LARSON HAS LUCK ON HIS SIDE, SETS SIGHTS ON FIRST NASCAR TITLE FOR CHIP GANASSI RACING
This is the third feature/video vignette of a weekly series that will appear each Thursday that focuses on contenders in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. The series will run up to the AAA Texas 500, the middle race of the Round of 8, set for Sunday, Nov. 4, at Texas Motor Speedway.
FORT WORTH, Texas (October 4, 2018) – A dropped foul ball with two outs. A hit post in overtime. A recovered fumble. Every team that has ever won a championship can look back on a moment that provided some good fortune, some good luck – a second chance at glory.
If Kyle Larson goes on to win the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship, he’ll look back on the final lap of Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway as that moment.
With Jeffrey Earnhardt stalled less than 100 yards from the finish line, Larson drove his beaten, battered and broken No. 42 Chevy through the final chicane, bouncing off the wall before hobbling across the finish line just a few feet in front of Earnhardt. Finishing 25th instead of 26th put Larson into a three-way tie with Jimmie Johnson and Aric Almirola for the final two spots in the next round. Larson and Almirola advanced based on the tiebreaker of best finish among the three races of the opening round.
“I could still see (Earnhardt) was stalled, so I come off the wall and I go through some gears and the whole time I’m going, ‘Just please don’t go, please don’t go, please don’t move,’ ” said Larson, whose runner-up finish at Las Vegas broke the three-way tie and allowed him to advance to the next round. “Made it through there and it kind of looked like he was starting to get rolling and I hit the wall again because I had a blown a right-front and I was just able to get in line. So, it was pretty stressful the last 30 seconds of that race.”
Larson and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs shift to Dover International Speedway for Sunday’s Gander Outdoors 400 (TV: NBCSN, 1 p.m. CT; Radio: Sirius/XM NASCAR Radio, MRN, 12 p.m. CT) in the opening race of the Round of 12. With a new lease on life and a championship still within his grasp, Larson now has his sights on capturing the first Cup title for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.
“It would be amazing to win,” Larson said. “There’s a lot of people in our shop that have never won a championship, so it would be pretty special to bring a lot of people their first championship – myself included.”
Larson is in his fifth season running full-time in the Cup Series for CGR. In the organization’s first 10 seasons, Chip Ganassi won just six times and only once between 2002-15. Since Larson took over the No. 42, CGR has visited Victory Lane five times, including a team record four wins in 2017, all of which were won by Larson.
That’s certainly a far cry from what the organization has been able to achieve in the open-wheel division. Through the years, Ganassi’s Indy-car teams have amassed 11 championships, more than 100 wins – including five in the Indianapolis 500 – while overall his motorsports teams have claimed 18 championships and 200 victories.
“NASCAR’s been tough for him and his organization for a long time,” Larson said. “So to become a champion would be pretty sweet and would mean a lot to a lot of people for sure.”
The opportunity is certainly there for the taking this season, especially if Larson is able to advance all the way to the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway – one of his best tracks – on Sunday, Nov. 18.
Of course, that will mean avoiding some roadblocks in the meantime, including Kansas Speedway, where a blown engine took him out of the postseason last October. And then there’s Texas Motor Speedway, where nearly identical crashes between Turns 1 and 2 led to back-to-back DNFs in last November’s AAA Texas 500 and this past April’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500.
When you look at the schedule now “it makes you realize the season is getting close to finishing. It kind of creeps up on you,” Larson said. “But then there’s great opportunity for one driver to become a NASCAR champion, which is really cool.
“Maybe (Charlotte is) just a little good karma from the issues I’ve had the last couple years,” he said. “This is damn good luck, so hopefully we can keep some good luck going.”