By Shawn Wood
For The Daily Item
LONG POND —
From the quarter-mile dirt tracks of New Zealand to the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kyle Larson has won in just about everywhere he has shown up.
That is except for Pennsylvania.
Larson, one of eight candidates vying for the NASCAR Rookie of the Year title, is 10th in the point standings heading into Sunday’s Pocono 400.
He’s adapted quickly to the NASCAR ranks, but running a winged sprint car in the home of the Pennsylvania Posses is another thing.
“I struggled really badly here in Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania is not one of my favorite places to come,” he said. “Hopefully we can change that at Pocono.”
Following Tony Stewart’s crash and the death of Jason Leffler, Larson said there is some apprehension among sponsors and car owners about racing open-wheel cars.
“I knew that I wouldn’t be running too many sprint car events this year as I don’t have the time for it,” he said.
Larson went on to say that Pennsylvania has the weirdest race tracks.
“I think there’s a bunch of weird people in Pennsylvania that come up with tracks like this,” he said.
Larson is one of the owners of a sprint car team that is fielding a 410 ride of Bixby, Okla., racer Shane Stewart this year.
Following Sunday’s 11th-place finish at Dover, Larson moved up three spots in the points standing and he holds a 19-point lead over Austin Dillon in the RoY standings.
His teammate Jamie McMurry, the 2003 NASCAR RoY winner, took Larson for a ride around Pocono in a rental car before he hoped into his race car.
“It’s the first time I’ve been to Pocono and it is definitely pretty tricky and each corner is different,” Larson said. “You are downshifting in every corner and shifting is not one of my strong suits.”
During the test at Pocono on May 27, Larson missed a shift, causing the team to change the engine and transmission.
“Hopefully I got that one out of the way early and I don’t miss any more shifts (on Sunday),” he said.
The Tricky Triangle can challenge even the most seasoned NASCAR veterans. The speedway took out the curbing in Turn 2 to help improve the racing and the track was repaved a few years ago.
“I wish I got to race here before it was repaved, I’m not a big fan of repaved race tracks,” Larson said. “I think I like wore-out tracks.”
In 13 starts this year, Larson has two top-five finishes and five top-10s for car owner and Pittsburgh native Chip Ganassi. He is 12th in the chase grid.
“I am still trying to figure out the Tunnel Turn a little bit, I feel like I can get through it well without shifting,” he said.
Larson has been fast all year and points to the race at Charlotte where the team finished 18th in a race where he felt a top-10 was possible.
“We got down a lap early, then we blew the right front tire so I got down two laps, but our goals each and every week is to finish in the top 10, where before, it was the top 15,” he said. “We have to be consisted to make the chase.”
A couple of months ago, Larson made it known that he’d like to run the Indianapolis 500 for Ganassi who is also an IndyCar team owner.
“I would love to run the Indy 500, maybe in the next couple of years,” he said. “It’s up to Chip, but I can beg as much as I want to.”
For now, Larson is focused on figuring out the strange tracks in Pennsylvania.