Kyle Larson: Sprint car racing has received “a bad rap”

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Last Saturday’s Tony Stewart/Kevin Ward Jr. incident at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park was the latest in a string of tragedies for sprint car racing that has stretched over the last year and a half.

Among those tragedies: Two people being killed in March 2013 when a car careened off track and into pit road; the death of NASCAR veteran Jason Leffler at a New Jersey track in June of that year; and the August 2013 death of hall of fame sprint car racer Kramer Williamson, which came one day after he was injured in a crash in Pennsylvania.

NASCAR Sprint Cup rookie phenom Kyle Larson first made his name in sprint car racing, and today at Michigan International Speedway, Larson said that he wasn’t happy with how the sport has been portrayed in recent times.

While saying that he offered his thoughts and prayers to all involved in Saturday’s tragedy – particularly the Ward family – Larson also asserted that sprint car racing has received “a bad rap.”

“Sprint car racing is awesome – it’s some of the best racing you’ll ever see in your life, and over the last couple of years, with all the stuff that’s gone on, sprint car racing’s gotten a bad rap,” he said.

“I just wish, you know, ESPN and stuff could go play highlights of the Knoxville Nationals that just happened this weekend and see how good the racing was there, how good it is every weekend – they race three, four times a week and the racing’s great.

“I just wish, rather than it being where everybody talks about how dangerous it is and you’re stupid if you run ’em and stuff, I just wish you could see the good parts of it.”

Larson himself said that he would like to continue racing sprint cars in the future. While his Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series duties have largely kept him from doing that this year, he said that he’d like to get in some sprint car events either during this off-season or next year.

“I enjoy doing it, and hopefully, I can do it the rest of my life,” he said.

As for the Stewart/Ward incident, Larson felt it was tough for him to have an opinion on it since he wasn’t there and he had never been there before.

He added: “There’s only one guy that knows what happened – or two, and one’s not here anymore,” a reference to Stewart and the late Ward, who was laid to rest yesterday.

However, Larson believes that after Saturday’s fatal crash and with the immediate onset of NASCAR’s new rules regarding driver protocol in the event of on-track incidents, drivers will think before letting their emotions get the better of them.

Ward was fatally struck by Stewart’s car after walking down the racing surface to apparently confront him following an on-track tangle between the two.

Said Larson: “I’m sure everyone of us has, at least one time in our careers, done something on the race track where we’d get out of the car, and we’d look back and think, ‘Should’ve thought twice about it.’

“I think a lot of people now are going to learn after seeing that video or hearing about it. We’re all gonna think twice and if we’re upset with somebody, we’re going to think about it before we get out of the car…It just really sucks that it all happened.”

Hamilton leads damp first USGP practice at COTA, Hartley debuts

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Lewis Hamilton continued his impressive Formula 1 record at the Circuit of The Americas by topping opening practice for the United States Grand Prix on Friday for Mercedes.

A four-time winner of the USGP at COTA, Hamilton set the pace in damp conditions in first practice after rain hit the Austin area in the lead-up to the start of the session.

After initially venturing out on intermediate tires, Hamilton made the switch to super-softs at the halfway point in FP1, ultimately posting a fastest time of 1:36.335.

Hamilton’s time saw him finish over half a second clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who he could beat to the F1 drivers’ championship at COTA this weekend should results go his way.

Mercedes got two cars into the top three as Valtteri Bottas wound up third in the second W08 car, six-tenths back from Hamilton, while Max Verstappen ended FP1 fourth for Red Bull.

Felipe Massa led Williams into the top 10 with an impressive lap en route to fifth, finishing ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne.

Vandoorne was left to lead McLaren’s charge after a hydraulic leak sidelined Fernando Alonso for much of the session, limiting the Spaniard to just four laps in total.

Force India managed to get both its drivers up into the top 10 as Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez finished eighth and ninth respectively, edging out Renault’s Carlos Sainz Jr. who was P10 in his first appearance for the team.

Brendon Hartley enjoyed his first run-out in Toro Rosso’s STR12 car ahead of his grand prix debut on Sunday, taking P14 overall.

The New Zealander had not driven an F1 car since a test with Mercedes in 2012, but put in a solid first display in practice, even though his race hopes are set to be hindered by a grid penalty.

Second practice for the United States Grand Prix is live on the NBC Sports app from 3pm ET today.