Fresh from a week off and some vacation time, Kyle Larson said Saturday afternoon at Talladega that NASCAR’s Easter break came at a good time for his No. 42 team.
“Just to try and reset and get some better juju,” said Larson, who noted his team did talk after Richmond about the disappointment. “I’m excited to get to Talladega. It’s probably not the one place you want to go to if you’re trying to turn your luck around, but maybe we can get through here without getting into anything crazy.
“Our car’s been good this weekend, so hopefully we’ll be all right tomorrow.”
Larson qualified 10th for the GEICO 500.
The Chip Ganassi Racing driver had admitted in Richmond after picking up his second DNF of the season that the start of the year has been “pretty crappy.” Crashing out of that race marked the third straight week in which Larson finished 19th or worse. Contact with Daniel Hemric left his Chevrolet damaged and eventually led to a cut tire, spin, and contact with the wall.
Larson also suffered a tire issue at Texas that sent him into the wall, and a loose wheel in Bristol. He has just two top-10 finishes this season, with the highlight being 142 laps led at Atlanta before he was busted for speeding on pit road.
Team owner Chip Ganassi recently offered support for Larson and what he called a slump that has sometimes been the fault of the team and sometimes of the driver.
Larson turned around and publicly praised his crew chief, Chad Johnston, who was the topic of conversation for 2014 NASCAR Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick earlier this week on his SiriusXM radio show.
“I think when you look at his environment, I look at his crew chief,” said Harvick. “I don’t think he’s the most positive guy in the world. When you have a driver that is in a slump, I don’t think [staying upbeat is] going to come from his crew chief. I think Chad is a pretty low-key guy that kind of complains a fair amount. I think as you look at that, I don’t know if it’s going to come from his crew chief; I think it’ll have to come from Chip Ganassi or somebody outside of what they do crew chief to driver.
[Larson is] still really young,” Harvick continued, “so he needs some guidance and he needs some help to get through the situations that he’s in.”
Johnston began as Larson’s crew chief in 2016, and the pair have made multiple playoff appearances and won five times. In Larson’s first two seasons, 2014 and ’15 — before the addition of Johnston — he had failed to go to victory lane or finish higher than 17th in the standings.
“I get along great with Chad and I think Chad’s an amazing crew chief,” said Larson. “I think he’s proven since he and a few other guys came to our team — that’s when we turned around as a team and started winning races as a team and contending. So, yeah, I’ve got all the confidence in the world in him.
“We’re into a lot of the same things. I like him a lot [and] I have all the belief in the world in Chad Johnston.”