Kyle Larson’s team keeps running afoul of NASCAR rules

Oh boy. Here we go again with Kyle Larson’s No. 42 team.

Two days after NASCAR slammed the 42 with a major penalty — a three-race crew chief suspension, $75,000 fine and 35-point deduction — Larson won the pole at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

At least for about 45 minutes. After Larson’s car went through post-qualifying inspection, NASCAR discovered the car’s rear decklid fin was unapproved. NASCAR indicated the fin was designed to move when it wasn’t supposed to be — and that’s a no-no, obviously.

That caused Larson’s pole-winning time to be disallowed, meaning he’ll start last for the second straight week. It’s starting to become a pattern.

At Kentucky, Larson couldn’t get through pre-qualifying inspection (for the third time this season) and never made it onto the track. Then his car had to make multiple attempts to get through pre-race inspection at Kentucky — something that resulted in a 30-minute penalty for Saturday’s final Cup Series practice at New Hampshire.

So yeah, it’s been a bit of a rough stretch for Larson’s team when it comes to dealing with NASCAR. Considering he said Friday he knows nothing about the race cars (he just drives), Larson must be wondering what’s going on.

As are we.

Has the team been doing things outside the rules all season and it’s just now catching up to them? Perhaps NASCAR is taking a closer look at a team whose performance has been the class of the field at times?

Larson was all smiles about his car on Friday after appearing to win his fourth pole position of the season.  His car was handling well and had excellent speed, and he was optimistic for a good race after leading practice and every round of qualifying.

But now his weekend just got a lot more difficult, and he’s going to have to pass a lot of cars to see the front on Sunday. Again.

News Analysis: Kyle Larson penalty costs him points lead

What happened: Kyle Larson’s team was hit with a significant penalty on Wednesday after NASCAR discovered an infraction during its post-race teardown following the Kentucky Speedway race. Larson crew chief Chad Johnston was suspended for three races and fined $75,000 while the team lost 35 points — this after NASCAR found the No. 42 team violated a rule that says: “Openings in the rear brake cooling hoses and/or tubes to exhaust air between the inlet and exhaust mounting points will not be permitted.”

What it means: Larson, who was up by one point over Martin Truex Jr. in the standings, is now 34 points out of the lead. That’s a big blow, because the regular season champion gets an additional 15 playoff points while second place gets 10. The difference between the two is the equivalent of a race win.

News value (scale of 1-10): Four. It’s noteworthy in that the penalty affects the regular season points battle, but there’s still enough time (eight races) for Larson to recover — especially with stage points in the mix. It would be a bigger deal if this occurred in the playoffs or if Larson had won the Kentucky race and the encumbered finish meant something.

Three questions: How much did this have to do with Larson’s impressive speed at Kentucky? If this was a performance advantage, will Larson now be slower in upcoming races? Will the points penalty itself turn out to play a role in the playoffs should Larson miss out on those five extra playoff points?

This image from the NASCAR rulebook depicts a proper rear brake cooling assembly. The infraction in question took place in the hoses shown in the upper right (I-2). (Screenshot from NASCAR rulebook)

12 Questions with Jamie McMurray

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Jamie McMurray of Chip Ganassi Racing, who is currently fifth in the NASCAR Cup Series standings. I spoke with McMurray at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?

I think everyone is a little bit different. I think I work at it more than most. … That microphone is really close, Jeff.

I don’t have very good mic technique. Do the other interviewers, like the professional ones, hold it farther from your mouth usually?

(Laughs) I think the angle is off, Jeff. The angle’s a big deal.

So I need to hold it more straight up and down. I was holding it horizontally, and you’re saying that I need to hold it vertically. OK, that makes sense.

Yeah, I think I like this angle better. I don’t feel like you’re feeding it to me at this point.

Seriously though, I feel like through my whole career that I’ve worked a little bit harder than most. That’s not to take anything away from some people, but we know there’s some drivers who we say are just very naturally talented, and if they cared more, what could they do? I don’t feel like I’m that guy. I feel like I’ve worked really hard to get to where I am and I still feel like I study harder and work harder than most.

2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and now Dale Earnhardt Jr. have all either retired in the last couple years or will retire soon. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?

I don’t have a pitch. I don’t feel like you should try to sell somebody on becoming your fan. I think when you watch races on TV or you see interviews, if you like those people, if you like the way they race or if you like the way they live their life or if you just…you know, we all are turned on by different things. And I’m not a salesman.

