Kyle Larson overcomes qualifying penalty for New Hampshire runner-up

Russell LaBounty/NKP

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

It’s been a trying two weeks for Kyle Larson and Chip Ganassi Racing (CGR), but through it all they continue to excel.

Last weekend’s race at Kentucky Speedway saw Larson’s No. 42 team struggle to get through inspection, start at the rear and drive through the field to second only to lose 35 points and crew chief Chad Johnston for three races to a post-race inspection failure.

One week later Larson was again given an obstacle to overcome after his apparent pole-winning No. 42 Chevrolet failed post-qualifying inspection. The Californian would have to start at the rear again.

Starting last at New Hampshire Motor Speedway can be difficult to overcome. But at the end of the Overton’s 301, the 24-year-old had again found a way to come home in second place.

“Finished second, but another hard‑fought race,” Larson said afterward. “You know, this is the third time we’ve had to start last and drove up to second.  I wish we could have been a spot better again, but really proud of my team and proud of the cars that they’re bringing for me to drive each and every week.

“It’s been a tough couple weeks through the tech line, so if we make it through here and then have a good Tuesday at NASCAR, but we’ll see.”

What appeared to be a dream season for Larson and CGR has come under fire over the past few races.

With nine top-two finishes in the opening 19 events, Larson has been one of two drivers — joined by Martin Truex Jr. – to established themselves as an unquestioned championship contender.

Up until his penalty after Kentucky, Larson held the lead in points over Truex – no small mark given the 15 playoff points that are awarded to the regular season champion.

The loss of 35 points leaving the Bluegrass State have put Larson’s regular season championship hopes in a hole, and until his team managed another spirited drive through the pack, it appeared Truex might run off with the distinction.

Asked about his recent rash of setbacks, Larson couldn’t help but wonder if his No. 42 team is being given extra attention from NASCAR and his fellow competitors.

Not that he thinks it’s a bad thing.

“For sure.  It seems like we have a target on our back,” Larson said. “But that’s a good thing, too.  It means everybody is paying attention to us.

“This is my fourth year, and I’ve never been in the position to where NASCAR and other teams are paying so much attention to our race car.  That’s a compliment to everybody at our race shop.”

Should Larson avoid a second-straight post-race penalty, he’ll enter Indianapolis Motor Speedway next weekend second in points, 38 markers behind Truex for the top spot. While runs like Sunday’s keep him confident, Larson admits that his CGR team needs to continue to search for ‘legal’ speed.

“Obviously, I don’t think it really affected us, which is a good thing, because the little stuff that we got in trouble for so far hasn’t seemed to affect the performance,” Larson said of his qualifying penalty. “Just got to keep working hard on the areas of our race car that are legal and find some more speed that way.”

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