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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.”

NASCAR’s ‘Young Elvis’ is more comfortable with the mic at Michigan

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BROOKLYN, Mich. – He’s officially a Cup Series winner, but Chase Elliott is rebuffing attempts to be crowned as greatness yet.

Particularly as it relates to an Elvis Presley comparison that Dale Earnhardt Jr. made about his former Hendrick Motorsports teammate during his Dale Jr. Download podcast.

“I think he needs to retire from giving nicknames,” Elliott said with a laugh about being bestowed with the “Young Elvis” moniker by Earnhardt. “For some reason, he has always thought I looked like Elvis, and I really don’t know why. I know he has a little bit of an obsession with Elvis. He has an Elvis room in his house, which is kind of weird. I’ve been in that room before and you wake up and there is this Elvis man staring at you.”

While “The King” has left the building, Elliott’s reign in NASCAR’s premier series could be just beginning, especially considering he is locked into the playoffs earlier than he ever has been.

“I certainly can probably use a little more offense than what you would have if you weren’t locked in,” the No. 9 Chevrolet driver said. “I’ve been on the other end of the stick these past two years, and it’s such a nice feeling to come into these last few races and know that you’re locked into the deal.

“But I think more than that, playoff points are really important to get. And I think that’s our goal is to try to get as many of those as we can, whether it be winning stages or trying to put yourself in position to win. Obviously, you’re always trying to win. But those stage victories are big, and you can rack up those playoff points quickly. I know it’s only one per stage, but they add up. I think that’s our goal for these next few weeks to just try to get some more playoff points and kind of get to that next tier of guys in points with people you’re going to be racing against in the final 10.”

Elliott is on a streak of three consecutive races with stage wins (the only three stage victories for Hendrick this season), and his victory at Watkins Glen International showed how much he has improved on restarts.

Sunday could be another strong indicator. Elliott has finished second three times at Michigan International Speedway, and both times in 2016 he lost the lead on a late restart.

“I would like to think I could change the result for sure,” Elliott said about his improvement on restarts. “But until you are in those positions it’s hard to know. Some of it is circumstance, too. You could get a good restart and maybe not get a good push, and the guy next to you does get a good push and lose the lead that way. But I would like to think I would do a little better at it, but until you are in those spots you don’t really know.”

Elliott is on a streak of five consecutive top 10s at the 2-mile oval (his worst being a ninth in June) and will try to become the sixth Cup driver to win in his 100th start (the last being Carl Edwards at Michigan on June 17, 2007.

Beyond his history at the track, Elliott’s NASCAR history also suggests Sunday’s race at the 2-mile oval could be a good one.

After scoring his first Xfinity Series career victory April 4, 2014 at Texas Motor Speedway, Elliott won the following week at Darlington Raceway.

“Yeah, I hope so,” Elliott said when asked about history repeating in Cup. “This has been a pretty good track for us in general. That’s not to say this weekend will go good. I feel like we were better here my first two years than we were in the spring race this year, unfortunately.

“So, yeah, I don’t know. I hope this weekend goes good and I think this weekend will be kind of a gauge of where we stack-up for some of these race tracks that are coming up at Indy and Vegas and some of the 1.5-mile and 2-milers coming up. We didn’t stack up very well here in the spring race. I think we’ve gotten a little better at these style tracks since then, so hopefully. We’ll see.”

What drivers said after Michigan race

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Clint Bowyer — Winner: “It took something crazy on a restart to be able to get Kevin (Harvick). That was a gutsy call. When we went out there on two tires, I looked in the mirror, and I was so far ahead of everybody else i was like, ‘Oh man, we are in trouble!’ The rain came just in enough time. I was trying to hold him off. I was cutting him off and taking his line away pretty bad. If it wasn’t for a win you wouldn’t be doing that. He was so much faster than me in (turns) 1 and 2. I got down in (turn) 3 and just had to take his line because that bear was coming.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished second: “It was a weird day. If you are going to have rain kind of take one from you, I would rather give it to my teammate. I am happy for Clint and all the guys on (his) team. Everyone on our car did a great job. I had a really fast car, and the pit crew was the best thing that happened all day. They were solid all day and kept us up front. That to me is the best thing that came out of today.”

Kurt Busch — Finished third: “We had an excellent day all the way through. No big mistakes, no rough moments.  Pit stops were solid. Adjustments were solid. Restarts, I’d say three quarters of the time I was on the inside lane, so that might have been a little bit where we were pinned down. But you have to make do with what you have, how the chips fall.  I’m happy with our effort today. Of course you always want to go back racing again, but to see the two cars in front of me at the end, the 4 and the 14, that’s a big day for Stewart‑Haas Racing.  It’s very special to finish 1‑2‑3.

