NNS Notes: Kyle Larson finishes 3rd after hitting wall early

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After tagging the wall early on in today’s Boyd Gaming 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kyle Larson wasn’t expecting to wind up with a third-place finish.

But the 21-year-old was able to overcome the run-in, which he said occurred just a few laps after the green flag flew.

“I don’t know what lap it was, Lap 2 or 3, but I got underneath Matt Kenseth and cleared him and the car got really loose,” Larson explained. “I got sideways, chased it up the track and hit the wall and then flung the right front over and hit that too. It hurt the splitter a little bit…All my guys did a great job to fix the car.

“I thought we were about a 6th-7th place car and until that last restart [with 33 laps to go], I wasn’t expecting to keep up with Kyle as long as I did. Hats off to all my guys for working hard and fixing the car that I tore up.”

The Sprint Cup rookie now shifts his focus to tomorrow’s Kobalt 400 main event, where he’ll start in 17th position.

“We made a lot of adjustments in ‘Happy Hour’ and got the car driving really well,” he said. “The grip off the corner got really good so we were able to maintain a good lap time for the averages. I’m excited about tomorrow. I think we have a good shot and our Target car is really fast, so I’ll try not to get in the wall or beat up the car early in the race.

“I’m sure the track’s gonna change a whole lot for tomorrow’s race. It changed a lot during the Nationwide race too, so we just gotta stay on top of that, make the right adjustments, and try to stay up front.”

It was another solid weekend for JR Motorsports, which continues to maintain the early lead in the Nationwide Series championship with Regan Smith and also got the first career NNS Top-5 result from rookie Chase Elliott.

Boss Dale Earnhardt Jr. led the team with a fourth-place result, while Elliott finished right behind him in fifth. Smith overcame a late run-in with the wall to finish 10th, ensuring that he’ll take a three-point edge in the standings over Trevor Bayne to next weekend’s event at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Elliott was especially impressive with how he was able to dice it up against established Sprint Cup stars such as Junior, winner Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth.

Just as impressive was his avoidance of a spinning Kenseth with just over 40 laps remaining.

Kenseth had been battling Busch for the lead when he lost control in Turn 4. Elliott was behind the former Cup champion but managed to dodge him, while Kenseth managed to avoid the rest of the oncoming cars.

When the dust settled, Earnhardt praised Elliott for his performance.

“He’s better than he knows he is,” he told ESPN. “First of all, I never really spent much time around [Chase’s father and former Cup champion] Bill Elliott but I got a chance to work with him the last couple of weeks…He’s just really smart and I think just having that kind of intuition all through Chase’s career has really helped Chase along to where he’s a lot better than most rookies are when they come into this series.

“I’m really happy for him but I’m not surprised. The guy’s got a ton of talent and he’s gonna go a long ways. He’s just got a great mentor in his father and that’s made a big difference in his life.”

Earnhardt, who will return to the Nationwide Series next month at Texas Motor Speedway, later went on Twitter to give Smith a thumbs-up for enduring through a not quite great day to get a Top-10.

A rash of speeding penalties broke out in mid-race, but Richard Childress Racing’s Ty Dillon and Brendan Gaughan perhaps felt it most acutely.

Dillon won the pole earlier today and was running toward the Top 10 when green flag stops began on Lap 113. A few laps later, Dillon came in for service but was busted for speeding on pit road.

That forced the unhappy Dillon to serve a drive-through penalty on Lap 116. But then, on Lap 121, NASCAR hit Dillon once more for speeding in the pits and this time, he had to take a stop-and-go penalty.

Gaughan had a pair of speeding penalties called on him as well. Like Dillon, he did a drive-through on his first penalty only to be called back a second time for a stop-and-go.

Dillon and Gaughan soldiered on after the bizarre sequence to finish 11th and 16th respectively. Brian Scott led the RCR camp with a strong seventh-place finish.

NHRA: Schumacher, C. Force, Kramer No. 1 qualifiers at Phoenix

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NHRA press release

The 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season continued Saturday as Courtney Force set both ends of the Funny Car track record at the 34th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.

Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel) and Deric Kramer (Pro Stock) are also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the second of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Force took over the top spot in the category with a record run of 3.826 seconds at 335.98 mph in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro during her second pass of the day. After recording seven No. 1 qualifiers in 2017, she is aiming for her first event victory since Houston 2016.

