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Larson In Spotlight At Tough Old Pocono

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 3 2014

Kyle Larson's incredible rookie season continues at Pocono on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Bad luck visits the best and the least of race car drivers. What makes the greats great is how they deal with the bad luck and how quickly they do their job to separate themselves from it.

In Kyle Larson’s case, dealing with patches of bad luck during this, his rookie Sprint Cup season, has appeared easy. Doing what needed to be done to separate himself from the setbacks has appeared to be second nature.

On Friday, Larson stepped even further away from tough stretches in 2014 by winning the pole and setting the track record at tough old Pocono Raceway.

There was no bad luck on pole day, just a bit of queasiness in the gut.

“I had some butterflies before that last round,” said Larson, who is the first NASCAR Drive for Diversity graduate to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole. “I knew we had a shot at the pole and I was nervous. I hit all three corners about as good as I could.”

The pole comes on the heals of third- and seventh-place finishes in the previous two weeks: Which came on the heals of three straight races in which he finished no better than 28th.

Somebody asked him about a couple of weeks’ worth of good runs and the young Chip Ganassi Racing driver responded that it was really better luck that gets the credit.

“I don’t think anything has really changed over the last couple of weeks,” Larson said. “I may have run better except for just the bad luck. Sonoma we were running in the top five really the whole race and had power steering issues and then Kentucky we were fast and blew a right-front (tire). Daytona is just Daytona. We have been really fast I think the last few months. Just maybe finding better luck now.”

Daytona during Speedweeks did not portend the impressive season Larson has turned in to this point. He crashed scary hard in the Nationwide Series race and then wrecked again and finished 38th in the 500.

He followed that up by having so-so-finishes the next two races but in fast cars.

When somebody asked on Friday about his slow start to the season, Larson went corrective.

“I don’t think we had a rough start at all unless a rough first race,” he said. “After that we were really good.”

True. In races two and three, there were fast cars. In races four though 16, there were nine top-12 finishes.

Then came Sonoma, Kentucky and Sonoma and finishes of 28th, 40th and 36th respectively.

“We had some bad luck a few weeks ago for actually a few weeks,” Larson said.

This weekend, the weekend of his first-ever Cup pole, he will going for a third-straight top-seven finish and a third straight race in which he has led laps.

And once again NASCAR wags are saying a rookie-year victory is all but imminent.

He was asked if the victory could come at Pocono on Sunday. And if not Sunday, then certainly by the time the Chase starts at Chicagoland Speedway in September.

“I definitely think it’s realistic to think that we could win,” Larson said. “I think Pocono is a good track for me. Michigan is a good track for me and then we get to go to Atlanta where I have never raced a Cup car before, but it’s a rough worn out surface. You can move around. I think that track will be great for me too. I don’t have the greatest stats at Richmond, but I feel like we had a good test there a few weeks ago that will be good for when we go back. There is a small string in the schedule where there are a lot of race tracks I didn’t like, but now we are out of those so I think that helps the confidence and hopefully we can get a win.”

And should that happen in the next seven races, Larson will become the first rookie to earn a Chase berth.

And that, he said, is the goal.

“Yeah, there is definitely a little bit more pressure,” Larson, who turned 22 years old on Thursday, said. “Each week that we get closer to the Chase when you don’t have a win – I think I’m the 15th seed (currently). It’s all close in points. It would be nice to get a win and relax a little bit. I think we have been close, really close and our car showed a lot of speed pretty much all season long. We just have to find a little bit more. I feel like we have a really fast car for this weekend. Hopefully we can get it done.”

It looks as though the only thing standing between Larson and getting it done is bad luck.

But even that, as has been demonstrated several times this season, might not be able to keep him from challenging for a Cup championship in his first full season.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 3 2014
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