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NASCAR notebook: Kyle Larson wins Richmond pole on busy day

Sportsnaut
Aug 13, 2022; Richmond, Virginia, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Larson (5) celebrates winning the pole during practice and qualifying for the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

RICHMOND, Va. — Kyle Larson was a man on the move on Saturday at Richmond Raceway.

First off, he won the pole position for Sunday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 (3 p.m. ET on USA, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Shortly thereafter, Larson left on a plane for Knoxville, Iowa, where he was locked into the main event in the prestigious Knoxville Nationals for winged sprint cars.

But before he was set to run the 1,425-pound sprint car, he navigated the .75-mile Richmond short track in 23.042 seconds (117.177 mph) in his 3,400-pound Camaro to knock fellow Chevrolet driver Ross Chastain (116.883 mph) off the provisional pole for Sunday’s race, the 24th NASCAR regular-season event of the season.

Coincidentally, Larson had lined up a plane ride with Justin Marks, Chastain’s Trackhouse Racing team owner, for the trip to Knoxville.

Chastain’s time of 23.100 seconds had held up until Larson made his run as the last driver on the track. Larson also had run the quickest qualifying lap of the afternoon (22.863 seconds/118.095 mph) to top Group B in the first round of time trials.

Larson drove hard into Turn 1 on his money lap and thought that might be where he gained an edge.

“Even though I got into (Turn) 1 way too hard and sideways, I’m imagining that’s probably where I made up my time,” Larson said. “Just getting it in really deep, and I think getting it under control before I got to the exit probably is where I made up the lap time.

“I don’t know, though. It could be (Turns) 3 and 4. Who knows? But I felt like I got in a little deep — too deep for sure — but I think it worked out in the end.”

Denny Hamlin, who won the April 3 race at Richmond, qualified third at 116.485 mph. The Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets of William Byron and Alex Bowman were fourth and fifth, respectively.

The two drivers battling for the final spot in the NASCAR Cup Playoff both made the final round. Martin Truex Jr. qualified sixth, but Ryan Blaney, who leads Truex by 19 points for the last Playoff berth, got loose on his first lap in the final round and had to back out of the throttle.

Blaney will start 10th on Sunday.

During difficult contract year, Kyle Busch has a vision for the future

The 2022 season has been a difficult one for Kyle Busch.

Not only has his on-track performance been hampered by a horrible run of luck, but his very future in the sport has been thrown into uncertainty with the impending departure of long-time sponsor M&M’s after the 2022 season.

Though both Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota have expressed their respective desires to keep Busch in the fold, the search for a new sponsor hasn’t borne fruit as of yet.

Complicating the issue is Busch’s own NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team — Kyle Busch Motorsports — which is an integral part of Toyota’s driver development program.

Nevertheless, Busch, 37, has a very clear vision for his future, if circumstances go the way he hopes, and that vision involves his son Brexton, who already is racing successfully at age seven.

“To me, this situation right now is very important to me, as well as Kyle Busch Motorsports,” Busch said before Saturday’s practice at Richmond Raceway. “Because wherever this next place is, whether it’s
Joe Gibbs Racing or whoever, I would like it to not have to go through this again, right? I’ve got six, seven, maybe eight more years, if I play all this out perfectly.

“Brexton and I, we share a truck when he turns 16 years old, when he’s 16 and 17. And then it’s his when he’s 18. And I’m done. I’m out. You know what I mean? Like that’s the perfect play. And so, if I can align all of that, you know, the runway does exist for a Busch.

“Obviously, he’s pretty talented. He wins a lot. He wins more than I do. I hear about it every day. So the runway for him, if you want to look at it that way is 30 years plus, so you know he can carry on this legacy a hell of a lot longer than I will.”

Daniel Suarez and Kimi Raikonen enjoy mutual learning experience

Former Formula 1 champion Kimi Raikkonen is set to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut on August 21 at Watkins Glen International, and the 42-year-old Finnish driver is taking the opportunity with Trackhouse Racing seriously.

On Thursday, Trackhouse driver Daniel Suarez helped Raikkonen prepare for the Go Bowling at the Glen in a practice session at Virginia International Raceway, where Suarez was eager to learn as well as teach.

Trackhouse is providing all the data and equipment Raikkonen needs to run well at the Glen. Suarez feels the main impediments to the Finn’s success will be the nuances of racing unfamiliar heavy, full-bodied stock cars.

“They’ve given him every tool he needs to succeed,” Suarez said on Saturday at Richmond Raceway. “I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can from him, because already he’s an amazing race car driver. But I believe that a race car driver is great not just because he’s good at driving. I think it’s everything else around it — how he thinks, how open- or closed-minded he or she is.

“In this case, I’ve been very, very impressed with him. He’s having a great time. He’s not here just to have fun, but he’s a competitive guy, and he wants to do well. So it’s been it’s been a lot of fun to work with him in the last few days, and (I’m) really looking forward to seeing what he can do next week.”

Driving Kyle Busch Motorsports equipment, Raikkonen competed at Charlotte in one race each in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series on back-to-back weekends in May 2011. He finished 15th in the Truck Series race and 27th in the Xfinity event.

On a side note, Suarez said reports of a signed contract extension with Trackhouse are premature, but he’s confident a deal is near.

“I know my manager and people from Trackhouse are very, very close,” Suarez said. “We have never had doubts about where we’re at on those kind of things. We’re just working on a couple of details.

“But yeah, it’s not done yet, but it’s close. I think it’s just matter of time. Overall, I think we’re in very good shape.”

Worldwide Express becomes “Official Logistics Partner of NASCAR”

Worldwide Express, a leading full-service logistics company, has expanded its presence in NASCAR Racing with the announcement Saturday of its new status as the “Official Logistics Partner of NASCAR.”

The company already is serving as the entitlement sponsor for Saturday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race. In addition, Worldwide Technologies and sister brands GlobalTranz and Unishippers provide primary sponsorship to both Trackhouse Racing in the Cup Series and Niece Motorsports in the Truck Series.

“The partnership aspect is something we were really drawn to,” said Worldwide Express president Rob Rose. “It was not a marketing effort. It was not a sponsorship. It was not ‘put your name on a few things’ and then hope people kind of get impressions.

“That wasn’t the sort of partnership we were looking for. It goes to our partnership with NASCAR. It goes to our partnerships with our carrier partners and our business as a logistics provider… Our customers are NASCAR fans. We’re in the logistics space. We’re in the transportation space. Rarely do we go to a customer who doesn’t have a favorite driver.”

–By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.