Tag: Kyle Larson

Daytona Qualifying Disaster

There is an old saying that what drivers hate, fans will love. Sunday afternoon’s qualifying for the starting two position of next week’s Daytona 500 proved that saying wrong. Both fans, drivers, and media alike classified the knockout qualifying rounds as “idiotic,” “dumb,” “the worst,” and “not even entertaining.” The only group that seemed to enjoy it was the FOX broadcast team who had to enjoy the ratings as fans watched in horror at what the Daytona 500 qualifying has become. Continue reading “Daytona Qualifying Disaster”

The Paradigm Shift In NASCAR

Much was made last November about a changing of the guard in NASCAR when we ran the season finale at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. Mark Martin and Ken Schrader made it be known it would be their final Sprint Cup Series race. For Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte it represented their final full-time race in the series, although Labonte did not make the trip south as his finale was a week prior at Phoenix. Continue reading “The Paradigm Shift In NASCAR”

Excitement Builds At Earnhardt Ganassi Racing

Photo- Getty Images
Photo- Getty Images

For the first time in a very long time there is excitement building inside the walls at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. After years of mediocrity, the tide is turning for the organization for the better and Sunday’s win by Jamie McMurray just put a punctuation mark on it.

“Winning, it’s not just about me; it’s about everybody within our whole group.  You know, probably more so the 1 guys because they’re the ones that are in victory lane.  But it’s so cool to see their faces in victory lane and know that when we go to Martinsville, you have confidence, everybody does.  It’s so big for us because Martinsville    to me plate tracks are probably my best tracks, and Martinsville is probably my next best.  I love getting to go there,” said McMurray after the win Sunday.

This is a great place to be able to win at to take not only my confidence but everybody else within our group to that track where I feel we’ll run really well at. McMurray and teammate Juan Pablo Montoya have been running better than they have in the past few years. Prior to the win McMurray finished second at Kentucky and Montoya finished second at Dover. Other races they have been in contention, but one thing or another whipped out a good finish. McMurray has posted four top-5 finishes and eight top-10 finishes, which is more than 2011 and 2012 combined. Montoya has posted four top-5 finishes as well, better than 2011 and 2012 combined. His seven top-10 finishes is just shy of the eight he posted in 2011, in 2012 he had two all season.

Montoya is on his way out after the conclusion of this season, but momentum will continue because replacing him is highly touted rookie Kyle Larson. Larson, who will make his second Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Martinsville, was running in the top-15 during his debut at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. While he hasn’t collected any wins during his first season in the Nationwide Series, Larson has shown he has the skill set to get the job done.

“You know, my first indication (Larson is a special talent) was at Daytona this year.  I remember watching him in the race, hearing all the time how special he is, how special he is.  He’s running around the Nationwide race 14th or 12th.  I thought, What the hell is so special about this kid?  Sure enough, at the finish line, he was right there.  Of course, he was here and there at the finish line at Daytona this year, I should say.  Be that as it may, that to me was special.  I’ve seen that five or six, eight times now.  He gives you the impression he’s dilly-dallying in the middle of the pack, not paying attention.  Always at the end he’s where it seems to matter to be.  That says something to me,” said team co-owner Chip Ganassi.

Coming to Martinsville this weekend, McMurray will look to prove he’s not just a restrictor plate winner. While he has no wins at the paperclip shaped facility, he does have a second place finish in in 2004. Montoya will look to close his NASCAR career (potentially) on a high note by getting his first oval win at the tough track.

The Goody’s Headache Powder 500 gets under way at 2 PM EST and can be seen on ESPN.

Column: Keselowski, Debuts, Talladega, MWR, and Irvan Returns

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In this week’s column I take a look at the most recent Sprint Cup Series winner, Brad Keselowski, along with the three drivers who made their Cup debuts Saturday under the lights. My two cents on the Michael Waltrip Racing situation that came out Monday. And to round things out I will touch on what a wildcard Talladega is to the Chase and a former Talladega winner is back involved in NASCAR.

It was a very long time coming for Brad Keselowski, who had not won a Sprint Cup Series race in just over a year. His last win was Kansas of last year during his run for the Sprint Cup championship. It has been a big struggle for him and his team all year long. Luck just has not been on their side, some of their own doing (Texas with penalties) and others were just out of his hands. This team is going for broke during the Chase since they are not in it, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they pick up another win or two.