3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?

I think the hardest part in general is always trying to be turned on. The reality is that we’re all probably not in as good of a mood as we show we are. My wife (Christy) tells me a lot of times, “It’s crazy how you kind of turn that on when you’re supposed to.” I don’t do it on purpose. I don’t consciously think, “Oh, Jeff Gluck’s going to interview me, I need to be this way.”

But we do, because the truth is, there’s some days where you’re not in a good mood, and what you really want to say, you can’t. So to me, that’s the hardest part —  just trying to always be turned on and say the right thing.

4. A fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?

Everybody is different about this. I am completely different when I’m with my family than when I’m alone. If it’s a team dinner or if I’m with a couple of guys, that’s totally different. I would say no all the time because you’re eating, but it’s totally different.

When I’m with my family, I get really defensive of people that come up, and I’m not as friendly or as outgoing. I chose to race cars and to be on TV, and I know what comes with it. My 4-year-old and 6-year-old did not (choose that), and they don’t really have a choice when they’re with me. So it’s completely different when I’m with my family.

5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?

Well, I’m into fitness right now, so I think the story that should be out there, especially with what Matt (Kenseth) and Jimmie (Johnson) and I did, and a lot of the crew guys in the garage did last week (the Assault on Mt. Mitchell, a 102.7-mile bike ride with a climb of more than 10,000 feet). I think that covering the fitness level of a lot of people in the garage would be interesting.

There’s this huge debate of whether people are race car drivers or athletes or if they’re not, and I think people would be shocked by what some people are capable of doing outside of a car.

Do you think that since you’ve gotten more in shape, you can notice a difference in the car?

There’s maybe a small amount in the car. Honestly, what I have noticed, the biggest change is the attitude of everyone on my team. I think when those guys see you putting in the effort and the work — we have a super fitness-oriented team anyway. There’s a lot of guys who do marathons and a lot of training, so I have noticed the attitude of them.

This is the deal: If you’ve never driven a car and you work on a team and things don’t go well at the end of the race, in my mind I know that maybe the handling of the car went away. But I think there’s always a little skepticism in people, like, “Well, did they get tired?” You maybe hear the little rumblings, and I think the attitude on our team has been awesome with all that’s been going on this year.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

I’m gonna look at my phone because I don’t know. (Pulls out phone) Greg Biffle. I texted him 32 minutes ago. Before that it’s gonna be Jimmie or Matt because we did that race on Monday, so probably Jimmie and Matt.

Are you a frequent texter?

No. My wife is the person who you can text and she will read your text then respond whenever she feels that she should respond. If I read, I do respond immediately because I know that people know that I have read that, or at least I feel like they know because they see (text) bubbles, right? But I’m not as into my phone as a lot of people are.

Does your wife put the read receipts on so you know what time she read it?

My wife doesn’t really care about her phone. If my wife lost her phone today, it would not matter. She would be like, “Oh well, it’s not that big of a deal.” So I don’t even know if her read receipts are on because she doesn’t know either.

7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?

I think some are more entertainers than others. Clint (Bowyer) would come to the top of my list as someone who’s an entertainer. He can turn it on, right? Although I will tell you that I have been around Clint a lot, and I don’t know if he turns it on. He’s basically that goofy the whole time. He’s always in a pretty good mood.

But yeah, I think that some people are certainly more entertainers than others. I don’t feel like I am that guy.

8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?

I haven’t done that in a long time. That used to be fairly common. That was once a weekend it happened. I don’t even see that anymore. I don’t know when the last time was when I got a middle finger.

I get a kick out of — I think they call it “Radioactive” (on FS1’s Race Hub) — I don’t know what that show is and I’ve only heard it a couple of times, but I love how mad people get. I have listened to like two of those, and they’ve been like after I’ve been at the airport, and the guy that MF’s me on the radio is like my buddy an hour later, so then you hear that and you realize that he was mad at what happened. So I love that they play that because that’s real.

Do you give anybody crap afterward? Like, “Hey, I heard what you said. That didn’t come up on our plane ride home or anything.”

No, because I know that’s the way you feel right then, and I don’t care. They feel how they feel.

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

Yes. Look, we all race each other the way we are raced, and for the most part, you build relationships throughout the year or throughout your career with people who race you very well. What comes and goes, it goes both ways. So absolutely.

10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?

