Kyle Larson will make World of Outlaws 2021 debut at Bristol Motor Speedway

Larson Outlaws Bristol
Trent Gower, World of Outlaws
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Kyle Larson will make his 2021 debut in the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway after winning 12 times in 26 starts on the circuit last year.

Larson should be well prepared for Bristol because he took part in the inaugural Food City Dirt Race NASCAR Cup race March 29 on the high-banked half-mile oval in Tennessee. Larson was one of the favorites to win before his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was damaged in a Lap 54 crash after Christopher Bell spun directly in his path.

“Dirt racing is super important to me,” Larson said in a release. “It’s what I grew up doing. I’ve known it all my life.”

Larson, who will attempt the $25,000 main event Saturday with the Outlaws before heading to Talladega Superspeedway for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Sereis race, has continued to race on dirt in 2021 after joining Hendrick.

He won the Tommy Hinnershitz Classic at Williams Grove Speedway in Mechanicsburg, Pa. in the All Star Circuit of Champions on April 16 and set quick time at Hagerstown (Md.) Speedway in a Late Model the next night before an engine problem sidelined him and kept him out of the main event.

Larson finished second in a Late Model Race at Tazewell (Tenn.) Speedway on April 3.

In 2020, Larson ran 97 features in various dirt track series, posting 46 wins in Sprint Cars, Midgets, Silver Crown and Late Models.

“It’s going to be ultra-fast racing for sure,” Larson said. “I mean you’ve got sprint cars at over 900 horsepower weighing 1,400 pounds vs. a Cup car at 3,500 pounds and around 750 horsepower. I think lap times will be crazy fast — like 12 seconds. I still think it’ll be fairly similar to other half-miles, though. I just don’t think the pace will slow off as much as it does at other places because you have the banking and the load to carry speed throughout the night.”

This will be Larson’s first start of 2021 with the Outlaws. Last year’s packed schedule of dirt track racing allowed him to keep his instincts sharply honed. At Bristol, he will compete against some of the greatest sprint car drivers in the field, including his brother-in-law and current points leader Brad Sweet.

“I think it’s way different because last year I was racing almost every day of the week, and we built a huge notebook and I was fresh as a driver,” Larson said. “Now, this is only my second race back in Sprint Car since November so there’s some rust there. The Outlaws are just so much more aggressive than the All Stars with double-file restarts and such. It’s the little things you have to perfect to be good with the World of Outlaws.”

IndyCar drivers say Thermal Club could host race after successful opening day to test

IndyCar Thermal race
Andy Abeyta/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY Sports Images
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THERMAL, Calif. – The “motorsports country club” passed the first test (figuratively and literally) with NTT IndyCar Series drivers pleased enough to proclaim The Thermal Club as race-eligible after its debut.

Though there were a few minor incidents on the 17-turn, 3.067-mile permanent road course east of Palm Springs in Southern California’s Coachella Valley, there was no significant damage for the 27 full-time cars that turned 1,119 laps Thursday.

Perhaps more importantly, drivers seemed to enjoy the ride around the track, which is unlike anything on the current circuit.

“I would love to race here,” said Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Marcus Armstrong, who posted the 10th-quickest time (1 minute, 39.9077 seconds) in the No. 11 Dallara-Honda that he will race on street and road courses after coming from the F2 Series. “I think it’s awesome. Would have to do a lot of neck training prior to the race because it’s much like a European circuit, quite demanding on the neck, towards the end of the lap anyway.

PRACTICE SPEEDS: First session l Second session l Combined

‘AN AMAZING PLACE’: IndyCar and its big plans for Thermal

“I think it’s cool. Very flowing, banked corners, banked high-speed corners. In terms of racing, it could be potentially not a lot of overtaking. You’d have to commit hard (in) maybe Turn 1. It wouldn’t be the easiest place to overtake. As a whole facility and circuit, it’s very enjoyable.”

Juncos Hollinger Racing No. 77 Chevrolet driver Callum Ilott, another F2 veteran who is entering his second year in IndyCar, was seventh fastest. Ilott said Thermal would “set a standard really of what we want to be doing with this series.

“It’s really, really high level, high tech,” said Ilott, whose rookie teammate Agustin Canapino went off course twice but incurred no major trouble. “As a circuit, yeah, it’s got a little bit different corners. I think the overtaking — we’ll find a way, we’re IndyCar — someone always sends it down the inside. I think if we can extend the straight and get some overtaking between Turn 6 and 7. It’s definitely a great circuit to drive and good fun and a bit different to the normal winter training we get in Florida. So I like the circuit.

“I think if we could, it would be good to race here once.”

Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta, who turned the fastest lap (1:39.3721) in his No. 26, also was optimistic despite the passing challenges.

“I think it really comes down to tire deg, what people are showing with that,” Herta said. “It will be tough to pass, right? A lot of the good braking zones, you’re coming off of high-speed corners, so it will be hard to follow.

“But you never know. I would say some of the tracks we go to would be terrible for racing, and IndyCar still puts on a great show. You never know until it’s tested and proven right or wrong.”

The possibility of adding an IndyCar race at The Thermal Club has been floated, but there would be some challenges. It likely would be a made-for-TV event given it’s a private club (and filled with multimillion-dollar homes filled with vintage cars). The test is closed to the public and open only to members and VIPs.

There also are some areas that would need to be improved, namely the galvanized steel Armco barriers that ring the track and generally are considered antiquated in motorsports.

“I think the Armco might propose a little bit of an issue,” Ilott said. “Again, it depends on what angle you’re hitting them obviously. It’s a pretty straightforward process to make it a bit safer and a bit more cushiony. I’m not in charge of that stuff. I just drive and try not to hit those things.

“I think it’s a straightforward process. To be fair, everyone has had a little moment today, spun and carried on. That’s a good start. Obviously there are anomalies, these things happen. So far, so good.”

Said Herta: For sure. It probably needs a little bit of work. They’ve already done a lot for us to come here already. It seems like if they do want to have a race here, they’re willing to put the work in and money in to upgrade the facility to make it a little bit safer for us.”

Christian Lundgaard of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing was second fastest (1:39.3767), followed by Alex Palou (1:39.3970) and Romain Grosjean (1:39.4826). Will Power was the top Chevrolet driver in fifth (1:39.5690).

Though Andretti had two of the top four times, Herta downplayed the significance other than getting reacclimated to his team.

“Just a lot of knocking the rust off,” he said. “It’s quite a long offseason without being in the car. I don’t know how much we’re really going to learn from running here. It’s really good to get the team back into it, get all the boys working again. Yeah, just get everybody back into the flow of it.

“It could be a huge shake-up when we go to St. Pete and who’s up front and who’s at the back. It is too early to tell. It’s nice just to be back in the car and get lap times down, get everybody working again.

“The track surface is very strange, very different to anything I’ve really felt in IndyCar. It’s seven first-gear corners. We don’t really have that many anywhere we go on a street course. It is quite a bit slower than our natural terrain courses. But I don’t want to be in here and dig it the whole time. It’s a fun track to drive, especially the back section. It keeps you on your toes. It doesn’t really replicate anything else that we go (race).”

The test will continue with another six-hour session Friday.