Kyle Larson earns best finish of season after early contact with Kevin Harvick

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For the first time since June 2016, Kyle Larson was not the winner of a Cup race at a 2-mile speedway.

In Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway, Larson was knocked down a peg by Martin Truex Jr., finishing second for his best result through five races this season.

It ended a run of four consecutive races the Chip Ganassi Racing driver had won at either Auto Club or Michigan International Speedway.

Despite finishing one spot better than he started, the runner-up result was not a given for Larson.

He kept his No. 42 Chevrolet in one piece after contact with Kevin Harvick on Lap 39 that put Harvick in the wall. The two had been battling for third place when Harvick’s failed attempt to side draft brought the two together.

“It was a pretty tough race from the start,” Larson said. “Obviously, Kevin and I had our issue there down the backstretch, just racing hard, side drafting each other for a few laps. I think he came down to maybe side draft down me, got in my right rear, it spun him pretty quick.”

Larson thought Harvick would be mad at him, even though Larson knew he wasn’t at fault. But Larson “was able to chill out some” after being told Harvick was taking the blame.

Larson went on to finish sixth in the Stage 1 and eighth in Stage 2.

But Larson had to pit a second time during the Stage 2 caution for a vibration, giving up eighth place.

“I haven’t exactly seen what broke,” Larson said. “Sounded like brake duct or something fell in between the wheel.  Yeah, I don’t know if that was something the pit crew guys hit and broke or whatever. I’m just glad I could feel it under that caution and was able to pit. That would have ruined our day, had I not.”

After fighting back to race among the leaders, Larson passed Kyle Busch for second with 19 laps to go. But Truex was roughly six seconds ahead.

“It was good to get all the way to second,” Larson said. “Would have liked to be one spot better, but we couldn’t even see Martin.”

Larson has finished in the top three in three of his five starts at Auto Club Speedway.

Larson has three top 10s and two top fives through five races. He is seventh in the points heading to Martinsville Speedway.

The No. 42 has been one of the few Chevrolet teams to consistently run up front with the new Camaro body since the Daytona 500. He was one of three Chevy drivers to finish in the top 10. Jimmie Johnson placed ninth and Austin Dillon finished 10th.

“It’s nothing I’ve found,” Larson said of the new body. “Our race team has a lot of smart people within our organization. Any time we had a rules change over the last three or four years, the one‑off weekends like Darlington or Michigan, our team would do a good job, we’d be fast those weekends.

“I think they just did a lot of homework on this new car. For whatever reason, we seem to be a little bit better than the other Chevy teams, which we were kind of last year, too.”

Larson was the only Chevrolet driver to win more than three races last season.

“I’ve been happy to see how we’ve started so far,” Larson said. “But we still have a little ways to go to win.”

NASCAR America: What makes Kyle Busch so good at Bristol?

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Kyle Busch swept all three national series at Bristol Motor Speedway in August 2010. The next spring, he won both the Truck and Cup series. That five-race winning streak is part of a remarkable 21 victories on this track.

Last August, he swept the three national series at Bristol again.

Busch’s numbers at Bristol are nothing short of amazing – and they include back-to-back wins in the last two Cup races.

But what makes him so good?

“It’s because he’s an amazing driver,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said.

“(Busch is) a guy who can make an amazing difference behind the wheel and so when you go to a track that needs a talented driver to be able to get around it, he’s a guy that takes advantage of his own skill,” Earnhardt continued. “You have to apply that to the short track. All the guys that do well at short tracks are drivers. They’re real, real men.

“They came from racing short tracks and honing those abilities … have the patience, the judgment, the decision-making ability, but also the raw speed to be able to set up their cars the way they need to be all night long.”

On a track where laps are completed in less than 15 seconds, drivers are constantly in traffic. Busch’s ability to navigate through slower cars is another key to his success, according to Kyle Petty.

“Bristol is a rhythm racetrack. … Kyle is a rhythm driver,” Petty said. “When he gets in a rhythm, you watch him when he runs – he catches lapped traffic; he disposes of them. He doesn’t spend a lot of time breaking his rhythm and having to start again.”

For more, watch the video above.

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Kaulig Racing to field second entry in Indianapolis Xfinity race

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Kaulig Racing will field a second entry for the first time in its three-year history in the Sept. 8 Xfinity race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, team owner Matt Kaulig told NBC Sports.

The entry, the No. 10 Chevrolet, will join the No. 11 that is driven by Ryan Truex. The No. 10 will be driven by a “big driver.”

The news comes after Kaulig Racing earned its first top-five finish last week at Mid-Ohio, where Truex finished fifth. It came in the team’s 87th Xfinity start and was in Kaulig’s home state of Ohio, where his company, Leaf Filter Gutter Protection, is headquartered.

“It’s very (significant), it shows how our organization is growing,” Kaulig said. “A lot of these teams are getting smaller, are cutting people, are just cutting back and we’re growing. We’re just getting started. When you look at a team like ours, that’s just two-and-a-half years in, it’s all upside, it’s all of our great stuff that’s ahead of us. Not behind us. We just want to win trophies.”

The addition of a second car for the Indianapolis race follows the team building a 15,000-square foot addition onto its shop, which is located in Welcome, North Carolina, on the campus of Richard Childress Racing.

Kaulig’s time in NASCAR began as a sponsor of Blake Koch in 2015 when he drove for TriStar Motorsports.

Through 21 races, Truex is eighth in the point standings and has nine top 10s in addition to his first top five.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Wild Bristol moments, #WednesDale

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN with a look back at some of Bristol’s wildest moments.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. hosts with Marty Snider and Kyle Petty joining him at the Big Oak table.

On today’s show:

  • The panel will discuss Xfinity Series driver Elliott Sadler’s decision to end his full-time career following the 2018 season. Sadler is currently second in Xfinity Series points and drives for Dale Earnhardt Jr. at JR Motorsports.
  • Dale Jr. weighs in on NASCAR’s invitation to Fernando Alonso to compete in next year’s Daytona 500.
  • Fans can ask Dale Jr. and our panel questions by using #WednesDale.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. to serve as honorary pace car driver for Brickyard 400

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Fans will get to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. in a car going around Indianapolis Motor Speedway next month, it just won’t be going very fast.

Earnhardt, who serves as a NASCAR analyst for NBC Sports, has been announced as the honorary pace car driver for the Sept. 9 Brickyard 400.

The race, which was held in July for its last 11 runnings, will be the regular-season finale for the Cup Series for the first time.

Earnhardt will drive a 2018 Camaro ZL1.

“I am honored that Chevrolet asked me to drive the Camaro ZL1 Pace Car in one of the biggest races of the year,” Earnhardt said in a press release. “The fan in me was already looking forward to this event. It’s a big race. There is a lot at stake since it’s the final chance for the teams and drivers to make the playoffs. So, I hope to do a good job leading the field to the green flag, but I can promise you I’ll soak in every minute and enjoy the Brickyard in a way I never have before.”

Earnhardt made 17 starts in Indianapolis between 2000-17, with a best finish of fourth in 2012 among his five top-10 finishes.

Fans will be able to see Earnhardt drive a little bit faster two weeks later. Earnhardt will compete in the Sept. 22 Xfinity race at Richmond Raceway. It will be his first race since retiring from full-time Cup competition at the end of 2017.

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