12 Questions with Kyle Larson (2019)

The 12 Questions series of driver interviews continues this week with Kyle Larson of Chip Ganassi Racing. This interview was recorded as a podcast, but is also transcribed for those who prefer to read.

1. Are you an iPhone person or an Android person, and why?

I’m an iPhone user. All Apple. It’s just simple. Life’s simple with Apple.

2. If a fan meets you in the garage, they might only have a brief moment with you. So between an autograph, a selfie or quick comment, what is your advice on the best way to maximize that interaction?

Usually when a dirt fan walks up and starts talking about a race, that’s a good way to get a good reaction out of me. Or just have your camera ready, and then usually I think that would put all of us in a better mood and more willing to chitchat for a minute. But I enjoy interacting with people.

So it pisses you off when somebody comes up and they’re like, “Oh, let me get a selfie,” and then they’re trying to unlock their phone…

They don’t even have it out of their pocket yet. Yeah.

3. When someone pulls a jerk move on the road when you’re driving down the highway, does that feeling compare at all to when someone pulls a jerk move on the track?

Yeah, I guess a little bit. If somebody cuts you off or something like that, then at least in the race car, you can run into them and show your displeasure. Where I guess on the street, if somebody cuts me off, I just tailgate them for a couple miles.

A couple miles? Wow!

Yeah, or at least until they turn. So I would say it’s similar, just you can’t run into somebody on the street.

I don’t do any hand gestures though because when we’re on the racetrack, you can do a hand gesture because you know you have backup when you get to pit road (for a fight). If you do a hand gesture and somebody gets you to pull over on the side of the road, they’d probably beat you up and you don’t have any backup.

4. Has there ever been a time where you’ve had a sketchy situation with your safety equipment?

I’ve had times like where I’m rolling around yellow and maybe I didn’t get (the HANS device) clipped in all the way and it becomes unclipped under yellow, but I usually have enough time to get it hooked back up. Gosh, yeah, I don’t think I’ve had anything too sketchy. I feel like I have really safe equipment. My Arai helmet’s been safe and so yeah, knock on wood, I haven’t had anything crazy happen.

You wear like a strap version of the HANS, right…?

It’s a Safety Solutions (Hybrid Pro). Simpson owns it now, but it’s called a Hybrid Pro.

Why do you do that? More comfortable?

I was like their test dummy kind of back when I was 10 or 11 racing go-karts, back when they were first getting started, at least with the youth stuff. So I’ve always used their stuff; back then it was called like the R3. So I kind of developed their youth stuff and I’ve just always used it as I’ve gotten older.

I think it’s a safer device than the HANS, I think because it clips to you and it still is working somewhat if your belts were to slide off — which I’ve never had my belts slide off. But when I wear a HANS, I don’t feel like it’s that tight on me and it’s not doing as much for me. And it’s a lot easier on your collarbones too, especially for dirt racing. A lot of people break their collarbones with HANS (devices).

5. If your crew chief put a super secret illegal part on your car that made it way faster, would you want to know about it?

(Editor’s note: I accidentally skipped over this question. New season goof-up. Sorry.)

6. What is a food you would not recommend eating right before a race and are you speaking with personal experience with this recommendation?

Maybe like a couple cheeseburgers and a root beer float. I wouldn’t recommend eating any of that.

I hope that’s not a personal experience.

Maybe a little bit of a personal experience. I really don’t want to talk about it. (Laughs)

7. Is there life in outer space, and if so, do they race?

Oh. I believe there’s life in outer space. I don’t know if they race, though. Maybe. Wow. Yeah, there’s gotta be life in outer space. I feel like I’ve seen some UFOs before, so I think there’s life. Do they race? I don’t know. I would hope they do. That way I could maybe go race in outer space.

When you cross over to the various series, you can be one of the first intergalactic racers.

Yeah.

It’d be like, “Dude, Kyle Larson is good on any planet.”

He’s out of this planet. Yeah, you’re right.

Where have you seen UFOs? When you’re on the ground? Or when you’re flying, like, “That’s something weird out the window.”