I don’t even know of anyone famous that I’ve had dinner with. Let me think. 

I’m gonna say Matt Kenseth.

11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?

I want to improve a lot of things about myself. But I think being kind to others. I feel like I try really hard at that, but I don’t go a good enough job, and I try really hard when I see someone to kind of know that they’re having a struggle and I feel like all of us should do a better job of being kind to others.

12. The last interview I did was with William Byron. He wanted to know: “What other sports do you watch outside of racing, and what things does NASCAR need to take and apply from other sports?”

That is a really deep question from Mr. Byron at (19) years old. I do watch some other sports, but mostly it’s racing: F1 or drag racing or IndyCars or sports cars or motorcycles.

My answer to that is what we’ve kind of done that this year with Monster being a part of it. When you watch Supercross or you go to a Supercross event, they do a really good job with the laser light show and those guys come out and ride wheelies and they do a little more interaction. I feel like we’ve had a little more of that this year, not because Monster is here, but because all the sports are trying to gear towards a younger audience and that’s kind of the way to get there.

I don’t know who the next interview is going to be with, but I’m trying for an IndyCar driver because I’m going to the Indy 500. So do you have a question to throw out there?

Are you excited that Fernando (Alonso) came to run the Indy 500 and got a crazy amount of attention, and at the same time how did you think that he did?

I just wanted to say thanks again, because I feel like you’ve changed my life now with holding this microphone. I feel like I’m doing it the right way now. So thank you for that help. It’s like having something in my teeth the whole year and nobody’s told me I had something in my teeth until you said I was holding the microphone wrong.

That’s funny, because I knew that was going to happen because we’ve been talking about it behind your back the whole time. They’re like, “Wait until Jeff Gluck interviews you, because the way he holds his microphone is really weird.”

I don’t believe that, but thanks for joining us.

This 12 Questions interview is sponsored by Dover International Speedway. If you’re planning to attend the Dover race next week, please consider using my ticket link. Thanks!

Social Spotlight with Brennan Poole

Each week, I’m asking someone from the racing industry about their social media use in a feature called the Social Spotlight. Up next: Brennan Poole, the Xfinity Series driver from Chip Ganassi Racing. You can follow Poole’s vlog on YouTube here or check out his Twitter and Instagram feeds. This interview is also available in podcast form.

You’re into a lot of different forms of social media. What’s your favorite?

That’s a good question. I was trying to come up with something funny to say there, but I just don’t have anything. I totally bombed it.

But I like YouTube. I like creating the vlogs and doing the videos. Like you said, it’s Friday here in Bristol and I have vlog coming out today, so I’m excited about that. It’s a West Coast Swing vlog. I got to go out there and run Corvettes and I went hiking and I was in Vegas. We ran into Siegfried from Siegfried & Roy, so I have a lot of cool content for the vlogs. That’s what’s really fun to me — trying to make a little movie every day. So I enjoy doing that. It is tough, though. It does take up a lot of time and I end up becoming slack and missing things and whatever.

But I also enjoy Twitter and Instagram. What’s cool about Instagram is that it’s just pictures. I think nowadays, we all live in this world where we want to see images and we want to watch video — we don’t really want to read much of anything. So on Twitter, I watch the videos and I look at pictures on Twitter that might not be on Instagram. I like Twitter because I can share news and articles and post links that you can click on to go right to things, but I’m probably on Instagram more than anything else.

I did like Vine, but it doesn’t exist now.

Yeah, what the hell? Vine was a big loss.

Yeah, Vine was like, when I’m in the restroom, I’m just on Vine the whole time scrolling through every video. And when I see something funny, I send it to a friend and it just grows out of control and then my entire friend group is watching this one stupid Vine.

But I had some Vines that I thought were funny, but it seemed like Vine was hard to gain followers yourself. If you weren’t a Vine star, you weren’t gonna gain traction because everybody was only watching their content, so that part of it was tough.

Where like YouTube, your content is just out there for everyone and you can just push out whatever you want and you can really start to grow. I think my subscribers have been growing, and of course all my content now is on NASCAR.com, so you can watch all my stuff on their YouTube channel or whatever, but it’s on their website. We got 1,200 views on the Daytona vlog, so I’m kind of proud of that. I’m hoping that it’ll continue to grow.

Let’s talk about the YouTube stuff for a little bit. How did you decide that you wanted to be a vlogger, and is it one of these things where everything you do, you have to remember to take your phone out and film it?

