Kyle Larson: Top Chevy team can be impacted by who’s ‘cheating’

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CONCORD, N.C. – Kyle Larson has started off the season faster than the Hendrick Motorsports’ Chevrolets, but he expects the competition soon will get to work on bending NASCAR’s new rules for 2019.

After having likely the fastest car at Atlanta Motor Speedway (where Hendrick’s four cars had a best finish of 15th), and with his No. 42 Camaro ranked highest in the points standings at fourth, Larson was asked Tuesday if his Chip Ganassi Racing team is the top Chevy in NASCAR’s premier series.

“Atlanta is so different than any other track that we’re going to go the rest of the year that you can’t jump to conclusions off one week,” Larson told NASCAR on NBC’s Rick Allen during an interview for NASCAR America’s Splash & Go feature (which is available for viewing above). “I feel like Hendrick plays games in a way with NASCAR. I feel like they always start the year off kind of bad to like show NASCAR that they’re being nice and cooperating and following the rules and stuff, and then it gets a couple of months in, and they start cheating and finding some speed.

“So I don’t know. But it was satisfying. It’s been satisfying the last few years to be considered the top Chevy team. That’s something that this race shop prides itself on, but we don’t need to be the best Chevy team. We want to be the best team.”

Late Tuesday night, Larson, whose team receives engines from Hendrick, tweeted an apology for the comment and said he meant it jokingly.

Larson went winless last season but had the best Chevy for much of the first half of the 2018 season. Chase Elliott broke through in August for the first of three victories for Hendrick, which qualified three cars for the playoffs in one of its worst seasons and opened 2019 by posting the top four speeds in Daytona 500 qualifying.

Larson also was the best for much of Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, leading a race-high 142 of 325 laps at the 1.54-mile oval. He finished 12th after a speeding penalty on his final stop.

“We felt we had decent speed and handled OK,” Larson said. “I’ve just got to do a better job of cleaning up mistakes. I think I only had one speeding penalty last year, so I guess I got to go the rest of the year without one.”

After getting mired in the pack because of his penalty, Larson said it was the dirty air from heavy traffic at Atlanta that made it difficult to make progress. The scenario should be different at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, another 1.5-mile oval with a less abrasive surface.

“I think looking at Vegas and other tracks with a lot of grip, I don’t know if dirty air will be as bad,” Larson said. “I know when I got to the back (at Atlanta), it was a lot harder to get to the front.”

Sunday’s race at Vegas will be the second test of a new rules package for 2019 and the debut of aero ducts that should feature larger packs of cars in a draft.

It also kicks off three straight races in the western half of the country with Vegas, ISM Raceway near Phoenix and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Larson will be racing Wednesday and Thursday in the World of Outlaws sprint car series, too.

“I love the West Coast swing,” said Larson, who has a win at Fontana and runner-up finishes at Phoenix and Las Vegas. “The weather is always good, there’s lot of fans to race in front of with sprint cars, all those races. All three of those tracks rank up there with my favorites.”

Preliminary entry lists for Cup at Sonoma, Trucks at Gateway

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After a week off, the NASCAR Cup Series is back in action this weekend at Sonoma Raceway, just north of San Francisco.

Meanwhile, the Gander Outdoors Truck Series will compete at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis.

The Xfinity Series enjoys this weekend off before it returns at Chicagoland Speedway on June 29.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for this weekend’s Cup and Truck races:

Cup – Toyota/Save Mart 350 (3 p.m. ET Sunday on FS1)

There are 38 cars entered for the race around the twisting road course in Napa Valley’s wine country.

JJ Yeley will make his second Cup start of the season, driving the No. 51 Petty Ware Racing Ford.

Cody Ware will be back in the No. 52 Ford for Rick Ware Racing.

Justin Haley will make his second career Cup start, piloting the No. 77 Chevrolet for Spire Motorsports.

NASCAR on NBC analyst Parker Kligerman will make his seventh start of the Cup season in the No. 96 Gaunt Brothers Racing Toyota.

Click here for the preliminary entry list.

 

Trucks – Gateway 200 (10 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1)

A total of 31 trucks are entered in this race.

There is no driver listed yet for the No. 0 Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing Chevrolet.

Camden Murphy makes his second start of the season, driving the No. 8 Nemco Motorsports Chevrolet.

Daniel Sasnett makes his second start of the season, piloting the No. 32 Reaume Brothers Racing Chevrolet.

Bryant Barnhill makes his first start of the season and second of his Truck career in the No. 34 Reaume Brothers Racing Chevrolet.

Kyle Benjamin makes his third start of the season, driving the No. 45 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet.

Following his Truck Series debut at Iowa, Chandler Smith will drive the No. 46 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota.

Christian Eckes makes his second Truck start of the season, piloting the No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota.

Click here for the preliminary entry list.

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Five Cup or Xfinity drivers to compete in Saturday’s K&N West race at Sonoma

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Drivers in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West will have some extra company in Saturday’s Procore 200 race (4:30 p.m. ET) at Sonoma Raceway.