Dude, so I remember, I was driving through Sacramento, so this is right by ARCO Arena where the Kings used to play, and I’m cruising up (CA Route) 99 and out the right side there’s a bunch of little colorful objects, like zipping around back and forth as random as could be, like all different directions for a least a minute while I was driving. And I was just staring at them, I was like, “What the hell is this?” It wasn’t like a drone, because there were multiples and they were flying fast. Pretty low to the ground. Probably 50 feet off the ground. But just little lights. Maybe I was crazy for a second. But no, I swear I saw something funny.

8. What do drivers talk about when they’re standing around at driver intros before a race?

I dread driver intros. Davis (Schaefer, his PR rep) could admit that I’m the last one up to the intro stage, just because it’s awkward. It’s like going to lunch in junior high and you’re like, “There’s the cool table and there’s the nerd table and there’s my dirt friends. I’ll go stand with my dirt friends.” So we usually just talk about dirt racing, so I’ll stand around (Ricky) Stenhouse and (Ryan) Newman and (Clint) Bowyer, and Denny Hamlin’s getting into liking dirt racing, so he’s usually around. We’ll talk about stuff because we’ve all watched (streaming service) DIRTVision from the night before, so we’ll talk about that.

But yeah, I hate intros. I don’t go up there early. There’s drivers that get up there (early) — I feel like Martin Truex is always the first one up there and he qualifies good (which means he show go up later). I’m like, “Man, what are you doing up there so early?” Because he’s quiet, he doesn’t talk to anybody. But yeah, so I don’t like going up there early.

9. What makes you happy right now?

That I’m getting to knock these 12 Questions out of the way before I have to wake up early in the morning or something, or when I’m tired and grumpy and getting ready for practice like at Pocono or something like that. (Editor’s note: Larson was bored during Daytona 500 media day so suggested we do this interview now instead of during the season.)

That makes me happy as well.

Yeah, so we both get to get that out of the way. But I don’t know. Doing the 12 Questions and just getting ready to get this season started. It was a short offseason, but I get to go racing full-time again.

10. Let’s say a sponsor comes to you and says, “We are going to fully fund the entire rest of your racing career on the condition that you wear a clown nose and an 80’s rocker wig in every interview you do forever.” Would you accept that offer?

No. (Laughs) There’s probably other sponsors out there that would sponsor us and not do that.

Take your chances?

Yeah, and I’d just go sprint car racing in that (case). So no, I won’t wear a clown nose. I would maybe wear the long hair, but not the clown nose.

11. This is the 10th year of the 12 Questions. There has never been a repeat question until now. Pick a number between 1 and 100, and I’m going to pull up a random question from a past year’s series.

OK, 62. When is this from?

This is from 2015.

So I’ve had this question before.

That’s true, actually. I should look up your answer and see how it compares.

OK. But don’t tell me how I answered it.

Do you ever get mistaken for another driver or celebrity?

So that was back when I had Target, so I was red. I didn’t get Stenhouse all that much. So now I get Stenhouse a lot.

Stenhouse?

Yeah. It even happened today downstairs.

What?!

Yeah. So I get Stenhouse and Chase Elliott the most.

At least Chase Elliott has dark hair.

Yeah. And Chase Elliott and I actually look a lot alike in our baby pictures and such. But yeah, I get Ricky a bunch. Ricky probably the most. And Ricky gets me a lot, too.

What? I don’t see that at all. I don’t understand how that’s possible.

Yeah, I don’t know.

Do you want to guess who you said back in 2015?

Probably Ryan Truex.

That’s correct. Actually, you said, “I used to get mistaken for Ryan Truex but now it’s kind of the other way. It’s nicer that way for me.”

Yeah. (Laughs) I don’t get mistaken for him, he gets mistaken for me.

12. The last interview was with Joey Logano. He wanted to know: What is your plan to help our sport and our community in the next year? What are you goals to make what we do better outside of the race car?

That’s deep. Well, Joey does a really good job at all that. He’s probably like the best these days when it comes to community stuff. I don’t have a Kyle Larson Foundation or a charity really that I have focused on or spent a lot of time or effort on helping. So I guess that’s something I can do in the next year or so, maybe set up a foundation, figure out what I want to give back to and help out, whether it’s sick children or just people in need, really.

