Larson Scores Sonoma Pole
Kyle Larson will start from the pole in Sunday afternoon’s Toyota Save Mart 350 from Sonoma Raceway. This is the first time one team has swept the front row at Sonoma, and the third time in Chip Ganassi Racing in its history has swept the front row.
“I was surprised and I was happy about that. This is cool to get a pole on a road course at my home state. This is my closest track to Sacramento or Elk Grove where I grew up. I have lots of friends and family here. We’re going to celebrate with the team,” said Larson. “The Target Chevy was good. And then we’re going to head out to Calistoga and go watch some Sprint Car racing. So, I’m excited about that.”
As varying strategies played out during the opening round of qualifying, Chase Elliott was fastest at a speed of 95.371 mph. Martin Truex Jr. was second fastest at 95.265 mph. Kyle Busch was third fastest at 95.229 mph. Jamie McMurray was fourth fastest at 95.056 mph Chris Buescher rounded out the top-five with a speed of 95.051 mph. All drivers are able to participate on Sunday due to 38 cars being in the field. Because of an engine change, Matt Kenseth will start from the rear of the field as the team did not post a speed in qualifying. Notable drivers who did not advance to the final round include Clint Bowyer (P13), Denny Hamlin (P14), Kurt Busch (P17), Joey Logano (P18), Brad Keselowski (P23), and Jimmie Johnson (P24)
In the second round, Larson posted a speed of 95.295 mph to start from the pole. McMurray will start from the second position with his speed of 95.204 mph. Truex Jr. will start from the third position with his speed of 94.947 mph. Ky. Busch will start from the fourth position with his speed of 94.939 mph. AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top-five with his speed of 94.821 mph.
Patrick, Blaney, Elliott, Buescher, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the top-10.
The Toyota Save-Mart 350 will be broadcasted on Fox Sports 1 and Performance Racing Network on Sunday at 3:00 p.m. EDT.
Stenhouse Jr. Scores First Career Victory at Talladega
TALLADEGA, Al— For the first time of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. was victorious in the GEICO 500 from Talladega Superspeedway after a late race charge to the front in a green, white, checkered scenario. Stenhouse Jr. was able to hold off Kyle Busch in the final two laps to head towards victory. This is Roush-Fenway’s first victory since Carl Edwards went to victory lane in 2014 at Sonoma. This is Ford’s fifth win in a row on restrictor plate tracks.
“This is for all the guys at the shop. We’ve been terrible for a long time. This year, every race we’re getting better and better. We knew that Talladega was a good race track for us. It’s been a good one in the past and I’m just glad we parked it for my buddy, Bryan Clauson,” Stenhouse Jr. stated. “He was with us on that last lap. This Fifth Third Bank Ford was so fast today – qualified on the pole and got the win. I can’t say enough about the guys. It’s cool to have Jack Roush back in Victory Lane, Ford Performance, Fastenal, Sunny D. I’m gonna have a Sunny D in the morning, maybe a little later. This is cool. The closest race track to my hometown and the fans were out here this weekend.”
Jamie McMurray finished in the second position. McMurray was quiet throughout much of the day at Talladega, despite a few spotters complaining in the early stages of the race about his driving style and potentially causing a wreck.
“I mean it’s really circumstantial as to what the guys do in front of you and what is happening behind you. I just got a run at the right time. I thought the No. 17 (Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.) was going to get a little bit further out, but when we were coming to the line it just seemed like his car wasn’t going at that point, so it was a good finish. It was a great race,” said McMurray I’m glad everybody is okay, that was a really scary wreck on the backstretch, but really good day for our McDonald’s Chevrolet. We had good pit stops and the guys did a great job.”
Ky. Busch was leading the race at the advertised distance of 188 laps, but a late race caution sent the race in overtime ultimately sending him to a third place finish. Busch was not a happy camper when it came to the GEICO 500.
