NASCAR: Larson “really confident” of Daytona chances, but wary of Big One

Leave a comment

Kyle Larson’s first Sprint Cup experience at Daytona International Speedway didn’t end well.

With 39 laps to go in February’s season-opening Daytona 500, Larson was taken out in a multi-car pileup that began when fellow rookie Austin Dillon slid up the track and into Larson, who promptly spun out and into oncoming traffic.

This weekend, he’ll be returning to Daytona hoping for a better result in the Coke Zero 400 – preferably, a win that would seal his place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Right now, Larson is within the Chase Grid but not by much. He’s tied for 14th on the Chase Grid with Greg Biffle at 474 points and Clint Bowyer is just one point behind in the 16th-place cutoff.

A victory Saturday night at the 2.5-mile oval throws all that points talk out the window. But in order to contend, Larson knows he has to avoid the mayhem that so often comes with restrictor-plate racing.

“We’re really confident, but at the same time it’s a track where things can go really badly,” said Larson in today’s NASCAR teleconference.

“Just kind of setting goals as every other week, try to finish the race and get a Top-10, and see if we can put ourselves in position to get a win at the end – that would be great.

“The biggest goal is to try and stay out of the Big One, because it’s going to happen. I’m sure there will be one or two of them throughout the race. [We need to] try to stay out of trouble.”

Larson will also be looking to bounce back from a couple of poor results in the last two races.

He was one of the quickest drivers during the Sonoma weekend two weeks ago, but brake and power steering problems during the race relegated him to a 28th-place finish.

Then last weekend at Kentucky, a right-front tire failure sent Larson into the wall at Lap 76 for his first DNF since the aforementioned Daytona 500.

But with the Chip Ganassi Racing team’s relatively solid pace throughout the season, Larson isn’t fretting.

“I think my crew chief [Chris Heroy] said it best – he’d be worried in the last couple years, but now our car has been fast, so he’s not worried at all,” he said.

“That’s good, and gave me some more confidence because I think any other two weekends or having two bad races would be less nerve-racking, but then you go to Daytona where the chances of another bad weekend are high, so it’s easy to get nervous about that.

“We haven’t had many struggles all year, and now we’ve had a couple bad ones. Just got to get back on track.”

Meanwhile, Larson has added another race this summer to his itinerary beyond the Sprint Cup Series. He confirmed today that he would drive a Turner Scott Motorsports entry in the Camping World Truck Series’ July 23 race on the dirt at Eldora Speedway.

“I don’t know if I was supposed to say anything or not about the [Eldora] race,” said Larson, who finished second last year at Eldora to Austin Dillon.

“But yeah, we’re running that race. I’m really excited about that. We’re going to go test here pretty soon and get ready for that one because that’s definitely a race I want to win.  We were close last year, so it’s nice to get to go back and give it another shot.”

NHRA: John Force-like motor explosions get contagious during Sunday’s Gatornationals

Photo and video courtesy NHRA
Leave a comment

John Force is rubbing off on others – but probably not the way they or he would like.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion has had spectacular motor explosions in each of the first three races of the new NHRA season, including during Friday’s qualifying for this weekend’s Gatornationals.

During Sunday’s quarterfinals of eliminations, Force’s teammate (and son-in-law and president of John Force Racing) Robert Hight squared off with fellow Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.

As the duo closed in on the finish line, both cars experienced spectacular motor explosions of their own – virtually side-by-side and nearly at the same time.

Hight’s car was the first to explode, tossing its body high in the air. A split-second later, Hagan’s car exploded, also sending the body flying.

Check out the NHRA video:

Hight wound up losing the race.

Hagan, meanwhile, and his crack pit crew rolled their backup car off the hauler, put in a new motor and went on to race through the semifinals and into the finals, losing to race winner “Fast Jack” Beckman.

“We had a pretty great race day, to be honest,” Hagan said. “I’ve never been to the finals in Gainesville.

“We obviously had a huge blow up in the second round, then to watch these guys pull the other car back out and put it together in the amount of time they had, then turn a win light on against Capps (Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals), then to be able to go to a final, it was huge and it speaks for itself.”

As for Hight, here’s his take on what happened with the motor explosion:

“I couldn’t see (Hagan) over there and it wasn’t like it was hazing the tires or anything else. As it turns out it wasn’t spinning at all. It kicked two rods out when it blacked the bearings in the crank then it hit the valves and blew up.

“The thing gave me no indication at all before that. What really scared me was once I got it under control and I look over and see his body is off his car. I am thinking ‘Oh man, he got gathered up in me.’ Then I stood up and looked and his injector was sideways so I realized he had an explosion as well. We are just lucky we didn’t get into each other.”

As for the guy who has had so much trouble in the motor department, John Force, he lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations to daughter Courtney Force.

John Force planned on shutting the motor off on his car at around the 700-foot mark of the 1,000-foot dragstrip, not wanting to risk another motor explosion – even though it meant a likely loss to his daughter.

Now John Force and his entire four-car team, including Courtney Force, Robert Hight and daughter and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, will be off for extensive testing to try and determine what’s been causing the motor explosions.

“We have to evaluate it and go test,” Force said. “We’ll figure it out.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski