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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Trying to shed bridesmaid role, points leader Kyle Larson wins pole at Fontana

Trying to shed bridesmaid role, points leader Kyle Larson wins pole at Fontana

March 24, 2017

By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service

FONTANA, Calif. – The driver who has finished second in the last three Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races will start first on Sunday.

Moving up the track for his final run, series points leader Kyle Larson navigated rough, bumpy Auto Club (Fontana, California) Speedway in 38.493 seconds (187.047 mph) on Friday to win the pole for Sunday’s Auto Club 400 (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX), the fifth race of the season.

The 24-year-old Larson edged Denny Hamlin by .014 seconds, as Hamlin covered the two-mile distance at 186.979 mph. The Coors Light Pole Award was Larson’s first at Auto Club, first of the season and second of his career.

“It was an interesting qualifying for us,” Larson said. “I ran the bottom in (Turns) 3 and 4… well, all day, really (during opening practice), and then there in the first two rounds. I knew everybody was running the top in 3 and 4, and my plan was to go up there in the second round, but thought I maybe got through (Turns) 1 and 2 okay enough to run the bottom, but I still lost time there. 

“I knew the third round I was going to have to move up, but our Target Chevy was really good, really balanced up there. I was surprised. I wasn’t really sure what I would have, because on our up-to-speed laps up there I was a little bit tight taking off and then I would be kind of loose off, so I was expecting to have that.

“But it stuck really well, and, yeah, I saw the lap pop up on my dash and I was pretty pumped. Can’t say enough about everybody on our Target team. They did an amazing job all day.”
Brad Keselowski qualified third, followed by Martin Truex Jr., Phoenix winner Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth.

Hamlin, who holds the track record at Fontana and has won three poles at the two-mile track, thought he lost the top starting spot on corner entry in the third round of the knockout qualifying session.

“I thought it was definitely a lap that would be in contention for it,” Hamlin said. “We improved our car just slightly from the previous run, and it looked like our time was slightly faster as well. I thought being the fastest car in round two with the 51 (38.51 seconds) and then improving in the final, I knew it put us very close.

“I didn’t get quite through (Turns) 3 and 4 on entry as good as I needed to beat the 42 (Larson), it looked like. All my exits were very good, but my entries were just a little bit slow. I knew that it would be close, but running a 50 (38.507 seconds), I thought we probably would have got beat.”
For two entirely different reasons, two of the favorites for Sunday’s race didn’t make qualifying attempts at all. Jimmie Johnson spun his No. 48 Chevrolet through the infield grass in practice, had to go to a backup car and opted not to make a run in a car that would have been hastily prepared.
“In qualifying, you’re on the edge trying to create speed,” Johnson explained. “If we crash this car, I’m going to have to go to one of my neighbors, one of my Hendrick neighbors (teammates) here and pull out their back-up car, and we’re going to have to wrap it, change the interior, change the seat. 

“I mean it’s no easy feat. So, we are definitely behind the eight ball here. It’s not a position we want to be in and we are going to make sure we get the back-up car right and take advantage of the precious minutes that we have in tomorrow’s race practices.” 

Joey Logano, on the other hand, had no choice. His No. 22 Team Penske Ford didn’t make it through technical inspection in time to participate in the opening 20-minute round.
“Obviously, everyone is trying to push it and trying to get every ounce of speed out of our cars as we can,” Logano said. “I don’t even know why we didn’t make it through. We made it through, but by the time we got through and got strapped in and got the car ready to go on the track, we just ran out of time.”
Logano will start 35th and Johnson 37th according to owner points rank. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Auto Club Speedway Weekend Preview

Auto Club Speedway Weekend Preview

March 22, 2017

Staff Report
NASCAR Wire Service

Larson attempts to extend points lead at Auto Club, notch first win

Kyle Larson achieved a couple of "firsts" when he notched his third straight runner-up in last weekend's race at Phoenix. He became the first NASCAR Drive for Diversity alum to top the points standings, as well as the first Chip Ganassi Racing driver to lead the standings this late in the season since 2002.