I wanted to become a vlogger because of Casey Neistat. I was watching his vlogs every day and I was like, “Man, this guy is really good. He’s really interesting.” I was so influenced by listening to him talk about his struggles and how he became successful and stuff that he was working on to still become more successful, and so kind of being able to watch that journey with him day by day, I was like, “Man, this is something that’s special.”

And so I thought that a NASCAR driver needed to do this, somebody in NASCAR needs to do this. And the more I watched him, the more time that went by, I was like, “Screw it, I’m gonna just buy a camera and do it.” Now, I do shoot a lot of it off my phone now because in the garage and when I’m doing stuff for DC Solar and NASCAR, it’s hard to be carrying a camera around or have a backpack for the camera and everything.

Nowadays on your phone you can shoot 4K, so I just grab my phone and start shooting whatever I think is interesting and I do time lapses and everything off my phone. All that stuff comes out in really good quality, and the audio sounds great, too.

You know, I think for me, I keep plugging Casey Neistat because I want to meet him one day, so I’m like, “Casey Neistat, Casey Neistat” in the media center or whatever and the random chance he may see it, (it might) get him to race me, get him to vlog his race experience. But most of his stuff just inspired me to do something different. It’s been a lot of fun.

What’s the editing process like? You take all this footage of your daily life, you’re going around doing all this stuff, and then you have to sit down once a week or once every couple of weeks and try to put all this together. How long does that take you and what all goes into that?

You know, everyone’s vlogs are different, so when I talk about mine, I don’t want to discourage anyone from doing a vlog because you can literally just do it on iMovie and cut it up and whatever, and you can do it that way.

But for us, one of my really good friends, Bryan Baumgartner, does most of the editing because I simply just don’t have time. You know, I’m training, I’m in the shop for meetings, I’m riding my bike, I’m in the pool swimming, I’m in the gym lifting, I’m studying film, I’m going over notes and pre-race notes and getting ready for the weekend. There’s just no time for me to sit down and edit a vlog and put one out every week.

So he’s been able to influence the vlog a lot and put in a little bit of his creativity, and he kind of sees some things a little bit differently than I see. And something that I may not really want to put in there, he’ll put it in the vlog and make it where I’m comfortable with it. And it ends up making the video even more interesting than what I thought because it’s always awkward when you’re filming yourself and then you’re judging yourself on what you should put in there.

So he kind of sees it like, “No, that’s really interesting, we need to have it go this way,” and so having that really helps me. But he spends 10 to 13 hours a week on the video because there’s so much content that he has to watch all of it. I try to point out things that I really think should be in the vlog or kind of how the stories went, and I have to give him when I shot what so he kind of knows the timeline, and then he just busts it out and he does a fantastic job.

Now is the vlog almost a year old, or not quite that long?

Not quite. I started it last year at the second Iowa race. That was the first one I ever did. So (the anniversary) is coming, it’s not too far away. But I had to learn through the process to film and record interesting things. If you watch the first couple, you’ll see that I just film in my car or I film in the shop or I film in my house — I’m not like walking around filming.

I think that’s what makes Casey Neistat’s vlogs so interesting, because one he lives in New York City and he’s riding around on his Boosted Board and he’s just shooting all this stuff and you kind of feel like you’re in New York and you’re experiencing some of his experiences.

So for me, I’m still trying to work on that, to make my fans and the audience feel like they’re there and a part of it, too. That’s what’s tough — getting those shots that make you feel like you’re actually there. So I feel like I’ve gotten better at that. My last several vlogs have been, in my opinion, really good, but I’m still working on creating that feel.

You talked about your subscribers growing a little bit. How tough is it then to get that audience? I’m sure at times, you put out a video and you’re waiting for the reaction and you’re like, “Hello?” You know, just the feeling of, “Does anybody see this? How can I get this in front of more people?”

For me, that’s why I try to do this stuff with NASCAR.com to help more people realize that it’s there (NASCAR has been uploading Poole’s videos to its own YouTube channel). I think for me on my social media and stuff I’m almost at 10,000 followers on Twitter and I’m close to 6,000 on Instagram, so I’m trying to push it to an audience that I just don’t quite have yet.

But I feel like if I have the content and it’s there, when people find out about it, they can go back and watch from Vlog No. 1 and there’s literally like a whole story there.

