Friday 5: Kyle Larson seeks to beat Kyle Busch at Bristol

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It was one of the first things Kyle Larson said after he won the Xfinity race last August at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“I wish Kyle Busch wouldn’t have had his troubles so I could have raced him,” Larson said.

Busch hit the wall that night and failed to finish. It is Busch who has kept Larson from many more wins at Bristol and why Larson would have liked to have beaten Busch head-to-head last year. Maybe Larson will get his chance Sunday when the series returns to Bristol.

Larson has finished second at Bristol five times in either Cup or Xfinity — including both Cup races last year. Busch has won four of those races (and Kurt Busch won the other).

“I don’t feel like I’m owed anything anywhere but that’s the one track that time after time I’ve been close to winning a race there … and I just don’t get it done,” Larson said.

The last time Kyle Busch beat Larson, Busch used a bump and run to get by Larson with six laps to go in last April’s Cup race.

It would be nice to beat him anywhere,” Larson said of Busch with a laugh. “Maybe my first Xfinity win in Fontana would be like the only one where I felt like I beat him. Bristol, especially, I feel I’m as good or better than him there.

“Their team and him do a really good job in the second half of the races to beat me and get track position. I feel like I’m definitely at least equal with him there but he wins all the time. It would be nice to finally beat him there.”

An example of what Busch is able to do was last April’s Cup race at Bristol. Larson had an average running position of 3.1 in that race compared to Busch’s average position of 4.2 but Busch won.

Larson could use a strong showing. He has two top-10 finishes this season and is coming off a 39th-place showing at Texas when his race ended early because of an accident.

2. “Right on target”

Seventeen-year-old Hailie Deegan leads the points after two races in the K&N West Pro Series. The Toyota Racing Development driver is impressing TRD President David Wilson.

“I think Hailie is right on target,” Wilson told NBC Sports. “This is an important year for her because this will be the second full season that she will have had in that series. For her, it’s that pavement, the reps that she needs. I think she’s got a really good attitude about it.

“We always say that’s so important is that you can win where you’re racing today. It’s too easy to look to the horizon, ‘I want to be in Trucks or ARCA or what have you.’ She says all the time I need to win here. Having said that, we’re really happy with her progress.”

With the K&N Pro Series West off until May 11 for the twin 100 races at Tucson Speedway, Deegan will compete in Saturday’s K&N Pro Series East race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Deegan also will run six ARCA races this season. The first race in that series will be May 19 at Toledo Speedway. She’ll also compete at Pocono (May 31), Madison International Speedway (June 14), Elko Speedway (July 13), Lucas Oil Raceway (Oct. 5) and Kansas Speedway (Oct. 18).

3. Challenge to drivers

With the additional downforce on cars, Cup drivers expect speeds to be up this weekend at Bristol. That means higher corner speeds.

That race I think has a lot of people on pins and needles, not just physically, which it should be physically, but with the cars themselves,” Brad Keselowski said. “I think the cars are really going to see a lot of load and a lot of stress.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., though, isn’t worried.

“Driving-wise I saw people thinking it’s gonna be tough,” he said. “If they think it’s going to be tough, I feel like they should hit the gym more. I think we’ll be fine. I won’t fall out of the seat. I feel like I’ll be good. 

“I feel like our cars are gonna be fast. I feel like we’re prepared to go there and hopefully win. That’s the mindset that we have going into Bristol. As far as tires and things like that go, it’s not up to me if they handle or not. Hopefully, everything car-wise holds up. I’ll be good.”

4. Will Chevy’s drought continue?

Chevrolet, winless this season, has won four of the last 43 Cup races.

The only Chevrolet drivers to have won since last year are Chase Elliott (three victories and Austin Dillon (Daytona 500).

Bristol has not been hospitable to Chevy teams. Chevrolet has won two of the past 11 Bristol Cup races (Jimmie Johnson in 2017 and Kevin Harvick in 2016)

5. Extra emphasis

Each round of next year’s playoffs before the championship race for Cup, Xfinity and Trucks will end at a short track or Roval.

It’s part of a philosophy to give fans what they want and create more drama.

It also skewed the balance of short tracks (those that are less than 1 mile) in the Cup playoffs compared to the regular season.

In Cup, three of 26 races in the regular season (11.5 percent) next season will be at short tracks, but thee of the 10 playoff races (30 percent) will be short tracks. 

In the Xfinity Series, four of the 26 races in the regular season (15.4 percent) will be at short tracks, but two of the seven playoff races (28.6 percent) will be at short tracks.

In the Truck Series, three of the 16 races in the regular season (18.8 percent) will be at short tracks, but two of the seven playoffs races (28.6) percent will be at short tracks.

It will be interesting to see how much of an added emphasis teams will put on short tracks next year because of their importance in the playoffs.

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