Kyle Larson takes aim at historic win at MIS

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Kyle Larson

Kyle Larson earned his first career Monster Energy NASCAR series win at Michigan International Speedway in August 2016, then swept the Cup races in 2017 at the two-mile superspeedway in Irish Hills.

This week, the 25-year-old Larson can become the first driver since Kevin Harvick to win four consecutive races at the same track.

Harvick won four straight at Phoenix from the fall of 2013 to the spring of 2015 while competing in a Chevrolet for first Richard Childress Racing (2013), then Stewart-Haas Racing.

Harvick is now competing with Ford power with Stewart-Haas, owning a series-high five wins this season.

This time around it could be much tougher for Larson to reach Victory Lane at MIS in Sunday's FireKeepers Casino 400, especially since Chevrolet drivers have won just once this season – Austin Dillon in the season-opening Daytona 500 – in the new Camaro ZL1.

More: Brad Keselowski: Rule change levels playing field for Ford

Larson is the top Chevy driver in the points standings, sitting ninth with nine top-10 finishes in 14 races, with three second-place spots in his No. 42 Chevy, including this past Sunday at Pocono to defending series champion Martin Truex Jr.

“What our team has been able to do at Michigan the last few races is pretty special, and I hope we can keep it up this weekend with another win,” said Larson, who won a career-high four races last season to finish eighth in points, including three on two-mile superspeedways. “We have had good cars there just about every year I’ve raced, and I’ve think we’ve hit on some things recently that will have us taking another fast Chevy to Michigan this time around too.

“Getting the setup right is important everywhere, but I feel like it’s even more important at a track like Michigan. We’re coming off a good week of executing throughout the race so hopefully more of that can lead to another win.”

Jamie McMurray, Larson’s teammate at Chip Ganassi Racing, is also looking for his first win of the season and first since Talladega in 2013.

McMurray has advanced to the playoffs the previous three years, but is just 20th in points with two top-10 finishes.

“I think Michigan is one of the fastest tracks that we race at with regards to top-end speed,” said McMurray. “Carrying momentum off of turn two and four are important to have a good run down the long straightaways. The nice thing about Michigan is that it is so wide and the track offers a lot of room to find a groove that works good for the car.

“Our team cars have been good at Michigan recently so we know that we have a team capable of running up front. I would guess that there will be a lot of different strategies on Sunday, as this is often a fuel-mileage race.”

McMurray had two top-10 finishes at MIS last year, placing fifth in the June race and ninth in August.

Seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson hasn’t had the best of luck at MIS, going 0-for-24 at the track before finally winning in June 2014. He hasn’t had a top-five finish at the track since.

Now, in his 17th season of competing for Hendrick Motorsports, Johnson is 12th in points with two top-five finishes in his No. 48 Chevy.

“Michigan is so big, fast, and has so much grip, the amount of wide-open throttle you can carry around the track is the key to success,” said the 42-year-old Johnson, who won his last series championship in 2016, finishing 10th in the points last season. “The longer you can stay in the gas pedal the faster you will be. They did a really nice job of repaving the track (in 2012). It’s been slow to open up a wider groove. Hopefully we can get up above the middle portion of the track near the wall this time around.”

Jones tests aviation skills

Michigan native Erik Jones is used to going 200 mph in his No. 20 Toyota Camry in the Monster Energy NASCAR series for Joe Gibbs Racing, but in a 747 airplane …

Well, the 22-year-old Jones made the trip to Kalitta Air headquarters at Willow Run in Ypsilanti Wednesday afternoon, taking advantage of the opportunity to test his aviation skills in Kalitta’s 747 simulator.

Jones took the pilot seat with NHRA Top Fuel driver Doug Kalitta as his co-pilot, showing him the ropes. Kalitta pilots the Falcon 20 on his longer trips during the NHRA series 24-event season.

Jones was thrilled with his day, saying: “It’s my first time flying anything so it’s been fun, an eye-opening experience for sure and I’ve really enjoyed it, seems really accurate, and to get kind of an experience of being in a plane and flying it has been fun.

“I think there are a lot of similarities (between flying and driving). Obviously it’s very technical and challenging, very challenging, I’d say much more challenging than getting in my car and driving, in my opinion.

“My dad was really into flying and wanted to become a pilot. I had an interest there too; always enjoyed planes and wanted to be a part of it in some way. This is by far the closest I’ve gotten to doing anything involved with planes so it’s been a really neat experience.”


FireKeepers Casino 400

When: 2 p.m., Sunday

TV: Fox

Support races: ARCA Series, 5:30 p.m., Friday; NASCAR Xfinity Series LTi Printing 250, 1:30 p.m., Saturday