“When they have too big of a run and you can’t do anything about it. (Ricky) Stenhouse got a really good run and a good push and got by us there and then it was just about retaliation to get back on him and I just never had enough help from behind and just never got together. I just can’t say enough about this Skittles American Mix Camry – it was really fast,” said Ky. Busch. “The guys at Joe Gibbs Racing did a great job and TRD with everyone on this motor, it was awesome. We did all we could here today and it’s all circumstantial on how you win these things. Unfortunately our circumstances didn’t quite go our way, but we go to a real race track next week and we’ll try to win there.”
Aric Almirola, Kasey Kahne, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Paul Menard, and David Ragan rounded out the top-10.
Kyle Larson still holds the points lead over Martin Truex, Jr by 54 points. Keselowski is 61 points back in third, Chase Elliott is 75 points back in fourth, and McMurray rounds out the top-five in points only 110 back from Larson.
The GEICO 500 was slowed eight times for 33 laps. There was one red flag period for a total of 26 minutes and 51 seconds. There were 26 different lead changes amongst 14 different drivers with Ky. Busch leading the most at 48 laps. The first two stages were one by Keselowski and Denny Hamlin. The time of the race was three hours, 29 minutes, and 16 seconds.
Next up for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is a Saturday night trip to Kansas Speedway for the Go Bowling 400.
MENCS: Chip Ganassi Racing 2016 Review, 2017 Preview
The 2016 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season for Chip Ganassi Racing would be considered a “normal” season for the team. This was the first full season under the ownership of Ganassi, Felix Sabates, and Rob Kauffman.
The team returned to on track competition with Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson. Both drivers made the Chase, a promise made by Sabates in 2015, but came into fruition in 2016.
McMurray’s 2016 season started off with three top-20 finishes in the first four races with his best finishes at Las Vegas and Phoenix where he finished 16th. At Auto Club Speedway, McMurray placed his first top-10 finish of the season. However at Martinsville, he finished 23rd. Despite a finish outside the top-20, McMurray was able to place two 13th place finishes at Texas and Bristol and a 16th place finish at Richmond. At Talladega, McMurray was able to finish fourth, making this his first top-five finish of the season. He went from a top-five finish to finishing outside the top-20 at Kansas and Dover. Despite those finishes, he went on a streak of four top-20 place finishes with the best finish coming at Michigan where he finished ninth. In the first road course race at Sonoma, he finished in 17th. His first DNF of the season came at Daytona in the Coke Zero 400 where he was involved in an accident. However, he was able to place two consecutive top-10 finishes at Kentucky and New Hampshire where he finished seventh and sixth respectively. Indianapolis and Pocono saw McMurray finish within the top-20. He went on a three race streak of eighth place finishes at Watkins Glen, Bristol, and Michigan. At Darlington, he finished 15th. In the final race of the regular season, McMurray finished seventh and made his way into the Chase through points. In the opening round, his best finish came at Chicago with an 11th place finish. He finished 19th in New Hampshire, but had engine issues at Dover which resulted in a 40th place finish and no hope to advance to the next round. After being knocked out of the Chase in the opening round, McMurray ended with a top-10 finish at Charlotte. The top-10 was backed by a 37th place finish at Kansas, and a 19th place finish at Talladega. At Martinsville, he scored an eighth place finish, but had two top-20 finishes at Texas and Phoenix. He ended his season with a top-five finish at Homestead.
McMurray competed in 10198 of 10523 laps in the season and led zero laps. He had two top-five finishes, 12 top-10’s, an average start of 16.6, an average finish of 15.8, and two DNF’s.
