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Kyle Larson seeks turnaround at ‘by far my favorite racetrack’

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BRISTOL, Tenn. – With his team in a mini-slump in midsummer, Kyle Larson is back in his happy place, and the Chip Ganassi Racing driver wouldn’t mind returning more often.

“I love racing here,” Larson said Thursday at Bristol Motor Speedway. “I wish we could race here weekly. I think our sport would be in a good spot if we could.

“I didn’t watch a ton of NASCAR growing up, but I’d never miss a Bristol race. If you were to ask me what Bristol race stands out, I couldn’t tell you. I just loved watching Bristol. It was always a lot of fun. Ever since they added the progressive banking, it’s been a lot better, too, as far as style of racing goes. It’s by far my favorite NASCAR track.”

The love of Bristol grew only stronger Friday night as he won the Food City 300 and scored his first victory in 18 Cup and Xfinity starts at the 0.533-mile oval.

Larson will be trying for his first win in NASCAR’s premier series at the track – and his first in Cup this season – while starting from the pole position in tonight’s race.

A victory would be a welcome result for Larson’s team, which is virtually locked into the playoffs but has only two top 10s in six races since his memorable runner-up finish to Kyle Busch at Chicagoland Speedway.

While Chevrolet teams Hendrick Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing seem to have gotten faster in recent weeks, Larson’s No. 42 Camaro seems to have tailed off slightly after easily being the best Chevy in the first half of the season.

“I don’t know where we might be off,” he said. “Nobody really honestly knows where other teams have gotten speed from, so we’re working on all areas, really, I’m pretty sure, to try and get faster. We have moments where we’re really fast, but I would say we’re just a little inconsistent from track to track.

“You look at last year, we were good everywhere. This year, we’re good at our good tracks. Not as good at the tracks that we have struggled at years prior.”

But what about starting and finishing 17th last Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, where he won three consecutive races from 2016-17?

A loose wheel after his first pit stop mired Larson in traffic and out of sequence, and then contact on a restart hampered into using an older set of tires for the last run of the race.

“It just snowballed into a bad run where I felt like we were going to have a shot to run top 3 or 5, but it just doesn’t show for it, and other people look at it as we just ran bad all day,” he said. “If you look at lap times, we were running some of the fastest laps of the race, just buried in traffic. I feel like we’re not that bad. We just had a little bit of a bad luck that cost us finishes we deserved the last few weeks.”

The urgency to maximize his speed stems more from being well positioned in the playoffs than making the 16-driver field. Larson is one of three provisionally qualified who have no playoff points yet.

“That part is a little frustrating,” he said. “It makes you more nervous when it comes to the playoffs, but the good thing is there’s been three guys taking up all the playoff points, so the other ones don’t have a whole lot, either, but every point matters.

“You look at it as you need to win some stages and win a race, but I also view Bristol as being my best opportunity to get some playoff points. I feel like we can win both stages and win the race. Not easily but this is our best shot. That five to seven points would be huge.”

And after getting bumped from the lead by race winner Kyle Busch at Bristol in April, Larson has earned some leeway in playing rough – not that he plans to use it.

He prefers the “options” afforded by the 2007 addition of progressive banking (which was retrofitted in 2012 in a manner that often makes the top groove the fastest).

“If there was progressive banking 20 years ago, the racing would have been a lot better back then,” he said. “I’m not a fan of the bump and run. I’m just a fan of Bristol.

“I’d much rather see two to three wide racing at Bristol than single file. I think the racing is really good, and that’s why I love coming here to race.”

Clint Bowyer moves into last playoff transfer spot in points standings

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A runner-up finish at Sonoma by Clint Bowyer moved the Stewart-Haas Racing driver into the critical transfer spot for the Cup with 10 races left in the regular season.

Bowyer moved up to 11th in the points standings as teammate Kevin Harvick became the 11th driver to qualify for the playoffs with a win in 2017.

Winless drivers who provisionally are qualified for 16-driver playoffs on points: Kyle Busch (fourth), Chase Elliott (sixth), Jamie McMurray (eighth), Denny Hamlin (ninth) and Bowyer (11th). Joey Logano (10th in points) also is qualified despite having a Richmond win that doesn’t count for playoff eligibility because of a penalty.

Bowyer moved four points ahead of Matt Kenseth for the final spot on points.

Kyle Larson remained the regular-season points leader with a 13-point lead on Martin Truex Jr., who missed an opportunity to regain first in the rankings because of an engine failure. Truex did win his series-leading 11th stage, extending his playoff points total to 21 points, tops in the series.

Click here for the points standings after Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway.

Kyle Larson moves atop points standings, but Martin Truex Jr. increases playoff lead

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Kyle Larson retook the Cup points lead from Martin Truex Jr. with his victory Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, but the Chip Ganassi Racing driver lost ground to Truex in another important category.

Truex, who finished sixth and dropped five points behind Larson, increased his series-leading playoff points total to 20 with two stage wins at Michigan. He is five points ahead of Jimmie Johnson and seven in front of Larson in the playoff standings. Those points will carry through the first nine races of the playoffs.

Truex has a series-high 10 stage victories this season, four more than second-ranked Kyle Busch.

The regular-season champion will be awarded 15 playoff points (five more than the runner-up), so Larson still can gain ground on Truex by maintaining the points lead through the first 26 races.

Click here for the points standings after Sunday’s race at Michigan.

Martin Truex Jr. maintains lead in regular-season, playoff points

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Martin Truex Jr. remained atop the points standings in NASCAR’s premier series with two stage wins and a third-place finish at Dover International Speedway.

The Furniture Row Racing driver is nine points ahead of Kyle Larson, who finished second Sunday, through 13 of 26 races in the regular season.

Raising his stage win total to eight, Truex leads the series with 18 playoff points, three ahead of Jimmie Johnson, who picked up five points with his victory Sunday.

Click here for the points standings after Dover.

Martin Truex Jr. takes lead in playoff points with second victory of season

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With his second victory of the 2017 season, Martin Truex Jr. tied Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson for the series lead. But the Furniture Row driver moved into the lead in playoff points with Saturday night’s win at Kansas Speedway.

Through 11 of 26 races, Truex has compiled 15 playoff points, three more than Keselowski and five ahead of Johnson. Truex, Keselowski and Johnson are the only drivers on NASCAR’s premier series with double-digit playoff points. Kyle Larson ranks fourth with seven points.

Larson, who finished sixth at Kansas in a backup car, maintained his lead in the regular-season standings by 44 points over Truex.

Joey Logano, who finished 37th in a crash Saturday, fell three spots to ninth in the standings.

Click here for the points standings after Saturday’s race at Kansas.