Friday Sonoma Notebook
· For Kyle Larson, a breakthrough victory at Sonoma is not far-fetched
· New race management system is major technological step
· Gateway Motorsports Park spearheads rebirth of local play area
· Short strokes
June 24, 2016
By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
For Kyle Larson, a breakthrough victory at Sonoma is not far-fetched
SONOMA, Calif. – As proficient as Kyle Larson has been on high-banked ovals, you might be tempted to discount his chances of getting his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory on a road course.
Then there’s his lack of experience at venues like Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International. Interestingly, Larson credits his dirt-track background with the ability to get a quick handle on road courses.
“I don’t have hardly any road course experience,” Larson acknowledged on Friday at Sonoma. “My first road course race was (at Road America) in 2013 when I ran Xfinity full-time. Then I have done the Rolex 24 now three times and then just the few road course races we get to run in the Sprint Cup and Xfinity Series. I’m getting more experience, but still I probably ran a little over 10 road course races in my life.
“But I like them because you can feel the car kind of move around a lot more. You can feel the suspension, so it feels more similar to kind of a dirt track. I don’t know if it’s the dirt track, but just sprint cars and stuff the suspension moves around a lot and you can feel the balance of the car. On this stuff you can, too, where on the ovals our cars are so stiff and rigid you can’t really feel a whole lot with them.
“I think that’s why I can feel the car little bit better and these tracks get really slick and you have to hit your marks every lap, which is something I feel like I’m okay at.”
Friday’s opening Sprint Cup practice did nothing to disprove Larson’s assertion. The driver of the No. 42 Chip Ganassi racing Chevrolet topped the speed chart at 95.141 mph. That’s not particularly surprising, given that Larson set the track record of 1 minute 14.186 seconds (96.568 mph) during the first round of knockout qualifying last year.
In his two previous Cup starts at the 1.99-mile road course, Larson has qualified third and fourth but hasn’t brought home comparable finishes (28th and 15th).
Nonetheless, he’s willing to contemplate a possible breakthrough victory at the track.
“It would be awesome,” said Larson, who grew up in Elk Grove, Calif., roughly 90 minutes from Sonoma Raceway. “We’ve been close a couple of times this year now. If I was able to get it in my home state here, close to home, that would be awesome.”
NEW RACE MANAGEMENT SYSTEM IS MAJOR TECHNOLOGICAL STEP
Microsoft and NASCAR have worked in concert to develop a race management system that will consolidate six different aspects of race-day data into a single-screen interface, providing one platform for data management using Windows 10 and Microsoft Azure.
The system, which is being rolled out this weekend at Sonoma Raceway, will revolutionize the way NASCAR runs races, both in terms of the inspection process and data analytics.
“NASCAR has really put an emphasis, especially over the last 18 months, on new technology,” NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell said Friday morning during a press briefing at Sonoma.
“(It involves) how we can bring things more quickly to the fans, really put them inside the driver’s seat, but equally as important, how we can work together to be more efficient from a governing standpoint, especially when it comes to race control.
“We’re really proud to have partnered with Microsoft, obviously a global leader in technology. What they’ve been able to do for us in a really short 18-month time span is incredible.
From the single-screen interface, officials can follow the positions of every car in the field using a layout of the track, or they can isolate individual cars or groups of cars by category (top 10 or lead lap, for example). Data for the individual cars also is available, as are video captures of pit stops and potential pit road penalties.
The partnership with Microsoft will even help inform NASCAR with respect to new rules decisions.
“For us, this is not only about being more efficient and transparent at the race track but improving each week when we go back and building our team off of this platform and learning together,” O’Donnell said.
In addition, the new platform could accompany a move toward more real-time data acquisition with respect to the cars themselves.
“It’s still something we’re looking at,” O’Donnell said. “With the digital dash and with all the data that’s capable, we’re in a lot of discussions with the race teams right now of what we should share with everyone and what might be or might not be a competitive advantage—and then really kind of containing costs.
“You look across at F1 and the enormous amount of money that’s spent on data and telemetry. We can learn from that, but we want to do it and manage it in a smart way and get what fans want to see out to them, but also to try to contain the arms race that you see on all the potential data that’s out there.”
GATEWAY MOTORSPORTS PARK SPEARHEADS REBIRTH OF LOCAL PLAY AREA
Gateway Motorsports Park, which is hosting Saturday’s Drivin’ for Linemen 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race (at 8:30 p.m. ET on FS1), has been instrumental in the revitalization of nearby Kinder Park, a local play area for children that hasn’t been updated since the 1950s.
Gateway owner Curtis Francois had mentioned to Illinois State Representative Jay Hoffman that he wanted to find a way to give back to the community. Hoffman suggested Kinder Park in neighboring Fairmont City, a town of approximately 3,000 residents that features the largest per-capita Hispanic population in the Metro St. Louis Area.
“Children of all economic backgrounds need fun, safe, exciting places to play,” Francois said. “When I learned about Kinder Park, I called a few business associates and asked for their support. They jumped in, willing and ready to assist with this need, and here we are today ready to get this playground rebuilt.”
All told, more than $100,000 has been praised to complete the project. Construction will begin in the next few weeks, with plans to open the park in the fall.
“We are proud to see Gateway Motorsports Park continue to play a leading role in their community and in motorsports with this important project,” said Jim Cassidy, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations. “The people in the St. Louis region are incredible motorsports fans, and this initiative is a win for the entire community.”
Tony Stewart and Ernie Irvan were inducted into Sonoma Raceway’s Wall of Fame on Friday afternoon. “Any time you get inducted into anything it’s a huge honor,” Stewart said. This has always been one of my favorite race tracks. To be on their Wall of Fame means something to me.”…
Dale Earnhardt Jr. posted the fastest lap of the day in the second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice, running 95.298 mph in qualifying trim. Earnhardt was fourth fastest in opening practice. His only top five in 16 Sonoma starts came in 2014, when he finished third…
Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Toyota had a too-close encounter with a jackrabbit during second practice. The rabbit lost. “That thing came out of nowhere,” said Busch, who exhorted the rabbit to continue across the track—to no avail. “He stopped, and we looked eye-to-eye, and then it was over.”