Kyle Larson is Our NASCAR Rookie of the Year

Last year Chip Ganassi surprised us all by announcing that Kyle Larson would be moving up into the No. 42 Target Car after only one year in the Nationwide Series. Larson showed great promise in his one and only season in the Nationwide Series finishing eighth in the standings and it was expected that he would be great in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series but that it was perhaps too soon. Kyle Larson proved that wrong.

The 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year, Kyle Larson is also the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup rookie of the year.

It’s pretty special to me to win Rookie of the Year.  I would say 80 maybe 90 percent of the people out there didn’t think we would be the Rookie of the Year at the end of the season and I don’t blame them.  Just happy with how this season has gone.” Larson added, “I want to thank all my guys for making it so fun for me this season.  Thank Target, thank Chip (Ganassi), Flex (Sabates), everybody on the No. 1 and No. 42 teams, everybody at the shop.

On many occasions Kyle Larson was giving the NASCAR veterans a run for their money. He seemed like he could win at any time. He didn’t but he will.

Larson said, “I wish we could have gotten our win this season, but we challenged for a handful of them so that is pretty awesome.  To win Rookie of the Year feels great.

We have not had such a strong Rookie of the Year candidate in a long time. The season that Kyle Larson put together is reminiscent of those by Denny Hamlin in 2006, Kyle Busch in 2005, Kasey Kahne in 2004, Jamie McMurray in 2003, Ryan Newman in 2002 and Kevin Harvick in 2001 in their rookie years.

Larson finished his Sprint Cup rookie year with 8 top five finishes and 17 top ten finishes. He also finished the season 17th in the standing, the highest finishing driver who was not in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. He has shown that he has everything it takes to be a Sprint Cup Champion when he comes back next season.

Larson said, “I think just being competitive and challenging for top-fives and top-10’s most every week has been really good.  There are a lot of moments that stand out, a lot of heartbreak moments as well.  We will come back next season peel the rookie stripes off and try and go out there and win a race and get into the Chase and do what Kevin Harvick did tonight.

NASCAR Sophomore driver Kyle Larson and the whole Target Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates team will start the 2015 season stronger than ever. Look for Larson to not only win a race or two but contend for the Championship.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Feature Photo Credit: Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing

 

Homestead Miami Speedway Championship Prerace Notes

Well it’s that time again; the time NASCAR fans both look forward to and dread. It is the last race of the Sprint Cup Season at Homestead Miami Speedway where we will crown a new Sprint Cup Champion and move into the dark season of no racing. Here are some notes and things to look forward to during the race.

Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman are equal in points after the end of the Eliminator Round of the Chase.  They are racing each other for the Championship. Since they all have the same number of points to start the race the driver who finishes ahead will win the Championship. There are no bonus points for leading laps. There absolutely cannot be a tie.

Kevin Harvick will start the race in 5th position and will be leading the Championship when the green flag drops followed by Denny Hamlin (8th), Joey Logano (9th) and Ryan Newman (21st).  Kevin Harvick was the fastest of the four Chase drivers in all the practices except final practice when he was 8th fastest behind Logano. That and his starting position would make it seem that he has it all in hand.

Make no mistake about it each and every driver, crew chief and crew will be on pins and needles throughout the race. One stuck lug nut, speeding on pit road, blown tire anything that removes positions on the track can lead to loss of the Championship.

Unlike other sports the other drivers who are not racing for a Championship are also competing. Jeff Gordon wants to show everyone he should have made it into the final four. He won the Coors Light Pole award and will lead the field to green. He was also very fast in practice. It is the 200th pole for Hendrick Motorsports. Of all the drivers that didn’t make it, Gordon missing by one point has really hit the fans and Gordon.

Gordon said, “You know, I think even if we win this race on Sunday, that’s only going to make it hurt a little bit more in some ways because we could have won the championship if we were here.

Other notes: Brian Scott will start the race from the back of the field due to an engine change. This is the last NASCAR race broadcast for ESPN. NBC Sports will pick up their part of the season next year.

The Homestead Miami Speedway is a 1.5 mile high banked speedway. The race is 400.5 miles or267 laps.

The Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway will be broadcast live on ESPN starting at 2 PM ET Sunday, November 16th.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Feature Photo Credit: Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing

NASCAR – Your driver is out of the Chase! What now?

When the new NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup came out many people were excited at the possibilities and many more were withholding judgment. The first three rounds of the new Chase are over, the results of which have some fans upset.

