Dover, Del. — Kyle Larson had a good week with some nice drives.
Larson enjoyed playing in a PGA Tour Pro-Am, then turned a lap of 158.103 mph on Friday to take the pole at Dover International Speedway. In winning his fifth career pole, he gave Chevrolet a needed boost and its first pole since Alex Bowman took the top spot at the Daytona 500 back in February.
“Our team hasn’t once been stressed out about the new Camaro,” Larson said. “I don’t know what other people and teams are battling. I think balance-wise I feel exactly the same as what I did last year. It hasn’t been an issue to us. I feel like speed-wise, we are close to where we were.”
Larson will try Sunday to win his first race of the season and the Chip Ganassi Racing driver should be considered a favorite. Larson was runner-up in each of the last two spring races at Dover and has a 7.9 average finish in eight career races on the mile-long track.
Kevin Harvick in his Ford will be beside Larson on the front row as the Stewart-Haas Racing star goes for his fourth win of the season. Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. completed the top five in Friday’s qualifying.
Larson is a natural behind the wheel, but the 25-year-old is still learning his way on the links. Larson only picked up golf as a hobby two years ago but he jumped at the chance Wednesday to play with Russell Henley at Quail Hollow, the Charlotte, North Carolina site of the Wells Fargo Championship.
“I love golf,” Larson said. “As each week passes by, I’ve become more obsessed with it.”
Larson said he was about as nervous as he could remember before he approached the first tee box. But he steeled himself for his first drive and — sure enough — boom: “right down the fairway.” Henley, who has three PGA Tour wins, gave Larson some needed pointers.
It was just very relaxing out there on the golf course and all the fans there didn’t really bother me at all either,” Larson said. “It was just cool to get to play with him and get to experience the whole thing.”
Johnny Sauter led 137 laps and pulled away on an overtime restart to defend his trophy in a Truck Series race at Dover International Speedway.
Sauter narrowly split two spinning trucks with 20 laps to go and briefly lost the lead on the final regulation restart to 19-year-old Noah Gragson. But the two collided while battling for the lead with two laps remaining and Gragson hit the wall.
Matt Crafton and Sauter, the last two winners at Dover, were on the front row for the restart in overtime and Sauter cruised to the victory.
Gragson, the pole-setter, led throughout the first stage and finished 20th. Justin Haley, David Gilliland and Harrison Burton completed the top five.
Stage two ended under caution with Sauter leading.
Jesse Little, son of Chad Little, briefly took the first lead of his NASCAR career by overtaking Sauter with 79 laps left, but was penalized for pitting outside the box and finished ninth.
Chasing better results
Chase Elliott, another Chevy driver who had complained last week he didn’t have help from his fellow manufacturer drivers in the closing laps, will start sixth on Sunday.
“We have made some improvements and some gains coming into the weekend that we hope improve on Sunday,” Elliott said. “Will that improve us to the point where we can go dominate the race? I don’t know, I hope so, but I think it’s more present timing as to how your performance is more so than past history at a race track.”
Jimmie Johnson starts 19th as he tries to extend his track-record win total of 11.
Darrell Wallace Jr. had thrived at Dover and won two poles and had a runner-up finish in the Xfinity Series. But the driver better known as “Bubba” struggled in Cup and starts 26th.
“I’m just frustrated at how much speed we actually had and it wasn’t good enough,” he said. “I love coming to this place. I always have since 2011. And I’ve always shown decent speed. It’s frustrating.”
Truex hopes Dover — one of the many tracks that stakes a claim as Truex’s hometown track — can spark him out of a slump. The series champion has stumbled after a sizzling start (that included one win) over the last four races, finishing 37th, 30th, 14th and 26th last week at Talladega.
“I don’t even know if it’s my best track, but definitely performance-wise I think it’s up there with one of our best,” Truex said.
The hot topic all season — such is the state of the sports — has been problems with the NASCAR-issued pit guns designed to stop bottomless team spending on developing faster, efficient air guns to speed up pit stop tire changes.
Joey Logano said pit guns were discussed this week at a driver council meeting.
“I think the pit gun thing will be fine,” he said. “There will be growing pains with some changes. There is a learning curve for the teams and NASCAR, but we have to make changes to continue growing and sometimes there will be pain when that happens.”