Will phenom Kyle Larson take the Sprint Cup Series by storm in his rookie season in 2014?

Kyle Larson ready to show he has what it takes in Sprint Cup in 2014

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – When you have incredible talent, some things are just foregone conclusions. But no matter what Kyle Larson accomplishes in his rookie Sprint Cup season with Chip Ganassi Racing, he’ll still likely go down in NASCAR history as having the shortest job interview and hiring process.

“If you know Chip, he’s really quick about what he says,” Larson said with a laugh, recalling the day Ganassi called and changed the young driver’s life.

“The phone call lasted probably 45 seconds. I was just driving down the road, I kind of maybe knew what the phone call was going to be about, so I pulled over and he said, ‘Hey, it’s Chip. Yo! Ready to drive the 42 next year?’ I said yeah. He said, ‘Okay, anything else?’ Click. That’s how it went.”

As the replacement for Juan Pablo Montoya in the No. 42 Target Chevrolet, Larson will definitely have a proverbial target on his back that is more than just representing his team’s primary sponsor.

There’s his age (21), his relatively short apprenticeship in the Nationwide Series (one season) and a reputation of being perhaps one of the most talented drivers to come up through the short track, sprint car and midget ranks in the last decade-plus.

But it’s hard to ignore the confidence Ganassi and Sabates have in Larson, not to mention the respect he’s already gained from several of his Sprint Cup peers and heroes.

“I am blown away by this kid,” Gordon said of Larson in a TV interview a little over a year ago. “He makes me look like nothing. He’s maybe a little more closer to Tony Stewart, who drove a lot more cars over the years than I have. I have Kyle’s number. I text him when he wins a race. I’m getting tired of texting him. The kid will win two different divisions in the same weekend. The kid is really spectacular. I think he’s probably the rawest, most talented race car driver I know of.”

In an interview with AutoWeek magazine last year, Tony Stewart said of Larson, “That kid is a lot better than (Jeff) Gordon or I was at his age,” Stewart said. “You’re going to be hearing about him for a long time. He’s a special talent.”

Larson was the talk of the morning session Tuesday in the second day of the four-day annual NASCAR Media Tour. He’s one of eight contenders for Rookie of the Year in the Sprint Cup Series, but it would not be a stretch to consider him the favorite already.

“The kid’s ready,” Ganassi said last August when he announced he had signed Larson to replace Montoya, who has moved back to the IndyCar Series this year after a seven-year run in NASCAR.

Ganassi was not able to attend Tuesday’s media session due to other commitments, but team co-owner Felix Sabates was there and readily admitted Larson will be a game-changer for both the race team but also for NASCAR.

To illustrate that, Sabates admitted he’s cut back on his travel schedule to races in recent years, but plans on ratcheting that up considerably to about 28 races on the 36-race Sprint Cup schedule so that he can watch Larson race – and ultimately win.

“I want to be there when Kyle wins for the first time,” Sabates said. “He didn’t just come out of the closet yesterday. I’ve been following him for awhile. When he was 17 years old, I said he’s the real McCoy. Very seldom do you get someone that age, that mature, in a race car. When he hit the wall at Daytona and went airborne, I thought that was it, put a fork in him, he’s done. And then the next week, he was (back) out there, going sideways.”

For such a young man, Larson is a seasoned driver. He’s spent the last several years racing primarily sprint cars and midgets on short tracks around the country, winning dozens of races. He captured the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship in 2012, winning two races and finishing in the top 10 12 times in 14 starts.

In just two Camping World Truck Series events last season, he won one and finished runner-up in the other. And then in his first full-time campaign on the Nationwide Series, Larson made 33 starts and, while he failed to win a race, finished runner-up four times, had 17 top-10 finishes and wound up an outstanding eighth in the final standings.

While Larson was involved in a massive pileup in the season-opening race at Daytona last year, where his car essentially disintegrated around him and with parts including a tire that flew into the crowd and injured two dozen fans, he amazingly was unhurt in the wreck. It was one of the most vicious crashes in NASCAR in recent memory.

