Larson hopes playoff bad luck in past
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.
Kyle Larson posted the fastest speed during final practice Saturday at Dover International Speedway.