NNS Notes: Kyle Larson finishes 3rd after hitting wall early

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After tagging the wall early on in today’s Boyd Gaming 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kyle Larson wasn’t expecting to wind up with a third-place finish.

But the 21-year-old was able to overcome the run-in, which he said occurred just a few laps after the green flag flew.

“I don’t know what lap it was, Lap 2 or 3, but I got underneath Matt Kenseth and cleared him and the car got really loose,” Larson explained. “I got sideways, chased it up the track and hit the wall and then flung the right front over and hit that too. It hurt the splitter a little bit…All my guys did a great job to fix the car.

“I thought we were about a 6th-7th place car and until that last restart [with 33 laps to go], I wasn’t expecting to keep up with Kyle as long as I did. Hats off to all my guys for working hard and fixing the car that I tore up.”

The Sprint Cup rookie now shifts his focus to tomorrow’s Kobalt 400 main event, where he’ll start in 17th position.

“We made a lot of adjustments in ‘Happy Hour’ and got the car driving really well,” he said. “The grip off the corner got really good so we were able to maintain a good lap time for the averages. I’m excited about tomorrow. I think we have a good shot and our Target car is really fast, so I’ll try not to get in the wall or beat up the car early in the race.

“I’m sure the track’s gonna change a whole lot for tomorrow’s race. It changed a lot during the Nationwide race too, so we just gotta stay on top of that, make the right adjustments, and try to stay up front.”

It was another solid weekend for JR Motorsports, which continues to maintain the early lead in the Nationwide Series championship with Regan Smith and also got the first career NNS Top-5 result from rookie Chase Elliott.

Boss Dale Earnhardt Jr. led the team with a fourth-place result, while Elliott finished right behind him in fifth. Smith overcame a late run-in with the wall to finish 10th, ensuring that he’ll take a three-point edge in the standings over Trevor Bayne to next weekend’s event at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Elliott was especially impressive with how he was able to dice it up against established Sprint Cup stars such as Junior, winner Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth.

Just as impressive was his avoidance of a spinning Kenseth with just over 40 laps remaining.

Kenseth had been battling Busch for the lead when he lost control in Turn 4. Elliott was behind the former Cup champion but managed to dodge him, while Kenseth managed to avoid the rest of the oncoming cars.

When the dust settled, Earnhardt praised Elliott for his performance.

“He’s better than he knows he is,” he told ESPN. “First of all, I never really spent much time around [Chase’s father and former Cup champion] Bill Elliott but I got a chance to work with him the last couple of weeks…He’s just really smart and I think just having that kind of intuition all through Chase’s career has really helped Chase along to where he’s a lot better than most rookies are when they come into this series.

“I’m really happy for him but I’m not surprised. The guy’s got a ton of talent and he’s gonna go a long ways. He’s just got a great mentor in his father and that’s made a big difference in his life.”

Earnhardt, who will return to the Nationwide Series next month at Texas Motor Speedway, later went on Twitter to give Smith a thumbs-up for enduring through a not quite great day to get a Top-10.

A rash of speeding penalties broke out in mid-race, but Richard Childress Racing’s Ty Dillon and Brendan Gaughan perhaps felt it most acutely.

Dillon won the pole earlier today and was running toward the Top 10 when green flag stops began on Lap 113. A few laps later, Dillon came in for service but was busted for speeding on pit road.

That forced the unhappy Dillon to serve a drive-through penalty on Lap 116. But then, on Lap 121, NASCAR hit Dillon once more for speeding in the pits and this time, he had to take a stop-and-go penalty.

Gaughan had a pair of speeding penalties called on him as well. Like Dillon, he did a drive-through on his first penalty only to be called back a second time for a stop-and-go.

Dillon and Gaughan soldiered on after the bizarre sequence to finish 11th and 16th respectively. Brian Scott led the RCR camp with a strong seventh-place finish.

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance
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LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).