Kyle Busch — Finished fourth: “The blue ovals (Fords) were just tough today. It wasn’t anything about (Stewart-Haas Racing). They go down the straightaway really, really fast. We have a hard time keeping up with them there, but our car through the corner was really awesome. The M&M’s Camry was really good there after yesterday’s practice. I thought we had something for them and if it was going to be a little bit hotter and sunnier today, I felt like we were going to be really good. That just wasn’t the conditions for today, so chilly and cool and lots of grip, and that was better for all those guys, but we gave it a hard fought fight and come home with what we could there – a fourth. Not too shabby. I thought we had third and then Kurt (Busch) blew my doors off on the straightaway and we’ve just got to get better there and try to make it up and be able to put on a fight here later on this year. … If it would have went green the rest of the way, I felt like we could keep up with them. I felt like our long-run speed was better than theirs and if we could have had some green flag stops and maybe made up ground on that we would have been alright.”

Paul Menard — Finished fifth: “We had a good car today and all weekend. We didn’t qualify as good as we would have hoped and went from the back and got put to the back twice. Once I sped and another time we got door slammed. I am really proud of my guys. We made a gutsy call to stay out on no tires with a bunch of laps on it. Gutsy call. We had the car to hold on though, so it worked out.’’

Joey Logano – Finished seventh: ““I got out of the car and thought, ‘Man, that was a weird day.’ It was hard to pass. I had a car that was capable of running in the top five, but the result depended on the restart. If you got a good restart, you could settle in and run pretty well. Our car took off pretty good on restarts, which was good and played into our hands a little bit. We had a good pit stop at the end that got us up to 10th, and we had a good restart at the end and got a couple cars and that is what got us to the seventh-place finish.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished eighth: “We were really fast. We got our car better all day and won that stage and kind of got back there and a lot of guys took two. We were making it back up, but then the rain came. It was a really great race car. Definitely not an eighth-place car, but unfortunately, that is where we ended up.”

Chase Elliott – Finished ninth: We had a flat tire there on one of those first cautions, and it kind of got us behind a little bit, but we were hovering right there kind of at the edge of the top 10 inside or outside depending upon the restarts and what not.  I felt like we finished about where we deserved.”

Jamie McMurray — Finished 10th: “Yeah, we had a really good car.  I struggled to pass people, and I had about 10 instances where I was a half a car length from clearing somebody, and I lost four or five positions, but we had a really good car. I feel like every week we keep getting a little bit better and super happy with the way we ran today.”

Aric Almirola – Finished 11th: “Man, I hate it for my guys. We had such a fast Ford Fusion. I’m proud of our team, and I’m looking forward to coming back to the track at Sonoma.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished 12th: “We had a really fast car. We just didn’t get to show it. Got stuck on the bottom line all but one restart and just – we just had a very good car. Just never got to get up there and race and show it and that’s frustrating, but can’t help the weather.”

William Byron – Finished 13th: “Yeah, I think that is the best car we have had this year.  We were able to run top seven or top eight.  We still need to work on a few things with the front of our car, but I think overall we really had a good balance and really just seemed to hold on pretty good.  I wanted some longer runs, but it was a pretty good race for us.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 14th: “What a wild race! It was crazy racing in the rain like that. I couldn’t even see out of my windshield because of the rain drops. Overall, we had a solid run in our Dow Salutes Veterans Camaro ZL1. By the end of Stage 2, we had one of the fastest cars on the track. We just lacked the track position. When the rain really started coming down hard, that ended the race. Our team is still trending in the right direction. We just need a little bit more to compete with the next group of cars.”

Erik Jones — Finished 15th: “We were just trying to maximize our day. Obviously, I didn’t think we had a car that was capable of winning the race, so we were just trying to do the best we could and have a solid week. It is what it is. I don’t know that we have anything for them right now, but we’re working hard to catch them and we’ll hopefully be better here soon.”