I think one thing that’s important is being consistent with putting videos out, which is something that I’ve struggled with. I’ve got a new deal in place now where I will have a video out every single week, which I’m really excited about starting this week — but it was just tough. Everyone has jobs to get done, so it’s really difficult to put time towards a product that you’re just trying to grow by yourself. It’s really tough. So I’m excited about the next several weeks.

Some of the new videos, the content that we have, I think is really funny, so I hope a lot of the fans and some of the drivers enjoy it. I’m only up to 400 or 500 subscribers, so I’m still trying to grow. But like I said, the NASCAR.com thing is starting to get more views and I’m starting to get up over 1,000 views on some of my videos, which for me is a big step. I think when you’re at a smaller number, getting to that first 1,000 is really hard, and then getting to the next 1,000 is a little easier, and the next and the next and the next, it kind of gets a little easier as it grows.

Hopefully by the end of this year, my goal was to get 50,000 views on a video or like 50,000 subscribers — 50,000 subscribers is insane, I try to be realistic — maybe 20,000, but that’s just really what I want to try and do because I like vlogging and doing it so much, and I feel like there’s a space there to create some interesting content and really give people a bit of a behind-the-scenes of what a race car driver really goes through.

I’m still a normal guy and a normal kid and I do normal things, but also you get to see a little bit of the training and the work side of things, being at the shop and kind of what I’m dealing with. I think it’s kind of cool because through video, you can really experience what someone’s going through, where  through a tweet or a picture, you might not necessarily see all that.

Do you want your vlog to be something that is mainly consumed by race fans, or do you have a vision of it becoming something that can attract the mainstream audience?

Yeah, I want it to attract the mainstream audience. I want it to be where people are tuning into the vlogs just because they’re interesting. I feel like that’s what people do with Casey Neistat’s vlogs and some of the other vloggers on YouTube; people just tune in because they’re invested in them as a person and so I really want to grow. Not that I want attention or anything like that, I just want to be a normal guy who’s filming normal stuff who happens to be a race car driver and just inviting everyone in to see what that’s like.

Does anybody around you question the commitment level? Because it sounds like you’re really committed to this, and they’re like, “Are you sure you want to do this?”

(Laughs) Yeah, I mean a few people like some of my teammates and stuff are like, “Man, you just walk around and video everything and yourself and it’s gotta be timed and it’s awkward?” I’m like, “Yeah, it is.” But when I go back and I watch the video or I watch something that I felt like was awkward but I just acted through it, basically, I watch it like, “Man, that was actually really good.” So I try to be comfortable and just not really care as much about what I’m filming. Like now, I’ll just walk through the airport, I’ll walk to dinner, I’ll walk on the street and I’ll just be filming and recording and I don’t really care.

Are people looking at you funny?

Yeah, people are like, “What is that guy doing?” So now, because I capture a lot of stuff on my phone other than my actual camera, I think people just think that I’m Snapchatting or posting an Instagram story or something; they don’t really know. I’m like, “They don’t know what I’m doing, so whatever, it doesn’t matter.”

Let’s talk about a few other social media networks. You touched on Twitter. How much are you on Twitter, looking at tweets?

I probably look at Twitter everyday. I read something the other day that’s like people look at their phone within the first 10 minutes of waking up or something, but I would say I’m probably one of those people. I mean, that’s where I get most of my news. I don’t really watch the news on TV, I’m not searching the web or anything, I’m not really on BuzzFeed now.

Lindsey (Giannini, his girlfriend) is obsessed with BuzzFeed; I looked at her data the other day and 78% of it was from BuzzFeed. So, I was giving her a hard time about that because BuzzFeed is just kind of ridiculous. They do a great job and there’s some good news on there and the quizzes are fun, but BuzzFeed, you’re taking over my girlfriend’s life, so please, settle down!

But Twitter, I’m on there and usually I try to answer every fan, too. I don’t have an insane amount of followers yet — like I said, I’m almost at 10,000 — so if someone asks me something, I usually answer. Or if somebody gives me a compliment or whatever, I’ll like the tweet. I always try to interact with everyone as best as I can, you know?

I had a lot of people talking to me this past week about the NBA playoffs and the NHL playoffs, too, because I posted one tweet where I was like, “Man, the NBA playoffs are awesome.” And then people were like, “No, watch hockey!” And people were talking about like, “No, what are you talking about? Watch basketball!” I’m like, “Guys, I watch both, calm down.” But I think that’s what’s cool about Twitter — being able to interact with fans instantly. It’s kind of like texting, but through the Internet.

