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• The only driver that could seemingly pass with any regularity during Saturday night’s race at Kentucky was points leader Kyle Larson.
According to NASCAR, Larson passed a whopping 90 cars.
Ranked second in green-flag passes tonight was @ChaseElliott, who had 66.
— Nate Ryan (@nateryan) July 9, 2017
Starting at the back of the field helped, of course. Larson’s car didn’t make it through inspection to make a qualifying attempt on Friday.
[Related: Martin Truex Jr. wins at Kentucky]
After working his way through the pack before a competition caution in the first stage, Larson had to do it again. He was penalized for speeding on pit road and had to cut through the slower cars ahead of him once again.
He said it was much harder to work through the field the second time.
“We were on ‑‑ there was a wreck, I think, when Brad had wrecked in [turns 3 and 4 at the start of stage two], and I had to lock it down, came down, had to put [scuffed tires] on, and then my balance was just different that run and that led us all the way to the end of that second stage,” Larson said. “Was able to get to sixth and then had to restart and fell back, I think, to 11th and pitted at the end of the second stage and had to restart 14th or so, maybe worse than that, and had to just slowly pick off cars.”
Larson didn’t restart the green-white-checker finish in second, but got past Kyle Busch on the penultimate lap to finish right behind race-winner Martin Truex Jr. The pass of Busch meant Larson was able to hold on to his points lead by a single point over Truex.
“Martin was super-fast and been really, really fast all year long,” Larson said. “I think we’ve been second best to him, but he’s in a whole other league right now.”
• Outside of Larson, there wasn’t much action throughout the race outside of the first few laps after restarts. Saturday’s race was fairly typical repave race. The fresh pavement at Kentucky Speedway didn’t provide a wide groove for drivers to race side-by-side and the tires Goodyear provided for the teams didn’t wear enough for tire strategy to have an effect on the race.
“So, I mean, my car was good, so I had fun,” Larson said. “I could see how it was probably frustrating for other people, but I thought the racing was okay. For sure it was hard to pass at times … repaves are just always tough to pass on.”
Brad Keselowski expressed his frustration with NASCAR’s current car design after he crashed out of the race at the start of the second stage. Keselowski was on the low side of the track under Clint Bowyer and his car got sucked around. He sent Bowyer spinning and hit Jimmie Johnson, putting Johnson into the wall.
“Stage racing and all these restarts, the fact that it is so hard to pass there is just an environment that is created with this style of racing,” Johnson said. “You’ve got to get everything you can on a restart and everybody is at ten tenths. The old days of pointing someone by or maybe letting somebody go until your tires came in are long gone. All of this breeds a lot of cautions.”
• Darrell Wallace finished a career-high 11th Saturday night after he was at least partially involved in the race’s final crash. Wallace appeared to run Matt Kenseth high off turn 4 on the next-to-last lap of the race and Kenseth subsequently lost control.
“I learned my lesson at Michigan running halfway aggressive [on restarts],” Wallace said. “I didn’t give anybody any breaks on these restarts. I may have pissed a couple people off but oh well. I needed to do what I needed to do to keep our track position. The repaves make it really tough for passing so you want to get all you can on restarts.”
It doesn’t look like Wallace will be back in the Cup Series anytime soon. Wallace has been substituting for Aric Almirola in the No. 43 car and Almirola could be cleared to get back in the car for next week’s race at New Hampshire.
The team has a press conference scheduled for Wednesday to detail what’s next for Almirola in his recovery from a fractured vertebra suffered at Kansas in May.
“I don’t know what is next for next weekend,” Wallace said. “I might get a call, I might not. If not, best of luck to Aric and the 43 team. I will play a lot of golf and try to get better at that. I will be on some phone calls trying to get something. I won’t be gone too long, at least I hope not. It is a bittersweet moment.”
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