Larson justifies Knoxville Nationals hall pass with Michigan win
The #LetKyleRace campaign was beneficial on so many levels.
Not only did the sprint car world have the opportunity to watch Larson compete in the Knoxville Nationals — where he won his preliminary on Wednesday and finished second to 10-time Knoxville champion Donny Schatz — the driver of the No. 42 Ganassi Racing Chevy returned to Michigan International Speedway on Sunday fired up and ready to win.
Larson executed a masterful restart and powered past Monster Energy Cup Series points leader Martin Truex Jr. to capture his third consecutive win in the Irish Hills.
After the Victory Lane celebration, Chip Ganassi realized he made the right decision.
“When you're in my position of this past week's activities with all the talk about Knoxville and going to Knoxville last night and not getting back (to Michigan) until 2:00 in the morning, I'm out on the end of the diving board there a lot of times,” Ganassi said. “So I appreciate when Kyle steps up and does what he did today; it makes it all worthwhile, obviously.
Risk vs. reward
A racer himself, Ganassi never wants to harness his young drivers. Clearing the way for Larson to do the Knoxville-Michigan double was a six-month work in progress until the driver had safely returned to the track 13 hours before the green flag fell on the Pure Michigan 400.
“As a team owner, it’s my responsibility to make them aware of how important they are to so many people besides me,” Ganassi told motorsport.com. “Whether it’s the rest of the employees, the car companies, the sponsors, there are a lot of people investing a lot of money and a lot of time in one ore two athletes. So it’s a high, high risk allowing them to do dangerous things.
“On the other hand, you don’t want to break him like a colt. You don’t want to break him. That might slow him down. And I don’t want to slow him down. It’s a lot easier to slow them down than it is to speed ‘em up. So, I don’t want to slow him down but I want to make sure that he’s racing against professional drivers.”
Before the last fan had cleared the stands, reporters were already asking Ganassi whether he would ever let Larson race on the night before a Cup race again. Ganassi was diplomatic. He explained that the late start time (3:00 p.m.) of the NASCAR race weighed in on his decision. As did the timing of the race coming prior to the playoffs and Larson being comfortably locked in.
But there were times throughout race where Ganassi second-guessed himself — even though Larson scored points in the first two stages.
“When I see us back in ‑‑ we had obviously had ‑‑ like Chad (crew chief Johnston) said, we didn't have too good of a start, and we were sort of mired in the middle of the top 10 there most of the day or something but not by any stretch near the front,” Ganassi said. “So yeah, I mean, I had concerns, and I was getting ready to take a lot of heat in the media for that if we didn't have a good day.
“You want to do the best you can for the guy all the time and do what you can do, and hopefully we can continue to do it. I don't want to make any promises.”
After the race, Larson was asked whether the Indianapolis 500 was still on his bucket list. Ganassi did his best to deflect — offering to answer other questions. Larson was a little less certain than he’d been in the past, almost not wanting to push too much after getting a hall pass for Knoxville.
“I don't know if it is right now at this moment, but, for sure, someday I'd like to, and Chip knows that,” Larson said.
Ganassi believes that Larson isn’t as keen on doing the Indy 500/Coca-Cola 600 as he once was.
“It’s way too early to talk about it,” Ganassi said before the race. “He wanted to do it before he saw (Scott) Dixon’s (2017 Indy 500) crash. Ok? When he saw Dixon crash, he has a different outlook on it.”
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