Kyle Larson bags first career Sprint Cup pole at Pocono

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Kyle Larson has his first official Sprint Cup pole. Is his first Sprint Cup win not too far off?

Larson went to the top early in the final round of qualifying at Pocono Raceway with a lap of 183.438 mph in his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.

That run around the 2.5-mile oval was able to stand up against the best from Team Penske’s Joey Logano (183.408) and Brad Keselowski (182.700), earning Larson the pole for Sunday’s GoBowling.com 400.

“I had some butterflies going into that last round,” Larson said to Fox Sports. “I knew we’d have a good shot at the pole after the second round and I was nervous. But I hit all three corners as good as I could, so I was excited about that.

“…Everybody at the shop is making the cars faster and faster every week, and we’re getting better and better. I really think a win’s coming soon and that would be great before the Chase starts.”

Larson’s hold on a post-season berth is far from secure. He sits 15th on the Chase Grid but is only four points ahead of fellow Cup rookie and winless driver Austin Dillon, who is in the 16th and final Grid position (four points above 17th-place Kasey Kahne).

That makes securing a win vital for Larson during this final six-race stretch of the regular season.

This is not the first time Larson’s led the field to a green flag this season. The NASCAR Drive for Diversity grad lucked into starting from P1 this past spring at Richmond when rain washed out qualifying; the grid was subsequently set on first practice speeds, and Larson’s lap in that session was the quickest.

Unlike Larson, Logano’s already locked himself into the Chase thanks to his two wins at Texas and the aforementioned spring race at Richmond.

But that didn’t keep “Sliced Bread” from having perhaps a slight hint of frustration after narrowly losing the pole to Larson today.

“It felt so good too – I would’ve put millions of dollars on that lap being the pole, it felt so good,” Logano told Fox about his flyer lap. “[Crew chief] Tod Gordon made great adjustments each run. We talked about it after the first session, being able to keep up with it, and [the car] kept going faster and faster.

“I felt like I nailed all three corners that time and the rest of ’em didn’t really nail all of ’em. I was like, ‘Yeah, this is perfect, I’ve got it this time.’ And then, I got beat. It sucks (laughs).”

Logano’s teammate, Keselowski, will start on Row 2 alongside Kurt Busch, who led the first Cup practice session earlier today.

Brickyard 400 winner Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick will start from Row 3, followed by Kyle Busch and Jamie McMurray in Row 4. NASCAR’s most popular drivers, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Danica Patrick, go off from Row 5.

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES – GOBOWLING.COM 400 AT POCONO
QUALIFYING RESULTS
1. 42-Kyle Larson, 183.438 mph
2. 22-Joey Logano
3. 2-Brad Keselowski
4. 41-Kurt Busch
5. 24-Jeff Gordon
6. 4-Kevin Harvick
7. 18-Kyle Busch
8. 1-Jamie McMurray
9. 88-Dale Earnhardt Jr.
10. 10-Danica Patrick
11. 3-Austin Dillon
12. 5-Kasey Kahne
13. 11-Denny Hamlin
14. 15-Clint Bowyer
15. 55-Brian Vickers
16. 14-Tony Stewart
17. 48-Jimmie Johnson
18. 20-Matt Kenseth
19. 78-Martin Truex Jr.
20. 47-A.J. Allmendinger
21. 31-Ryan Newman
22. 51-Justin Allgaier
23. 17-Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
24. 13-Casey Mears
25. 16 – Greg Biffle
26. 99 – Carl Edwards
27. 9 – Marcos Ambrose
28. 43 – Aric Almirola
29. 27 – Paul Menard
30. 38 – David Gilliland
31. 98 – Josh Wise
32. 40 – Landon Cassill
33. 26 – Cole Whitt
34. 32 – Travis Kvapil
35. 36 – Reed Sorenson
36. 23 – Alex Bowman
37. 83 – Ryan Truex
38. 7 – Michael Annett
39. 34 – David Ragan
40. 37 – Dave Blaney
41. 66 – Joe Nemechek
42. 33 – Alex Kennedy
43. 93 – Johnny Sauter

Newgarden tries to regain control of IndyCar championship race at Iowa

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NEWTON, Iowa – There are just six races left in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship and Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden has a hard-charging Alexander Rossi closing in on his gearbox. Newgarden’s lead is down to just three points after last Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto.