Why would one be upset? We had the most exciting races in a long time. We had lots of drama, fights and desperation moves on the track. Everything that we need to put some real excitement into NASCAR racing.

Well for one thing those teams leading the points all season are now out. At the end of the regular season it looked like Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski were going to battle to the end. Jimmie Johnson wasn’t his usual stellar form but he was still fifth in the standings. Matt Kenseth hadn’t won a race but was the highest finishing driver who didn’t win a race and was sixth in the standings. Finishing out the top ten in the standings only Joey Logano 4th, Kevin Harvick 7th, and Ryan Newman 8th, are still alive and have a chance to win the Championship.

Ryan Newman made a great “Win and You’re In” move last week by driving into the corner on the last lap without lifting and using poor Kyle Larson’s car to keep him for certain disaster in order to pass one more car and make it to the final round. Like it or not but that is exactly the move that this new Chase format was intended to encourage. The only problem is that Ryan Newman hasn’t won a race, which is exactly what this new format was not supposed to be about.

The one thing I have always hated about NASCAR since I became a fan is that almost every fan has their favorite driver and that’s it. My driver is done so the racing sucks let’s get into the car so we can beat the traffic. It’s sad. I’m glad I have never been that way. So your driver is out of the Chase, what now?

Well now is a fine time to pay attention to not just your driver but the other drivers on the track and the potential drama that will enfold. Even I was caught off guard when Newman bonsai’d the corner on Kyle Larson. I thought that play was over when Larson had passed him some laps before. That is why I love NASCAR.

It might be Win and you earn the Championship but it might also end up that the race for the Championship is much further back. Remember there will be no bonus points for leading laps or the most laps. There cannot be a tie. The position on the track for Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman determines who will win the Championship. What can be better than that. There are no clinch scenarios, whichever one is up front wins. We will have a new first time Champion at the end of the race at Homestead Miami Speedway.

If you cannot get to Homestead Miami Speedway for the Ford EcoBoost 400 it will be broadcast live on ESPN Sunday, November 16th starting at 2 PM ET.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Feature Photo Credit: 302952 Patrick Smith/NASCAR via Getty Images

NASCAR – Its Wreck Your Mother Time at Phoenix International Raceway

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race is over at Texas Motor Speedway, the fines have been assessed and the penalties handed out. Now it’s on to Phoenix International Raceway for the Quicken Loans Race For Heroes 500. Can this new Chase for the Sprint Cup get any more exciting?

All week NASCAR fans both hard core and casual have been talking about the move Brad Keselowski made on Jeff Gordon, the after race mêlée on pit road and the penalties for those involved. Never in as long as I can remember has NASCAR been talked about on the national news for more than one day after a race.

Whether you are in the Brad Keselowski camp where winning at all cost is expected or the Jeff Gordon camp where racing with respect is important you cannot say that this isn’t the most exciting racing we have had in ages each and every week.

This week NASCAR has the last race in the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. The events of last weekend has tightened up the eight drivers who are still in contention for the Chase. In fact not one of them is out but after Phoenix only four will have a shot. See Chase Grid Below:

Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman are the only drivers who can clinch Championship berths at Homestead regardless of how others finish. They need to finish 11th, 11th and 9th or better respectively not including bonus’s for leading laps.

Brad Keselowski showed last week what he will do to keep himself in contention. Years ago Tony Stewart said he would “Wreck his Mother” to win a Championship but it appears that Keselowski would actually do it.

I’m here to win races for Roger Penske and for my team. That means when there’s a gap, I have to take it. If it requires a tiny bit of rubbing, that’s okay. It’s not anything I don’t expect on the other side.  Plenty of times where I got rubbed. It will go both ways.  That’s okay by me. I’m not asking anyone to take. I’m not trying to dish out something that I couldn’t take myself.” Keselowski added, “But these guys have their own code, and they race differently than that. That’s their right.

Can this new Chase for the Sprint Cup get any more exciting? Well if the precedent that Keselowski set carries through to the other seven drivers then install a seat belt on your chairs, that interesting looking one mile speedway at Phoenix is going to be exciting.

“Win and Your In” will be the phrase of the day.

If you cannot get to Phoenix International Raceway for the Quicken Loans Race For Heroes 500 it will be broadcast live on ESPN starting at 2 PM ET.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Feature Photo Credit: 302712 Sarah Glenn/NASCAR via Getty Images

Credit: NASCAR Media
Credit: NASCAR Media