There’s a lot I can do. I guess try to take the next step into all that as a professional athlete, because I think a lot of professional athletes, that’s what they do, is give back to the community. So that’s something I need to grow up and do, but I still don’t really know how exactly I’m going to do that.

Do you have the question I can ask the next driver? It’s Aric Almirola.

He recently introduced me to his grandfather who raced sprint cars, so maybe ask him what race stands out to him of watching his grandpa the most racing sprint cars.

Do you regret doing these 12 Questions? That’s the last question.

That’s been more than 12 questions now.


Previous 12 Questions interviews with Kyle Larson:

— May 6, 2014

— March 18, 2015

— April 6, 2016

— April 26, 2017

March 20, 2018

 

Chili Bowl Night 6: Christopher Bell, Kyle Larson add another chapter to respectful rivalry

Since it’s 2019 and the world is an angry place, many of us have developed a negative connotation with the word “rivalry.”

When we think of rivals, we think of two people who spew vitriol and trash talk, going against each other not just on the playing field, but in Twitter burns and Instagram-worthy clips.

One has to win and rub it in. The other has to lose and pout or vow revenge. Competing with civility seems like a lost art.

Even when you bring up the word “rivalry” to Christopher Bell — referring to the one he shares with Kyle Larson — Bell momentarily cringes before agreeing on the definition.

“‘Rivalry’ is…well, I guess rivalry is the right term for what we have for what we have going on,” he said. “But we’re acquaintances, we’re friends — we’re each other’s biggest supporters. So it’s a very unique relationship we have.”

There’s nothing in the dictionary definition of rivalry that says the people have to dislike each other, and Bell and Larson clearly don’t. If you thought Bell coming out of nowhere to snatch Larson’s dream trophy away Saturday night at the Chili Bowl might finally change that (guilty as charged), you’d be way wrong.

Even though it has to be tough to swallow losing such a cherished race. to someone who consistently beats you, the only bitterness Larson expressed afterward was toward himself for allowing Bell to catch him.

Did Bell make contact in the process? Yes, Larson said, but nothing unwarranted. He opened the door for it and expected it. Fair game.

As a cloud of confetti surrounded Bell, Larson stood 50 feet away and stared blankly at the celebration stage for several long minutes. It’s been well documented the Chili Bowl is the race Larson wants to win more than any other, based on his dirt upbringing and the importance of the race — both personally and in the midget world.

Larson’s parents still sit in the same seats they did when they came as fans, before Kyle even started racing in the event. And Mike Larson, Kyle’s dad, was technically the car owner for the Chili Bowl this year — meaning father and son could have celebrated together in victory lane at a place they both hold so dear.

And it looked like it was going to finally happen, as Larson dominated the race and had a sizable lead in the final laps. But that all disappeared when Larson slipped up coming to the white flag, allowing Bell to gain ground, then made another bobble in Turn 1 of the final lap.

Bell scooted underneath and muscled his way by on the backstretch as Larson tried in vain to fend him off in the final turns.

The sold-out crowd exploded, Bell exulted at his third straight Chili Bowl win and Larson was left shocked at another Golden Driller that got away — and ended up in Bell’s hands, again.

You couldn’t blame Larson in the slightest if that turned into resentment rather than respect for his opponent. But that’s not what happened.

After composing himself and letting Bell do a victory lane interview, Larson strode toward the younger driver and offered an outstretched hand. They shook, then later entered the media center together and posed for the traditional podium photos. Larson even forced a smile as to not ruin the picture.

That’s not to say Larson was OK with losing — far from it. He was so devastated, he could barely raise his voice enough to be heard. But unlike many people in his position, Larson didn’t point the finger at anyone else and accepted responsibility for the outcome.

Meanwhile, Bell refrained from bragging about his own skills, humbly describing the method he used to catch Larson and expressing surprise he had the opportunity to win.

“It was very easy to slip, but he is the most talented race car driver a lot of us have ever seen,” Bell said later, after Larson had left the room. “So yeah, it’s pretty surprising he did slip.”

