For Larson, fresh focus on making the playoffs

Image by Kinrade/LAT

For Larson, fresh focus on making the playoffs

NASCAR

For Larson, fresh focus on making the playoffs

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At 15th in the point standings, Kyle Larson isn’t concerned about his position as it pertains to the playoffs. Instead, he is reflecting on what has him there.

“The only concerning part is we’ve made a lot of mistakes up to this point, and now you can’t,” Larson told RACER, meaning the 11 races left in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season.

“Even if you aren’t perfect, you just have to finish the races, try and gain any points that you can,” Larson continued, “so that’s the only concerning part because you have to race a little bit differently. You can’t be as aggressive. You have to be smart — really smart. But I feel like our cars have been really competitive here recently — at least top-five or -seven speed, maybe even better at some races, while most of the early part of the season I felt like we were seventh to 12th.

“Yeah, we just got to be smart.”

With 15 Cup Series races complete, Larson has finished in the top 10 four times but also has seven finishes of 15th or worse. Mistakes have included being caught up in accidents; crashes of Larson’s own doing; speeding penalties; and race strategies that didn’t unfold as needed.

However, Larson said his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing group is “not a bad team” as mistakes like those have made the season look worse than it’s been.

“But it’s hard when you’re not finishing the races or getting into the wall, just making mistakes,” he said. “For whatever reason, we’ve got to clean it up and hopefully we can be more consistent. We haven’t had any consistency to our season, other than consistently crashing.”

On the bright side, things were going well last weekend in Michigan as Larson showed the gains in speed he mentioned. The No. 42 was perhaps a top-five car on the day, and Larson battled with drivers from the two organizations that have been the most successful this season, Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske. Between that performance and his win in the All-Star Race (a non-points event) a few weeks ago, Larson has fresh confidence that he can beat those teams.

The No. 42 was in the top-five hunt at Michigan, giving Larson confidence for the Cup races ahead. Image by LaBounty/LAT

With a car that was fast down the straightaways and drove well through the corners, Larson felt he could be aggressive in Michigan. Unfortunately, the team’s pit strategy “kind of got messed up toward the end,” and Larson finished 14th.

That result was a disappointment, but he was glad to show his Camaro was fast.

Larson has just a slim eight-point advantage on the 17th-place driver in the standings, Ryan Newman. Given the mistakes and how the end of the regular season is fast approaching, Larson said while he always races for wins, he’s going to have to take the points, too.

“I look at Pocono — I had a third place car, restarted seventh or something, tried to get to fifth, and crashed. I should have been content finishing where I was,” said Larson. “Instead, I got a little bit aggressive, misjudged by an inch or less, got myself in the wall and probably gave up 20 points there. That’s big.

“It’s not that I’m points racing, but it’s definitely in the back of my mind. Like I said, you can’t make any mistakes; you’ve got to maximize the points that you’re trying to take from the day and chip away at making the playoffs.”

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