The biggest challenge for Kyle Larson and Chip Ganassi Racing in the Round of 8 for the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs has come and gone. And the team managed to snatch a top-10 finish.
Larson earned a ninth-place result in the First Data 500, which is just his second top-10 finish at Martinsville Speedway. The Virginia-based short track has been a thorn in Larson’s side since he began competing at the facility, and admittedly was going to be an expected hurdle on his way toward a hopeful advancement in the postseason.
In what he called a wild, crazy day, Larson and his team remained level-headed throughout the eventful outing. Although it wasn’t easy as Larson was both lapped with seven laps left in Stage 1 and missed a multi-car accident on the frontstretch on lap 363.
“I got extremely lucky to miss the 10 (Aric Almirola) when he got in that accident on the frontstretch,” Larson said. “But yeah, we had to repair all four corners of our car throughout the race. Thankfully, nothing too major.”
Crew chief Chad Johnston also made the impressive call to keep Larson on track before the end of Stage 2, which not only gave him track position but resulted in a points grab. For much of the afternoon, Larson hung around or just outside the top 15, including when he was lapped as he ran 17th.
Larson got his lap back under the caution at the first stage break. It was then much of the same for the second stage until a caution flew on lap 253 (with the stage break coming at lap 260) and Larson stayed on track to jump up into the lead. Although Martin Truex Jr. would overtake him for the stage win, Larson earned nine points by being second across the start/finish line.
“We talked about it before the race started; if the opportunity ever presented itself, we needed to try and get some sort of stages points just because we’re not good here,” Larson said of the decision to stay out. “We needed to try to get as many points as we could, so it worked out. Got passed coming to the line there but still got nine of them, and then was able to work on our car throughout the race and come away with a top 10.
“Feel like we did the best job we could to gain as many points as we did today. Obviously, we still lost a little bit to the cutoff, but it could have been a lot worse. Happy about that. Now we’ll go to Texas and try to go and do good.”
While Larson admits the result is a small improvement at Martinsville, he still feels he has a long way to go.
“As a team [we] need to get our stuff a lot better here,” Larson said. “Cars could probably be somehow better. I could be better; those front guys are really good here.”