Kyle Larson embracing Sprint Cup/Nationwide double duty

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The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ “California Kid” is heading back home with the proverbial wind at his back.

After a series of strong runs that ended without representative results, Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Kyle Larson broke through last Sunday at Bristol with a 10th-place finish that marked his first Top-10 in Sprint Cup competition.

Now, the Elk Grove, California native is looking for more as the NASCAR circus heads for the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana for this weekend’s Auto Club 400 (Sprint Cup) and TreatMyClot.com 300 (Nationwide).

“We’ve had really fast cars all year long,” Larson said this morning in a teleconference. “Just haven’t really caught the right breaks to get those top 10s. I feel at Phoenix and Vegas both, we had top‑10 cars. I got stuck a lap down there from mistakes.

“I think with the good finish at Bristol, it’s really going to hopefully turn things around, hopefully bring a lot of consistency.”

Larson has continued his work in the Nationwide Series with Turner Scott Motorsports along with competing in his first full Cup season with the Ganassi camp.

One would assume that the extra work in Nationwide is helping Larson on the Cup side of the fence. However, the 21-year-old says that more so, the reverse has occurred.

“I think it helps a little bit just knowing how the track might change throughout a race,” he said. “I really think it helps for my Nationwide race running the Cup stuff. Now when I get in the Nationwide car, it feels slow. Things happen slower. I have more confidence in that.

“That’s why I’ve been running really well in that car so far, too. I think it helps [my Cup races] a little bit, but I think it helps [my Nationwide races] a whole bunch.”

It would appear that he’s correct – Larson has earned three Top-5s and four Top-10s so far in the four Nationwide events he’s ran with Turner Scott, and he’s been doing it while fighting at the front against battle-tested Cup veterans.

The issue of Cup drivers coming in and winning most of the Nationwide races has been a hot-button one for some time now, but Larson said he would be “disappointed” if NASCAR ever made rules to keep the Cup guys out of the Nationwide Series.

“I think the Nationwide regulars like Cup guys running with them – I know I do,” he said. “I consider myself still young, I guess, in racing stockcars. Whenever I’m out there with guys like Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, I can see them in front of me, I’m learning a lot from them.

“I like it. I think it’s good for the development side of the young drivers ’cause it is a development series for those kids. I think it’s a good thing for NASCAR to have the Cup guys in there because it’s just going to make their series more competitive when those young guys move up.”

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”