AJ Allmendinger – Finished 17th: “We maximized the day with our No. 47 Camaro. It was a tough weekend with track conditions because of the weather, and we didn’t get to have final practice on Saturday. For the race, the guys really worked on our car. We’re getting more speed out of them. On the 47 side, we’re working on having better practices, and we’re putting our heads together better and focusing on the conditions of the race. Last week and this week, I feel like our cars have been a lot more competitive. Overall, today we struggled in dirty air (traffic), but in clean air the car was pretty fast. That’s just the way it goes at Michigan. It’s something to go into the off weekend with and on to Sonoma (Raceway). We wished we had more time to gain more spots, but the rain finally got us.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 21st: “What a crazy weekend with Michigan weather. I’m glad we were able to get this race in today for all of the fans, but I’m disappointed that we didn’t get to finish it. I felt good about the balance of our Twisted Tea Camaro ZL1 after practice on Saturday, so I was confident going into today. The car was pretty good at the start of the race, but it was just too aero-tight in traffic. My crew chief Matt Borland made great adjustments throughout the day, and they really woke our car up in the second stage and what little we got to run of the final stage. We were knocking on the door of the top 20, so I really wish we could have gotten the whole thing in. I know that with the extra time to make adjustments and pick away at the cars in front of us that we could have brought home a top-20 finish. I’m proud of the work this team puts in each and every week. They did a great job today, and I’m looking forward to heading to Sonoma with them after the much-deserved off weekend.”

Ryan Newman — Finished 22nd: “Rain certainly played a big role in strategizing for this race. Early on we raced in the top 10, but as rain approached we opted for four fresh tires in hopes of making it to the end of Stage 2 in a better scenario. Instead, we realized our car did not respond well in traffic and dirty air. It pretty much bogged us down and prevented our Camaro ZL1 from making up the ground we had anticipated gaining. Then the rain finally came to end the race. It has been a tough go for us of late. Here’s hoping the off weekend will allow us to recharge and get this bad luck monkey off our back.”

David Ragan — Finished 38th: “I wish (Bubba Wallace) wasn’t able to drive away because he just kind of ran in over his head and wrecked us. You will have that sometimes. Guys make mistakes, and he made a mistake. It is unfortunate. I feel like I car was going to be OK. We made some good adjustments to our Ford for today’s race, and I was going to race hard to try to get to halfway. It is just one of those days and we will move on.”

Clint Bowyer wins rain-shortened race at Michigan on strategy call

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Clint Bowyer capitalized on a two-tire stop to take the lead and eventual win Sunday, winning the rain-shortened Firekeepers 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

It’s the second victory of the season for Bowyer’s No. 14 Ford, which also won at Martinsville Speedway.

Bowyer was the first lead-lap car to exit the pits under yellow after the second stage ended on Lap 120. He took the lead on Lap 124 when Kasey Kahne pitted from first.

MORE: Race results

MORE: Points standings

Bowyer then held off teammate Kevin Harvick (whose No. 4 Ford was on four tires) on a Lap 126 restart.

The caution flag flew for a final time when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spun after contact with Kahne on Lap 129. NASCAR red-flagged the race on Lap 133 of a scheduled 200 as rain and mist covered the 2-mile oval. The race’s results were deemed official a few minutes later.

It was the second weather delay of the afternoon. The race started at 4:45 p.m., two and half hours after its original green-flag time because of persistent showers.

Harvick finished second, and Kurt Busch was third to make it a 1-2-3 sweep for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Stage 1 winner: Ryan Blaney

Stage 2 winner: Kevin Harvick

Who had a good day: Ryan Blaney (eighth) led 15 laps for his second top 10 in seven starts at Michigan. … Kurt Busch (third) scored his third top five this season and his first at Michigan since winning there in 2015. … Kyle Busch (fourth) earned his best Michigan showing in five years.

Who had a bad day: The first Cup start of Garrett Smithley’s career ended early after mechanical problems at the green flag. … David Ragan finished a season-worst 38th after contact with Bubba Wallace. … Kyle Larson finished 28th after spinning in his bid for a fourth consecutive victory at Michigan.

Notable: Fords took seven of the top eight spots. … With seven wins through 15 of 36 races, Stewart-Haas Racing already has tied its high for a season. … Bowyer has won twice in 10 races since ending a 190-race winless drought.

Quotable: “I was able to just get by (Harvick) because he left me room and was courteous and a good teammate,” Bowyer said about the last restart. “I tried to give him enough room but just enough that I was going to try to stay in front of him and take the air off him. That is the only thing you can really do in that situation.”

Next: Toyota/Save Mart 350, 3 p.m. ET, June 24 at Sonoma Raceway. TV: FS1

Ryan: Chip Ganassi perfectly suited for shepherding Kyle Larson’s career, and the Michigan win showed why

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Owning a NASCAR team is a stressful business, which was best exemplified by Chip Ganassi’s celebration of Kyle Larson’s victory Sunday at Michigan International Speedway.

