Larson’s busy weekend includes Knoxville Nationals, Cup race

  • Kyle Larson talks with teammates prior to qualifying for the NASCAR Cup race in Brooklyn, Mich., on Friday. Larson will race a sprint car in Iowa on Friday and Cup on Sunday. AP

Associated Press
Saturday, August 12, 2017

BROOKLYN, Mich. – Kyle Larson is ready for a hectic weekend befitting his status as one of racing’s rising stars.

Larson is set to race in Saturday’s Knoxville Nationals, squeezing in the prestigious sprint car event before returning to Michigan to compete in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race. Chip Ganassi, Larson’s team owner on the Cup circuit, gave him permission to race Saturday in Knoxville, Iowa. He qualified ninth in his Cup car Friday at Michigan.

“Chip’s allowing me to go to Knoxville (on Saturday), which is great,” Larson said. “Cool weekend for me and really excited for it.”

The 25-year-old Larson has two Cup victories this year – including in June at Michigan – and is third in the standings. He also won at Michigan last August.

Larson performed well enough in qualifying Wednesday to make the field for Saturday’s top race at Knoxville. He said he spoke to Ganassi about it Thursday, after Chevrolet’s event in Detroit introducing its 2018 Cup car.

“My deal with Chip is I can’t race a sprint car or midget or anything really the night before I’m on track,” Larson said.

Larson said Ganassi is making an exception for Saturday night.

“Ultimately, it’s all Chip’s decision,” Larson said. “I know my fans really appreciate it, all my sprint car fans and NASCAR fans. So Chip is a hero today and this weekend. I appreciate it.”

In a video posted on the Twitter account for Chip Ganassi Racing, Ganassi addressed fans who had been calling on him to let Larson race in Saturday’s event.

“I’ve been hearing you all the last few days. My phone and my Twitter account’s blowing up,” Ganassi said. “Okay, okay, okay. We’re going to let him race in Knoxville.”

Ganassi is hoping Larson’s presence at Knoxville could draw more viewers to Sunday’s Cup Series race.

“We know the guy’s an amazing talent. We know he can win at Knoxville,” Ganassi said. “We’ve got to have him win here Sunday in Michigan, too, in the NASCAR race. Kyle’s an amazing talent. Let’s have him win in Knoxville. Let’s bring him back to win here in Michigan, and then I want all you fans in Knoxville to be turning your TVs on NASCAR on Sunday.”

If Larson wins a third straight Cup race at Michigan, he’ll be the first driver to do that since Bill Elliott, who won four in a row from 1985-86. Larson, who has seven runner-up finishes this year to go along with his two wins, has been in a bit of a rut lately, finishing out of the top 20 in his past three races.

With only four races left before the playoffs, this isn’t a good time for a slump.

“We have had probably more bad luck than bad runs,” Larson said. “I think Indy we were pretty good at, probably fourth- or fifth-best car, and then same at Pocono, but we broke a driveshaft at Pocono and got in a wreck at Indy. Watkins Glen we were definitely not very good, I didn’t think.”

Earnhardt and Harvick

Harvick talked a bit more about his comments from earlier in the week about Dale Earnhardt Jr. Harvick suggested on SiriusXM that NASCAR’s growth has fallen short of its potential because Earnhardt – the most popular driver – hasn’t been successful enough. Earnhardt described some of the comments as “hurtful” on Thursday.

“It wasn’t anything personal. He had his opinion the week before on driver salaries and driver ages and those things, and I don’t know that anybody in the garage agreed with those either,” Harvick said. “There’s definitely opinions on a lot of things. There’s nothing personal, and I didn’t take anything that he said the week before personally either.”

Earnhardt said last weekend at Watkins Glen that there’s been “a major shift in how much drivers are getting paid.” He said newcomers are making a fifth to a 10th of what veterans had been getting.

Earnhardt said Friday he’d like to have a conversation with Harvick.

“I would certainly like to clear it up, but just probably between ourselves,” Earnhardt said.

Kahne’s outlook

Kasey Kahne, who is being replaced next year by Hendrick Motorsports in the No. 5 Chevrolet, said the vibe was good within the team Friday.

“It was the first time I had seen my guys since the news,” he said.

Kahne said he still wants to be in the Cup Series.

“I really think that I can come up with something good and come up with something that will be fun to be a part of and also try to work hard to make that team better than it’s ever been and myself better than I’ve been,” Kahne said. “I still have that mindset and I really hope that something works out to where I can be in a strong car next year and enjoy racing in this series.”