Kyle Larson has solid outing in first Brickyard 400

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INDIANAPOLIS – Jeff Gordon gave himself an early 43rd birthday present with Sunday’s Brickyard 400 win.

Kyle Larson also gave himself an early birthday present – his 22nd will be Thursday – with a solid seventh-place finish in his first Brickyard.

“It was a good day for us,” said Larson, the highest-finishing rookie in the race. “We were a top-10 car the whole race. Had some good restarts there for most of the race. Then that last one we had to restart on the outside and lost a spot. We lined up fifth but Denny (Hamlin) got to third.

“But still a good day. The Target car was really good. We were just too tight on short runs, then we just kind of would build tighter, looser off. Everybody was struggling with grip out there.”

For Larson to be at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on what became a historic day – Jeff Gordon’s record-breaking fifth Brickyard win – was exciting for him both as a fellow race car driver, as well as a fan.

“It was fun, cool to finish in the top 10 at the Brickyard,” Larson said. “To see Jeff Gordon win is pretty special. It’s kind of like Junior winning the 500 this year. It was a really good day for everybody and all the fans, too. So, I’m happy about it.”

His seventh-place outing was Larson’s second straight top-10 (he finished third two weeks ago at Loudon), making it appear he’s past his three-race rough stretch before New Hampshire, when he finished 28th at Sonoma, 40th at Kentucky and 36th at Daytona.

“I think everywhere you have to make sure it’s an important one to try to make the Chase because it’s getting closer and closer every week,” Larson said. “We can’t make any more mistakes or have any more bad luck.

“Every track is important to us right now. Now we get to go to Pocono next week where we finished fifth before. “(We’ve) set fifth as a goal, but hopefully we’ll try to do better.”

While Larson enjoyed the aura of the most legendary race track on earth, he tried to approach it without any special preconceptions.

“It was kind of just like any other race,” he said. “But restarts were definitely intense, just like they are everywhere. Inside lane was definitely the dominant one.

“For the most part if you were on the inside row, you were going to pass a couple cars. So, yeah, just being aggressive to try to gain as much as you could on restarts because it was really hard to pass once we got going. It’s frustrating that it is so hard to pass, but it makes you better at hitting your marks.”

With other drivers coming into the media center, Larson was asked one last question, wondering what his opinion can be done to the current crop of NASCAR cars to make them even better.

Not skipping a beat – nor overlooking his dirt track and sprint car roots – Larson deadpanned, “Cover it with dirt and put some wings on top.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

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

Photo and video courtesy NHRA
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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