Turns out rookie Kyle Larson did have an impact on the Chase for the Sprint Cup after all – although probably not in the way he intended.
Larson, who did not qualify for the Chase, was running 11th on the final lap of yesterday’s Eliminator Round finale at Phoenix ahead of Ryan Newman, who needed to get ahead of Larson in order to earn the last spot in the Championship Race over Jeff Gordon.
As you’d expect, Newman pushed hard and got inside of Larson in Turn 3 before making contact that sent Larson into the Turn 4 wall. That gave Newman the final Championship position by one point over Gordon, and it has set off a round of criticism against the Rocket Man – much of it coming from Gordon fans frustrated over their driver not making the cut.
Newman admitted in post-race that he wasn’t proud of the move but said that Larson would do the same to him if he were in his position. Now, we have reaction from Larson, who apparently was somewhat irked by Newman’s actions but ended up echoing his comments.
“Coming to the finish, there were a lot of cars racing really hard,’’ Larson said in a statement provided to Motor Racing Network’s Dustin Long. “I knew [Newman] was right around me and knew he needed to gain some spots to keep from getting eliminated from the Chase.
“It’s a little upsetting he pushed me up to the wall, but I completely understand the situation he was in and can’t fault him for being aggressive there. I think a lot of drivers out here would have done something similar if they were in that position.”
It’s a diplomatic response from Larson, and it’s probably the truth as well. Newman fell out of position to advance to the Championship in the last handful of laps, but saw a chance to save his season and took it – just as Brad Keselowski did two weeks ago at Texas when he was going for a victory that would have put him into the Championship.
Larson may not be in the Chase, but he knows that just about anything goes in this format and that you have to expect such. He’s acknowledged that with the statement, and in doing so, he might have gained some brownie points with Newman and his fellow veterans in the garage.