Kyle Larson holds on to win Nationwide race at Charlotte

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Kyle Larson held off late charges from Sprint Cup regulars Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick to win Saturday’s History 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

It was the second NNS win of the season for Larson, who is also in his rookie season on the Sprint Cup Series.

“I love Charlotte and we’ll be trying to get a 600 win tomorrow,” Larson said of possibly doubling up Sunday in the Sprint Cup Coca-Cola 600 event.”

“It was nice looking in the rearview mirror seeing them get smaller and smaller on each lap.”

Larson led 82 laps in the 200-lap event, the most of any driver. His winning margin was nearly 1.5 seconds. It also was a great present for team owner Chip Ganassi, who celebrated his birthday Saturday.

Busch looked like he had the car to win, qualifying on the pole earlier in the day. However, he couldn’t get enough grip late in the race and couldn’t get to Larson as the final laps clicked off.

“We struggled real bad and came home with a third,” Busch said. “All things considered, we should be happy, but I’m here every time for a win.”

Matt Kenseth, who finished sixth, led the second-most number of laps (67), while Busch led 27 and Keselowski led 22.

Harvick finished fourth, followed by Brian Scott, Kenseth, Regan Smith, Trevor Bayne, Chris Buescher and Ty Dillon.

“We were just off a little bit today,” Harvick said. “They (his team) tried and we just came up a little bit short today.”

It was a down day, however, for rookie NNS driver Chase Elliott, who suffered mechanical failure in his JR Motorsports Chevy and ended with a disappointing 37th-place finish out of the 40-driver field.

“It definitely was a bad day,” Elliott said.

Elliott also lost his lead in the NNS standings, dropping to third place, leaving him 28 points behind new series leader Regan Smith and 23 points behind second-ranked Elliott Sadler.

“We’ve dug ourselves a hole, so now we have to dig ourselves back out of it,” Elliott said.

Smith said of taking over the points lead, “I don’t want to discount it but also don’t want to put much stock into it still this early in the season.”

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Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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