Kyle Larson “surprised” to be part of wild Fontana ending

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Lightning almost struck twice for Kyle Larson at Auto Club Speedway.

One day after he bested Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick for his inaugural Nationwide Series victory, the 21-year-old from Elk Grove, California found himself battling Busch once more on the final lap for what would have been his first Sprint Cup triumph.

The two shot to the front of the field on the final lap of a green-white-checkered finish in today’s Auto Club 400, but this time, Busch had enough to keep the sensational young gun at bay.

But even with the near-miss, Larson admitted he couldn’t have asked for more from the Fontana weekend, even if he said he was “surprised” to be in contention to win today in the first place.

“We were probably a 12th-place car for most of the day,” said Larson after his runner-up performance. “We struggled with our Target Chevy being too loose on exit but still too tight in the center. We tightened the exit up and got way too tight in the center.

“My guys worked really hard all day long to find that right balance, and right there on the last pit stop, we were able to make good enough adjustments where we could go hard for a couple laps.”

Larson lined up ninth after pitting under yellow prior to the green-white-checkered finish. This initially worried him as he figured to be on the bottom line, which in his eyes had not been the quickest line on restarts heading to Turn 1.

But somehow, Larson was able to carve his way through traffic and find his way to Kyle Busch, who led him past Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart on the last lap.

“I came out in fourth there, I think, and then got to second off Turn 2 the next lap, and thought I might have a shot at Kyle depending on where he’d go into Turn 3, but he was good enough to keep it on the bottom and stay ahead of me,” he said. “But we’ll take a second.”

Able to dodge the tire problems that plagued some of the other teams during today’s race (“I think it was a little bit of camber issues or something,” he surmised), Larson was able to get to crunch time and then once again showcase his talent for getting up on the wheel.

It was another impressive display that should have NASCAR fans thinking about what he can do in the future as he gains more seasoning.

“[It was] a long race and definitely didn’t expect to run second, so I’ll take it and head back to North Carolina with a smile on my face,” he said.

‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’


NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”