Kyle Larson ‘nervous’ and ‘excited’ for Daytona

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Sunday’s Daytona 500 marks Kyle Larson’s 224th career Cup race, but the season-opening event feels like a first career start to the veteran driver.

“I’m nervous,” Larson told NBC Sports. “I’m excited.”

The nerves are because this week marks his first NASCAR race in 11 months. Larson lost his Chip Ganassi Racing ride last April after he uttered a racial slur during an online racing event. He returns this season with Hendrick Motorsports.

MORE: Daytona Speedweek schedule 

Expectations are high for Larson even though he’s working with a new crew chief for the first time in six years and must adjust to racing at most tracks without practice and qualifying – something his competitors went through last year.

With limited track time at Daytona, Larson took his No. 5 Chevrolet on a spin around the Hendrick Motorsports campus in January to make sure he was comfortable in the seat.

Kyle Larson seeks his first Daytona 500 win. He lost the 2017 race when he ran out of fuel while leading on the last lap. (Photo: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports)

Larson will have less time in the car than many this week because he is not among the 21 drivers competing in Tuesday night’s Busch Clash on the Daytona road course. The first time Larson will be on track will be Wednesday’s practice session for that night’s qualifying session.

Getting adjusted to his car and up to speed are just some of the familiarizations Larson must make with his new ride. Learning names is another.

“The team is twice as big as what I’m used to,” he said. “Meeting all these people is a bit overwhelming especially when you see only half of their face. I’ll hopefully get to meet everybody again someday when we don’t have masks and really be able to put a face with a name.”

One of Larson’s biggest adjustments will be working with crew chief Cliff Daniels, who had been Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief since Aug. 2019.

“I’m definitely excited to have Cliff as my crew chief,” Larson said. “I think he’s a totally different style of crew chief than I’ve ever had before. Even going to any dirt car crew chief that I’ve worked with. Cliff definitely stands out as being different and is very focused. He seems to be kind of a perfectionist.

“I didn’t really get to work with Chad Knaus ever. Just from looking at Chad from the outside, I feel Cliff is a lot like him. Everybody knows the success that Chad and Jimmie had. I hope Cliff and I can have that success.”

With Larson not competing in the final 32 Cup races of last season, Daniels and his team had to look further back in understanding what Larson needs to run well.

“There’s definitely going to be a growth process that we have to go through to learn each other better in the actual environment,” Daniels told NBC Sports. “I’ve certainly done a lot of homework myself over the offseason. On our team, with our engineers and other guys on the team, we’ve looked at all the data, watched old races, in-car video, anything that we can find that is relevant and helpful just to brush up on trends of his style, nuances of different tracks that he admittedly runs well at and others he feels that he needs to improve.”

One thing is clear is Larson’s ability on restarts.

“We’re looking forward to letting Kyle show his abilities on restarts and it boils down two things for us,” Daniels said. “Confidence and comfort. …“The more comfortable a driver is, secure in what he is feeling within his own car, it is going to give him more confidence to make those moves and really be on offense.”

Car owner Rick Hendrick isn’t worried about Larson, who has six career Cup wins, and Daniels, who seeks his first career win as a Cup crew chief.

“Larson, we know what he can do,” Hendrick said in November. “He and Cliff will be a good combination.”

Larson’s former teammate, Kurt Busch, also expects much from Larson this season.

“The professionalism of Hendrick Motorsports has never been questioned,” Busch said. “The guidance there and just everything that I’m seeing adding up is that once he gets the feel of the car, and once he’s in sync with his crew chief – they’re going to be a tough train to stop. I see that program as being one of the top contenders already.”

A key race early for Daniels and Larson could be the Feb. 28 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the season’s third event. He has three top-five finishes in Cup and one win and three top-three finishes in Xfinity there. 

“If we go there and dominate even more than I did when I was at the 42, I think that shows how strong we could be throughout the whole year,” Larson said. “Or if we go there and run average, that would show that we have a lot of work to do. I think that to be an important race for us for a lot of reasons.”

Also among Larson’s focus is continuing his outreach on diversity issues. After losing his ride at Ganassi and NASCAR suspending him for the online racing game incident, Larson hired a diversity coach and spoke with Black athletes, including Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee and corporate executives. He wrote in October that “I will not stop listening and learning.”

Larson plans to continue working with the Urban Youth Racing School in Philadelphia and with the Sanneh Foundation, which provides programs in Minnesota’s Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul) “that unite communities by advancing diversity, equity and community well-being.” Larson spent time with the group last summer.

“I’m excited to get out of there and do good things, whatever that may be, let people get a glimpse of who I really am,” Larson told NBC Sports. “There are a lot of people within this sport I think I’ve met and I think I’ve made good impressions on, but it’s people I’ve hurt outside the industry that I hope to show everybody who I really am.”

Sonoma Xfinity starting lineup: Kyle Larson wins pole


SONOMA, Calif. — Kyle Larson will start on the pole for Saturday’s inaugural Xfinity Series race at Sonoma Raceway.