“Having a background in sprint cars, wrecks like that happen – not all the time, but enough to where you’re not surprised when it happens,” Larson said. “It didn’t affect me mentally at all, I was just more worried about the fans and stuff. I was supposed to run a race that night, but I decided not to.

“It wasn’t because I was scared about racing, it was more out of respect for the fans. It probably wasn’t even in the top five of my worst wrecks. On video, it looks real bad, but as far as being injured or sore, it wasn’t bad at all. As a race car driver, you can’t be scared, and I tried to put things behind me pretty quick. So, I don’t think about it a whole lot.”

To his credit, Larson appears rather level-headed. While he smiles and says Jeff Gordon is his idol and that he at some point collected autographs of all his favorite drivers, he’s not letting the magnitude of his ascension to Sprint Cup to leave him awestruck. He knows he has a job and plans on going out and doing it.

“It’s exciting, but I don’t think about that stuff a whole lot,” he said. “When we’re strapped into the cars, we’re all just race car drivers. It’s just not that big of a deal to me. They’re just other race car drivers. I mean, when they come up to me, they’re probably not like, ‘Wow, that’s Kyle Larson.’ Like I said, they’re just other race car drivers I’m out there competing with.”

Ganassi and Sabates have both said they want to bring Larson along slowly, but his youthful expectations are more elevated than his bosses.

“Chip and Felix are both realistic with their goals as well as me, and theirs might be lower than mine,” Larson said. “But mine are just to be competitive each week and finish in the top 12 or 15 of the race, win Rookie of the Year and make the Chase.

“I don’t think anything could have worked out better for me. I couldn’t have caught any better break. I’m just really thankful and really to do the best job I can.”

James Hinchcliffe has 11-week lead in IndyCar race at Texas

FORT WORTH, TX - JUNE 10:  James Hinchcliffe of Canada, driver of the #5 ARROW Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Chevrolet, practices for the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 10, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
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FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) James Hinchcliffe has been leading the IndyCar race at Texas for such a long time.

When the rain-interrupted race resumes on lap 72 Saturday night at the high-banked – and hopefully dry – 1 1/2-mile oval, Hinchcliffe will have led for 76 days.

“It’s better than not leading at all, that’s for sure,” Hinchcliffe said, with a chuckle. “The most important thing is that we’re still leading at the end.”

A lot has happened in the 2 1/2 months since that waterlogged June weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, including the completion of five other IndyCar Series races. Will Power won three of them, the last being 500 miles at Pocono on Monday after a one-day rain delay.

Since the Texas race was red-flagged on June 12 – and technically still is – the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins won their fourth Stanley Cup, and LeBron James led the Cavaliers to an NBA title that ended Cleveland’s 52-year major title drought.

Among other sports headlines in that span, Andy Murray and Serena Williams added Grand Slam titles by winning at Wimbledon, three major champions were crowned in golf, and Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Michael Phelps won more gold medals at the Olympics in Rio this month.

“It’s unique in that James Hinchcliffe has been leading for 2 1/2 months, and surely he’s got to go to the bathroom before we get started here,” Speedway President Eddie Gossage said with a smile.

“It’s been fun. There’s been a lot of interesting chatter on Twitter, and certainly Eddie reminding people every other day that I’m still leading,” Hinchliffe said. “Hopefully, he can be telling people every other day that we won the race.”

Hinchcliffe, the Indianapolis 500 polesitter who led 27 laps before finishing seventh there in May, hasn’t led another lap since leaving Texas.

The last time an IndyCar race started and resumed another day was at Brazil in 2011, but that was only 24 hours. After the first 14 laps and a 2 1/2-hour rain delay there, the final 41 laps were completed the next day with polesitter Power winning.

“It’s unlike anything we’ve done before as far as rainouts go,” Power said about going back to Texas, where he will resume running fourth.

Unlike the quick resumption in Brazil five years ago, IndyCar drivers are returning to Texas 11 weeks later and will have only a 10-minute practice session before starting to race again.