You touched on Instagram. Do you prefer Instagram stories or Snapchat stories?

When Instagram first put out their stories, I was like, “Come on guys, stop stealing other people’s things. It’s just kind of getting ridiculous.” Like on all social media, there’s a giant war going on that none of us even know it happening between all of them.

But I look at all the Instagram stories because I get bored and I’ve already scrolled through so many pictures on Instagram. If I’m on a flight or waiting to get on the plane or at a restaurant by myself, whatever, I scroll though it. So I’ll look through everyone’s stories, but for me, I like Snapchat a little bit better.

Plus, they’re the original guys. It’s kind of like my favorite Mexican food restaurant, well one of them, it’s the original Ninfa’s in Houston and the original is just better than all the chain Ninfa’s around. All my friends are on Snapchat, so we just use Snapchat.

I kind of agree with you in that even though there’s more people on Instagram, I prefer Snapchat. I almost get annoyed when people post Instagram stories. It’s kind of like, “Great, now I have to look at this.”

You have to look at it twice! And now Facebook has stories, too. Did you see that? So it’s like, “What’s happening?” And that’s what’s interesting, too, that’s why I come back to YouTube all the time because YouTube’s like you can make a mini movie. It’s like making stories and people are seeing what you’re doing and it’s kind of like a vlog through your story, but on YouTube there’s this content that is there forever, and you can always go back and look at it.

I think that’s one thing for me that’s special, because I’m recording all these moments in my career as I’m moving forward and I’m always gonna have that to go back and look on, which is pretty cool.

How do people subscribe to your channel if they’re listening and they’re not huge YouTubers?

If you just go to YouTube.com and you search “Brennan Poole,” my channel actually will come up and you can click on it. It’ll list all my vlogs, you’ll see all of them. You’ll also see some other random videos in there, perhaps me crashing somebody a few years ago, or Talladega race is very common with my name if you search it, but my videos are there.

And in the video I give you an option at the end of the newer vlogs that you can click there to subscribe, and basically when you have a YouTube profile and you subscribe to a channel, it’ll give you a notification whenever I post a new video.

This interview is sponsored by Dover International Speedway. If you’re planning to attend the Dover race in June, please consider using my ticket link. Thanks!

12 Questions with Kyle Larson

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Kyle Larson of Chip Ganassi Racing. I spoke to Larson at Bristol Motor Speedway. This interview is available as a podcast and is also transcribed below.

1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?

I would say up until I got to NASCAR, it was probably all natural and I didn’t have to work at anything. But once you get here, it’s really tough and everybody else is working hard, so you have to at least do what they’re doing to try and become better. A lot of that is studying. I still don’t really work out, but I try to do that a little bit. So it’s become more of having to work for it when you get to this level, but still natural ability takes over everything else.

2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards have all retired in the last couple years. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?

I’m very similar to — I guess all of them kind of have an open-wheel background, so I got that going for me. I’m kind of a throwback racer where I’ll race anything as long as I’m allowed to, and I would love to race every day of the week if I could. So I would say I’m one of the only real racers left out here. So that can be my pitch, that I’m the last true racer.

3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?

It’s probably that our season is so long and our weeks are so short. There’s so much stuff that you want to get done during the week and it’s hard to accomplish all that. There’s lots of times where I see what my friends are doing, and I’d love to be doing what they’re doing, but our weekends are kind of our weekdays and our weekdays are weekends, where it’s opposite of everybody else in the world. I would say that part of it is probably the toughest part.

4. A fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?

Yeah, as long as our main dish isn’t on the table, I think you can definitely come over. I’m not like a germaphobe or anything, either, so I’m not afraid to shake hands as long as they’re a decent-looking human being. But yeah, as long as our main dish isn’t on the table, feel free to come over.

So as long as the guy doesn’t have flies circling around him or something like that, it’s OK?

Yeah. If it’s not 105 degrees outside, as long as you’re not sweaty and greasy, you can come over and I’ll shake your hand.

5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?

I think you guys all cover the sport very well — good and bad. There’s some stuff that probably shouldn’t be covered that gets covered. But I wish I would see more good stuff about sprint car racing rather than all the negative stuff (about deaths and injuries) because that’s some of the purest form of racing. All the media kind of covers is the negative, so I wish that we would get more of the exciting part of it and how it develops great race car drivers rather than the tragedies.

