Kyle Larson breaks slump with strong 3rd-place finish at Loudon

3 Comments

Kyle Larson had such an outstanding start to his rookie Sprint Cup season that it seemed like good things and his good fortune would go on forever.

Then came the previous three races – at his home track of Sonoma, followed by Kentucky and the second race of 2014 at Daytona.

Larson finished 28th, a season-worst 40th and 36th, respectively (the last two due to wrecks), at those three races and saw himself plummet from seventh in the Sprint Cup standings after Michigan in mid-June to 17th after Daytona.

That’s 10 spots in the points in three races.

But Sunday at New Hampshire, not only did Larson finish third – his second-best showing of the season – he also jumped from 17th to 14th in the points standings.

As a result, at least until the next race – the Brickyard 400 in two weeks – Larson is in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, currently scored 16th (last) in the Chase driver rankings.

Now if he can only hold on to that mark in the remaining seven races leading up to the Chase.

“Great pit calls and the Target Chevy was real good,” Larson said of his finish. “I thought we definitely had a capable car to run top three and the last restart worked out for us. Hat’s off to everybody on this team.”

In a way, the previous three finishes were a learning experience of sorts for Larson, who turns 22 on July 31. After achieving so much success so quickly in the season, the Sonoma through Daytona stretch brought him and his team somewhat down to earth and caused them to regroup.

And regroup they did Sunday, even though some early and perhaps what might be looked at as unconventional pit strategy could have backfired. Fortunately for the No. 42 team, it did not and Larson excelled just like he had done so earlier in the season.

“It was going to take a really dumb call, or what would look dumb would hopefully work out, and it did,” Larson said. “We were able to lead some laps and maintain our track position all race long after that.

“These race cars have been a lot faster this year than in the past. I want to really thank those guys and I’m really just having a blast now.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

0 Comments

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

DETAILS FOR THE 61ST ROLEX 24How to watch, entry lists, schedules for the IMSA season opener

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN GTPRolex 24 at Daytona kicks off new golden era for sports cars

But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds