Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images

Friday 5: Can Kyle Larson break out of his slump at Talladega?

Leave a comment

Two years ago, Kevin Harvick called Kyle Larson “the best driver to come into this sport since Jeff Gordon.”

Harvick remains bullish on Larson even though the 26-year-old enters this weekend on a 55-race winless drought.

Few drivers could have used last weekend’s break more than Larson — he said at Richmond it has been “a pretty crappy start to the year” — but can he turn things around starting at Talladega Superspeedway?

Larson’s struggles were discussed by Kevin Harvick and co-host Matt Yocum on “Happy Hours” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio this week. Yocum asked Harvick how he kept himself mentally up when things aren’t going well.

Harvick responded by raising questions about Larson’s crew chief, Chad Johnston.

“I think when you look at (Larson’s) environment, I look at his crew chief,” Harvick said. “I don’t think he’s the most positive guy in the world. When you have a driver that is in a slump, I don’t think it’s going to come from his crew chief. I think Chad is a pretty low-key guy that kind of complains a fair amount.

“I think as you look at that, I don’t know if it’s going to come from his crew chief. I think it will have to come from (car owner) Chip Ganassi or somebody outside of what they do, crew chief to driver. (Larson is) still really young, so he needs some guidance and he needs some help to get through the situations that he’s in. In the end, when his contract is up, I don’t know exactly when that is, but he’s going to be a hot commodity.”

Johnston has been Larson’s crew chief since 2016. Johnston came to Chip Ganassi Racing after he was Tony Stewart’s crew chief in 2014-15. Those were Harvick’s first two seasons at Stewart-Haas Racing.

Larson has scored all five of his Cup victories with Johnston as his crew chief.

Harvick said on his show of Larson: “The bottom line is Kyle Larson is a very, very talented driver that can win a lot of races with the right people around him and the right guidance from somebody kind of helping him finish races and helping him understand when things are good or if things are bad, if you’re running fifth, you need to finish fifth. Having those people around him would in the right environment, the right chemistry and the right things to go with it are really going to help him along in his career.”

It has been a tough start of the season for Larson, who has not finished better than sixth. He led 142 laps at Atlanta but saw his chances to win fade when he was penalized for speeding. Larson finished 12th that day.

Chevrolet’s struggles also haven’t helped Larson or teammate Kurt Busch. Joe Gibbs Racing has won six races for Toyota, and Team Penske has won three races for Ford this season. They’re the only two organizations to win in the first quarter of the season. Chevrolet teams have combined to win four races in the last 45 races, going back to last year’s Daytona 500.

Ganassi noted this week on Twitter the challenges Chevrolet teams face.

Larson’s task doesn’t get easier this weekend. He has five top-10 finishes in 21 Cup starts at Talladega and Daytona. Larson has never finished better than sixth at either track. After finishing 11th at Talladega in the playoffs last year, Larson lamented: “We just had a terrible race car and were really slow all weekend.”

Will the new package this weekend change Larson’s fortune?

2. What to expect this weekend?

Depends on who you ask? Drivers have different takes on what might happen.

There are many questions because of a few changes. Tapered spacers have replaced restrictor plates. Teams are getting about 100 more horsepower, meaning engines will top 500 horsepower.

To offset that speed gain and slow the cars, NASCAR raised the rear spoiler an inch to 9 inches. NASCAR also is mandating a 1-inch bolt-on track bar mount to change the height from 11 to 12 inches, raising the rear of the car by an inch.

“Handling should not be an issue at all, I’m pretty confident in that,” said Joey Logano, who has won three of the last seven Talladega races, including last spring’s event. “It was (before). You could tell some cars were better than others.

“Now, I think the field will be more equally matched. It’s already the great equalizer, and now we’re equalizing it even more. I would assume the pack will be tighter, cars will be closer, more aggressive moves, probably closer blocks. Maybe the runs happen quicker because the hole in the air is bigger. Maybe the runs on the leader will be bigger.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw a tandem (draft). That can happen. I don’t know if it will or not. You would think with a spoiler that big there is a good chance of that. We’ll see.”

Paul Menard is among those who question how long tandem drafting — which was prominent about a decade ago — can work, if at all.

“The big restriction with tandem racing is cooling,” he said. “Our radiators and things aren’t made, the spec radiators don’t have the cooling we had a few years ago when we did the tandem. I think you will see people get to people’s bumpers and push as long as they can.”

There are other questions as well

“I am wondering how the side draft will work,” said Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who won this race in 2017 for his first career Cup victory. “How you can get different runs on cars and ultimately what you can do when you are out front to maintain the lead. That is what our speedway racing has turned into, get to the top five and if you are in the top two of each lane, bottom or top, how do you stay there. I think a lot of people have it figured out now, but now that the package is going to change. Is that still going to be something easy or capable of doing?”