It was Kyle Larson who got most of the media attention heading into Charlotte about making his Sprint Cup Series debut. He did not do it alone as Brian Scott and Blake Koch each made their inaugural Sprint Cup races. Of the trio, Scott produced the best finish coming home in the 27th position. Larson was quick and up near the top-10, but his engine expired after completing 247 of the 334 laps, relegating him to a 37th place finish. Koch was a late add to the #95 Leavine Family Racing Ford and ran 216 laps before retiring with a vibration, he finished 38th. Larson is going to be running full-time in 2014, whereas Scott hopes to run a handful of races next season, and Koch’s plans are still unknown at this time. Each has a bright future, but Larson will be the one who garners all the attention.

It’s down to a five man battle for the Sprint Cup championship this year, although you could argue it’s down to two already with five races to go. That’s good because Talladega is up next and the unpredictability of it will definitely shake things up. In the spring Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, and Matt Kenseth were the only Chase drivers to get a top-10 finish. Heck, David Ragan won the race with David Gilliland pushing him. When we say anything can happen, anything can and will happen in the race. The goal of every Chase driver is to survive and hopefully not lose too many points in the process.

The announcement that Michael Waltrip Racing would be reducing the number of full-time teams it fields from three to two is not surprising. There was no way they could secure funding for a full season in such short notice after NAPA informed them they were leaving. What I don’t like is the number of people who will be out of jobs because of the action of a few inside the organization. You can’t tell me from the top (i.e. Michael Waltrip himself) there was no discussions of manipulating the race if push came to shove out there. For a team that is starving for funds, a bonus for a car making the Chase was worth the risks at the time. Now that they have found out what the risks are, they would probably re-think their approach. I hope that driver Martin Truex, Jr., who did nothing but race his ass off into the Chase only to get kicked out, lands a good ride and can bring some of his former MWR colleagues with him.

Something that might have slipped through the cracks last weekend was Ernie Irvan getting back into racing as a car owner for his son Jared starting in 2014. The 15-year old Irvan will compete full-time in the Pro All Star Series South (PASS) that hits tracks like Hickory, South Boston, and Organ County. History lesson for you all is those were former Nationwide Series tracks back in the day. It’s good to see Ernie getting back into the sport after having such a great, albeit short, career that included 15 victories, the 1991 Daytona 500, and what should have been the 1994 title had he not gotten injured at Michigan.

Could We See Larson In The 42 This Year?

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The biggest question raised after Monday’s announcement that Juan Pablo Montoya would be going back to the Izod IndyCar series in 2014 is will this open the door to seeing Kyle Larson in the car before the close of the season.

The first reason this would make sense is that Montoya isn’t in the Chase, so it’s not like he’s going for the championship, it’s mainly just wins from here on out. While the team has been fast, I don’t see them getting any wins in the final nine races.

A second reason is the rivalry between Chip Ganassi (co-owner Earnhardt Ganassi Racing) and Roger Penske (owner Team Penske) could be one where Ganassi could be furious that is where Montoya is going. Instead of keeping him around where maybe he gather information to give Penske, he could cut him loose early.

A third reason is this way both organizations can focus their efforts on 2014. Montoya can begin to re-acclimate himself to IndyCar and Ganassi can bring up rookie Kyle Larson to get some races under his belt. Penske might not have a team in place for Montoya yet, but Larson could begin to work with the crew he’ll work with starting at Daytona next February.

I think a move like this could benefit both sides, but most likely would take place after this weekend’s activates at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. This weekend the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series are not racing at the same location, so logistically it would make sense to not start Larson until the week after.

Too Fast, Too Soon?

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During the offseason Joey Logano looked back at his career and admitted what some people were thinking. Maybe going into Sprint Cup racing at age 19 was not the best decision, but it was not one he regrets. While I was unable to talk to Joey specifically about his comments, I was able to catch up with David Ragan, Blake Koch, and Kyle Larson to get their opinion on their experience rising through the ranks.

David Ragan was relatively unknown, running a handful of NASCAR Camping World and Nationwide Series races. Then at age 21, he was named the driver of the #6 Ford for Roush Racing. If that was not intimidating enough, add in that he was replacing a legend in that ride, Mark Martin.

Was it too fast of an ascension for him?

“I was definitely not ready for a full-time Cup series ride. The previous series I ran full-time in before was legends car series in 2002,” says Ragan. “I was fast enough to go fast, but not mature enough to finish these 500/600 mile races and to race for points over the course of a year.”  The greatest factor maturity plays in racing is the ability to race for points, because, like we all know, it is the points that crown you champion of the series at the end of the season. So where it is important to drive fast to win a race, it is equally important to have consistency to win race after race, which is where mature focus comes in.

