Kyle Larson calls Talladega performance ’embarrassing at times’

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A season of frustrations boiled over this weekend for Kyle Larson, who described his car’s performance at Talladega Superspeedway as “pretty disappointing, embarrassing at times.”

Larson enters this weekend’s elimination race at Kansas Speedway in danger of seeing his title hopes end after his 11th-place finish Sunday. He trails Martin Truex Jr. by 26 points for the final transfer spot. The most points a driver can score in a race is 60.

Larson was disappointed Sunday with Chip Ganassi Racing’s restrictor-plate program.

“It would be nice to invest some money into our superspeedway cars, money and time,” Larson, who qualified 34th and did not lead a lap in the race, told NBC Sports. “We focus so much on mile-and-a-half stuff, which is obviously important, but these plate races mean a lot. There’s a lot of points to be made at Daytona and Talladega.

“I feel like we haven’t really tried to improve as an organization really since I’ve been at CGR. We have one more race with this package, Daytona 500. Maybe we could put some emphasis on that and try to go have a good 500 in February.”

Larson’s comments are among the critical statements he’s made this season — one where he has six runner-up finishes but no wins — and show his challenges as a team leader and when to be critical and when not to be.

“That’s probably been the hardest thing for me to adjust to coming from sprint cars,” Larson said last month of being a team leader. “Sprint cars, you’ve got to get along with three guys. It’s easy to hang out with three people, but then when you’ve got 150, 200 people that you’ve got to please and make sure you take the time to talk to, and I don’t do a good job of that at all. I don’t. I try to be better, and that’s been something at the shop that everyone wants me to get better at, and it’s hard.

“I’ve been used to working with three people. It’s been something I’ve tried to get better at, and I remember Texas last year when I crashed out, I gave a terrible interview and was a major dick. I embarrassed myself. I embarrassed the race shop. I’ve learned from that, and I’ve grown from it. I still probably don’t do a great job at it all the time, but yeah, I try to not be like that anymore, and I think I’ve done an OK job with it this year, but you can always be better.”

Larson admits he’s watched how Kevin Harvick has led that Stewart-Haas Racing team and when Harvick has been critical of the team.

“He’s very involved in his race team,” Larson said of Harvick. “I think that shows on the weekends. He’s involved in hanging out with his guys but being tough on them also. I think it’s important.

“There’s so many sensitive people in our sport, but I think it’s important to be tough on them if they make a mistake and all that, so I think Kevin is a very good leader, and I think he’s gotten a lot better at that with his age, growing up, and having family and having success and championships and all that.”

Larson is trying to find that role with his team while going through the ups and downs of the season.

His frustration last weekend can be traced to the lack of success on restrictor-plate tracks. Larson has not finished in the top 10 in any of those races the past two years. He took the white flag as the leader in the 2017 Daytona 500 but ran out of fuel and finished 12th. This season, he has not led a lap in such races and finished no better than 11th.

But it’s not just at Daytona and Talladega where there have been struggles.

A runner-up finish at Bristol in August could not completely  lift Larson’s spirits.

“Just a really frustrating day,” Larson told NBC Sports. “Our (car) was not very good from Lap 1 to Lap 500 there, but we fought and got a second-place finish out of it. Happy about running second but just disappointed because I had a lot of confidence going into this race and thought our car was really good, but we were probably a 12th- to 15th-place car. Just lined up on the right restarts about every time and was able to gain some spots on every restart and maintain and then be terrible there at the end of the run. Frustrating.”

Problems persisted as the playoffs neared.

Brad Keselowski took the lead from Larson late in the Southern 500 and went on to win that race. Larson, who led a race-high 284 laps, placed third. The following week at Indianapolis, Larson and the team had problems on pit road.

Pit road has been a mess the last, I don’t know, all year basically,” Larson told NBC Sports. “We’ll have a good couple of spots and one where we explode. I didn’t do a  good job on pit road either. I almost slid through my stall one time. Stalled it leaving the box one other time. So I didn’t do good. We’ve just got to clean it up. If we want to win a championship, we have to clean up everything but especially pit road.”

