third fastest lap, but the team will have some work to do before Saturday’s qualification. With nine minutes remaining on the clock, he ran into the back of Bubba Wallace in the esses and did significant damage to his nose. Wallace landed 34th on the chart with a speed of 91.641 mph.

Jamie McMurray (93.549) and Kevin Harvick (93.441) rounded out the top five.

Harvick (91.468) had the quickest 10-lap average – leading a sweep of the top three by Stewart Haas Racing. Busch was second quickest at 91.452 mph with Clint Bowyer third quick at 91.443 mph.

William Byron broke an axle seal in final practice, but the team was able to get him back on track with 24 minutes remaining in the session. His speed of 92.279 mph was 25th fastest.

Click here for the full report from final practice.

Friday Truck Series practice report from Gateway

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Second practice

Last week’s winner, Brett Moffitt topped the speed chart in Friday evening’s practice session for the Eaton 200 with a speed of 137.191 mph.

He beat second-place Myatt Snider (136.658 mph) by .128 seconds.

Johnny Sauter (136.608), Riley Herbst (136.355), and Ben Rhodes (136.219) round out the top five.

Herbst is making his Truck Series debut this week.

Also making his Truck debut is Zane Smith, who posted a lap of 136.120 mph to land sixth on the chart.

Christian Eckes (135.906) failed to back up his series-leading speed from the first practice session and was only ninth fastest, but he had the quickest 10-lap average of 135.039 mph.

Click here for complete results from practice 2.

First practice

Rain canceled the practice session at Gateway that was scheduled to run from 3:35 – 4:25 p.m. Eastern time.

When they finally got on track, Eckes posted the fastest single lap in the first practice session with a speed of 134.360 mph. He is making his Truck series debut this week.

Eckes’ speed was .009 seconds faster than Noah Gragon (134.324), who landed second on the speed chart.

Rhodes (134.120), Moffitt (133.817) and Matt Crafton (133.706) rounded out the top five.

Rhodes had the quickest 10-lap average of 133.466 mph.

With the first practice canceled at Gateway, NASCAR added a final practice session scheduled for Noon – 1 p.m.

Click here for complete results from practice one.

Denny Hamlin offers advice on how to deal with critics on social media

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Denny Hamlin, who has been fined by NASCAR for comments on Twitter, and was vocal toward critics after this year’s Daytona 500, says he’s found peace on how to deal with those on social media who don’t agree with him.

“I’ve been very good this year about not replying to mean people, and you all should do the same,’’ Hamlin said Friday at Sonoma Raceway.

“I’m making a (request) right now to every driver, every team owner, every NASCAR executive and every media member, stop replying to people who make nonsense comments. They have 16 followers. Don’t give them your 100,000. Do not give them your 100,000 as their stage. No one will ever see their comment, just brush it by, talk about the positives and I’m not a positive person.”

Asked how does one ignore such divisive comments, Hamlin said: “You just scroll by it. Forget it. That person doesn’t exit. They’re an admirer that has lost their way.’’

Hamlin has been better at doing so since the Daytona 500. He faced negative reaction on social media to the contact he and Bubba Wallace had at the end of the Daytona 500.

They engaged in a brief shouting match in the garage area after Hamlin learned that Wallace had taken a dig at him on national TV about a recent comment about drivers using Adderall.

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Clint Bowyer leads opening Cup practice at Sonoma

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Clint Bowyer was the fastest in the first of two Cup practices Friday at Sonoma Raceway.

Bowyer, the winner of the most recent Cup race two weeks ago at Michigan, posted a lap of 93.590 mph. He was followed by Ryan Blaney (93.546 mph), Joey Logano (93.172), Jamie McMurray (93.049) and Daniel Suarez (92.746).

Sixth was Jimmie Johnson (92.661). He was followed by Michael McDowell (92.650), Martin Truex Jr. (92.614), AJ Allmendinger (92.596) and Ryan Newman (92.595).

Click here for full practice report

Final Cup practice will be from 5:40 – 6:55 p.m. ET. Qualifying will take place Saturday.

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