And so goes another chapter in the rivalry, which has now extended across years and various disciplines (midgets, sprints and stock cars) and even countries (they raced each other several times in New Zealand last month).

The two texted each other this week and expressed how remarkable it was that they always seem to finish 1-2 — in some order — when they’re on the same track. It’s already happened at least four times since the NASCAR season ended in November.

But no matter who wins or what the circumstances are, they always seem to remain on good terms.

That fact, as much as their talent itself, deserves applause in today’s day and age. Hey parents, want a good example of sportsmanship and class? Watch how Larson and Bell treat each other — and what they say about each other — even in the greatest moments of disappointment.

The 2019 Chili Bowl will be remembered as a great finish, but it will ultimately be just another addition to the Larson and Bell highlight reel. And the best is yet to come, when Bell finally graduates to the Cup Series and can go head-to-head with Larson on a weekly basis.

It’s a rivalry without animosity or hate, and you know what? That’s just fine. The world could use more like it.


Other Chili Bowl coverage this week:

— Night 1When anyone can enter Chili Bowl — even you! — it can be sketchy for top drivers

— Night 2Kyle Larson shines once again, setting up long-anticipated rematch with rival

— Night 3Cole Bodine is the best story of the Chili Bowl so far

— Night 4Christopher Bell impresses everyone but himself

— Night 5: After shop accident, Brad Loyet finishes career on own terms

Post-race podcast with Blake Anderson

Chili Bowl Night 2: Kyle Larson dominates, but matchup with rival Bell looms

Let’s start out by acknowledging here that Kyle Larson is one of the great American racing talents ever to strap into a car.

Hyperbole? Nah. At age 26, Larson is already a winning NASCAR driver, one of the top sprint car drivers and the second-best midget racer in the world. That’s a combination few can claim.

Of course, he’d prefer to be the best in a midget — and he was probably on that path until Christopher Bell showed up and started beating him regularly. Now Larson has found himself in the unusual position of trying to raise his game instead of simply relying on his natural abilities.

Bell has pushed Larson to be better in a midget, and Larson is ready to push back.

“I’ve worked really hard to become a smarter racer and make better decisions — in a way, think like he might think — so instead of being a step behind, maybe be at his level,” Larson said. “You have to always work on your game and try to get better, because he’s getting better and better every race.”

Larson certainly didn’t look like he had much competition Tuesday, when he waxed the field on his prelim night for the Chili Bowl Nationals. It was Larson’s fifth career prelim win.

But Bell — his Keith Kunz Motorsports teammate — hasn’t run his prelims yet. They did race together in the Race of Champions on Tuesday, but it wasn’t a true head-to-head test — Bell started 15th by random draw and Larson started fourth. Even so, Bell only finished one spot behind Larson.

The true showdown, widely anticipated for a year now, is shaping up to take place once again in Saturday night’s 55-lap A-Main. That’s assuming Bell doesn’t have trouble making the big race — though that would be a shock, considering he’s the back-to-back Chili Bowl champion.

Larson had no problem with declaring Bell as the driver to beat again.

“I’ve got zero (Golden) Drillers in my trophy case,” Larson said. “You just look at his track record — not just in this building, but any racetrack in a midget — and his win percentage is crazy over the last four or five years. I would definitely say he’s the favorite anywhere he goes in a midget right now.”

That said, Larson actually got the better of the two when they raced midgets recently in New Zealand. It was Bell who finished second to Larson on a couple nights rather than the other way around.

Larson suggested it was because they were in different equipment, but added: “Maybe I’m just making excuses for him.”

“It’d been a long time since I beat Christopher in anything — at least on dirt — so that was good,” he said.

The question is: Can Larson do it again?

SPONSOR WOES IN OFFSEASON

Larson’s firesuit at the Chili Bowl is still sporting a DC Solar patch, though the company won’t be on his NASCAR ride this season after an FBI raid on its headquarters. When it became clear the funding was gone, Chip Ganassi Racing had to shut down its Xfinity team — which was going to be fully sponsored by DC Solar — and is scrambling to find a new sponsor for Larson’s Cup car (DC Solar was the primary sponsor for 12 races last season).

