Two-time Detroit Grand Prix winner Graham Rahal and four-time Indy 500 winner Rick Mears preview the Indy 500 and the doubleheader races on Belle Isle. The Detroit News
Kyle Larson has experienced the highs and lows of racing during the last couple of months in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series, landing upside down at Talladega in late April, then winning the All-Star Race with its $1 million prize this past Saturday at Charlotte.
Now 26-year-old Larson will return to Charlotte Motor Speedway for Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600. Then, Larson and the rest of the field will head to Pocono May 31-June 2 before moving on to Michigan International Speedway June 7-9 for the FireKeepers Casino 400.
No doubt, Larson was struggling in his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, capped when his car flipped at Talladega April 28, then turned the corner with a third-place finish at Dover, an eighth-place spot at Kansas, then the win at Charlotte.
So, how did the win take place at Charlotte to give Larson the $1 million payday?
Larson first had to win the Monster Energy Open Saturday afternoon to make the All-Star Race field, then in the four-stage, 85-lap main event, he became the second driver to win the Open and the All-Star Race, taking a push from Kevin Harvick after a restart with 12 laps remaining and holding off Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott.
Ganassi was in Charlotte to meet with Larson Wednesday afternoon before heading back to Indianapolis to get ready for the Indy 500 with his multiple drivers, including Scott Dixon.
“Obviously, the All-Star Race is one of our biggest races of our season so it felt good to win that race, especially after the start we had to our season,” Larson said. “The last few weeks here we finally seemed to get some momentum going our way with the good finish at Dover, the decent run at Kansas and then the win in the All-Star Race. Hopefully, we can keep going and get some more good finishes and maybe another win.”
Larson is thrilled to put that finish at Talladega behind him.
“Talladega was our last bad race we’ve had when we ended up on our lid flipping down the backstretch so it’s not fun when you do that, but at least we were able to rebound from it and start getting some good finishes,” Larson said.
Ganassi brought 40-year-old Kurt Busch on board to be Larson’s teammate this year and Busch has responded with eight top-10 finishes in 12 starts, including a runner-up spot at Bristol and a third-place finish at Atlanta.
Larson expects the usual suspects to contend for the win at Charlotte, meaning Harvick, Kyle Busch — Kurt’s younger brother — Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex, and Team Penske drivers in Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano.
Larson believes Chevy drivers could also be in the mix. Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott won at Talladega in a Chevy. The Camaro ZL1 has just six wins since being introduced last season, including four from Elliott and one from Austin Dillon in the 2018 Daytona 500.
“Chase won Talladega and I won the All-Star Race so I think it’s pretty good,” Larson said of the Camaro ZL1. “The (Coca-Cola) 600 is always a big one and I always look forward to the event. It’s always good to see what NASCAR and Coca-Cola does with honoring the military members before the race and during it. It’s one of our marquee events for sure.”
The new Ford Mustang has won four races this season, three by Keselowski with Joe Gibbs Racing drivers — Kyle Busch (three), Hamlin (two) and Truex (two) — combining for seven in the Toyota Camry.
When asked to talk about the new rules package which includes a new aerodynamics package that reduces horsepower and slows cars on larger tracks such as Charlotte’s 1 1/2 miles and MIS’ two-mile superspeedway, Larson replied: “I feel it’s different, harder to pass, our top speed is a lot slower and the restarts are definitely crazy and more exciting, but I feel like it’s harder to pass now when we get some green flag laps in and spread out. It is what it is, us drivers always race our guts out and go as hard as we can, but I guess it’s up to the fans and what they think of it.”
Larson has enjoyed tremendous success at MIS, earning his first career win in August of 2016, then sweeping both races at MIS in 2017.
“We’ve always had a good race car going there and we’ve been fast,” Larson said. “I’m not sure what about it makes us go good, but we tend to run well there so hopefully we’ll continue to find speed once we get there.”
What does Larson expect at MIS this time with the new rules package?
“I think restarts, just like anywhere else, is going to be nuts and once you kind of get strung out it’s going to be hard to pass because everybody is going to be easily wide open,” Larson said. “I don’t know. We won’t know until we get there.”
MIS in 2019
FireKeepers Casino 400
When: 2 p.m., Sunday, June 9
Support races: ARCA Menards Series 200, Friday, June 7, 6:30 p.m.; NASCAR Xfinity Series LTi Printing 250, Saturday, June 8, 1:30 p.m.
Consumers Energy 400
When: 3 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 11
Support race: NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Corrigan Oil 200, Saturday, 1 p.m.