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Why Kyle Larson will ‘keep my mouth shut’ on Knoxville success

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BROOKLYN, Mich. – Kyle Larson likes his chances of winning Saturday’s Knoxville Nationals (“the biggest sprint car race in the world,” he says) but he’d prefer you avoid asking outside of Iowa.

Within the confines of the NASCAR garage, where Larson will be commuting from again this week to race at Knoxville, his dalliance with dirt racing has made some waves in the past.

“Oh no, it makes plenty of waves still,” the Chip Ganassi Racing driver said with a smile after practice Friday at Michigan International Speedway.

In January, Larson caused a stir when he said winning the Chili Bowl was bigger than the Daytona 500.

This week, his father, Mike, told the Des Moines Register the Knoxville Nationals is No. 1 on the bucket list. Over any race.”

So have things smoothed over enough that where there is at least a grudging acceptance in NASCAR of the Larson family’s longtime love of dirt racing?

Uh, no.

“So, I feel like I need to avoid this question before I make everybody at NASCAR mad or some of my fans mad,” Larson said. “I’ll just avoid answering that. I’ve been through this before a lot, so I’m learning more and more to just keep my mouth shut.”

He will get a few more questions about Knoxville if he wins Saturday night’s feature race, and he’s off to a great start. He won a warmup race Monday at Oskaloosa and then helped assure himself of starting third in the A main feature with an outstanding performance Wednesday in the preliminaries.

He will start third behind Brad Sweet (brother of his fiancée Katelyn) and Donny Schatz, a 10-time winner of the Knoxville Nationals.

Brad Sweet and Donny Schatz will be the two guys to beat, but I feel like we are close,” Larson said. “It’s a long race. It would be neat to win that deal.”

Last year, he finished second to Schatz after NASCAR team owner Chip Ganassi relented and allowed Larson to skirt the clauses in his contract that precludes running in a sprint car race the night before a Cup event.

This year, Larson (who is permitted 25 sprint car races annually) didn’t even have to ask for permission – plans already had begun a year ago to capitalize on Larson returning to the event.

“I kind of figured at that time that it worked out good enough that I could do it,” he said. “Just very thankful that I have an owner that lets me have fun and then especially on a weekend like this go be able to participate in the biggest sprint car race in the world the night before I’m on track racing the Cup car.

“You don’t see any other owners really doing that. He knows it’s important to me and I appreciate that.”

It helped, of course, that Larson won the following day at Michigan. He will enter Sunday’s race winless this season, and his No. 42 Chevrolet seems to be lacking the gains in speed that Hendrick Motorsports’ Camaros have enjoyed recently.

“I’d like to be making as big gains as what, say, the Hendrick guys have,” he said. “But, I feel like we started off way better than they did. So, they’ve had more room to get better. But I feel like they’ve kind of surpassed us maybe a little bit the last few weeks. And there are obviously other teams that are better than we are, too.

“I feel like we’re getting our stuff better every week. We just keep getting better and there are some good tracks for us in the Playoffs. If we could just get some luck one of these times in the Playoffs maybe we can make a run at the championship. So, we’ve just got to keep working hard and thinking about what it takes to get better and better every week; which, I feel like we have the right group of people at the race track and the race shop that we can do that.”

It also helps that Chip Ganassi Racing is poised to take delivery on its own Optical Scanning Station, which is used by NASCAR for at-track inspections and helps teams optimize their cars.

Larson credits Hendrick’s turnaround to its recent acquisition of an OSS, which most big teams (such as Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, Furniture Row Racing) have.

(Hendrick) finally (has been) able to learn where they can push the limits on things,” he said. “So, it sounds like maybe we have (an OSS) coming, so I’m really excited about that. Hopefully we can get it up and running before the playoffs start. We’re budget racing.”

Kasey Kahne looks to run 20-30 races outside NASCAR this year

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Kasey Kahne, who competed in last week’s Chili Bowl Nationals, says he plans to run two dozen or more races outside of NASCAR this season.

Kahne, who is in his first season with Leavine Family Racing, made the comments Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.’’

“I’ve always tried to stay close to the type of racing that I learned how to race in and the type of cars that I learned how to race in and those fans and race tracks that I’ve spent a ton of time at and have really enjoyed over the years,’’ Kahne said of racing sprint and midget cars on dirt. “I’m still a huge fan of that type of racing because that’s where I came from and want to be for a long, long time.

“We have two (World of) Outlaw teams again this year, Daryn Pittman and Brad Sweet, and I feel like I can run 20 to 30 races depending on the schedules and how everything works out. I’m really looking forward to that because that’s something that I wanted to do for a long time and I could do it and then I couldn’t do it.’’

Kahne, who was with Hendrick Motorsports the previous six seasons, was asked if he was prohibited from racing such cars.