In his third full time season in Cup competition, Larson would have one of his best years of his career, so far. The season started out strong with a seventh place finish in the Daytona 500. However, Larson finished outside of the top-20 at Atlanta and Las Vegas, but was able to rebound with a 12th place finish at Phoenix International Raceway. Larson ended the west coast swing with a crash at Auto Club Speedway. He went to Martinsville and was able to rebound for a third place finish. He finished 14th at Texas, but had a dismal 35th place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway. Larson rebounded at Richmond with a 15th place finish, but quickly finished 29th at Talladega and crashed at Kansas that resulted in a 35th place finish. Larson rebounded at Dover with a second place finish and a 13th place finish at Charlotte. Larson kicked off the summer strong with four top-20 finishes. His best finish came at Michigan with a third place finish and his worst finish of those four races was Sonoma where he finished 12th. To kick off the second half of the season, Larson finished 19th at Kentucky Speedway. His next top-five came at Indianapolis where he finished fifth and finished sixth at Pocono the following week. Larson’s “luck” went south at Watkins Glen and Bristol where he finished 29th and 25th respectively. However, Larson’s first win of his Cup career came at Michigan where he beat rookie Chase Elliott. This win would lock Larson into the Chase. He followed the victory with a third and second place finish at Darlington and Richmond. In the opening round of the Chase, Larson had an 18th at Chicago, 10th at New Hampshire, and a 25th place finish at Dover. Just like his teammate, Larson did not advance any further in the chase grid. Despite not moving on in the Chase, Larson started the second round with a fifth at Charlotte, a 30th at Kansas, and a sixth place finish at Talladega. To finish out the season, Larson finished in the top 20 in the remaining four races. At Phoenix and Homestead, Larson finished third and second to finish off the season and have momentum into 2017.
Larson competed in 10271 of 10523 laps, and lead 379 laps in the 2016. Larson had one win, 10 top-fives, 15 top-10’s, an average start of 15.6, an average finish of 14.7 and 2 DNF’s.
For 2017, Larson and McMurray will be returning to Chip Ganassi Racing. For McMurray, 2017 will be another year of consistency for him. Larson has momentum going into 2017. There is a chance that he will win more races and contend for a championship barring any unforeseen circumstances that might arise during the season. The sponsorship picture for McMurray is set; However, for Larson, Target is reducing its sponsorship in NASCAR giving the team a chance to explore other sponsors. There has been no news made on that front for Larson.
Kyle Larson Racing on the Chase Bubble
After a fifth-place finish at Indianapolis last weekend, Kyle Larson moved on to the Chase grid for the first time since Atlanta, the second race of the season. With six races to go before the Chase begins, he holds the coveted cutoff position with a 10 point advantage on Kasey Kahne.
In his third full-time season in the Cup Series, Larson is still looking for that alluded first victory. Though statistically this isn’t his best season, he is in the best position of his career to make the Chase.
In 2016, Larson has six top-10 finishes in 20 starts, including a best finish of second at Dover in May, a track that the No. 42 car led 85 laps. But as the Chase nears, the 24-year-old is heading to some of his best race tracks.
“We started off really slow, but the last couple months we’ve had a lot of speed and had some solid runs,” Larson told Speedway Digest his 2016 season. “We had some good luck there a couple months ago and then I had some bad luck prior to Indy, but were quick. We just have to stay on top of it.”
At Pocono, Larson has two career top 10s with a best finish of fifth in his first race at the Tricky Triangle in 2014. Heading into next week at Watkins Glen, the No. 42 car finished fourth at the road course two years ago.
Bristol and Michigan are two of Larson’s better race tracks. In the spring, the Chip Ganassi Racing team finished third at NASCAR’s fastest track and in 2015 led 90 laps at Bristol, the most laps that the California native has ever led in a single event in the Cup Series.
Not only is Larson on the Chase bubble, but so is his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Jamie McMurray. The No. 1 Chevrolet sits 34 points ahead of the cutoff with two top-10 finishes in the last three races.
“Jamie and I both communicate well with each other,” Larson said. “We’re not afraid to ask each other questions and compare notes. I think we work awesome together. We’re great teammates. He’s a good dude and we have similar driving styles, so our notes relate to each other.”
The two drivers are said to work extremely close with one another. The motto at Chip Ganassi Racing is “one team, one goal,” and the two drivers put a lot of emphasis on living up to that delivering for their car owner Chip Ganassi.
Larson is in his first year with Chad Johnston as crew chief. He has previously been atop the pit box for Martin Truex, Jr. and Tony Stewart, winning one career race at Sonoma in 2013.