As he pounded on the shoulders, faces and backs of crew chief, driver, engineer and anyone who happened to be clad in a red-and-white uniform within arm’s length of his hammering fists, Ganassi engaged in the most demonstrative paroxysm of nationally televised stress relief in NASCAR history.

The moment was pure Ganassi, whose gruff and hard-boiled exterior belies the fact that he delicately and deftly is juggling the oversight of enough racing teams to qualify for lifetime FIA membership.

So what might be on the mind lately of the owner of entries in Cup, Xfinity, IMSA, IndyCar and the World Endurance Championship?

Oh, not much.

–After already contractually guaranteeing Larson the right to run 25 races annually on dirt — but never the night before a Cup race — Ganassi lifted a restriction and allowed his franchise driver another shot to race a vehicle whose accepted occupational hazards include a propensity for violently flipping end over end.

–Ganassi acquiesced to that request (after constant fan goading on social media) while still hunting for a primary sponsor to replace the eight-figure void being left by Target next year on Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet.

–Meanwhile, Ganassi’s IndyCar team has managed to win only one of the first 13 races of the season, and reliable championship contender Scott Dixon just fell out of the points lead (for the first time in two months) with four races remaining.

That would seem a lot of stress, but it goes with the territory for Ganassi, whose public persona sometimes is a rough-around-the-edges and sometimes combative forcefulness that has carried his teams through sponsor departures and disappointing seasons.

On the morning of last month’s Brickyard 400, he berated a reporter who wrote Larson’s team had been “tainted” by multiple run-ins with NASCAR officials earlier this summer. It isn’t the first time Ganassi, who voraciously consumes the auto racing media’s coverage (which doesn’t go unappreciated by those of us who talk or write about the sport), has taken umbrage at how a reporter has characterized one of his teams.

This is another thing to know about Ganassi’s working relationships: As fiercely as he celebrates with them, he also stands up for his guys.

Most importantly, he stands up for Larson, who is a critical key to the future of American auto racing.

Other NASCAR team owners covet him, but there is no better caretaker than Ganassi – and not just because he dipped into his own cash reserves (which don’t run as deep as those belonging to Roger Penske or Rick Hendrick and their billion-dollar automotive empires) to get Larson’s signature on an iron-clad (but lucrative) contract for several years.

The bond between driver and owner started six years ago when Ganassi saw enough of the generational talent in Larson to invest in a path to Cup without the benefit of sponsor money when no one else would. It was a shrewd move (just as it was to accelerate Larson into Cup after a season in Xfinity) that might fall short of ever receiving proper credit because its ramifications could be so far-reaching.

Larson, 25, is a linchpin to the NASCAR youth movement, which will be punctuated when he wins his first championship (and he might be the 2017 title favorite if he reaches the final round given his sterling record and affinity for Homestead-Miami Speedway).

But he is nearly as important to the growth and progress of racing in this country. He currently is the most rock-solid bridge between big-league auto racing and grass-roots short tracks. When Larson runs the Indianapolis 500 (and Ganassi’s capitulation on the Knoxville Nationals last week shows it’s only a matter of time), he will cement his reputation as his generation’s answer to Foyt or Andretti, the legends who can win in any vehicle they choose to wheel.

The last two restarts at Michigan reaffirmed that Larson’s talent is undeniable, but it also has needed proper nurturing for an emerging star who didn’t come from a racing family steeped in the connections and knowledge to secure the necessary breaks to break through in modern-day NASCAR. Larson probably could have been successful with any team, but it’s hard to envision his development in stock cars going more seamlessly than with Ganassi.

It’s taken the unwavering belief and support of a team owner (with the mentality of a former driver) who must be mindful of balancing Larson’s personal happiness with his vested interests in the good of Chip Ganassi Racing, along with the greater good of spreading the racing gospel.

That’s a lot of pressure to shoulder for Ganassi, who spent the past couple seasons tailoring his Cup organization to maximize the prodigious ability of Larson.

Chip deserves a slap on the back.

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While the primary motivation for permitting moonlighting in sprint cars is Larson’s contentment, there might be ancillary advantages for Ganassi’s Cup teams – namely, Larson’s performance on restarts.