Only 71 of the scheduled 248 laps were completed in June , when the Firestone 600 was initially postponed from Saturday night without the cars ever making it to the starting grid. After the race started 40 minutes late Sunday and then the rain returned, the decision for an unprecedented months-long delay was made since there was more wet weather in the immediate forecast.

Heavy rain fell for several hours after the cars came off the track 54 laps shy of what was needed to make it an official race. There were indeed more downpours the following day.

Since IndyCar rules don’t allow for starting over a race that has already taken the green flag, the only choice was to resume the race from where it was stopped.

Hinchcliffe took the lead for the first time on lap 41, the last green-flag lap counted before a hard crash involving Josef Newgarden and Conor Daly, who won’t be allowed to resume this weekend. Newgarden sustained a broken collarbone and small fracture in his hand, but won a month later at Iowa.

There were 30 laps run under caution while track officials worked to repair the damaged safety barrier, and that work was still being done along the frontstretch when the rain started falling again.

“I’ll be perfect honestly, I tried to convince IndyCar to restart the race, as did several drivers, but their rulebook says what it says and I can’t fault them for that,” Gossage said. “It’s just one of those unfortunate things … who would think it’s going to rain, and rain for days and we knew we couldn’t do it.”

Fast Facts: Firestone 600 (resumption) at Texas Motor Speedway

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Courtesy of INDYCAR PR, here’s all you need to know ahead of this weekend’s resumption of the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway, the 14th of 16 races on the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule:

Firestone 600 (The Resumption) Fast Facts

Race weekend: Friday, June 10 – Saturday, Aug. 27 (Race was scheduled for June 11, started on June 12 and was red-flagged after 71 laps. Race is scheduled to restart on Aug. 27)

Track: Texas Motor Speedway, a 1.455-mile oval in Fort Worth, Texas

Race distance: 248 laps / 360.84 miles (177 laps/257.535 miles remaining)

Firestone tire allotment: Each Entrant will be allotted one new set of tires for the mandatory install lap and practice session. Entrants will be allotted six new sets for the race.

Twitter: @TXMotorSpeedway @IndyCar, #Firestone600, #IndyCar

Event website: www.TexasMotorSpeedway.com

INDYCAR website: www.IndyCar.com

2015 race winner: Scott Dixon (No. 9 Energizer EcoAdvanced Chevrolet)

Current race leader: James Hinchcliffe (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda)

Current running order: Firestone 600 Lap 71 (PDF) Note: Cars must be in the aerodynamic configuration they were in when the race was red flagged. The only exception will be the front wing angle. Lap count will begin the first time by the start/finish line upon exiting pit lane.

2016 Verizon P1 Award winner: Carlos Munoz (No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda), 48.2460 seconds, 217.137 mph (two laps)

NBCSN television broadcast: Race, 9 p.m. ET Saturday, Aug. 27 (live); Kevin Lee is the lead announcer for the NBCSN broadcast this weekend alongside analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy. Pit reporters are Jon Beekhuis, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller.

Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network broadcasts: Mark Jaynes is the chief announcer alongside analyst Davey Hamilton. Jake Query and Nick Yeoman are the turn announcers with Brad Gillie reporting from the pits. All Verizon IndyCar Series races as well as qualifying sessions are broadcast live on network affiliates, Sirius 212, XM 209,IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app. All Verizon IndyCar Series practice sessions are available on IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app.

Video streaming: The practice session from Texas Motor Speedway (5:30 p.m. ET,Saturday Aug. 27) will be available on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.

INDYCAR Mobile app: Verizon Wireless puts fans around the world in the driver’s seat with its INDYCAR Mobile app. The app has been enhanced with new features to keep fans in the know of the latest race-day action. Exclusive features of the INDYCAR Mobile app for Verizon Wireless customers will stream live through the app and includes enhanced real-time leaderboard and car telemetry; the ability to follow the race in real time with the interactive 3D track; live in-car camera video streaming for select drivers during Verizon IndyCar Series races; live driver and pit crew radio transmissions during races and live Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network audio streaming during all track activities.