On Sunday, he'll attempt to notch his first win of the season in the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX) – the third and final stop of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series' “NASCAR Goes West.”

"It's weird running all these seconds," Larson said. "It took me, like, three years to finish second in sprint cars. Now I finish second like every week, so... a little weird, but maybe we'll turn them into wins soon."

Larson, who at 24 years, seventh months old, is the sixth-youngest points leader in series history, has come close to earning that elusive win in almost every race this season. He led on the final lap of the Daytona 500 before running out of gas, paced the field at Atlanta with four laps left before Brad Keselowski passed him, and almost tracked down Ryan Newman during the two-lap overtime shootout at Phoenix.

The No. 42 Chevrolet driver claims finishes of second, 26th and 39th in three career starts at Auto Club. He grew up in Elk Grove, California, a 6.5-mile drive from the two-mile track.

“(Auto Club) is a fun race track," Larson said. "It’s super wide, really slick, lots of lanes to choose from. The seams play a big part in finding grip. It’s somewhat close to home for me. I get to see some old race fans or sprint car fans and friends and stuff. I enjoy going there.”

Allgaier goes for second straight win after ending drought

Justin Allgaier ended an 80-race winless drought by visiting Victory Lane in last Saturday's DC Solar 200 at Phoenix.

It was his first checkered flag in the NASCAR XFINITY Series since Aug. 18, 2012 at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montréal.

Allgaier hopes the wins begin to pile up, starting with Saturday's Service King 300 at Auto Club Speedway (4 p.m. ET on FS1).

The No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet driver has three top 10s and an average finish of 14.0 in eight career starts at the two-mile track.

“I’m very much looking forward to going to Auto Club Speedway," Allgaier said. "It’s fun, it’s fast and it’s slick. I think that when you add those three words together it makes for great racing."

Auto Club Race Weekend Preview

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Race: Auto Club 400
Place: Auto Club Speedway
Date and Time: Sunday, March 26 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Tune-in: FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 400 miles (200 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 60),
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 120), Final Stage (Ends on lap 200)
What to Watch For: Fourteen-time Most Popular Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. makes his 600th career start. ... Ryan Newman goes for his second straight victory after snapping a 127-race winless streak at Phoenix last weekend. ... Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones hope to continue their momentum after posting career-high finishes of seventh and eighth, respectively, at Phoenix. ... Defending Auto Club winner Jimmie Johnson tries for his track-record seventh win at Auto Club Speedway.

Race: Service King 300
Place: Auto Club Speedway
Date and Time: Saturday, March 25 at 4 p.m. ET
Tune-in: FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 300 miles (150 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 35),
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 70), Final Stage (Ends on lap 150)
What to Watch For: Elliott Sadler attempts to grow his points lead. He currently holds an 11-point advantage over second-place William Byron. ... A youth movement continues to sweep through the NASCAR XFINITY Series. The average age of the top-12 drivers in the points standings is 26 years old. ... Rookie sensation William Byron goes for his fourth top-10 finish in the first five races of the season. ... Californians Ryan Reed, Cole Custer, Kyle Larson and Casey Mears can win in front of their hometown crowd.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Larson Leads Points Standings Following Third Straight Runner-Up Finish
There’s a new sheriff in town as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series closes out its West Coast swing with Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club (Calif.) Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX).

Kyle Larson has ascended to the top of the points standings following his third consecutive runner-up showing last Sunday at Phoenix. It’s the latest in the season a Chip Ganassi Racing car has led the standings since Sterling Marlin’s Coors Light Silver Bullet led the field in 2002.

Larson is the first NASCAR Drive for Diversity alumnus to lead the points standings.

He is followed in the standings by Brad Keselowski (-6), Chase Elliott (-13), Martin Truex Jr (-31) and Joey Logano (-49). Ryan Blaney (-57), Kevin Harvick (-61), Jamie McMurray (-65), Kurt Busch (-79) and Kasey Kahne (-79) round out the top 10.

