Lar­son hopes play­off bad luck in past

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - Ellen J. Hor­row

DOVER, Del. — The Mon­ster En­ergy NASCAR Cup Se­ries play­offs have not been kind to driver Kyle Lar­son since he made his first ap­pear­ance two years ago. Last week­end at Char­lotte Mo­tor Speed­way looked to be a con­tin­u­a­tion of a con­found­ing trend.

In 2016, in the fi­nal race of the first round, Lar­son suf­fered an elec­tri­cal mal­func­tion at Dover In­ter­na­tional Speed­way and was then hit with a pitroad penalty that left him laps down to the lead­ers. Lar­son fin­ished 25th and was one of the first four driv­ers elim­i­nated from the play­offs.

In 2017, in the fi­nal race of the sec­ond round, Lar­son suf­fered an en­gine fail­ure early in the race at Kan­sas Speed­way that ended his day af­ter 73 laps. He fin­ished 39th of 40 driv­ers and was knocked out of the play­offs again.

Last week­end, it seemed lady luck was set to burn him for a third time, but a mirac­u­lous re­prieve turned the tide and put Lar­son back on a path to his first cham­pi­onship.

Lar­son en­tered the first elim­i­na­tion race of 2018 com­ing off sec­ond- and sev­enth-place fin­ishes in the first two races and seemed primed for an easy trans­fer into the Round of 12. But a mul­ti­ple-car crash on a late restart left his No. 42 Chevro­let man­gled and barely able to mo­tor around the Char­lotte roval.

As his Chip Ganassi Rac­ing crew fu­ri­ously worked to re­pair as much dam­age as pos­si­ble, tele­vi­sion cam­eras peered into the cock­pit to catch a glimpse of a dis­gusted and dis­ap­pointed Lar­son, who seemed re­signed to his fate — again, elim­i­nated from con­tention long be­fore the cham­pi­onship race.

What no­body could pre­dict were the lead­ers spin­ning on the fi­nal lap, and that twist of fate gave Lar­son new life. When one of those lead­ers, Jim­mie John­son, fin­ished eighth in­stead of first or sec­ond, it dropped him into a three­way tiebreaker for the fi­nal two trans­fer spots. John­son lost that tiebreaker, and Lar­son, along with Aric Almirola, moved on to the sec­ond round.

“Very lucky that my team was able to re­pair it enough to go, pretty much coast around for a few laps,” Lar­son re­called about the defin­ing events of last week. “I was also lucky with the crash-dam­age pol­icy that we only had three laps left in the race be­cause I wouldn’t have made min­i­mum speed. It was all pretty wild.

“I had kind of given up that last lap, and then about halfway through it they said (the lead­ers) were crash­ing, and it took (pass­ing) the No. 96 — the No. 96 (Jef­frey Earn­hardt) couldn’t get his en­gine re­fired — so I got re­ally lucky.

“So, hope­fully, that means some­thing for us, and we can take ad­van­tage of the op­por­tu­nity we were put in last week and go out there and have a good rest of the play­offs and maybe make it to the Fi­nal Four.”

Lar­son’s first chance will come Sun­day at Dover in the Gan­der Out­doors 400 (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) as the sec­ond round kicks off. And he seems poised to be a ma­jor fac­tor af­ter post­ing the fastest speed and the best 10-lap av­er­age in Satur­day’s fi­nal prac­tice.

“I feel like our Credit One Bank Chevy is re­ally good. I feel like we are a close sec­ond to (Kevin Har­vick),” said Lar­son, who will start 10th Sun­day based on own­ers points af­ter Fri­day’s qual­i­fy­ing was rained out.

“It seems like I’ve got to kind of move around a lit­tle bit more, but so far, happy with it. I wish we would have got­ten to qual­ify yes­ter­day be­cause I felt like we would have had a good shot at the pole, but in race trim as well we are fast.

“So far the week­end has gone well and hope­fully we can close it out with a good fin­ish.”

And, Lar­son hopes, he has fi­nally put his bad luck be­hind him.

MATTHEW O’HAREN/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Kyle Lar­son posted the fastest speed dur­ing fi­nal prac­tice Satur­day at Dover In­ter­na­tional Speed­way.

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