The mainstream media doesn’t cover it every week; they see the danger, they see the accidents and then that gets written up.

Yeah, it’s easier to get people to read your posts when you have a title that is touching a negative topic rather than, “Oh, there was an awesome race in Illinois this weekend.” It’s easier to get someone to click on your link when it’s got some negative in it, so I wish there was more positive stuff about the sprint cars.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

Probably (Ricky) Stenhouse or Denny (Hamlin). I think we’re actually in a group text about golf, so probably those two.

How’s your golf game?

My golf game is really bad. Those two are really good. Denny shot a 74 (on Thursday), so two over par, and Ricky was five over par, so they’re good. I wish I could be 10 strokes better than I am, but I shot 101.

7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?

I guess we are in a way, but I don’t think of myself as an entertainer. I think there are some other drivers that do think of themselves as entertainers. (Grins)

But for me, racing is just my love and my hobby more than anything. I know it’s my job, but I just do it to have fun. But at the same time, I guess we are entertainers where we’re in front of big audiences live at the track and on TV as well. So yeah, I guess we’re entertainers, but I don’t try to entertain outside the car.

8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?

I don’t feel like I normally give the middle finger to a lot of people, but if you’re like four seconds off the pace and you’re multiple laps down and you hold me up, you’re probably gonna get the middle finger. Thankfully there’s no good drivers that ever really get the finger, so I would say that’s my middle finger policy. Just don’t hold me up.

So it’s reserved for the scrubs, basically.

Yeah, I guess you could say that.

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

You keep a payback list for sure, but you also have a list of guys that you probably don’t race as hard. I think of Matt Kenseth: He’s somebody who’s a veteran and understands give-and-take, and I’ve learned a lot from him of when’s the right time to be aggressive and when not to be.

So you’ve got guys like him where if they’re faster, you just let them go and then they repay the favor later in the race. But when it gets down to the end of it, you can race really hard. I would say most of us young guys are probably not the best at the whole give-and-take thing, but we can learn a lot off of those guys.

10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?

Probably Danica. You know, (Larson and girlfriend Katelyn Sweet) are great friends with Ricky and Danica, so we go out to dinner with them all the time. We probably eat dinner at their motorhome more than anything because she’s a great cook. But it doesn’t matter where we’re at — we could be at the middle of nowhere and somebody recognizes her.

It’s funny too, because they’ll see her and not have a clue who Ricky and I are, so it’s pretty funny. So yeah, I would say she’s probably the most famous person I’ve had dinner with. I know she likes being noticed out in public, too, so it probably makes her feel good that she’s the famous person with us.

Does she ever get free desserts or anything from the waiters?

Yeah, there’s a lot of times when we’ll go to a restaurant and they’ll bring out free appetizers that aren’t even on the menu that the chef wants to cook up for her. So yeah, it has its perks to be friends with Danica for sure.

11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?

Probably staying motivated to do the not-fun stuff of our sport. I guess going back to the work part of it, being motivated for that stuff. You know, I guess when you grow up racing, the racing thing is all you do and it’s natural ability — you don’t have to work at it too hard. But like I said, when you get here, it’s a lot more work and staying motivated to put the effort into being a little bit better is important, and there’s a lot time times I slack off on that. So I would say probably staying motivated to do the business/work part of it.

12. The last interview was with Daniel Suarez, and he wanted to know: If a competitive young driver came to you and asked for advice, how much would you tell him? Would you tell him 100% of what you know, or would you tell him like 90%? How much would you offer?

I always try to be extremely honest whenever anybody asks me anything. And honestly, there’s not a whole lot of people that go around asking for advice. I guess it would be the young guys. At Homestead last year, I felt like half the Truck Series was calling me, trying to get around Homestead because I go really good there.

I remember last Atlanta, I was extremely fast in practice before qualifying because I was running a different line in (Turns) 1 and 2, and Kyle Busch was asking me how hard I would run up there and why I would split the seams and stuff like that. I gave him an honest answer, and he got the pole and I qualified bad.

But yeah, I’m always extremely honest. I think coming from a dirt background, it’s easier for us to be honest — where people who grew up in pavement racing, it seems like pavement racers are more secretive than dirt racers.

The next interview is with Elliott Sadler. Do you have a question I can ask him?

He’s been around, he’s seen it all in every series. I feel like the average age has gone down a lot lately in every series. So how has he seen the style of racing change with the average age going down?

