DARLINGTON, S.C. — Don’t expect Kyle Larson’s mindset to change just because he’s locked into a spot in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
After winning the pole for the Aug. 18 night race at Bristol, Larson finished second in the race to guarantee his place in the final 16. But his attitude remains the same for the final two regular-season races.
“For the last three or four months, I felt like our team has been solidly in the playoffs, even though mathematically you are not set until whatever we were last race,” Larson said on Friday at Darlington Raceway, venue for Sunday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 (6 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). “(The way) our team has been performing and outperforming some other guys that are already outside the top 16, I knew we would make the playoffs.
“So our mindset, I wouldn’t think it’s any different the last couple of races and especially these next two. We try and go out and win every race, every stage, every week. We just haven’t been able to do that.”
The winner of four races in his breakout 2017 season with Chip Ganassi Racing, Larson is still seeking his first victory of 2018. That’s not to say he doesn’t see progress with the No. 42 team - though even with the runner-up finish, he didn’t have the performance he expected at Bristol.
“I think my expectations are just really high whenever I go to Bristol,” said Larson, who was second fastest behind Denny Hamlin in opening Cup practice at Darlington. “I was in a bad mood for a lot of that race, I think, just because my expectations are high. I was kind of a negative person throughout the first half of the race, but once I gave myself some realistic expectations for the rest of the race, I was in a better mood. ...
“Like I told (crew chief) Chad (Johnston), ‘I’m sorry I was a (jerk) on the radio.’ I just expect to go there and lap the field. We didn’t have that there, but we work hard to get better at every race track, because we want to dominate every race. We’ve just got to keep digging, keep working hard.”
Despite persistent questioning, Matt Kenseth refused to budge.
The driver who returned to Roush Fenway Racing in a part-time role this season isn’t ready to talk about next year. In fact, Kenseth says his sole focus is on finishing out the current season in the No. 6 Ford he shares with Trevor Bayne.
“I’m just kind of honestly trying to concentrate on the rest of this season and trying to get this done,” Kenseth said Friday. “Those are probably things to talk about at a later date, but the season has been up and down.
“I wish our results were better than what they were, but yet, on the other hand, I feel like we’ve made a lot of progress. It doesn’t really show necessarily on the stat sheets or the box score all the time, but I feel like we’ve made a lot of progress, and (we’re) really just trying to keep that going and keep moving forward and keep trying to get more competitive by the end of the season.”
In eight starts after returning to the team in May, Kenseth has an average starting position of 22.8 and an average finish of 22.5, with a season-best of 13th coming at Pocono in June. In opening practice at Darlington, Kenseth was 22nd fastest.
Asked specifically whether he would consider driving the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford (should Kurt Busch not return to the ride next year, as has been rumored), Kenseth sidestepped the question adroitly.
“I’m certainly not talking about next year, and I haven’t really put as much thought into it as you all have, honestly,” he said. “I think I still have seven races left this season. Trevor has a few races. I have not made the impact at Roush Fenway Racing, at least in the finishes and the performance, necessarily as I had hoped, or as big of a one as I hoped.
“But that’s really all I’m thinking about right now is getting the performance better and trying to do a better job for those guys and get cars faster and get better finishes and get the team operating better and get me operating better — all that kind of stuff. I’m not really looking forward right now.”
JUSTIN ALLGAIER WANTS REDEMPTION IN CUP SERIES — UNDER RIGHT CIRCUMSTANCES
JR Motorsports driver Justin Allgaier has worked for a decade in search of major success.
With four victories in his last 14 NASCAR Xfinity Series races, including wins in two of his last three starts, Allgaier has to be considered a favorite to win his first series championship.
In fact, Allgaier has been so successful in the No. 1 JRM Chevrolet that his boss, Dale Earnhardt Jr., recently took to Twitter to tout his driver as deserving of a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ride.
Not that Allgaier is a stranger to NASCAR’s top series. After five full years in the Xfinity Series, he ran two full Cup seasons with HScott Motorsports in 2014-15, scoring one top 10 (an eighth at Bristol) in 71 starts.
In 2016, Allgaier returned to Xfinity and signed on with JRM. Over the last two seasons, he has collected six of his nine career NXS victories.
“The one thing I’ll say is that I’m having a great time right now on the Xfinity side,” Allgaier said on Friday at Darlington Raceway, site of Saturday’s Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 (3:30 p.m. on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). “JR Motorsports has been a great home for me. To put myself back into contention to win races and championships, that’s huge.
“Do I want redemption on the Cup side? Absolutely. I personally don’t feel like I ever really got a fair shake on the Cup side, based on the circumstances that were dealt. That wasn’t the fault of anyone. It was a lot of moving pieces that had to come together to make the Cup program work the way we wanted it to, and that didn’t happen.
“Do I want redemption? Yeah. I want to go back to Cup at some point in my career... I think I could have success in the Cup series, but on the flip side of it, I’m not going to jeopardize what I’m doing right now just to take a seat and explore that option. It would have to be that perfect scenario.”
—By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.