Smart driving keeps Kyle Larson out of trouble on ‘nerve-racking’ restarts

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LONG POND, Pa. – Stung by a spate of recent crashes (some attributable to carelessness), Kyle Larson drove with a measure of caution Sunday.

Not that anyone would have been able to tell the way he pushed winner Denny Hamlin on the second-to-last restart at Pocono Raceway.

“My less aggressive than normal is probably still more aggressive than a lot of people’s,” Larson said with a smile after a fifth-place finish.

Starting from the rear in a backup No. 42 Chevrolet for the second consecutive week after a practice crash, his attentiveness might have been most evident on the final restart.

Hamlin got a good jump on the outside, but Larson managed to keep pace behind him in fourth. But as he began to lose the handle beside Erik Jones and slide up toward the Turn 1 wall, Larson “bailed out of the throttle to keep myself from hitting the wall.”

The move cost him a few spots, but he still finished with 38 points – 30 more than he amassed last week at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, where he crashed his primary in practice and his backup in the race.

“It was a good day,” said Larson, who had finished 26th in the June 2 race at Pocono from damage on a restart. “It was a lot better car than I thought I was going to have. This just goes to show how good our team is now and how good our cars are. Last week I felt like we had one of the fastest cars and didn’t get to show it. Today I feel we’re one of the fastest cars.

“The past two weeks, I feel like we’ve had good speed in our backup cars, so I’ve been really happy with that. I don’t want to race backup cars, so I just have to stop crashing. I just didn’t want to do anything dumb. There were moments I was aggressive, but rather than tear up another car and cost myself points, I had to be smart.”

There were questions about whether Larson had enough fuel if the race had gone longer than two laps past the scheduled distance, but the Chip Ganassi Racing driver was more concerned about avoiding mistakes because “restarts have been scary.

“I’d have rather tried to stretch it then have some late-race restarts and risk a crash or anything,” he said. “The restarts were more nerve-racking to me than trying to save fuel. I was behind Keselowski there, and he’s the best at saving fuel in this sport. I was managing my lap time to his, so I felt like I was saving as much as I could and hopefully enough to make it.”

Larson, who is winless since September 2017, picked up six points on the playoff cutline and is ranked 14th in the standings, 37 ahead of 17th-ranked Jimmie Johnson with five races remaining in the regular season.

“If I could just race a primary car, who knows what we could do,” he said. “We just have to clean up what I’m doing in practice and in the races, and hopefully we can get a win.”