Kyle Larson is missing something at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The Chip Ganassi Racing driver has shown lots of promise at the short track in both the Cup and Xfinity Series, but that has yet to deliver himself to victory lane in 16 combined starts at the track.
“It seems like every time I’ve been here, whether it’s Xfinity or Cup I can pretty much dominate the first half and then I guess I come back to everybody else,” Larson said Friday at Bristol. “It seems like I always make mistakes on pit road and stuff like that. Just got to clean it all up and that will give me a better shot at getting a win here. And then you’ve got to get somewhat lucky being in the outside lane to restart.”
In last season’s two Cup races at Bristol, Larson led a combined 272 laps. In the spring race, Larson started from the pole, led the first 202 laps and won Stage 1. But after a speeding penalty, Larson finished sixth.
In August, Larson led 70 laps after starting second, but fell to third by the end of Stage 1. He finished ninth.
In his last three Xfinity starts in “Thunder Valley” dating back to 2016, Larson has led 474 laps but finished third twice and seventh. He’s finished second three times in his eight starts.
“I think it’s probably more on me,” Larson said. “As the track changes, I think I have to get a little bit smarter in how I communicate on what changes I think need to be done to the car to keep turning the corner good and having good grip. … I don’t know why I have seemed to struggle, but it seems like everybody else just becomes a little bit better than I do the second half of the race, so maybe this weekend will be different.”
The No. 42 team is coming off its first DNF of the year last week at Texas Motor Speedway. Larson finished 36th after losing a right-front tire and wrecking on Lap 126.
It is his worst finish through seven races.
Now Larson looks to redeem himself at one of his favorite tracks, where he deems lapped traffic “so much fun.”
“You don’t really have any time to relax,” Larson said. “You catch (lapped traffic) in 15 laps or whatever. Then you are just carving through it. You just catch a guy and you go to wherever they are not. It’s fun to have options like that. Yeah, I was watching the race back and I just, I guess I’ve been saying it a lot, but I just get really excited about this place because it kind of races like a dirt track and it’s a lot of fun.”
Todd Gilliland stretched his lead to 29 points over Tyler Ankrum for the final playoff spot after Friday’s race. Gilliland gained seven points on Ankrum. Gilliland in 10th in the standings. He’s one point behind Derek Kraus. Austin Hill continues to lead the points.
“I wish I was here to celebrate with my parents and my girlfriend,” an emotional Smith told FS1 after the race.
Grant Enfinger led on the restart but came down from the top lane and came down on Austin Hill and John Hunter Nemechek and spun. That allowed Eckes to take the lead and put Smith third. Smith passed Gray for second in Turn 4 coming to the white flag.
Smith dived under Eckes in Turn 2 on the final lap and pulled away to win.
WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Zane Smith was eighth with three laps to go and went on to win and secure a playoff spot. … Christian Eckes finished second for the third consecutive race. … Tanner Gray finished a career-high third.
NOTABLE: The combined age of the top three finishers (61) was just short of the series record for the youngest three finishers. That record of 55 was set in June 2016 at Iowa when William Byron (then 18), Cole Custer (then 18) and Cameron Hayley (then 19) went 1-2-3.
WHAT’S NEXT: Race on the Daytona road course, Sunday, Aug. 18 at Noon ET on FS1.
A week after he begged his father to let him race a go-kart, the 9-year-old finished last and in tears. He complained that the loaned go-kart was not fast enough.
Jerry Brown saw a passion he had not seen from his son when Brandon played soccer, baseball or did any other activity. Jerry didn’t know much about racing but he bought a go-kart, beginning a father-son journey that took them to races across the country and all the way to the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
“It’s been my dad and I every single weekend since the age of nine,” Brandon Brown told NBC Sports.
Jerry attended this season’s first four Xfinity races before the COVID-19 pandemic paused the sport. Father and son were together in an Atlanta hotel in March when NASCAR announced it would not race there that weekend.
While much of the world stopped, Jerry’s life changed.
A simple procedure in April led to a cancer diagnosis. His routine now includes “aggressive” cancer treatments. Jerry, 60, isolates to avoid the coronavirus. If he were to be infected, his treatments would have to stop until he recovered from the virus.
Brandon, 27, admits his father’s condition was a key point in moving from Virginia, where the family resides, to the Mooresville, North Carolina area and being closer to the sport’s hub. Traveling each week to races, Brandon didn’t want to take the chance he could catch COVID-19 and infect his father. So it was better to be apart, something they’ve rarely been.
“It’s been quite the emotional roller coaster,” said Brandon, who talks with his father daily. “I haven’t really opened up to anyone … it’s a feeling of fear constantly just because I keep seeing posts about people that have passed away from (the coronavirus), people without health issues that are getting it and things are going bad.”
“Joy and the hugs”
Jerry Brown looks back to all those days driving to races with Brandon and the trips that also included wife Valorie and son William. Jerry says buying that first go-kart and getting into racing was the “best decision we ever made” because of the time spent with family.
“You actually get to be with your kids as they are growing up and doing what they love to do,” he told NBC Sports.
“The gleam that you get to see on their faces when they’re 10-11 years old and going out and competing against 20 karts and winning and the joy and the hugs you get to give right there, you just can’t beat that.”
It’s not just the good times that are memorable.
“You also got to be with them in the heartaches, when things didn’t go right,” Jerry said. “The first national race (Brandon) won, a plug in the carburetor had fallen out, so at post-tech we got disqualified. … It’s not the best memory, but it’s one of those things that when you’re a father, you want to be there for your sons for the good and the bad.”
As Brandon climbed from Late Models to the NASCAR Truck Series and then Xfinity Series, Jerry was there. The journey hasn’t been easy for Brandon, who last won a race in 2012 in Late Models. He went to college, graduating in 2018 from Coastal Carolina. He ran a partial schedule while in school with the family team, Brandonbilt Motorsports.
“When you’re here racing this type of competition, you’re not going to win when you are a part-timer,” Jerry said. “He understood that.”
Brandon ran his first full Xfinity Series season last year. Competing against organizations such as Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, Team Penske, Richard Childress Racing and Kaulig Racing, is formidable for any team, let alone a family team with eight full-time employees.
“I’m not going to give up,” Brandon said. “That was something my dad has preached to me, among other things, thousands and thousands of times over. When you get a goal, you put your mind to it and get it done. Do the important things first and goof off later. I heard that a lot growing up.
“His push, his drive, his sacrifice, his determination is kind of in the back of my mind pushing me the entire time. It’s one of those things where I don’t want to fail.”
Shocking phone call
Jerry went to the doctor’s office April 7 to have a swollen lymph node checked.
The node had to be removed and tested. After the procedure, the doctor told Jerry that he didn’t think the lymph node was cancerous.
Tests confirmed it was.
“Getting that call was devastating,” Jerry said.
Then came a series of tests to find the source before treatment could be set. Doctors determined that Jerry needed proton treatment, which is a new type of radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.
He has had treatments every weekday since July 13. When he talked to NBC Sports on Thursday, he had completed treatment 19 earlier in the day. Jerry is scheduled to have 33 treatments, the last one set for Aug. 26.
He goes to Road America 32 points ahead of Jeremy Clements but Clements scored his lone Xfinity win at this track in 2017. Nine races remain before the playoffs, including one race on the Daytona oval, two races on road courses and three on short tracks. There are many obstacles between Brown and a playoff spot.
“We can’t afford to make mistakes,” he said. “Jeremy is an excellent road course racer and also he’s run very, very strong at the short tracks. Just as he is going to have to give 110%, we’re going to have to give 111% just to keep that points buffer.”
Brown has built that margin on Clements and those behind him with consistent finishes. Brown has placed between 10th and 13th in five of the last seven races.
“Our goal is to show up, run all the laps, stay clean, finish the race,” he said. “With that mindset, we push to be right there in the 10th, 11th, 12th mark. We want to be be there to capitalize on if top-tier programs have incidents or wreck out or whatever, we have the ability to take advantage of the situation.”
Brown’s best Xfinity finish is sixth in 70 starts. He’s scored four of his five career top-10 finishes this season. The closer he gets to the front, the closer he gets to his first NASCAR win.
“I’ve said if we win a race and dad is not there, I think it would be a bittersweet moment,” he said. “It would feel so good to finally win again and also prove to myself that I’m supposed to be here. It does get a little defeating when you’re best is some of those guys’ OK races. It can get a little defeating, but it would feel so good to climb that hurdle.”
And if he wins soon, he admits the “trophy would not leave my sight … I will throw it in the front seat of my truck and I will drive my butt to Virginia and I will do donuts in the cul-de-sac and celebrate with dad there.”
The Cup Series is set to hold its second doubleheader weekend of the year as it journies to Michigan International Speedway.
A few weeks after holding back-to-back races at Pocono, the series does so on the 2-mile speedway.
Saturday sees the first race of the doubleheader, with Joey Logano starting from the pole.
Here’s all the info for the Saturday Cup race at Michigan:
(All times are Eastern)
START: WWE Superstar The Big Show will give the command to start engines at 4:08 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 4:17 p.m.
PRERACE: Garage access health screening begins at 9 a.m. Drivers report to their cars at 3:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 4 p.m. by Father Geoff Rose, OSFS President St. Francis De Sales School in Toledo, Ohio. The national anthem will be performed by 12-time Grammy winner CeCe Winans at 4:01 p.m.
DISTANCE: The race is 156 laps (312 miles) around the 2-mile speedway.
STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 40. Stage 2 ends on Lap 85.
PACE LAP: At the direction of race control, NASCAR will run the entire field down pit road during one of the pace laps for pit road speed verification. If a car stops anywhere on pit road for any reason, the car will start at the rear of the field.
TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 3 p.m. with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 3:30 p.m. and the race broadcast. Motor Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 3 p.m. and also can be heard at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.