BROOKLYN, Mich. — Kyle Larson will not travel to Knoxville Raceway on Friday night to race his sprint car, a Chip Ganassi Racing spokesperson confirmed to NBC Sports, ending Larson’s bid to win the Knoxville Nationals.
He said Friday that he will not compete Saturday at Knoxville also since he will be so far back in the preliminary races that he will have little chance to advancing to the A main to win the Knoxville Nationals.
Part of the complication for Larson is that Cup practice at Michigan International Speedway is from 8:35 – 9:25 a.m. ET on Saturday, which would come after a night of racing at Knoxville and after returning to Michigan in the early morning hours Saturday.
Points are awarded for qualifying, heat races and the A, B and C mains. Larson finished sixth in the B main on Wednesday and did not advance to that night’s A main. He finished the night ranked 21st in points, meaning he will need to return to race Friday to better his standing for Saturday’s races. If Larson didn’t compete Friday, he’d be so deep in the various mains that lead to the Knoxville Nationals that his chances of reaching that race would be minimal.
With Cup at Michigan this weekend, it complicates things. Cup qualifying begins at 5:05 p.m. ET. Friday. Because Larson qualified in the top 20 last weekend at Watkins Glen, he’ll be in the back half of the qualifying draw Friday.
He would then need to fly to Iowa to compete that night and return to Michigan. Cup practice begins at 8:35 a.m. ET Saturday. Final Cup practice goes from 11:30 a.m. – 12:20 p.m. ET. Then he would have to fly back to Iowa to compete that night and return for Sunday’s Cup race at Michigan.
Larson told The Athletic after Wednesday’s races he had yet to talk to any Chip Ganassi Racing officials about the possibility of racing at Knoxville on Friday.
MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Kasey Kahne’s NASCAR season and career were cut short in September because of dehydration issues. Ten races into his return to driving sprint cars full-time, he was injured and has not competed since late March. He doesn’t know when he’ll be able to return.
“It’s been a rough year for me and racing,” Kahne tells NBC Sports, standing in his race shop, near one of the sprint cars he should be getting ready to drive.
Even as he speaks about all the disappointment in the last eight months, he smiles.
“I’m still happy,” Kahne says, shortly after having hugged 3-year-old son Tanner. “I know it won’t be long and I’ll be fine and then, hopefully, these rough years are behind me.”
Kahne smiles again.
It’s the look many NASCAR fans know well. Although Kahne is 39 years old, he looks much like the 23-year-old rookie who grabbed so much attention when he finished second in three of his first seven starts in NASCAR’s premier series. Kahne remains as thin as those days and ready to race.
He just can’t now because of his undisclosed injury.
So he waits and stays busy.
“I feel like I’m way too young to not work or anything like that,” Kahne says. “Always working on ideas to do.”
As for his racing, Kahne isn’t sure. He was injured in a March 29 flip at Williams Grove Speedway in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. He hopes to be cleared by July 1 so he can spend the summer racing. That way he’ll be better prepared for the Knoxville Nationals (Aug. 7-10).
If he’s not cleared by July 1, he says he doesn’t anticipate being ready to run at Knoxville a year after his team, Kasey Kahne Racing, won the Nationals with driver Brad Sweet.
Kahne looks forward to racing again based on how the sprint car season started.
“It was really up and down, but we were making a lot of gains and I was making a lot of gains,” Kahne says. “I felt the final two races before I went out for a bit were my best two, and I was heading in the right direction.”
“I think right now my car that James McFadden is going to drive is going to be awesome for him because we’re in a good direction. I’m really hoping he has a lot of success over the next month or maybe the next two months.”
With being out of the car, Kahne is enjoying more time with friends and family. He watched the All-Star Race. He hosted a barbecue the night of Coca-Cola 600 qualifying last week and spent Sunday watching the races.
“Me and Kevin Harvick got into it once at Phoenix,” Kahne says of their battle for fourth late in Kahne’s rookie year. “We were like running tight, super close. After the race, I bumped him and actually was just saying good race, and I think he was thinking I was mad at him. Instantly, the veteran is going to get pissed, which I totally understand now.
“He’s at my car before I’ve shut it off. I don’t even know what I’m supposed to do. Then (Kahne’s crew chief) Tommy Baldwin is mad. It was funny how that all worked. That was kind of like we were mad at each other but we weren’t after we talked.”
Last weekend’s races at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway brought back other memories for Kahne.
Three of his 18 career Cup wins came in the Coca-Cola 600. His last Cup victory was in 2017 at Indy. He is one of eight drivers who have won both the 600 and Brickyard 400 in their careers.
Three of those drivers are in the NASCAR Hall of Fame (Dale Earnhardt, Dale Jarrett and Jeff Gordon). A fourth will be inducted in January (Bobby Labonte). Three others are future Hall of Famers (Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick).
Kahne counts his third Coca-Cola 600 victory as among his most memorable because it was his first with Hendrick Motorsports in 2012.
He recalls much of what happened during his Brickyard 400 win but not much afterward. He was dehydrated after that race, showing signs of what would force him out of the car in 2018.
“The problem with the Brickyard is that I was do dehydrated and stuff and throwing up and just felt horrible and all I wanted to do was to go to sleep and I didn’t get to enjoy the win,” Kahne says. “It took until Wednesday before I even felt halfway decent.”
“An hour to go in that race, I said you better never do this again,” Kahne recalls of that race where he battled dehydration and went to the infield care center after finishing 24th. “This is not good.
“Then after I felt better like the next Friday, I was like I need to race some more.”
Phelps, who was announced as NASCAR’s new president last week, told reporters that stock-car racing’s major leagues need to do a better job of outreach to its grassroots tracks, the World of Outlaws and other forms of motorsports because “we can help each other.
“We may be at the pinnacle of (short-track) racing from a popularity standpoint, but we can learn from them, they can learn from us, and we can promote each other in a far better way,” Phelps said during an hourlong interview with nearly two dozen media members at NASCAR Plaza. “So this notion of NASCAR trying to muzzle Kyle Larson and his love of racing couldn’t be further from the truth.
“We want Kyle Larson to talk about NASCAR racing and dirt racing and things that are his passion. We think he can bring his fan base from other forms of racing that he’s doing to us. And we can take our fans and bring them down to that racing as well, so we all get stronger by doing something.”
Phelps said Wednesday that his industry needs to take a much less strident tone toward competing series and rebuild its bridges with feeder series and other auto racing disciplines that have proved to be avenues to NASCAR. Both Larson and rising star Christopher Bell made their names in dirt racing on the way into NASCAR, which has been reminiscent of past champions Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart.
“I totally agree that’s something we need to do, that will be part of the event promotion we’re looking at with our racetracks is if you look at the dirt event in Las Vegas, it was very successful,” Phelps said. “Kevin Harvick and I have had this conversation, he’s a champion for that whether it’s Bakersfield, or just in general what’s happening from short-track racing.
“What I would say is we need to reach out to home tracks. We need to reach out to World of Outlaws and other forms of motorsports because we can help each other. If someone is a fan of racing, we believe they can be a fan of all racing.”
Why Kyle Larson will ‘keep my mouth shut’ on Knoxville success
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?
“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.”
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.”