NASCAR: Larson “really confident” of Daytona chances, but wary of Big One

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Kyle Larson’s first Sprint Cup experience at Daytona International Speedway didn’t end well.

With 39 laps to go in February’s season-opening Daytona 500, Larson was taken out in a multi-car pileup that began when fellow rookie Austin Dillon slid up the track and into Larson, who promptly spun out and into oncoming traffic.

This weekend, he’ll be returning to Daytona hoping for a better result in the Coke Zero 400 – preferably, a win that would seal his place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Right now, Larson is within the Chase Grid but not by much. He’s tied for 14th on the Chase Grid with Greg Biffle at 474 points and Clint Bowyer is just one point behind in the 16th-place cutoff.

A victory Saturday night at the 2.5-mile oval throws all that points talk out the window. But in order to contend, Larson knows he has to avoid the mayhem that so often comes with restrictor-plate racing.

“We’re really confident, but at the same time it’s a track where things can go really badly,” said Larson in today’s NASCAR teleconference.

“Just kind of setting goals as every other week, try to finish the race and get a Top-10, and see if we can put ourselves in position to get a win at the end – that would be great.

“The biggest goal is to try and stay out of the Big One, because it’s going to happen. I’m sure there will be one or two of them throughout the race. [We need to] try to stay out of trouble.”

Larson will also be looking to bounce back from a couple of poor results in the last two races.

He was one of the quickest drivers during the Sonoma weekend two weeks ago, but brake and power steering problems during the race relegated him to a 28th-place finish.

Then last weekend at Kentucky, a right-front tire failure sent Larson into the wall at Lap 76 for his first DNF since the aforementioned Daytona 500.

But with the Chip Ganassi Racing team’s relatively solid pace throughout the season, Larson isn’t fretting.

“I think my crew chief [Chris Heroy] said it best – he’d be worried in the last couple years, but now our car has been fast, so he’s not worried at all,” he said.

“That’s good, and gave me some more confidence because I think any other two weekends or having two bad races would be less nerve-racking, but then you go to Daytona where the chances of another bad weekend are high, so it’s easy to get nervous about that.

“We haven’t had many struggles all year, and now we’ve had a couple bad ones. Just got to get back on track.”

Meanwhile, Larson has added another race this summer to his itinerary beyond the Sprint Cup Series. He confirmed today that he would drive a Turner Scott Motorsports entry in the Camping World Truck Series’ July 23 race on the dirt at Eldora Speedway.

“I don’t know if I was supposed to say anything or not about the [Eldora] race,” said Larson, who finished second last year at Eldora to Austin Dillon.

“But yeah, we’re running that race. I’m really excited about that. We’re going to go test here pretty soon and get ready for that one because that’s definitely a race I want to win.  We were close last year, so it’s nice to get to go back and give it another shot.”

Danica says goodbye: ‘Definitely not a great ending’ but ‘I’m for sure grateful’

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INDIANAPOLIS – Danica Patrick’s final racing news conference didn’t but at least she didn’t lose her sense of humor about it.

“Is that like the Oscars when they close the show out?” Patrick joked when her opening address was drowned out by the midrace broadcast of Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 in the media center. “Take my mic away. I’ll leave. I promise. I don’t really want to be here because I’m pretty sad, but all right. I guess I’ll stop there.”

That was about as lighthearted as it got, though, for the most accomplished female driver in racing history after the final start of her career. That naturally made for some reflection, too.

“I will say that I’m for sure very grateful for everybody,” she said. “It still was a lot of great moments this month. A lot of great moments this year.”

Patrick was the first woman to lead both the Indianapolis 500 (in her 2005 debut) and the Daytona 500 (in 2013 when she also was the first female to qualify on pole position in NACAR history).

But she couldn’t bookend that with similarly memorable finishes. After crashing out of her final two Cup races in the November 2017 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway and the 2018 Daytona 500, Indy concluded the same way.

“Definitely not a great ending,” she said. “But I kind of said before I came here that it could be a complete disaster, as in not in the ballpark at all. And look silly, then people may remember that. And if I win, people will remember that.

“Probably anything in between might just be a little part of the big story. So I kind of feel like that’s how it is. I’m appreciative for all the fans, for GoDaddy, for Ed Carpenter Racing, for IndyCar. Today was a tough day. A little bit of it was OK. A lot of it was just a typical drive.”

Beforehand, Patrick seemed relaxed while smiling and laughing outside her car with a tight circle of close friends and family that included her parents and boyfriend Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers quarterback.

“For sure, I was definitely nervous,” she said about her first Indy 500 start in seven years. “I found myself most of the time on the grid being confused what part of prerace we were in. I was like, ‘I remember this,’ and ‘Where are the Taps?’ and ‘When is the anthem?’ but I had all my people around me, so I was in good spirits.”

And with that, she bid adieu.

“Thank you guys,” she said. “Thank you for everything. I’ll miss you. Most of the time. Maybe you’ll miss me just a little. Thanks, guys.”