Why Kyle Larson will ‘keep my mouth shut’ on Knoxville success

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BROOKLYN, Mich. – Kyle Larson likes his chances of winning Saturday’s Knoxville Nationals (“the biggest sprint car race in the world,” he says) but he’d prefer you avoid asking outside of Iowa.

Within the confines of the NASCAR garage, where Larson will be commuting from again this week to race at Knoxville, his dalliance with dirt racing has made some waves in the past.

“Oh no, it makes plenty of waves still,” the Chip Ganassi Racing driver said with a smile after practice Friday at Michigan International Speedway.

In January, Larson caused a stir when he said winning the Chili Bowl was bigger than the Daytona 500.

This week, his father, Mike, told the Des Moines Register the Knoxville Nationals is No. 1 on the bucket list. Over any race.”

So have things smoothed over enough that where there is at least a grudging acceptance in NASCAR of the Larson family’s longtime love of dirt racing?

Uh, no.

“So, I feel like I need to avoid this question before I make everybody at NASCAR mad or some of my fans mad,” Larson said. “I’ll just avoid answering that. I’ve been through this before a lot, so I’m learning more and more to just keep my mouth shut.”

He will get a few more questions about Knoxville if he wins Saturday night’s feature race, and he’s off to a great start. He won a warmup race Monday at Oskaloosa and then helped assure himself of starting third in the A main feature with an outstanding performance Wednesday in the preliminaries.

He will start third behind Brad Sweet (brother of his fiancée Katelyn) and Donny Schatz, a 10-time winner of the Knoxville Nationals.

Brad Sweet and Donny Schatz will be the two guys to beat, but I feel like we are close,” Larson said. “It’s a long race. It would be neat to win that deal.”

Last year, he finished second to Schatz after NASCAR team owner Chip Ganassi relented and allowed Larson to skirt the clauses in his contract that precludes running in a sprint car race the night before a Cup event.

This year, Larson (who is permitted 25 sprint car races annually) didn’t even have to ask for permission – plans already had begun a year ago to capitalize on Larson returning to the event.

“I kind of figured at that time that it worked out good enough that I could do it,” he said. “Just very thankful that I have an owner that lets me have fun and then especially on a weekend like this go be able to participate in the biggest sprint car race in the world the night before I’m on track racing the Cup car.

“You don’t see any other owners really doing that. He knows it’s important to me and I appreciate that.”

It helped, of course, that Larson won the following day at Michigan. He will enter Sunday’s race winless this season, and his No. 42 Chevrolet seems to be lacking the gains in speed that Hendrick Motorsports’ Camaros have enjoyed recently.

“I’d like to be making as big gains as what, say, the Hendrick guys have,” he said. “But, I feel like we started off way better than they did. So, they’ve had more room to get better. But I feel like they’ve kind of surpassed us maybe a little bit the last few weeks. And there are obviously other teams that are better than we are, too.

“I feel like we’re getting our stuff better every week. We just keep getting better and there are some good tracks for us in the Playoffs. If we could just get some luck one of these times in the Playoffs maybe we can make a run at the championship. So, we’ve just got to keep working hard and thinking about what it takes to get better and better every week; which, I feel like we have the right group of people at the race track and the race shop that we can do that.”

It also helps that Chip Ganassi Racing is poised to take delivery on its own Optical Scanning Station, which is used by NASCAR for at-track inspections and helps teams optimize their cars.

Larson credits Hendrick’s turnaround to its recent acquisition of an OSS, which most big teams (such as Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, Furniture Row Racing) have.

(Hendrick) finally (has been) able to learn where they can push the limits on things,” he said. “So, it sounds like maybe we have (an OSS) coming, so I’m really excited about that. Hopefully we can get it up and running before the playoffs start. We’re budget racing.”

NASCAR Power Rankings: William Byron, Kyle Busch rank 1-2

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Kyle Busch moved closer to the top spot after his win Sunday at WWT Raceway, but William Byron keeps hold of No. 1 after another top-10 run.

The series heads to Sonoma Raceway this weekend, the second race of the season on a road course.

NBC SPORTS NASCAR POWER RANKINGS

(Previous ranking in parenthesis)

1. William Byron (1) — He goes into Sonoma with six consecutive top-10 finishes after his eighth-place result at WWT Raceway. Byron has led a series-high 717 laps this season.

2. Kyle Busch (4) — Recorded his third win of the season Sunday. He is tied with Byron for most wins this year. Busch scored 59 of a maximum 60 points and won his first stage of the year Sunday. He has 16 playoff points. Only Byron has more with 17 this season.

3. Kyle Larson (3) — His fourth-place finish continued his up-and-down season. In the last nine races, Larson has two wins, four top fives, a 20th-place result and four finishes of 30th or worse. He has led 588 laps this season, which ranks second this year to Byron.

