Busy Offseason Continues for Larson
By: Jeff Wackerlin - @JWackerlin Twitter and Instagram | MRN.com on January 9, 2017 | 3:15 P.M. EST
Fresh off a trip to Australia to race sprint cars, Kyle Larson now turns his attention to this week's Chili Bowl Nationals before starting the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)
Larson has made the A-main in the Chili Bowl six times with his best finish coming in 2012, third place. He'll once again compete for Keith Kunz Motorsports as a teammate to fellow NASCAR drivers Christopher Bell and two-time defending event champion Rico Abreu.
"The Chili Bowl is unique because it’s in a building, and every racecar and trailer is in the building as well," Larson said. "The atmosphere is the best. The place is packed, the pit area is packed and the racing is great. Tony Stewart does a great job with track prep, keeping it to two or three grooves to put on some awesome side-by-side racing. The competition is tough and when you get 360 entries, there's 60-70 of them that are race-winning cars and drivers."
Larson, who will compete in Tuesday's Chili Bowl qualifying night, won his qualifying night in 2015 after winning the C-main and B-main following an incident in his heat race. It was Larson's third preliminary-night feature win. Last year, he finished fifth in Saturday night's 55-lap championship feature after starting 22nd.
Before making the trip to Tulsa, Okla., for this year's Chili Bowl, Larson ushered in the new year "down under," where he was competing in sprint-car events at Sydney Speedway.
"I ran third the first night and was really bad the second night," he said. "The third night, we ran third again. I almost won but got beat on a restart. Then, we rained out the final night. Last-minute we ended up going to New Zealand to try and run a midget race at Western Springs, and ended up getting rained out shortly after qualifying."
The trip to Australia also gave Larson the chance to enjoy the sights in Sydney with girlfriend Katelyn Sweet and son Owen.
"We went into Sydney on New Year’s Eve," Larson said. "We went to Bondi Beach, cruised around the city for a little while and then headed out before the fireworks. "We went to the Sydney Zoo and I was surprised I got recognized there. Surprisingly, Owen did a great job flying. For the 14-hour flight to Australia, he was only awake for three or four hours."
The busy off-season will continue for Larson as he prepares for his fourth full year in the Cup Series. With Daytona right around the corner, Larson and the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing team are looking to get off to a great start following 2016, when they made the Chase for the first time.
"The '42' team finished the year strong," said Larson, who placed in the top three in the final two races. "Hopefully, we can start the year off well. That’s been the biggest area we've struggled with as a team in my Cup career."
This year, NASCAR has implemented a new rules package that will feature another step toward reducing downforce and improving safety initiatives. The aerodynamic adjustments are similar to what was used during some races last year that included Michigan International Speedway, where Larson captured his first win.
"I'm excited for the lower downforce," Larson said. "Chip Ganassi Racing seems to do well right off the bat whenever there’s a rules change. Lower downforce means the cars are more of a handful to drive."