Rookie Kyle Larson outperforms many of NASCAR’s top veterans at Talladega

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Rookies aren’t expected to do well in their first restrictor plate race at Talladega Superspeedway.

If they don’t wreck out early, a finish of 30th or worse is what most first-timers can realistically anticipate.

But Kyle Larson is not like most first-timers. The 21-year-old Northern California native drove Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 like a veteran – and even outdrove guys like Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart (who finished last, by the way), Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon.

And when the wrecking ended and the dust settled, Larson not only passed his first ‘Dega test, he aced it with an impressive ninth-place finish, the best of the entire rookie crop.

So how did the leading favorite for Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year react? To say his response was subdued is an understatement.

“Yeah, it was good,” Larson said.

And then, talking more like a veteran than a first-timer at ‘Dega, Larson expressed what he hoped he would finish vs. how he actually did.

“I was really hoping for a top 20 just to stay out of trouble, and to get a top 10 is really nice,” he said.

If Larson appeared somewhat passive in the assessment of his performance at ‘Dega, maybe he was still in a state of shock.

“I spent pretty much all day just trying not to make any spectacular moves to put myself in a bad spot to get in a wreck,” Larson said. “The 42 hasn’t had much luck on superspeedways with Juan (Pablo Montoya) and myself at Daytona (finished 38th in the season opener).

“I just wanted to stay out of trouble. We’ve been making up a lot of points throughout the year after Daytona, and to come back to another superspeedway, I was really nervous. I’m glad to get a good finish and stay up there in points.”

While Larson didn’t improve in the standings – he remains 13th – Sunday was his fifth top-10 finish in the first 10 races of the season.

That’s more top-10 finishes thus far in 2014 than race winner Denny Hamlin (3), runner-up Greg Biffle (4), third-place finisher Clint Bowyer (3), Ryan Newman (4), Brad Keselowski (4) and Stewart (4).

That’s quite a statement from NASCAR’s new budding king of the understatement.

“All in all, it was a pretty decent day,” Larson said.

Yep, he’s probably still in a state of shock – but given what he did, that’s a good thing, indeed.

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Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III