In the opening race of the playoffs at Las Vegas, Larson had flat right front tire 10 laps from the end of Stage 1 and pitted from third place, costing him stage points. He fell a lap behind and that hindered his climb through the standings in the second stage. Larson estimated he lost 12 points because of the problem — nearly half his deficit from the transfer spot in the second round.

His problems continued at the Roval when he was collected in a crash in Turn 1 late in that event. After his struggles at Talladega, Larson will need a lot to happen at Kansas for him to continue his championship quest. 

 

 

Kevin Harvick expects more suspensions for Rodney Childers; unrepentant about penalty

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A postrace penalty after his victory at Texas Motor Speedway cost Kevin Harvick his crew chief for the final two races of the 2018 season.

But the punishment won’t be a deterrent: Harvick fully expects he will be thrust into a situation without Rodney Childers again.

“It better not be the last time that he gets suspended because I just don’t think you are pushing it hard enough if you’re not,” Harvick said Tuesday night during his “Happy Hours” show on SiriusXM’s NASCAR channel. “That’s part of racing. Not something I’m going to apologize for at any point in my career just because of the fact I want my crew chief doing what he has to do to make my car go as fast as he can. Try to work within the rules and find the gray area you can and win some and lose some.”

Childers was benched for mounting an illegal spoiler on the No. 4 Ford at Texas, which was the eighth and final win of a career season for Harvick. The infraction was discovered during a midweek inspection at the R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina, and NASCAR stripped the championship benefits of the win.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver dominated NASCAR’s Loop Data statistics, finishing first in driver rating, fastest laps, fastest on restarts, laps led and green-flag speed.

Harvick also ranked first with 1,990 laps led — the third time in five seasons with Childers that he has topped that category.

During a 2017 episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast, Childers explained that had led to many trips to the R&D Center for extra scrutiny.

“It’s not going to be the last time my crew chief gets suspended,” he said. “That’s just part of what we do, and if you’re going to be one of the good teams, you’re going to have to push the limits. You’re going to have to be on the verge of getting in trouble all the time.  You have to push the envelope.”

Bump & Run panel selects superlatives of 2018 season

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Who is your driver of the year?

Nate Ryan: Kevin Harvick. It was his year in every way but the championship.

Dustin Long: Kyle Busch. While he won the same number of races (eight) as Kevin Harvick and had one less top five and top 10 than Harvick, the difference is that Busch won the Coca-Cola 600 of the sport’s four majors (Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600, Southern 500 and Brickyard 400) and Harvick won none this year.

Daniel McFadin: Brett Moffitt. It’s hard not to choose the driver who piloted an underfunded team – that had never won in the Truck Series before 2018 – through sponsor struggles and bested the elite teams in the series to claim the title. All 13 of his top-10 finishes were top fives. Also, he did it with a rad mustache.

Dan Beaver: Joey Logano was one of the few drivers able to stand up to the Big 3 on and off the track. Throughout the season, the other contenders seemed comfortable in their role as challengers to the dominators, but by declaring himself the favorite for the championship and backing it up, Logano set himself apart.

What is your race of the year?

Nate Ryan: Chicagoland. Probably the best finish of the season but also the most start-to-finish compelling action. (Honorable mentions: Daytona 500, Watkins Glen, Roval, Homestead-Miami Speedway.)

Dustin Long: The Roval. The final laps of that race were amazing and the last lap was mesmerizing with the contact between Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. allowing Ryan Blaney to win and then Kyle Larson’s dramatic effort by bouncing off the wall twice to beat Jeffrey Earnhardt’s stalled car to the finish line to gain the spot he needed to advance to the next round of the playoffs.

