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Kyle Larson will not go to Knoxville Raceway to race Friday

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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.

Larson finished third last year and second the year before. His father told the Des Moines Register last year that “the Knoxville Nationals is No. 1 on the bucket list” for his son.

The lineups for the Knoxville Nationals and its preliminary races on Saturday are set by points drivers earn during the week. Larson did not score enough points Wednesday to earn a spot in Saturday night’s A main. That meant he needed to return to Knoxville on Friday to race to have the possibility of earning a starting spot in the back of the A main field.

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.

 

Kyle Larson’s Knoxville Nationals title quest in doubt after struggles

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Kyle Larson failed to qualify for Saturday night’s Knoxville Nationals A main on Wednesday and will have to return to Knoxville Raceway on Friday, but he told The Athletic he was unsure if he would be able to come back because of his NASCAR commitments this weekend at Michigan International Speedway.

Larson finished third in last year’s Knoxville Nationals and was second the year before that. His father, Mike, told the Des Moines Register a year ago that “the Knoxville Nationals is No. 1 on the bucket list” for his son.

A point system is used to partially set the field for Saturday night’s Knoxville Nationals. About 100 cars are entered and the field is split into Wednesday and Thursday races. The top 16 in points combined from the two nights advance to Saturday’s main event. The next 10 spots are locked into Saturday’s B main. The rest of the field returns to race Friday to set their positions in the various races 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.

Trey Starks won Wednesday’s A main at Knoxville. James McFadden, who is driving in placed of an injured Kasey Kahne, finished second.

Kasey Kahne still smiling despite recent racing setbacks

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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.

Kasey Kahne signs autographs for fans during a recent open house at his race shop in Mooresville, North Carolina. (Photo: Dustin Long)

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.”

James McFadden will drive Kasey Kahne’s car until Kahne returns. (Photo: Dustin Long)

“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.

Seeing Clint Bowyer swing at Ryan Newman after the All-Star Race brought back a particular memory for Kahne.

“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.”

His condition became more challenging and led to last year’s Southern 500 being his final Cup race.

“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.”

Kasey Kahne signs diecast cars for a fan at Kasey Kahne Racing’s open house earlier in May. (Photo: Dustin Long)

He didn’t get the chance in NASCAR. The longer races made it challenging for his body because he was sweating so much. He announced in October that he had not been cleared to race the rest of the season. Having previously said 2018 would be his last in Cup, his career in that series ended. 

While he can’t compete in the long races of NASCAR, the shorter sprint car races are not a problem for Kahne.

He looks forward to getting back into the car. Although Tanner, who has enjoyed all the extra time with his father, expressed other feelings the other day.

“He doesn’t like me getting into race cars any more,” Kahne says. “If I get in one, he tells me to get out. Just because he’s glad that I’m home and not racing.

“I know he likes racing. He had fun when we were at the track.”

Kahne can’t wait to go back as a driver instead of just a car owner.

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NASCAR wants no ‘muzzle’ on Kyle Larson’s love of dirt racing

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CHARLOTTE – NASCAR’s new president has a new policy for Kyle Larson: Speak your mind about what you love.

After the Chip Ganassi Racing driver said last month that he planned “to just keep my mouth shut” about his moonlighting in sprint cars because it angers NASCAR and its fans, Steve Phelps extended an olive branch Wednesday afternoon.

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.”

In January, Larson said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that winning the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals would mean more than the Daytona 500, which drew blowback on social media. During the Aug. 10-12 weekend when he commuted between Michigan International Speedway and the Knoxville Nationals in Iowa, Larson said his love of dirt racing “still made plenty of waves” within NASCAR.

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

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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.”