“That last pass today was pretty incredible, we have run well here in the past and I’m excited to be back in that top spot,” Force said. “We are hoping to turn this consistency into a win, we just have to keep being consistent on race day.”

Force is set to face off against Del Worsham in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Ron Capps sits second after a 3.844 at 330.80 in his Napa Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T during the final pass of qualifying on Saturday. The defending Funny Car champion Robert Hight qualified 11th after a 3.927 at 329.26.

Schumacher led the category with a run of 3.649 at 334.65 in his U.S. Army dragster posted during the first qualifying session on Friday. Schumacher also set the Top Fuel national speed record at 336.57 with a time of 3.667 seconds during his second pass on Friday. After securing four No. 1 qualifiers in the 2017 season, Schumacher locked in his first of the year in day two of qualifying.

“We earned our three points and kept the top spot so it’s been a great weekend for us so far,” Schumacher said. “The car continues to be great and [crew chief] Mike Neff is comfortable and knows what the car is doing, so I think tomorrow is going to be great day.”

He will go head-to-head against Greg Carrillo in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Steve Torrence qualified second after a 3.665 at 331.45 in his Capco Contractors dragster, while the defending world champion Brittany Force qualified in the 14th spot.

In Pro Stock, Kramer took over the top spot after driving to a 6.522 at 210.80 run in his American Ethanol Dodge Dart during the fourth qualifying session of the weekend. He secured the first No. 1 qualifying position of his career as Kramer also chases his first-ever victory in the class.

“It feels great to get that first No. 1 qualifier, and we had a great package put together this weekend and that was able to move us to the top,” Kramer said. “There were definitely some tuning adjustments from Pomona, but we went back to our old game plan with that KB power and it was a great combination.”

Kramer matches up against Alan Prusiensky in the first round of eliminations. Erica Enders is second in the qualifying order after a 6.527 at 209.98, while Alex Laughlin sits in the third spot.

Eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday.

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Sunday’s first-round pairings for eliminations.

TOP FUEL: 1. Tony Schumacher, 3.649 seconds, 336.57 mph vs. 16. Greg Carrillo, 4.227, 220.91; 2. Steve Torrence, 3.655, 331.85 vs. 15. Steven Chrisman, 4.089, 281.30; 3. Clay Millican, 3.664, 335.23 vs. 14. Brittany Force, 3.828, 253.52; 4. Leah Pritchett, 3.679, 334.15 vs. 13. Troy Buff, 3.809, 318.77; 5. Richie Crampton, 3.683, 325.30 vs. 12. Scott Palmer, 3.788, 326.63; 6. Billy Torrence, 3.697, 331.45  vs. 11. Doug Kalitta, 3.742, 328.78; 7. Blake Alexander, 3.705, 332.59 vs. 10. Terry McMillen, 3.740, 325.85; 8. Antron Brown, 3.712, 333.66 vs. 9. Mike Salinas, 3.737, 326.32.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Kebin Kinsley, 5.118, 136.79; 18. Terry Totten, 8.158, 69.73; 19. Terry Haddock, 10.095, 91.23.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.826, 335.98 vs. 16. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 5.089, 173.99; 2. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 3.844, 330.80 vs. 15. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.551, 182.82; 3. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.845, 332.43 vs. 14. Richard Townsend, Camry, 4.244, 235.27; 4. John Force, Camaro, 3.864, 332.51 vs. 13. Jeff Diehl, Camry, 4.120, 307.79; 5. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 3.866, 317.27 vs. 12. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.971, 316.75; 6. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.879, 329.91 vs. 11. Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.927, 329.26; 7. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.888, 333.25 vs. 10. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.927, 329.42; 8. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.919, 324.20 vs. 9. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.926, 330.88.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Jim Campbell, 7.402, 91.58.

PRO STOCK: 1. Deric Kramer, Chevy Camaro, 6.522, 211.00 vs. 16. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.663, 207.94; 2. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.527, 209.98 vs. 15. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.659, 208.55; 3. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.529, 209.59 vs. 14. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.640, 209.69; 4. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.530, 211.66 vs. 13. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.581, 209.82; 5. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.531, 211.03 vs. 12. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.567, 210.08; 6. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.532, 210.60 vs. 11. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.553, 210.14; 7. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.534, 211.63 vs. 10. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.550, 210.41; 8. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.542, 210.05 vs. 9. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.550, 211.39.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Joey Grose, 6.720, 206.64.