Newgarden has been the leader in the standings after every race this season, with the exception of the 103rdIndianapolis 500, when he trailed Team Penske teammate and Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden by one point.

Is Newgarden worried entering Saturday night’s Iowa 300 at Iowa Speedway?

“I’m confident we have good cars,” Newgarden told NBC Sports.com. “You can have bad weekends here and there. I think we can have a good result the rest of the year. But there are a lot of guys still in it. Rossi is the guy who is the closest, but you can’t count out Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon or Will Power. It’s going to be a fight until the end for this championship.

“We briefly lost the points lead after the Indy 500. Simon and I were one point apart. We’ve had better consistency this year. That is what is going to pay off at the end. We’ve been consistent up to this point and we have to continue it to the end.

“Look at all of these championship runs, most of the times it goes to the most consistent driver. You have to have clean finishes for every run. If you don’t, it’s pretty tough to make up the deficit.”

Newgarden has had a remarkably consistent season with three wins, six podiums (top three) and nine top-five finishes in 11 races.

Rossi has nearly matched him with two wins, six podiums and nine top-five finishes in 11 races.

These two drivers are nearly in a dead heat, so as the championship leader, can Newgarden force his fiercest foes into making mistakes?

“I’m a little bit boring,” Newgarden said. “I do the same thing every time. It puts more pressure on guys like Scott Dixon, who has to win races to catch up. They are going to be more aggressive. Our program is boring and that is trying to maximize each race individually. That is what we have to do.

“I don’t know if it is that different than being in a fight with Will Power or Simon Pagenaud or Scott Dixon. They have different tendencies. Alex is the more aggressive of those other drivers. It’s fun going up against all of them. Alex is really good. He has a certain style you have to play against. If it was Scott, it would be just as exciting, but it would be a different game.

“Alex brings a more aggressive side to the conversation.”

That aggressive fight continues to the .875-mile short oval at Iowa Speedway, site of Saturday night’s Iowa 300.

It’s one of Newgarden’s better tracks. He set an IndyCar Series record for leading the most laps in a single race when he was in front for 282 laps in his 2016 Iowa win with Ed Carpenter Racing. That was preceded by two straight second place finishes at Iowa in 2014 and 2014.

Since joining Team Penske in 2017, Newgarden finished sixth that season and fourth in 2018 in a race where he led 211 laps.

“We were pretty good there last year,” Newgarden admitted. “We qualified well, but we were a little shy of what we needed last year. The race didn’t pan out the way we needed it to. Our strategy wasn’t perfect there. But those are things we can clean up. We have a really capable group. I think we’ll have a good car there, again. I feel good about it. We’ve had good cars there in the past, we were just a tick off. I think we will be better there this year.

“We should be fine.”

Short oval racing is a unique form that adds diversity to the schedule as drivers have to get on an off the accelerator and on and off the brake, all while dealing with traffic throughout the 300-lap contest.

It’s that type of close quarter racing that real racers love.

“Iowa, for sure is a racer’s track,” Newgarden said. “It’s very bumpy, with a lot of character. It’s one of my favorite short ovals that we go to. I love that place. A lot of the tracks we go to are racer’s race tracks. There aren’t a lot of bad ones of the schedule. There are tracks with diverse challenges and you like that. Going from Toronto to Iowa to Mid-Ohio, they are all different tracks that require different setups, different driving styles.

“It’s like the championship is a driver’s championship. That is what it demands.”

An NTT IndyCar Series race at Iowa Speedway is a special experience because it’s played out in front of grass-roots racing fans. These are the fans that following auto racing on a regular basis, many of which are regulars for sprint car racing down the road at Knoxville Speedway in Knoxville, Iowa.

“They are all different race fans,” Newgarden said. “Toronto has a bustling city vibe. Iowa is a bunch of farmers. Really nice people who are salt of the earth farmers who come out and enjoy racing. Mid-Ohio is a hybrid. It’s very much a Midwest race but different from Iowa.

“You get these different pockets of different fans, different people, different racers but they all like IndyCar racing and that’s pretty cool.”