“When I signed up, I wasn’t at all and they said I could do whatever I wanted and enjoy it,” Kahne said. “A year later, I was restricted from everything and wasn’t able to do that anymore and then the last year they were pretty cool about it, but it was always kind of feeling like you were making somebody mad. I won’t have that because Leavine … they know that that’s what I love to do and that’s what I want to do. I don’t want it to affect the No. 95 in anyway. That’s the first priority to me. When we’re not doing that, it’s OK, nobody is going to be mad if I go and try to do a little racing. It makes me feel pretty good to be in that situation again.’’

Kahne is just one of a few NASCAR drivers expected to run in other series this year. Kyle Larson, who raced a midget car in New Zealand before competing in Chili Bowl Nationals, has said he’s allowed to run 25 such events a year. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. says he plans to run some midget races this summer.

Kahne also has been busy getting prepared for his new ride. He has a one-year deal with Leavine Family Racing, which is aligned with Richard Childress Racing. Travis Mack, who had been at Hendrick Motorsports, will be Kahne’s crew chief.

Kahne cited performance — he had one win and nine top-five finishes in the past three seasons with Hendrick — and business as a reason for the change.

“I’m perfectly fine with it because I’m glad I’ve moved on and am doing something different at this point and really looking forward to Leavine and my future and the new things that I have going on,’’ said Kahne, who finished 15th in the points last year after making the playoffs with his Indianapolis victory. “I don’t look back on any of it as a bad thing.’’

Asked if he feels reinvigorated with the changes, Kahne told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio: “I feel just to kind of start over is never a bad thing, especially with our performance. I was never happy the last three years, I haven’t been that happy as far as racing went because we could never really figure it out. Just to have a new group, start over, try to do things together and see how good we can do. To me, that’s exciting and new and fresh and I look forward to that.’’

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Kyle Larson wins A main on opening night of Chili Bowl Nationals

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Kyle Larson continued his winning ways in a midget car, capturing the A main on the opening night of the Chili Bowl Nationals and qualifying for Saturday night’s feature race.

Larson recently returned from New Zealand where he won three of four midget races.

Tuesday night, Larson finished ahead of brother-in-law Brad Sweet and Tyler Courtney. All three advance to Saturday night’s A main on the quarter-mile clay oval inside the River Spirit Expo Center at Tulsa’s Expo Square.

Justin Allgaier finished 12th in Tuesday night’s race.

Racing continues Wednesday night in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Among those scheduled to compete are Rico Abreu, who has made 26 career Camping World Truck Series starts, and Donny Schatz, who competes in the World of Outlaws for Tony Stewart Racing.

Earlier in the night, Chad Boat won the Race of Champions exhibition race. Larson was second and Tanner Thorson was third. Sweet finished fifth. Also in the race, Abreu was 10th, reigning Chili Bowl champion Christopher Bell placed 11th, Kasey Kahne 14th and JJ Yeley was last in the 19-car field.

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Kyle Larson highlights NASCAR drivers entered into Chili Bowl Nationals

Chili Bowl Nationals
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The first major auto racing event of 2018 is the 32nd annual Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The midget car event will be held Jan. 9-13 at the River Spirit Expo Center and feature multiple NASCAR drivers, including Kyle Larson.

Larson will be joined by Kasey Kahne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., defending Chili Bowl and Truck Series champion Christopher Bell, Chase Briscoe and Justin Allgaier.

The entry list for the five-night event has been released and also the roster for all four nights of qualifying races.

The week culminates with the 55-lap championship event on Jan. 13.

Here’s when each NASCAR driver and other notable drivers will compete in a qualifying race.

Tuesday, Jan. 9

Kyle Larson

Chase Briscoe (former Brad Keselowski Racing driver)

Justin Allgaier (JR Motorsports driver in Xfinity Series)

Brad Sweet (competes for Kasey Kahne Racing)

Wednesday, Jan. 10

Rico Abreu (former Camping World Truck Series driver, two-time Chili Bowl winner)

Sammy Swindell (five-time Chili Bowl winner)

Donny Schatz (2017 World of Outlaws champion, competes for Tony Stewart Racing)

Thursday, Jan. 11

Christopher Bell

C.J. Leary (competing in entry owned by Alex Bowman)

Friday, Jan. 12

Kasey Kahne

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

J.J. Yeley

Daryn Pittman (competes for Kasey Kahne Racing)

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Kyle Larson wins World of Outlaws race

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Kyle Larson used a late-race charge to win Tuesday night’s World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series race at Eagle (Nebraska) Raceway.

Larson passed Daryn Pittman, who drives for Kasey Kahne‘s team, with two laps to go to win. Larson was racing for a team co-owned by Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Shane Stewart, who drives for the team co-owned by Larson and Justin Marks, finished third. Brad Sweet, who drives for Kasey Kahne Racing, placed fourth. Donny Schatz, who drives for Tony Stewart Racing, finished fifth.

Larson was second in qualifying to Kerry Madsen and won his heat race.

The feature victory is Larson’s first of the season.

Click here for more on the race and complete results.

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