“I really enjoy working with Chad,” Larson said of Johnston. “I think he’s really smart, really focused and an all around good crew chief. He has a good personality and works well with all the guys on the team. I enjoy it.”
Chip Ganassi Racing looked to be near its peak when the horsepower was higher. In 2015, when NASCAR reduced the horsepower package, the team, specifically Larson struggled. This season the same horsepower package applies, but the new lower downforce package has favored the team.
Admittedly so, it took the teams a longer time to adapt to the package than the drivers. Realistically, the drivers will go out and race whatever package is thrown their way. Some drives like the package, some do not.
“I would say when we had more horsepower that suited our team and myself,” Larson said. “I think you look at the Gibbs cars since they’ve gone to lesser horsepower they’ve been better. There have been more changes that just horsepower, but they’ve definitely taken advantage of the changes and done the best with it.
Due to post-race penalties, the No. 42 team has been penalized 15 points this season, which could cost the organization a Chase birth. Larson is optimistic regarding his chances of making NASCAR’s version of the playoffs. It would mark the first time that he would have a shot at the championship in the final 10 races.
Joey Logano Dominates at Michigan
With eight restarts on the afternoon, Logano controlled all but one, when he got passed by Chase Elliott. That was the only stint of the race in which the No. 22 Ford was not out front for a significant amount of laps, other than green flag pit stops.
Winning from the pole at Michigan is something that Logano has done in the past. In 2013, he started out front, finishing out front, in what was his first victory with Team Penske. The triumph came in Ford's backyard, as their headquarters are in the Detroit area and Adsel Ford II was in attendance for the victory.
"Everyone did a good job at understanding what this package was going to do and put together a great racecar for me," Logano said of his victory. "It was a lot of fun racing with Chase [Elliott] there at the end and [Kyle] Larson. They had the restarts figured out down on the bottom pushing each other. We've been knocking on the door of a victory all season, but it's nice to get that win and lock ourselves into the Chase."
This is Team Penske's 99th career victory in the Sprint Cup Series and the third victory of 2016 for the organization.
The 400-mile event was a bit unusual compared to Michigan standards. NASCAR brought a new aerodynamic package, hopeful of using this package in 2017. Most of the drivers throughout the field liked it, as like most races this season, it put the racing back in the drivers hands.
Elliott recorded a career-best second-place finish at Michigan. The No. 24 car was out front for 35 circuits, after leading 51 laps last week in Pocono.
Logano got around Elliott on a restart with around 50 laps to go. He slid out of the groove and fell back to fourth. On the resuming restart, he pulled his Chevrolet back up to second, where he would remain the rest of the race.
"You can't do dumb stuff to win these races," Elliott said post-race. "It was completely my fault. The guys gave me a fantastic car today. That one was on me."
Kyle Larson remained in the top five for the majority of the event in Michigan. Coming home third is the No. 42 team's second top-three finish in the past four races and now sits 19th in the championship standings, 23 points outside of the Chase cutoff.
"I'm not sure that there was anything I could have done there," Larson said of finishing third. "I was pretty tight there for two or three laps, sometimes for a full run. Staying out front the whole time was a big key. The Target Chevrolet was definitely a third or fourth-place car."
Brad Keselowski finished fourth at his hometown track and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five after starting in 29th.
Carl Edwards finished sixth, while Tony Stewart came home seventh, after spending much of the day inside the top five. Austin Dillon rebounded after a possible left rear tire failure passed halfway to finish eighth. Jamie McMurray was ninth and Kurt Busch completed the top 10.
Many of the big name drivers, including Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kyle Busch all faced difficulties on Sunday.
On Lap 54, the No. 18 car was on fire. On the next restart, Chris Buescher got loose and up into Earnhardt who smacked the outside wall, finishing 39th. Hamlin brought out the final caution with under 10 laps to go when he cut down a left rear tire and spun to the inside wall.
The Cup Series is off next week, but will resume in two weeks at the first road course of the season, Sonoma. The younger Busch is the defending winner at that event, which was his first of five victories in 2015.