Practice should be interesting today but even that will not provide all the answers. Those will come Sunday.

3. Memorable moment 10 years ago

The end of the April 26, 2009 race at Talladega will remain one that is replayed with one car flying into the fence on the last lap, a new Cup winner being crowned and the driver whose car flipped running across the finish line to complete a race his car couldn’t.

Brad Keselowski celebrated that day, driving for car owner James Finch in a part-time ride that saw Keselowski drive the No. 09 car five times that season. Keselowski was running full time in the Xfinity Series for JR Motorsports and did seven Cup races for Hendrick Motorsports in a fifth car teams were allowed to run with a rookie driver.

Keselowski’s future, though, wasn’t with Hendrick Motorsports. The team didn’t have an opening with its four-car team filled by Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin. That lineup would remain intact through the 2011 season.

In October 2009, Keselowski signed with Team Penske. That came less than a month after Martin inked an extension through the 2011 season with Hendrick Motorsports.

Keselowski’s Talladega victory a decade ago was the first of 29 in Cup for him. Six of those 29 victories have come at the superspeedways at Daytona and Talladega. He’s won five times at Talladega and once at Daytona.

How different might things have been for Keselowski had he not won that race at Talladega in 2009?

“I’d like to think that it opened some doors for me,” Keselowski said. “It’s hard to say because none of us have complete control over our destiny, but when I look out the window, I’m not sure I would have ended up at Penske if I hadn’t won that race. 

“It was a major marker. It opened up, in my mind at least, but I can’t speak for Roger (Penske) or Discount Tire. It opened up the window for me to get the Discount Tire deal, which I needed to really feel good about driving for Team Penske because that opened up the Xfinity Series for me, opened up the team development side that I thought was going to be so critical to our success and to kind of get Penske on its feet. 

“If you recall, they were in a bad place at the time, and I don’t know if that would have happened without winning that race. Maybe it would have. I don’t know. It’s a better question for Roger and Discount Tire, but either way, I’m glad it happened. I’m thankful and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.”

4. Working together again?

One of the fascinating elements from the Daytona 500 was how Toyota and Hendrick Motorsports worked so well together to offset the dominance of Fords.

NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan revealed the inside story of that deal after the race.

The question is will such a union be needed this weekend to combat the Fords or will the rules help others gets to the front?

Keep an eye on how this plays out this weekend.

5. White House visit 

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders announced during a briefing Thursday that reigning Cup champion Joey Logano would be honored at the White House next week, continuing a tradition of Cup champions visiting the President.

Logano and members of his team are scheduled to meet with President Donald Trump at 3:30 p.m. ET Tuesday on the South Lawn at the White House.

 and on Facebook

NBC Sports ready to take fans the rest of the way to Miami

1 Comment

We’re back!

In a season that has featured a scuffle on pit road at ISM Raceway, drivers beating and banging after the All-Star Race and three Cup races going to overtime, including the Daytona 500, NBC Sports is ready to bring you the final 10 Cup races of the regular season and then the 10 playoff races.

The intensity is just picking up.

Last year saw NBC Sports’ first Cup race of the season end with Dale Earnhardt Jr. yelling “Slide job!” as Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson battled on the last lap for the win at Chicagoland Speedway.

The excitement continued through the rest of the regular season and on to the playoffs where NBC Sports was there for the inaugural Cup race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval and the dramatic finish that saw Jimmie Johnson crash into leader Martin Truex Jr. in the final chicane and Ryan Blaney going from third to the victory.

NBC Sports’ Cup coverage last year ended with Joey Logano’s win in Miami to claim not only the race but the championship.

NBC Sports will be there to bring you all the action the rest of the season for the Cup and Xfinity Series, beginning this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway on NBCSN.

Earnhardt, Steve Letarte and Jeff Burton are back with Rick Allen in the booth. Marty Snider, Dave Burns, Kelli Stavast and Parker Kligerman will again be reporting from pit road. Krista Voda, Kyle Petty, Dale Jarrett and Nate Ryan will set the day’s activities each race weekend. And also at the track will be Rutledge Wood, who will tell some of the unique stories of the weekend.

Get ready to catch all the action on NBCSN and NBC.