This 12 Questions interview is sponsored by Dover International Speedway. If you’re planning to attend the Dover race in June, please consider using my ticket link. Thanks!

The Top Five: Breaking down the Fontana race

Each week, I’ll provide some quick analysis through a post called the Top Five — five notable storylines from the just-completed race. Today: Fontana.

Larson no loser

Holy crap, how impressive is Kyle Larson lately?

Sunday really felt like the first of many wins for Larson this season. He’s already the breakout driver of 2017, with finishes of second, second, second and first in the four non-plate races.

You can credit faster cars at Chip Ganassi Racing — and of course, that’s a major part of it — but Larson also isn’t making the type of mistakes that took him out of races earlier in his career. Remember when it seemed like he’d hit the wall at some point every time he had a good car?

Not anymore.

He also seems more willing to try different lines instead of being so committed to the running the wall. Larson made some awesome moves by hooking the bottom of the track during Sunday’s race, and that paid off in a big way at times.

So, about that new package…

I’m officially concerned about the effectiveness of the low-low downforce package.

NASCAR got lucky with late drama at Atlanta, Las Vegas and Phoenix that covered up ho-hum races. But Fontana — which got a 90% approval rating in the “Was it a good race?” Twitter poll last year — had expectations to break that trend and provide a great show from start to finish.

Unfortunately, much of the race was rather tame again until Gray Gaulding crashed with 20 laps to go. Then, much like the other non-plate races, a chaotic finish erased all thoughts of the earlier lack of action.

But that trend can’t continue all season. NASCAR wants the action to be compelling throughout the day, lest races turn into the NBA cliche, where only the last five minutes matters.

The new aero package test isn’t passing the eye test as far as compelling races. Why? I don’t know the answer, but I’d like to hear some theories.

Clint Bowyer’s extra effort

In a Saturday roundtable interview with reporters, Bowyer said he had a long phone call with crew chief Mike Bugarewicz on Friday night — something he didn’t typically do in the past.

Then, after finishing third on Sunday, Bowyer revealed he drove to Bugarewicz’s hotel room on Saturday night to pore over data and try to find ideas to fix the car, which didn’t look great in practice.

“I’ve never went to a crew chief’s hotel room,” Bowyer said. “Never done that before.”

It’s clear this opportunity really matters to Bowyer — as it should. At 37, this might be his last, best chance to resurrect his career and get back to the championship-contending driver he’s capable of being.

He’s on the right path. Sunday was his best finish at an intermediate track since July 2013 in Kentucky.  Bowyer now can head to Martinsville — one of his favorite venues — with confidence and momentum.

Weird stats after five races

Two Chevrolet drivers have won races this season — and neither are from Hendrick Motorsports.

The one Toyota winner so far isn’t from Joe Gibbs Racing. And the winner from Stewart-Haas Racing isn’t Kevin Harvick.

So yeah, if you thought Richard Childress Racing would have more wins than Hendrick and Gibbs combined after five races? Well, you’re just lying.

It’s been an odd start to the year. There have been five different winners, but six of the eight active multi-race winners from last season have yet to reach victory lane. That’s a big zero for Jimmie Johnson, Harvick, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth.

Yes, it’s still early, but the regular season is also roughly one-fifth complete. So how much longer is this going to last?

Painful commercials

I was proud of myself for not getting too aggravated with the commercials during Sunday’s race — the first I’d watched from home this season.

They didn’t seem to be as bad as usual. But naturally, I couldn’t make it the whole time without getting irritated.

It remains absolutely maddening to see tweets about a great battle for the lead while we at home are staring at a commercial listing the side effects for a drug named Symbicort.

By the way, some of those side effects include headaches, changes in your voice, mood changes and shaking — which coincidentally also describe the effects on me when there are too many commercials during green-flag racing.

Honestly, NOTHING about the current state of NASCAR makes me angrier or more frustrated than the commercials. It’s no wonder TV ratings are in the toilet.

No other major sport disrespects its fans like this. Even soccer figures out a way to show games — including World Cup games! — without commercial interruption (except for halftime). Most sports fans wouldn’t tolerate a broadcaster cutting away from live game action, but for some reason, NASCAR fans are just expected to shut up and deal with it.

If the TV networks need money that badly, give us a pay-per-view option with an ad-free broadcast. Would you pay $10 for a race with no ads? Personally, I would.