At-track schedule (all times local):
Saturday, Aug. 27
4:30 – 5 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
8:15 p.m. – Command to restart engines
8:16 p.m. – Firestone 600 resumes on Lap 72 (171 laps/257.535 miles remain), NBCSN (Live)

Championship facts:
•  Simon Pagenaud leads the Verizon IndyCar Series championship with three races to be completed for the first time in his career.
•  Simon Pagenaud leads Will Power by 20 points. Pagenaud has led the championship since the second race of the season at Phoenix. With 54 maximum points available at Texas, the points lead could change for the second time in 2015.
•  There are 15 drivers still mathematically eligible for the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series championship: Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Carlos Munoz, James Hinchcliffe, Graham Rahal, Charlie Kimball, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sebastien Bourdais and Mikhail Aleshin. Any driver who trails the points leader by 158 points or more following the race will be eliminated from contention.
•  Three drivers were eliminated from championship contention at Pocono on Aug. 22 – Takuma Sato, Marco Andretti and Conor Daly.
•  Since the first Indy car race at Texas in 1997, the winning driver has won the championship six times: Sam Hornish Jr (2001 Race 2; 2002 Race 2); Tony Kanaan (2004 Race 1), Scott Dixon (2008 and 2015) and Dario Franchitti (2011 Race 1).

Key championship point statistic: The driver who has led the championship with three races to go has failed to win the championship in five of the last six seasons. Will Power in 2014 is the exception.

Point differential: The 20 points which separate Simon Pagenaud and Will Power is the third smallest margin with three races remaining since 2010. Will Power led Helio Castroneves by four points in 2014 and Ryan Hunter-Reay by five points in 2012. The average deficit with three races to go since 2010 is 23.16 points.

Championship-eligible drivers’ results at Texas: Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Will Power have all won races at Texas Motor Speedway. Castroneves, Dixon and Kanaan have seven podium finishes. Pagenaud’s best finish was fourth in 2014. Newgarden (who will not participate in the race’s resumption due to crash on June 12) has never finished better than eighth.

Tornado near IMS also interrupts Indy Lights road course Cooper Tire test

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 17:  A general view of the Pagoda during practice for the 2013 Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 17, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was meant to be having a full day of Cooper Tire testing for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.

Zach Veach was the one undertaking the testing in a Belardi Auto Racing Dallara IL-15 Mazda.

Veach had a busy morning, noting he’d run two full race distances.

And then an afternoon interruption came in the way of a tornado near Speedway, Ind.

Testing was paused this afternoon and those on site at IMS went for cover.

A tornado struck near Kokomo Speedway this afternoon, where a celebration of life for Bryan Clauson was taking place, and leveled a Starbucks.

Here’s a number of tweets and social posts from near IMS for this tornado:

Wow…not sure it that touched down but it was darn close. #tornado #Indianapolis

A photo posted by Michael Young (@trackdude500) on

Tornado strikes just few miles from Bryan Clauson tribute

clauson tribute kokomo
(Photo courtesy of USACNation Twitter page)
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A celebration of the life of late Sprint car driver Bryan Clauson has been interrupted — but not impacted — by a tornado that has caused considerable damage just a few miles away in Kokomo, Indiana.

The celebration of Clauson’s life brought out a packed house at Kokomo Speedway, one of Clauson’s favorite racetracks. He lived in nearby Noblesville. The celebration began shortly after 1 p.m. ET.

Kokomo Speedway, which apparently did not suffer any damage from the tornado, is located about four miles northwest of the mall.

The tornado struck near the Markland Mall, located on the east side of Kokomo at the intersection of 17th and Reed streets, causing significant damage, including the flattening of a Starbucks coffee shop that abuts the mall.

A large presence of first responders is on-scene at the mall, and there are other reports of significant property damage in other areas, particularly the east side of Kokomo.

The city of Kokomo, the 13th largest city in Indiana with a population of approximately 60,000, is about 50 miles due north of Indianapolis.

Here are some of the first reports on Twitter, including several from many of Clauson’s fellow drivers and other motorsports officials:

 

 

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