Daniel McFadin: The Cup race on the Charlotte Roval. It lived up to all the hype in a way a NASCAR race hasn’t (excluding the first Truck race at Eldora) since probably the 2011 finale with Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards. The last lap had everything — the contact and spins by Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney stealing the win, Aric Almirola passing enough cars to advance to the next round on a tiebreaker and finally Kyle Larson somehow willing his demolished No. 42 Chevrolet across the finish line and into the Round of 12 after hitting the wall twice coming to the checkered flag.

Dan Beaver: Chicagoland. The level of physical aggression in the closing laps on the 1.5-mile track may well signal a change in how races on intermediate speedways will be contested in 2019.

What is your moment of the year?

Nate Ryan: The last lap of the Roval and its aftermath, which took several minutes for a full processing of everything that had just occurred and why.

Dustin Long: A number of fans booed Kyle Busch during his winner’s interview after his dramatic last-lap duel with Kyle Larson at Chicagoland Speedway. As the booing persisted, Busch told fans: “I don’t know what you all are whining about, but if you don’t like that kind of racing, don’t even watch.” As fans want drivers to show more personality, they got it there with Busch telling off the haters.

Daniel McFadin: Ross Chastain earning his first career Xfinity win at Las Vegas. The series got a much-needed shot in the arm two weeks before when he led 90 laps at Darlington in his debut with Chip Ganassi Racing but came up short after his run-in with Kevin Harvick. Chastain sealing the deal in Vegas provided a win for a sport that’s seen it become harder and harder for drivers to advance through the ranks on pure talent without thorough sponsor backing.

Dan Beaver: The ringing of the siren in Dawsonville, Georgia on August 5 following Chase Elliott’s Watkins Glen win. While it’s been rung before for Chase Elliott, this was the first time of many that it rang for a Cup victory. It took quite a while in 2018 for the young guns to make some noise, but they closed the season strong.

NASCAR America: Aric Almirola, Chase Elliott are among the ‘best of the rest’

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Much of the attention at Miami last weekend was focused on the Championship 4 as Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch battled for the Cup title.

There were points races throughout the field, however, and on Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America Parker Kligerman and Dale Jarrett highlighted several drivers who made up the “best of the rest”.

“For (Chase Elliott) it goes back to the fact of it was always about getting that first win,” Kligerman said. “Once he could mentally – and the team could mentally – convince themselves they could win, the floodgates would open and that’s what we saw.”

Aric Almirola had the same average finish (8.6) as Logano during the playoffs and that contributed to his fifth-place position in the points.

“If you look at the first half of the season compared to what they did in the playoffs, it’s astonishing,” Kligerman said. “And Johnny Klausmeier, his crew chief, told me once we start going back to these tracks the second time and as young team really figuring out what we needed, we started to click.”

Erik Jones, Ryan Newman and AJ Allmendinger were also mentioned as notable drivers at various points during the season.

For more, watch the video above.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter

NASCAR America: Brad Keselowski computer data disproves intentional spin

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Soon after the conclusion of the Cup finale in Miami, Brad Keselowski took to Twitter to dispel any notion that he spun Daniel Suarez intentionally to create a short run to the finish that would benefit his Team Penske teammate Joey Logano.

On Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America, Parker Kligerman analyzed the computer data to confirm that it was just hard racing.

“I just want to say it’s ridiculous,” Parker Kligerman said about the notion Keselowski intentionally caused the accident. “I’ve actually gone onto the SMT data, which is the data we can look at nowadays and see the steering, the braking, the throttle traces of these cars. And I compared Brad’s entry into Turn 1 of that lap compared to any other lap before. He didn’t do anything different other than it was kind of a low percentage move.”

On Lap 248, David Ragan was to Keselowski’s inside with Clint Bowyer below Ragan. Keselowski clipped Suarez when the four drivers ran out of room, sending the No. 19 into a spin that brought out the fateful caution.

“(Keselowski) would have to be a magician … to get hit in the left rear and get knocked into the 19,” Kligerman added.

For more, watch the video above.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter