NASCAR: Penalty halts Larson's momentum

NASCAR: Penalty halts Larson's momentum

Cup Series

NASCAR: Penalty halts Larson's momentum

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A penalty from two weeks ago at Michigan cost Kyle Larson 15 points, but more importantly, halted the momentum his team had earned toward making the Chase for the Championship.

Larson finished third two weeks ago in the FireKeepers Casino 400 with interim crew chief Philip Surgen, representing the 23-year-old’s best finish of the season. But their car failed post-race laser inspection and cost the team valuable ground in the championship standings.

The third-year driver had rebounded from 22nd in points two months ago and had cracked the top 20 before the penalties were announced last week. The 15-point deduction dropped him back to 21st and 38 markers behind Ryan Blaney for the final provisional spot on the Chase grid.

Larson said he felt good about his chances to make the Round of 16 prior to the penalty but admitted his road got considerably tougher with just 11 races remaining in the regular season.

“I thought we could point our way in before the penalty, even if we didn’t win,” Larson said. “Obviously, this makes it tougher now with losing these 15 points. But even if we can’t win, I still think we could point our way in as long as a couple of guys (currently outside of the top 16) don’t get a win.”

In other words, Larson is hoping a driver like AJ Allmendinger (19th in points) doesn’t win this weekend at Sonoma. The same goes for anyone outside of the top 16 winning at a wild-card track like Daytona next weekend. Should that happen, Larson would then have to finish 14th or 15th in the regular-season standings – a much tougher task.

Larson hopes the penalty doesn’t derail the momentum he had gained over the past two months, a span of races in which he hasn’t finished worse than 13th. As a result, he believes there is pressure to capture that elusive first Sprint Cup victory while the team still has this kind of speed in their car.

“We all want to win so bad,” Larson said. “We are all working hard to keep our cars fast and keep up with an ever-changing garage area. So, I guess the pressure is there to get the win while we’re running this well.

“If you look at Chip Ganassi Racing in the past, they are probably a team that gets really close and then we lose it and have to spend a year and a half regrouping and trying to get back to where we need to be. Right now we’re close … to getting wins now. We have made huge gains so far this season. We just have to stay on top of it and hope we get a win.”

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