When Tony Stewart won the 2011 championship, his memorable late-season surge of five victories in 10 races was made on the strength of some impressive restarts (notably his race-winning move on Jimmie Johnson at Martinsville Speedway). The three-time champion (and some of his crew chiefs) credited his side trips to dirt tracks (which are filled with shorter feature races and many opportunities for timing a flag) with helping sharpen his anticipation for pounding the accelerator. The opportunity to race on dirt at his leisure was a major reason he became a driver-owner at Stewart-Haas Racing (he was restricted at Joe Gibbs Racing).

It’s worth asking if the extracurricular dirt racing has made a similar impact on Larson, whose Michigan win excised the memory of some disappointing restarts that cost him wins in races bookending the 2016 and ’17 seasons. Though the start of Sunday’s race might have been among the most disappointing of his career, he was on his game when it mattered.

Beyond the track, Ganassi’s decision to allow Larson to run Knoxville was a social media hit, both in the unveiling via dual videos by Ganassi and Larson to the traction from the #LetKyleRace hashtag. That can’t hurt a team searching for a sponsor.

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Seemingly all of the focus for how Larson won Michigan was on the final restart, but as Steve Letarte explained on NASCAR America this week, it was the previous restart and crew chief Chad Johnston’s strategy that positioned him for the win.

But while waiting to pit for four tires was critical, the team also caught a break with the final caution – after Larson went from eighth to fourth in five laps on four tires, culminating in the critical pass of Chase Elliott that put him in fourth and in the preferred outside lane for last green flag

As Motorsports Analytics’ David Smith noted (and Larson took some issue with), Sunday also was another example of the No. 42 having good fortune on restarts – though Larson certainly has seized the opportunities.

Michigan definitely was in the top five for greatest restarts in 2017 … but the final two restarts at Indianapolis (where Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski both made passes for the lead) also deserve consideration for the season’s best.

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On the flip side, the most jaw-dropping turn of events at Michigan happened before the final restart. Brad Keselowski led a race-high 105 of 202 laps and seemed destined for the first victory at his home track until a cascading set of calls left his No. 2 Ford in 17th.

After Keselowski dominated the first half, crew chief Paul Wolfe devoted his strategy in the second half to chasing Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn. It started when Truex won the second stage by (unintentionally?) short-pitting and leap-frogging from fifth to first (ostensibly, the stop was for a tire problem but was just a few laps ahead of the rest of the contenders).

Keselowski never regained his mojo after that point despite a few gambits by Wolfe. The first was pitting under caution on Lap 140 and re-emerging in 10th as the first car on four tires – but it hardly worked in gaining the necessary ground. When Truex pitted from the lead on Lap 160, Keselowski hadn’t built enough of a cushion to put him a lap down.

So Keselowski pitted again on Lap 162 but for only two tires – and yet still lost the lead to Truex, who had taken four. That left Keselowski obligated to pit for two tires again when the yellow flew on Lap 188 — thus making three pit stops to Truex’s one in the final 60 laps despite having a faster car for most of the race.

At least it seemed much faster until Truex won the second stage and somehow managed to dictate the rhythm of the race despite taking his first lead on Lap 114. Keselowski explained “he didn’t really have enough” to run with Truex so, “we tried a little strategy to kind of get something out of it, but the way it all played out I ended up getting the bottom lane on the restarts and getting absolutely swallowed. We tried. We put in as much effort as we could.”

It was reminiscent of what has been Wolfe and Keselowski’s modus operandi whenever they’ve been at peak operating levels – get the competition off their games. Five years ago at Michigan, they outwitted Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus with pit strategy, a precursor to Keselowski’s maverick charge to the 2012 championship.

It was the first sign that the bewitching spell Johnson and Knaus held over NASCAR for several years seemed to be waning … just as it eventually did for their Hendrick Motorsports forebears Ray Evernham and Jeff Gordon after their “Refuse to Lose” heyday.

Truex and Pearn now seem to be the sublime combination of crew chief and driver whose strategy plays and flawless execution have rivals spun out. Though the speed of their No. 78 Toyota has been undisputed, it’s not the only reason the Furniture Row Racing duo has become the weekly focus of the Cup garage.

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If Danica Patrick seems happier lately (despite an uncertain future in racing), it’s because she is.

In the latest episode of the NASCAR on NBC podcast, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver discussed how she transformed her outlook on life.

“I just don’t feel the weight of anything anymore,” Patrick said. “I don’t feel angry about anything. It’s just gone. There’s plenty of things I look back and I’m like, ‘That sucked, but whatever. I’m going to go on.’ And the things that make you happiest are free.”

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here.

It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

The free subscriptions will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.