Kyle Larson breaks slump with strong 3rd-place finish at Loudon

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Kyle Larson had such an outstanding start to his rookie Sprint Cup season that it seemed like good things and his good fortune would go on forever.

Then came the previous three races – at his home track of Sonoma, followed by Kentucky and the second race of 2014 at Daytona.

Larson finished 28th, a season-worst 40th and 36th, respectively (the last two due to wrecks), at those three races and saw himself plummet from seventh in the Sprint Cup standings after Michigan in mid-June to 17th after Daytona.

That’s 10 spots in the points in three races.

But Sunday at New Hampshire, not only did Larson finish third – his second-best showing of the season – he also jumped from 17th to 14th in the points standings.

As a result, at least until the next race – the Brickyard 400 in two weeks – Larson is in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, currently scored 16th (last) in the Chase driver rankings.

Now if he can only hold on to that mark in the remaining seven races leading up to the Chase.

“Great pit calls and the Target Chevy was real good,” Larson said of his finish. “I thought we definitely had a capable car to run top three and the last restart worked out for us. Hat’s off to everybody on this team.”

In a way, the previous three finishes were a learning experience of sorts for Larson, who turns 22 on July 31. After achieving so much success so quickly in the season, the Sonoma through Daytona stretch brought him and his team somewhat down to earth and caused them to regroup.

And regroup they did Sunday, even though some early and perhaps what might be looked at as unconventional pit strategy could have backfired. Fortunately for the No. 42 team, it did not and Larson excelled just like he had done so earlier in the season.

“It was going to take a really dumb call, or what would look dumb would hopefully work out, and it did,” Larson said. “We were able to lead some laps and maintain our track position all race long after that.

“These race cars have been a lot faster this year than in the past. I want to really thank those guys and I’m really just having a blast now.”

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IndyCar 2017 driver review: Ed Carpenter

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. The 2017 season behind the wheel was better for Ed Carpenter than either of the last two years, but still wasn’t ideal results-wise in his six oval starts.

Ed Carpenter, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

  • 2016: 25th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 18th, Best Start 5th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 21.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 22nd Place (6 Starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 2nd, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.3 Avg. Finish

Ed Carpenter’s 2017 season was largely one of frustration, both behind the wheel and as a team owner.

While a respectable turnaround in results occurred – Carpenter finished between seventh and 12th in five of his six oval races after a nightmare season of ending 18th or worse in each of his 2016 starts – this is still not what he sets out to strive for in the races he does. Lost opportunities loomed larger than any official result he or the Ed Carpenter Racing team achieved.

Carpenter and new teammate JR Hildebrand, in for the departed Josef Newgarden, dominated preseason testing in Phoenix but Hildebrand could only muster third in the race, Carpenter a season-best seventh. Then at Indianapolis, Carpenter (second) and Hildebrand (sixth) flew the flag for Chevrolet in qualifying and practice pace, but they fell to 11th and 16th on race day owing to a front-wing change and late-race penalty for passing before a restart.

Both drivers got collected in incidents at Texas. Hildebrand qualified and finished a season-best second in Iowa but that result came only after the ECR crew rebuilt his car from a crash in practice. Then Carpenter had a practice crash in Pocono and despite a rapid rebuild, they missed the clock to qualify by mere minutes and were unable to do so. Carpenter’s spin on a slick Gateway track at the start of the race sent him over Will Power’s nose assembly in one of the scarier looking incidents of the year, although fortunately he was OK.

In a similar refrain as we often write, it’s not that Carpenter’s lost his ability to drive and he remains one of the series’ savviest and smartest people in the paddock. There have been a lot of extenuating circumstances of late, and it almost felt as though this team had “empty nest” components. Since September, Carpenter has had to secure his team’s future with a move away from its Speedway, Ind. shop, line up Spencer Pigot for a full-time drive replacing Hildebrand in the No. 21 car, find a new road/street course driver in the No. 20 car, and manage both driving and owning himself.