4. Martin Truex Jr. (2) — His fifth-place finish is his sixth top 10 in the last eight races. He ranks third in laps led this year with 383.

5. Denny Hamlin (7) — Runner-up result at WWT Raceway is his fourth top 10 in the last seven races.

6. Ryan Blaney (10) — Followed Coca-Cola 600 win with a sixth-place run at WWT Raceway. He had an average running position of 2.6 on Sunday, second only to winner Kyle Busch’s average running position of 1.9.

7. Joey Logano (9) — Third-place finish is his second top 10 in the last four races.

8. Kevin Harvick (NR) — His 10th-place finish is his fourth consecutive finish of 11th or better.

9. Ross Chastain (6) — Lost the points lead after placing 22nd, his third consecutive finish outside the top 20.

10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (NR) — Headed for his eighth top 15 in a row until he was collected in a crash after the contact between Austin Cindric and Austin Dillon late in Sunday’s race.

Dropped out: Chase Elliott (5th), Tyler Reddick (8th)

NASCAR will not penalize Austin Cindric for incident with Austin Dillon

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Despite Richard Childress and Austin Dillon saying that Austin Cindric intentionally wrecked Dillon late in Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway, NASCAR will not penalize Cindric.

Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that there would be no penalty to Cindric after reviewing the contact.

Dillon and Childress were upset about the incident, which brought out the caution on Lap 220 of the 243-lap race. Dillon said NASCAR should suspend Cindric for the contact, just as NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for hooking Denny Hamlin in the Coca-Cola 600.

Contact between the left front of Cindric’s car and the right rear of Dillon’s car sent Dillon up the track into Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Dillon finished 31st. Cindric continued and placed 13th.

Dillon told Frontstretch.com: “I was wrecked intentionally by (Cindric), hooked right just like Chase and Denny and Bubba’s deal (in wrecking Kyle Larson at Las Vegas in 2022). He better be suspended next week.”

Childress said: “(Dillon) had drove up to about 10th until (Cindric) wrecked him in there on purpose, sort of a payback.”

Sawyer said a review of the incident included viewing video and data.

“We didn’t see anything — and haven’t seen anything — that really would rise to a level that would be a suspension or a penalty,” Sawyer said. “It looked like hard racing. One car coming up a little bit and another car going down.

“As we said last week, we take these incidents very serious when we see cars that are turned head-on into another car or head-on into the wall. I spent a lot of time (Monday) looking at that, looking at all the data, looking at TV footage and just deemed this one really hard racing.”

Sawyer said NASCAR plans to talk to both Cindric and Dillon “to make sure we’re all in a good place as we move forward to Sonoma.”

 

 

Seven Cup drivers entered in Xfinity race at Sonoma

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Kyle Larson is among seven Cup drivers entered in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Sonoma Raceway.

The race marks the first time the Xfinity Series has competed at the California road course. Teams will get 50 minutes of practice Friday because this is a new event on the schedule. That additional time will give those Cup drivers more laps on the 1.99-mile road course.

MORE: Sonoma Xfinity entry list

Here is a look at what Xfinity rides the Cup drivers will pilot this weekend:

The race is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. ET Saturday.

The ARCA Menards Series West also is competing this weekend at Sonoma Raceway. Cup driver Ryan Preece is entered in that event. Xfinity drivers Cole Custer, Riley Herbst, Sammy Smith and Parker Retzlaff also are entered in that race, which will be held at 6:30 p.m. ET Friday.

 

Winners and losers at WWT Raceway

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Winners and losers from Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway:

WINNERS

Kyle BuschWins the pole, leads the most laps and holds the field off over the last five restarts to win the race. He scored six playoff points, giving him 16 on the season, second only to William Byron’s 17. Busch left Joe Gibbs Racing after last season for Richard Childress Racing. Busch’s three wins this year equals what JGR has done so far.

Ryan BlaneyHis sixth-place finish moved him into the points lead. He last led the points after the spring 2022 Richmond race. Blaney also won a stage Sunday to collect another playoff point. He has seven this season.

Kyle LarsonFourth-place finish was a big turnaround after struggles earlier in the race. It has not been easy for this team the last few weeks. He has three top-five finishes and four finishes of 20th or worse in the last seven races.

Daniel SuarezHis seventh-place finish moved him up two spots to 16th in the standings, the final playoff transfer spot at this time.

LOSERS

Ross ChastainHe finished 22nd for his third consecutive result outside the top 20. He entered the weekend leading the points and fell to fifth afterward. He is 29 points behind new series leader Ryan Blaney with 11 races left in the regular season.

Tyler ReddickRebounded from an early spin to lead but had his race end after a brake rotor failed. He was one of four drivers eliminated by brake rotor failures. The others were Carson Hocevar, Bubba Wallace and Noah Gragson.