When NASCAR’s Brian France announced the change in the way his sanctioning body would determine a champion going into the 2014 season, he talked about his desire for the sport to create “Game 7 Moments” that would provide long lasting memories for fans and competitors alike. One competitor on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is facing just such a moment this weekend in the Hollywood Casino 400 at the Kansas Speedway.
Following a disappointing race last Sunday at the Talladega Super Speedway in which he was involved in an incident and then his team incurred a 10-point penalty, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson will go into Sunday’s race 36 points below the cutoff line as four drivers will be eliminated from title contention following the activities in Kansas.
Larson realizes that if he is to advance into the ‘Round of 8’ his No. 42 machine will likely have to earn an automatic bid by pulling into victory lane at the end of the day. CGR lost an appeal of the Talladega penalty on Friday.
“Obviously a 10 point penalty doesn’t help, but I felt like with even being 26 points back we were probably going to have to go into this week and get a win to make it to the next round,” Larson told the assembled media in the Kansas Speedway media center on Friday.
Larson comes into the event with a degree of confidence despite the point deficit his team now faces. In previous campaigns the Elk Grove, California native has been knocked out of the NASCAR Playoffs after having come into a cutoff race in much better shape than this time.
“Kansas is a place I really love coming to,” the 26-year-old driver declared during the media availability. “It’s probably one of my top three or four favorite tracks to run and I feel like it’s one of our best tracks. I’m actually excited coming into this weekend being behind. The past two years when I’ve been knocked out of the playoffs, going into the cutoff race we felt like we were pretty good in points and were not even thinking about missing the round then we had a battery fall out at Dover(2016) and blew an engine here last year. At least this weekend we know what we have to do.”
Larson has never won in Kansas but he has compiled two top-5 and three top-10 finishes out of his nine career starts on the 1.5-mile track.
The Chad Johnston-led CGR Chevrolet team finished fourth on this track in the Cup Series race held back in May. Larson is trying to use their current circumstance as a source of positive inspiration.
“I honestly feel like there’s no pressure, really,” he insisted. “I feel like there’s more pressure to not make mistakes and you cost yourself the spot where you’re already in the playoffs. In our position we know what we have to do, we can be aggressive, I can run hard all race long, and I can race with little care. Our team can make aggressive pit calls if the opportunity is there. I think it’s a cool position to be in.”
But Larson does understand the reality of the situation.
“Obviously, it would be easier if we were 26 above the cut line.”
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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