Here is when you can see the rest of the Cup and Xfinity seasons:

Cup Schedule

(All times Eastern)

June 30 — Chicagoland (3 p.m., NBCSN)

July 6 — Daytona (7:30 p.m., NBC)

July 13 — Kentucky (7:30 p.m., NBCSN)

July 21 — New Hampshire (3 p.m., NBCSN)

July 28 — Pocono (3 p.m., NBCSN)

Aug. 4 — Watkins Glen (3 p.m., NBCSN)

Aug. 11 — Michigan (3 p.m., NBCSN)

Aug. 17 — Bristol (7:30 p.m., NBCSN)

Sept. 1 — Darlington (6 p.m. NBCSN)

Sept. 8 — Indianapolis (2 p.m., NBC)

Playoffs

Sept. 15 — Las Vegas (7 p.m., NBCSN)

Sept. 21 — Richmond (7:30 p.m., NBCSN)

Sept. 29 — Charlotte Roval (2:30 p.m., NBC)

Oct. 6 — Dover (2:30 p.m., NBCSN)

Oct. 13 — Talladega (2 p.m., NBC)

Oct. 20 — Kansas (2:30 p.m., NBC)

Oct. 27 — Martinsville (3 p.m., NBCSN)

Nov. 3 — Texas (3 p.m., NBCSN)

Nov. 10 — Phoenix (2:30 p.m., NBC)

Nov. 17 — Miami (3 p.m., NBC)

 

Xfinity Schedule

(All times Eastern)

June 29 — Chicagoland (3:30 p.m., NBCSN)

July 5 — Daytona (7:30 p.m., NBCSN)

July 12 — Kentucky (7:30 p.m., NBCSN)

July 20 — New Hampshire (4 p.m., NBCSN)

July 27 — Iowa (5 p.m., NBCSN)

Aug. 3 — Watkins Glen (3 p.m., NBC)

Aug. 10 — Mid-Ohio (3 p.m., NBCSN)

Aug. 16 — Bristol (7:30 p.m., NBCSN)

Aug. 24 — Road America (3 p.m., NBCSN)

Aug. 31 — Darlington (4 p.m., NBC)

Sept. 7 — Indianapolis (4 p.m., NBCSN)

Sept. 14 — Las Vegas (7:30 p.m., NBCSN)

Playoffs

Sept. 20 — Richmond (7:30 p.m., NBCSN)

Sept. 28 — Charlotte Roval (3:30 p.m., NBCSN)

Oct. 5 — Dover (3 p.m., NBCSN)

Oct. 19 — Kansas (3 p.m., NBC)

Nov. 2 — Texas (8:30 p.m., NBCSN)

Nov. 9 — Phoenix (3:30 p.m., NBC)

Nov. 16 — Miami (3:30 p.m. NBCSN)

NBC Sports Power rankings: Martin Truex Jr. is unanimous No. 1

Getty Images
Leave a comment

This week’s NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings were thrown into disarray.

The culprit? The first road course race of the year.

While Martin Truex Jr. is the unanimous leader of the power rankings after his fourth win of the year Sunday at Sonoma, there are six new drivers in the top 10 from the last Cup ranking after Michigan.

The biggest jump comes from Denny Hamlin, who went from unranked after the Michigan race two weeks ago to third this week. Kevin Harvick also went from unranked to the top five.

Another of the new additions is Ross Chastain, who earned his second Truck Series win at Gateway a week after an inspection failure took a win away in Iowa.

1. Martin Truex Jr. (40 points): Has matched his 2018 win total with four wins over the last eight races. The only driver with multiple wins in that stretch.  Last time: 3rd

2. Kyle Busch (36 points): Scored his fourth consecutive top-five finish but couldn’t catch teammate Martin Truex Jr. at the end at Sonoma.  Last time: Tie for 1st

3. Denny Hamlin (26 points): Has not finished worse than 11th in the last three races and scored the most points at Sonoma. Last time: Not ranked

4. Joey Logano (21 points): Despite an alternator issue and a 23rd-place finish at Sonoma, still has seven top 10s in the last nine races and leads the points. Last time: Tie for 1st

5. Kevin Harvick (20 points): Lacked winning Sonoma speed of past three years but at least put together a strong sixth-place finish. Last time: Not ranked (was in others receiving votes).

6. Ryan Blaney (15 points):  Earned first top five since Bristol and his second straight top five on a road course. Last time: Not ranked

7. Matt DiBenedetto (12 points): As the whispers about his Cup future begin to swirl again, his first career top five was a statement. Last time: Not ranked

8. Ryan Newman (11 points): Seventh-place finish was his second top 10 in a row. He’s completed all but eight laps this season to rank third in most laps run (behind only Busch and Logano). Last time: Not ranked

(tie) 9. Tyler Reddick (9 points): Xfinity didn’t race last weekend but stays in the top 10 as numerous Cup drivers had off days at Sonoma. Last time: Tie for 6th

(tie) 9. Ross Chastain (9 points): His watermelon smash counted in Gateway when his winning truck passed inspection, giving him two wins this year. Previously: Unranked in normal Cup power rankings, but ranked 4th in Xfinity/Trucks ranking.