Larson won the pole with an average speed of 91.393 mph around the 1.99-mile road course. Justin Allgaier joins Larson on the front row after a lap of 90.562 mph. Sheldon Creed (90.429 mph) qualified third. Aric Almirola (90.375) will start fourth. AJ Allmendinger (90.274) will start fifth.

MORE: Sonoma Xfinity starting lineup

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Larson is one of seven Cup drivers entered. The others are Almirola (starting fourth), Allmendinger (fifth), Ty Gibbs (seventh), Ross Chastain (15th), Daniel Suarez (17th) and Ty Dillon (32nd).

The green flag is scheduled to wave at 8:20 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1.

Could Daytona International Speedway host NFL games?


The president of Daytona International Speedway says track officials plan to speak with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars about hosting the team’s games if Jacksonville’s stadium is renovated.

The Jaguars will need a temporary home site if plans go forward to renovate the team’s stadium. Daytona International Speedway has been mentioned as a possible candidate. The Jaguars released details Wednesday of what the stadium will look like after the renovation project.

Provided the project is approved by the city of Jacksonville, it is believed the Jaguars would need to find another home site for a couple of seasons while work is being done to its stadium. Daytona International Speedway is among possible sites for the Jaguars to play. More than 100,000 people saw Ricky Stenhouse Jr. win this year’s Daytona 500.

“Daytona International Speedway is a world-renowned sports and entertainment venue and hosts a full schedule of events each year,” said Frank Kelleher, president of Daytona International Speedway, in a statement. “As good neighbors in the Florida sports community, DIS will be speaking with the Jacksonville Jaguars to see if we can assist them with their potential upcoming facility needs around our scheduled events.”

Daytona International Speedway hosted Soccer Fest in July 2022. An announced crowd of 7,573 fans saw the Orlando Pride and Racing Louisville play in a National Women’s Soccer League game at Daytona.

NASCAR displays counterfeit part from Chase Briscoe car


SONOMA, Calif. — NASCAR displayed the counterfeit part from Chase Briscoe‘s car on Saturday at Sonoma Raceway, showing how the part did not correspond to what should have been in the car.

NASCAR found the issue at its R&D Center after last month’s Coca-Cola 600. The sanctioning body fined crew chief John Klausmeier $250,000 and suspended him for six races. NASCAR also docked Briscoe and the team 120 points and 25 playoff points for the L3 infraction.

“We want to be transparent on the penalties,” said Brad Moran, managing director of the Cup Series as he displayed the counterfeit part to media.

Moran displayed a a portion of the engine panel from Briscoe’s car. He noted the engine duct was counterfeit. He said the proper pieces are 3D printed at the R&D Center and Fiberworks Composites sells them and installs them for teams. Moran said the duct is “in the bottom of the car under the engine panel. It’s to help cool the driver. It was added prior to the first race. During testing … we realized we wanted to get heat out of the engine compartment, and that’s what this piece does.”

Moran noted that with the counterfeit part, “we can clearly see the textures are different (from the proper part).”

He displayed what officials call a gauge that determines if the duct fits the proper parameters. He showed it fitting a proper duct and not properly fitting in the counterfeit part.

“It was a part that was made, and it was made for whatever reason,” Moran said. “It was, I guess, put on by error, but it was on the vehicle. It is a piece that should not have been made in the first place, and it was spotted at our teardown at the R&D Center.”

Moran said the issue was found in a visual inspection of the part. NASCAR inspected it further and Moran said “there are certain little characteristics that are in (a proper piece)” that officials did not see in the one on Briscoe’s car. “The more we examined it, the more we realized that’s not a part they bought.”

Moran noted that while the penalties were severe, they could have been worse based on the rulebook.

“It was the low end of the L3,” Moran said. “It’s a real big hit for any team. If it continues, and we feel we are not where we need to be, unfortunately, it’s going to ramp up. We’re not going to stop.

“The deal with this car is it needs to be run without modifying. It costs teams a lot of money in development. All the owners agreed. We all agreed where we need to be to make this a successful program, and we’re not going to give up.”



Sunday Cup race at Sonoma Raceway: Start time, TV info, weather


The Cup Series heads to wine country to compete on the 1.99-mile road course at Sonoma Raceway. This race leads into the final off weekend of the season. After the break, the series races 20 consecutive weekends. NBC and USA will broadcast those races.

Details for Sunday’s Cup race at Sonoma Raceway

(All times Eastern)

START: Adam Devine will give the command to start engines at 3:38 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:50 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 12:30 p.m. … Drivers meeting is at 2:45 p.m. … Driver intros are at 3 p.m. … Earl Smith, pastor for the Golden State Warriors and San Francisco 49ers, will give the invocation at 3:30 p.m. … Tiffany Woys will perform the national anthem at 3:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 110 laps (218.9 miles) on the 1.99-mile road course.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 25. Stage 2 ends at Lap 55.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying begins at 6 p.m. Saturday

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the race at 3:30 p.m. … Coverage begins at 2 p.m. on FS1 and switches to Fox at 3 p.m. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. and also will stream at SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.


FORECAST: Weather Underground — Partly cloudy with a high of 69 degrees and a 1% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST YEAR: Daniel Suarez won his first career Cup race last year at Sonoma. Chris Buescher finished second. Michael McDowell placed third.


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