Larson said going to race in New Zealand when the news came out was a helpful distraction to the sponsor troubles.

“It’s nice to go to New Zealand because I don’t talk to anybody in the States, really,” he said. “I kind of get away from everything that’s going on here. I don’t even really know what all has gone on or how the future is going to look.

“Unfortunate that it happened. (DC Solar owners) Jeff and Paulette Carpoff have been nothing but great to myself, so I hate that it all happened. I know my team is probably working really hard to fill those races — because it’s a lot of races they were on the car — but I don’t get into NASCAR mode until Sunday (after the Chili Bowl). So I’m still not really thinking or worrying about it yet.”

Kyle Larson is interviewed by Ralph Sheheen after winning Night 2 of the Chili Bowl Nationals. (Photo: Jeff Gluck)

Other Chili Bowl coverage this week:

Night 1: When anyone can enter Chili Bowl — even you! — it can be sketchy for top drivers

The Top Five: Breaking down the Charlotte Roval race

Five thoughts after Sunday’s first-round elimination race at the Roval…

1. Roval Love

There were so many things to love about the entire Roval weekend before the race even started. The hype was real, the freshness of a new course injected a boost of enthusiasm into a long season and the whole thing replaced a traditionally ho-hum event with a huge unknown.

Given all that, the Roval was probably going to be viewed as a success even if the race turned out to just be OK.

At least they tried something different!, people would say.

Most of it was a fuel-mileage affair, where drivers tiptoed around the track and kept themselves out of trouble — which honestly was fine! That was the smart thing to do, and the strategy and doubts over whether they could make it to the end on fuel offered enough intrigue to keep fans interested.

But then the race suddenly delivered on its potential for chaotic entertainment — and without crossing the line into shitshow territory. Brad Keselowski stuffed it into the Turn 1 wall and the other leaders followed him into the barrier like the old Lemmings computer game.

GAHHHH!!! WHAT WAS THAT!?!?!

As it turned out, it wasn’t even the craziest moment of the race. As the playoff elimination battle was unfolding behind the race leaders, Jimmie Johnson saw a chance and tried to pass Martin Truex Jr. for the win — only to ruin both of their races.

Just like that, Ryan Blaney drove through the spins and ended up being declared the first official winner in a Cup Roval race.

But the unofficial winners were many: Marcus Smith, the father of the Roval who saw his brainchild come to life in a majorly successful way; NASCAR, which continues to have an excellently fun second half of the season; and the fans who came from all over the country to check the Roval out for themselves, then surely left feeling like they got their money’s worth.

Damn. When NASCAR is good, it can be so, so, SO good. And this was one of those weekends. I got so much enjoyment out of the entire Roval experience; I can’t imagine anyone feeling otherwise.

2. The idea of going for it

Imagine you’re Jimmie Johnson on the last lap. You barely made the playoffs, haven’t won all season — and hear about it constantly — and now you see an opening to grab a victory with a last-turn pass in the playoffs.

Now tell me you’re NOT going to go for it there. Really? Come on. I don’t believe you.

Yes, Johnson screwed up. Yes, he threw his playoff hopes away. But those type of calculations can’t possibly be factored in during a split-second decision.

Gee, what if I try to pass him, but spin myself out and then get passed by seven cars and miss the next round?

There’s no WAY that would even enter a seven-time champion’s mind! Winning racers don’t think that way. He saw a chance and went for it. I don’t even think it was that much of a “just gonna send it!” type gamble; he just messed up.

“If I knew the outcome was going to be that, no (I wouldn’t have tried it),” he said. “I want to stay alive in the championship points. But I really felt like I could pull that pass off.

“I wish I could go back in time and let off the brakes a little bit and take that opportunity, because the championship is what we’re here for.”

Of course he regretted the move with hindsight factored in. But at the time, you wouldn’t want him to do anything differently.

Truex seemed to have a much harsher viewpoint, though. He showed his displeasure by spinning Johnson out after the race — which is understandable, given the lost opportunity to win and get five extra playoff points.