Others Receiving Votes: Aric Almirola (6 points), Kyle Larson (5 points), Brad Keselowski (5 points), Chase Elliott (3 points), Chris Buescher (1 point) and Todd Gilliland (1 point).

 

Jimmie Johnson looks to end winless streak at his best winless track

2 Comments

It has been a very, very long time since Jimmie Johnson visited Victory Lane in the Cup Series.

It’s been two seasons and three races since Johnson won at Dover International Speedway in June 2017.

But it’s been even longer since Johnson enjoyed a victory at Chicagoland Speedway. In fact, Johnson’s lone win on the 1.5-mile track came in its inaugural Xfinity race in 2001. It is his only win in the Xfinity Series.

Yes, Johnson, the seven-time champion and 83-time Cup winner has not won at Chicago in NASCAR’s premier series.

It is one of three active Cup tracks he has multiple starts at that he has yet to win on, including Watkins Glen and Kentucky.

But there’s multiple reasons being winless at Chicago probably rubs Johnson the wrong way and why ending his winless streak would be made sweeter.

For one, he’s pretty good there.

Johnson has made 17 Cup starts at Chicagoland since 2002. He has led a track-record 695 laps. The next highest total for a winless driver at Chicagoland is Kurt Busch with 124 laps led.

Johnson’s total is the eight highest among Cup drivers who have the most laps led at a track without a win. At least Johnson doesn’t have to worry about being winless at Martinsville after leading 1,986 laps, as is the case with Bobby Allison.

Via: Racing Insights

Johnson has been close to winning in Chicago. He has earned three runner-up results there with the most recent coming in 2012 after he led 172 laps from the pole.

His most recent solid outing there came in 2016 when he started eighth and led 118 laps before he finished 12th.

Should Johnson break through Sunday, it would mark the longest winless streak that was snapped in Chicago.

The longest snapped streak belongs to David Reutimann, who ended a 42-race winless streak in 2010.

Why should Johnson feel confident about his prospects this weekend?

While he’s finished 12th or worse in the last three races, he enters the weekend with the longest active streak of top 10s on 1.5-mile tracks with three. That’s one more than Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott and Chris Buescher.

He was sixth in the Coca-Cola 600 two weeks after he finished eighth at Kansas Speedway. The streak began at Texas Motor Speedway in March, where he started from the pole, led 60 laps and finished second in Stage 1 before eventually placing fifth.

Preliminary entry lists for NASCAR at Chicagoland

Leave a comment

NASCAR returns to the NBC family this weekend as all three national series travel to Chicagoland Speedway.

Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series teams are at the same track for the first time since Dover at the start of May.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for all three series.

Cup – Camping World 400 (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN)

There are 38 cars entered.

Garrett Smithley is entered in Premium Motorsports’ No. 15 Chevrolet.

Quin Houff is entered in Spire Motorsports’ No. 77 Chevrolet.

There are no drivers listed for Rick Ware Racing’s No. 51 and No. 52 cars.

Last year: Kyle Busch defeated Kyle Larson after a dramatic last-lap battle.

Click here for the entry list.

Xfinity – Camping World 300 (3:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN)

There are 41 cars entered. Three cars will not make the race.

Ross Chastain will drive Kaulig Racing’s No. 10 Chevrolet for the third time this year. Landon Cassill will drive JD Motorsports’ No. 4 Chevrolet.

Zane Smith is entered in JR Motorsports’ No. 8 Chevrolet.

Riley Herbst will make his fourth start in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Toyota.

Jeffrey Earnhardt is entered in XCI Racing’s No. 81 Toyota.

Last year: Kyle Larson won over Kevin Harvick and Cole Custer

Click here for the entry list.

Trucks – Camping World 225 (9 p.m. ET Friday on FS1)

There are 33 trucks entered. One truck will not make the race.

Dylan Lupton will make his season debut with DGR-Crosley in the No. 5 Toyota.

Tyler Ankrum is back in DGR-Crosley’s No. 17 Toyota.

Brandon Jones is entered in Kyle Busch Motorsports’ No. 51 Toyota.

There is no driver listed with Reaume Brothers Racing’s No. 32 Toyota.

Last time: Brett Moffitt beat Ben Rhodes and Johnny Sauter.

Click here for the entry list.