The No. 42 Chevrolet driver is the 16th different driver to finish runner-up in three consecutive races. The feat has been achieved 25 times – most recently by Carl Edwards (2011 playoffs). Larson is the first in series history to accomplish the feat in the first four races of a given season.

Four drivers have finished runner-up four consecutive times in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series: Mark Martin (1998), Harry Gant (1985), Darrell Waltrip (1983) and Richard Petty (1964). No driver has finished runner-up in five straight races.

At 24 years and seven months old, Larson is the sixth-youngest points leader in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series history – 1. Kyle Busch (22 years, 10 months, 2008) 2. Jeff Gordon (23 years, 11 months, 1996), 3t. Jeff Gordon (24 years, four months, 1995) 3t. Joey Logano (24 years, four months, 2014), 5. Kurt Busch (24 years, six months, 2003) 6. Larson

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Set For 600th Start
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will become the 25th driver in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series history to make 600 or more starts when he hits the track for Sunday’s Auto Club 400.

The 25 drivers with 600 or more starts comprise less than one percent (.009%) of the total number of NASCAR drivers to make at least one start in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (2,537).

Only one active driver boasts more than 600 starts (Matt Kenseth, 618).

In his 599 previous Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career starts, Earnhardt has posted 26 wins, including two Daytona 500 victories (2004, 2014), 148 top fives, 252 top 10s and 13 Coors Light poles.

He las led 8,195 laps and has completed 170,689 laps. His career average starting position is 16.0 and his career average finishing position is 15.6.

Winning In The Sun: Newman Breaks 128-Race Winless Drought At Phoenix
Ryan Newman turned in a gutsy performance Sunday when he stayed out on old tires for overtime and pulled away to victory in the two-lap shootout at Phoenix. The checkered flag snapped a 127-race winless streak for Newman who last visited Victory Lane on July 28, 2013 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Newman’s victory also marked the first for Richard Childress Racing since Kevin Harvick won at Phoenix on Nov. 10, 2013 – 112 races ago.

Newman sits 11th in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points standings (83 markers below Kyle Larson) and claims five playoff points.

In 552 career starts, Newman owns 18 wins, 106 top fives, 226 top 10s and 51 poles.

Suarez And Jones Post Career-High Finishes
Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones posted career-best finishes of seventh and eighth, respectively, in Sunday’s Camping World 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

Suarez leads a tight rookie race by one point over Jones. They are followed by Ty Dillon (seven points behind Suarez), Corey LaJoie (-11) and Gray Gaulding (-21).

Suarez, 25, and Jones, 20, are alumni of the NASCAR Next program. Although Suarez ranks better than Jones in the Rookie of Year race, Jones sits higher in the points standings at 18th (102 points behind Kyle Larson), while Suarez occupies the 21st spot (-112).

Cutting To The Chase: Elliott Continues Strong Start
Although he finished 12th, Chase Elliott continued his strong start to the season by earning his first playoff point via a Stage 2 win on Sunday at Phoenix. On the day, Elliott led four times for 106 laps.

The 21-year-old Hendrick Motorsports driver ranks third in the series standings – 13 points behind leader Kyle Larson. He has high finishes of third (Las Vegas) and fifth (Atlanta) this season.

Keselowski Has Most Stage Points
Brad Keselowski must like NASCAR’s new race enhancements. He leads the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with 57 points from Stage 1 and Stage 2 – six points more than Kyle Larson in second – even though he trails Larson by six points in the overall points standings. They are followed in stage points by Chase Elliott (-10), Kevin Harvick (-17) and Martin Truex Jr. (-23).

Keselowski and Larson are the only drivers who have earned points in every stage this season. 

Celebrities Aplenty For Auto Club Weekend
With Auto Club’s proximity to Los Angeles there’s bound to be celebrities in attendance.

Scott Eastwood, from the upcoming movie “Fate of the Furious” will serve as grand marshal. Kaitlin Olson, of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” is the honorary pace car driver. Acting as honorary starter is singer-songwriter Pepe Aguilar. Teen music sensation Skyler Stecker will sing the national anthem.