Five drivers from either the Cup or Xfinity series will take part in the event:

* Driving for road course powerhouse Jefferson Pitts Racing, Austin Dillon will make his 20th career K&N Pro Series start, his third at Sonoma (first since 2015). In prior races at the road course, he’s finished 22nd and sixth.

* Also driving for JPR will be current Cup rookie Ryan Preece, who will be making his first career K&N West start and first race start at Sonoma.

* Daniel Hemric will make his first K&N West start and fourth overall series start (first since 2015 at Watkins Glen). He has also never raced at Sonoma.

* Xfinity Series driver Cole Custer will be making third series start at Sonoma (previous finishes were ninth and 12th).

* Lastly, Noah Gragson will be teammates with Dillon and Preece at JPR and will be making his third appearance at Sonoma, finishing second in 2016 and seventh in 2015.

The K&N Series has long had a history of having Cup or Xfinity drivers take part at Sonoma. Over the last five seasons, that has included Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Blaney, Aric Almirola, William Byron, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones and Alex Bowman.

Appeal hearing for Niece Motorsports set for Wednesday morning

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NASCAR announced that the appeal for Niece Motorsports will be heard at 9 a.m. ET Wednesday.

The Gander Outdoors Truck Series team took the checkered flag first with driver Ross Chastain on Sunday at Iowa Speedway only to have the victory taken away when the truck failed inspection after the race.

Brad Moran, managing director of the Gander Outdoors Truck Series said after the race: “We have a procedures and rules in place, trucks are restricted on their ride heights at the front and rear of the vehicles. Unfortunately, the 44 (Chastain’s truck) was low on the front, extremely low.

“We have a process of what happens at that point. They do get an opportunity to roll around. They put fuel in the vehicle, they air the tires. Give them at least five to 10 minutes. Check them a second time. Unfortunately, the 44 did not rise on the front at all.”

The team stated it would appeal and blamed “minor damage during the event” for the truck being too low.

When NASCAR announced before this season that winning vehicles that didn’t pass inspection would have the win taken away, series officials also announced an expedited appeals process.

That will allow the appeal to be completed this week before the Truck Series races this weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway. Unlike other appeals, where a team or individual can appeal a penalty and then appeal again if they lose the first appeal, there is just one appeal hearing in an expedited matter.

Ross Chastain stands by team ‘100%’ as they appeal Iowa penalty

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Despite losing his win, a $50,000 bonus and almost all of the points he accumulated Sunday at Iowa Speedway, Ross Chastain is still “proud” of the dominating performance by Niece Motorsports in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series race.

But that performance was taken out of the record books after the front his No. 44 Chevrolet was found to be “extremely low,” violating the ride-height rules. Chastain’s wins now belongs to Brett Moffitt.

“We stomped everybody’s tails out in Iowa and I’m proud of that and our Niece Motorsports team is proud of that,” Chastain said Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “SiriusXM Speedway. “A little technical hiccup there after the race isn’t going to take away the fact that we start started 19th, won both stages. We were able to drive past trucks. We never got passed once all day.” 

Chastain is credited with a last-place finish and only five points earned instead of 60, a major hit for his hopes of making the Truck Series playoffs after switching his points declaration from Xfinity after eight races in the season.

In the next six races Chastain must win once and be inside the top 20 in the standings to qualifying for the playoffs. Chastain has 43 points. He’s 69 points behind Josh Reaume, who is 20th in the season standings.

“It was a pretty incredible day and something I will never forget and I will not let anything take it away from us,” Chastain said. “No old rule that still is in effect that isn’t applicable anymore, but the rules are the rules, we understand that. But we still kicked their butts and I’m proud of it.”

Chastain affirmed that “I stand by my guys” after the penalty, which the team is appealing.

“I stand by everything we do,” Chastain said. “We have something pretty incredible, something I’ve never been a part of in the Truck Series, where you have a group of guys that pushes as hard as this group does and makes as much speed.

“At the end of the day everybody can talk about their guys working their tails off and all that but we have speed. That’s so hard to find. A lot of times you don’t know why you have it, but I know we have it and we’re only getting better and we’re only going to be stronger as we move forward. We’ve got more trucks coming. We’re building better pieces and putting them together better. So no, I don’t know what the deal is with the truck, but I’m behind them 100%.”

Chastain admitted he looked at reaction on social media, which included accusations that the violation was committed on purpose.

“I’ve got to say, man, in my opinion, I really don’t agree with it, thinking that we did something during the race, cars can be modified tremendously and illegally, I don’t agree with that and I hate that that stuff gets talked about because it’s just not the case,” Chastain said. “Anybody in the sport … knows that tech ride height is not indicative of how low the race car is on the sport. I wish that was explained a little better. I hate that the sport is in a point that people don’t understand the difference between tech height and dynamic height on the race track.”