“(Johnson) wasn’t ever going to make it through that corner whether I was there or not,” Truex said. “Just desperation on his part and pretty stupid, really, if you think about it because he was locked into the next round and now he’s out. I guess if there’s a silver lining, that’s it.”

3. Larson’s epic last lap

Someday, when we compile all of the great NASCAR moments from the otherwordly talent that is Kyle Larson, let’s not forget the last lap of the Roval.

Larson was out of the playoffs for about 20 seconds until he somehow drove all the way around the track with a wrecked car and passed Jeffrey Earnhardt about 100 feet before the finish line.

I normally wouldn’t dedicate so much space to a single quote, but you’ve got to read how he described it:

I knew I was in bad shape, so I guess you could say (I was) giving up. I couldn’t even drive my car, it was so badly destroyed.

But then they said (Johnson and Truex) were all crashed and they were coming to the checkered. I was getting on the oval (in the traditional Turn 1 location), and they said they were starting to crash, so I ran hard. We had so much camber and toe in our car, they said if I ran fast, I would blow a right front. But I was like, “You’ve got to go.”

So I ran hard through (the oval Turns) 1 and 2 and through the (backstretch chicane), and then I blew a right front (in the) center of (oval Turns) 3 and 4 and plowed the wall.

I was like, “Crap. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to get down to make the (front) chicane.” But luckily, it came down off the banking and I could turn right OK.

So I got through the 16th corner, and then I hit the wall again on the front stretch, and (Earnhardt) was stalled the whole time. He was like 100 feet from the start/finish line. I could start to see him creep in when I was getting to 16. I was like, “Gosh, don’t go! Don’t go!” And we were able to make it. Hey, I was pretty lucky.

Amazing, right!? Check out those last few turns:

To add to the barely-made-it storyline, there’s this nugget: NASCAR gives drivers with damage three laps to meet minimum speed. Larson, who had no chance of getting back up to speed, was on his third lap.

So had the race been one lap longer, he would have been eliminated through that rule alone.

4. Oh yeah…the winner!

How have we gotten this far without talking about Ryan Blaney? He won the race, after all.

Blaney might have seemed unusually chill after the race in some of his interviews, but that was because he didn’t really know how to digest the win. He appeared almost apologetic at times, like a driver who wins a rain-shortened race or through some other fluke scenario.

This really wasn’t in the same category, though, since he put himself in position to win if something happened. The leaders have wrecked and given the win to the third-place car many times in racing history — though not necessarily very often on NASCAR’s biggest stage. The bottom line is he shouldn’t feel bad about it.

But Blaney also isn’t the type of guy to be overly impressed with himself or brag in the first place, so feeling like he didn’t really deserve it was consistent with his personality.

“You’re happy you won the race. You’re happy for the team to do that,” Blaney said. “But me personally inside, there’s some of me (that thinks) … you don’t want people to look at it as, ‘Oh, you just won because the two guys wrecked.’ And that’s what it was.”

Blaney said that scenario had never happened to him in any race he’d ever run — including quarter midgets as a kid. So he just wanted to remain humble while also acknowledging the victory was worth celebrating.

“You don’t want to be kind of overjoyed about it, I guess, but you have to have some pride in it,” he said. “It’s a weird feeling.”

5. Moving on

Two big names are out of the playoffs after Round 1 — Johnson and Denny Hamlin — while young drivers Erik Jones and Austin Dillon also saw their hopes of gaining additional playoff experience come to an end.

Left behind are only two Toyotas — Truex and Kyle Busch — and three Chevrolets — Larson, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman.

Everyone else? Well, it’s a LOT of Fords. All of Stewart-Haas Racing and all of Team Penske has advanced to Round 2, setting up for a Ford-dominated playoffs just three years after the manufacturer was completely shut out of the final four.

I only correctly picked two of the eliminated drivers for Round 1 (Dillon and Jones), so take these next predictions with a grain of salt. (And yes, I’m updating my picks in the middle of the playoffs. Weak, I know.)

— Round 2: I can potentially see the second-round eliminations being less shocking than the opening three races. I’ll pick Bowman, Blaney, Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer to get eliminated this round.

— Round 3: That sets up a final eight of Truex, Harvick, both Busch brothers, Keselowski, Joey Logano, Elliott and Larson. Out of those, Truex, Harvick, Keselowski and Kyle Busch will advance to the final four (not going out on a limb at all, in other words).

— Champion: I’ll stick with Harvick as my pick to win it all. For now.

Playoffs Media Day podcast with NASCAR drivers

In this goofy special edition of the podcast, half of the NASCAR playoff drivers took a few minutes on Media Day in Las Vegas to discuss a variety of subjects. Topics include Ryan Blaney’s Twitter emoji, what reporting style they’d use if they became a media member, Kyle Larson’s upcoming mid-playoffs wedding and the proper dress code for a racetrack. The podcast features appearances from (in order): Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Alex Bowman and Martin Truex Jr.

Post-Brickyard 400 podcast with NASCAR playoff drivers

Five NASCAR playoff drivers (Aric Almirola, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin), along with @nascarcasm and Paige Keselowski, join me on the frontstretch at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to help break down the upcoming NASCAR playoffs.

Brad Keselowski’s pit crew adds to Kyle Larson’s string of frustration

By John Haverlin

If Kyle Larson’s final pit stop were a mere tenth of a second quicker, he probably would have beaten Brad Keselowski off pit road and won the Southern 500.

Larson’s No. 42 car had looked untouchable all night. He swept the first two stages and led 284 of the 367 laps at Darlington. But when it came down to the key moment of the race, it was Keselowski’s crew that turned a lightning-fast stop instead of Larson’s.

Once again, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver came away with a frustrating ending to what could have been a perfect night. For two consecutive races, he’s settled for something short of what he might’ve deserved. It’s not that his pit crew was bad during the race; it just didn’t have the extra bit of speed necessary to top Keselowski’s group.

“We didn’t get beat off pit road by much, but it was enough,” Larson said. “Being the control car at any racetrack is huge, and we just didn’t have that. … Just lost a little bit of our edge there for the restart and I was pretty loose on that last run and lost a lot of ground there.”

Although he didn’t dominate Bristol two weeks ago, he was the pole winner and finished second to Kurt Busch. For the final 13 laps of that race, he pushed as hard as he could to catch the Stewart-Haas Racing car. 

The Bristol night race is an event Larson has said is the one he wants to win more than anything in NASCAR — other than maybe the Daytona 500. It was agonizing for him to not win after going to victory lane the day before in the Bristol Xfinity Series race.

Now to come up short again after dominating one of NASCAR’s most historic races is just another punch in the gut.

But Larson sees the silver lining: He gained two playoff points and earned 54 of a possible 60 points overall. That’s the type of performance that can help him in a few weeks when the competition intensifies during the postseason.

“We got some stage points, which is good for the playoffs,” he said. “Disappointed, but happy about the car we brought.”

So was there a difference for the No. 2 team during the race? Well, actually there was.

Winning crew chief Paul Wolfe admitted the pit crew did something new, but he wouldn’t reveal the secret.

“If you watch closely, you’ll probably see a difference, but I’m not going to talk about it a lot,” he said. “We’ve had an up-and-down year on pit road, and we continue to try and work on that and get better. We did some different things tonight, and we’re still learning — a good bit of confidence for those guys going into the playoffs.”

Keselowski’s Ford was a top-five car all night, and Team Penske finished 1-2, so you can’t take that away from Joey Logano and his race-winning teammate. Penske has been a ‘B’ team compared to the Big Three of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. most of the year, but it found something in the setups this weekend that no one else could replicate.

“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to my pit crew,” Keselowski said. “We were running second and that last stop they nailed it and got us out in the lead. I thought Kyle was really good, and he was flat-out flying. … In 2015, we led a bunch of laps and lost it on the last pit stop, and today my team won it on the last pit stop.”

Does Keselowski know what his team did to help him beat Larson off pit lane?

“I’m not privy to that information, so I couldn’t tell you,” he said. “But I’ll take it, whatever it was.”