There are a couple of ways to reach that level of maturity before racing Sprint Cup fulltime. Ragan states, “Looking back I would definitely change things: run Trucks for a couple of years, Nationwide for a year and learn how to points race; learn how to race at these tracks.” He brings up a good point that having more experience working as a team and racing on the same tracks is what allows a driver to gain confidence while maintaining a stable and mature nature on the track. As each track differs from the next, it is important to understand the ins and outs of each for successful preparation that allows the team to gain points, not just win.

When we were young, we were asked what we wanted to be when we grew up. As adults, some of us adjusted our dreams to be realistic, but for a select few their dreams came true. Now despite your age, would you ever turn down the opportunity to live your dream? Majority vote is no. “In this day and age when you’re given an opportunity, you can’t look back; you have to make the best of it. It was tough for a couple of years,” comments Ragan.

Lately in NASCAR, there have been less and less of those opportunities for new, young drivers, teams, and manufacturers to enter the scene. Ragan explains, “With the current structure of the Sprint Cup Series and the economy the way it is, it isn’t really acceptable to new teams, drivers, and owners. You see a lot of drivers staying for 10-15 years, and there’s only a couple of rides open each year. If you don’t cut the grade soon, you’re usually left behind.” With this small window of opportunity, it makes sense why young drivers would not decline an offer even if they feel they are not ready.

Blake Koch took a different path to NASCAR. He started out racing motocross, but after some injuries decided that it was not for him. “I stopped and went to college. My step-dad bought me a car for a local track. I tried it out and fell in love with it.” In 2008 he placed a series of calls to different teams about getting on their developmental programs. One team listened: Richard Childress Racing.

Koch went through a handful of starts before getting a full-time Nationwide Series ride in 2011. Then part-way through 2012, he lost ride. That put Koch in a precarious position of what he wanted to do. He could continue to chase his dream, or give up for a regular job away from racing. He decided to plug on. “I had the opportunity to do a start and park car, and I said ‘no, I don’t want to do it. It is too early in my career, I don’t want to be labeled as a start and park driver.’ Then two weeks later when my mortgage was due, I realized it was something I might have to do.”

That was not all he was doing those weekends, “sometimes I was driving Trevor Bayne’s motorhome, starting and parking a truck, and doing some spotting on the Cup side,” stated Koch. That perseverance has paid off with a full-time ride with SR2 Motorsports this year.

Previous experience with former development drivers might be working into the fortunes of Kyle Larson. He is a developmental driver for Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, has spent 2013 driving for Turner-Scott Motorsports in the Nationwide Series. ”You can’t turn down opportunities like that (driving for EGR/TSM), but Chip Ganassi (team owner) won’t move me up if I’m not ready. I’m just going to try to do the best I can and learn as much as I can to try and be prepared if he throws me in a Cup car,” said Larson.

That call came Friday when Ganassi announced Larson as the new driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet. Both Ganassi and Larson sounded ok with dealing with the growing pains that will come. “I think Kyle is the kind of driver, when he sees an opportunity in front of him, he takes it.  If that means it’s a win, hey, great.  There’s no pressure for him to win his first year out,” said Ganassi Friday.

Larson even had a little bit of time to reflect on going from K&N East Series champion to Sprint Cup Series regular in under two years. “It’s definitely been quite a whirlwind.  I was walking over here saying a year ago today I was making my second Truck start.  It’s been a really quick road.  But I feel like I’ve done okay with it and learned quite a bit. As far as next year goes, I know I’ll have to focus more on the Sprint Cup stuff.  I understand it’s probably going to be the toughest step in my whole career.  I’m going to have to dedicate a lot of time to it and grow as a driver, do a great job for Target, for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and make everybody there happy.”

Hindsight is 20/20, but as David Ragan said, “given an opportunity you can’t look back, you have to make the best of it, and it makes you stronger in the long run.” No matter the path a driver takes to NASCAR, they have to be willing to take chances on and off the track. If it is getting into a series before they’re ready, then they will do that.

Hindsight is 20/20, but as David Ragan said, “given an opportunity you can’t look back, you have to make the best of it, and it makes you stronger in the long run.” No matter the path a driver takes to NASCAR, they have to be willing to take chances on and off the track. If it is getting into a series before they’re ready, then they will do that.