Thursday, Jun 08

Kyle Larson Tops Leaderboard in Nascar Cup Series Practice at Phoenix

The NASCAR Cup Series' (NCS) western swing concludes this weekend as the series takes on the one-mile tri-oval of Phoenix Raceway. The trip to the Avondale, Arizona, venue marks the first short-track race of 2023, which will also feature the debut of the new aerodynamic package that will be run on the series’ short ovals and road courses this season.


Teams were given increased practice time for this weekend’s event, with NASCAR’s premier series hitting the track for a 50-minute practice session Friday afternoon. Upon completion of practice, teams are allowed to make adjustments before going through technical inspection, which will take place on Saturday prior to the qualifying session that will set the lineup for Sunday’s United Rentals Work United 500. 


Kyle Larson topped the leaderboard at the conclusion of practice, driving his No. 5 Camaro ZL1 to a fastest lap of 27.427 seconds. Larson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman (No. 48 Ally Camaro ZL1) was third-fastest, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 47 Thomas’ Camaro ZL1) was seventh-fastest overall to round the Team Chevy top-10. 


Drivers in the top-10 of the NCS driver points standings were made available to the media following the series’ practice session, including Chevrolet drivers Ross Chastain and Alex Bowman, who sit in the first and second positions, respectively, in the standings heading into the Phoenix race weekend.



How different did this feel this year compared to what you had here last November?

“We’re at a large loss of grip, I think even compared to the field. We missed it a bit.”


You were obviously in the simulator; you knew there was going to be less grip. Was it about what you felt in the simulator and others were better, or did you feel a lot worse than what you felt in the simulator?

“I haven’t really had enough time to really dissect what everyone else has. We had less grip than what we were projecting. Our balance is off.. the car is disconnected front to back. I feel like – the grip they have, my grip starts on their lap 10. Like I have 10 lap old tires when I have fresh tires.”


Do you have a tough time getting through all the corners, or was one area worse than another?

“We’re pretty loose on entry, so I can’t charge the corner like I want to. I felt like I was going to crash there a couple of times. Really, just a four-wheel slide, both rear and front. So I’m loose entering the corner and exiting, and it never really grips at the center of the corner.


It’s not like one glaring thing.. it’s just a lack of grip. We’re a couple of tenths off at fire-off, like on a fast lap. And then even once we get into the run, they start to come back to us, but it’s too late and we’re still off at the end of it.”


How did the car feel in traffic and were you able to setup a pass the way your car felt?

“I was the one getting passed (laughs). As they were passing me, it looked easier for them than it would have been last fall, for sure.”


Any idea with this package whether there is the ability to find grip between now and qualifying?

“We’re changing springs, shocks and settings all over the car, so I don’t really have an answer. It’s so new.. I probably won’t have an answer until probably, realistically, Sunday night or in the race to see if it feels different. I just haven’t ran enough to really confidently tell you.”





“I feel like our No. 48 Ally Camaro is pretty decent. Cool to have Best Friends on board this week and overall, it was a solid practice for us.”


Did it feel any different than what you drove here last year, as far as just downforce and handling?

“I think all of the cars are definitely slipping and sliding a little bit more. I don’t think a race car has ever really felt great at this place. I mean even when I’ve been really strong here, the race car never feels great. So yeah, a lot of slipping and sliding around.


I will say, it felt like dirty air was as bad or worse than it’s ever been here, so we’ll have to see how the race goes. That was one car behind another, so maybe it will be different in the race. But yeah, still the same stuff.”




You hear grip a lot.. people are talking about grip.

“Yeah, I mean when you take downforce off the race car, you have less grip. So that’s just how it’s going to be. I think as a whole, like behind other people, you can physically see people slipping and sliding more, so that’s just going to be part of it.”


The aero issue, are you further way in experiencing that or can you get closer to the car before you get that aero issue?

“For me, which I don’t know I haven’t talked to anybody else yet, so I don’t really know what everybody else felt… but it just felt like I lost even more grip behind another car from a pretty big distance back. We’ll have to wait and see. That was with pretty new tires and not equal tires between the cars, so a little different scenario than the race will actually be.”


Did you try the apron at all, as far as cutting the dog-leg?

“I didn’t. I mean we all did last year in the race and it was fine, so I think we’ll all be down there tomorrow for qualifying.”


Were you excited to get the extra practice at COTA, as well?

“I was excited to run the truck race and everybody else only had 20 minutes of practice. But yeah, I think if we unload and we’re not great, I’m going to be excited to have extra practice. If we unload and our car is amazing and we don’t make it any better, I’m going to be like ‘man, we didn’t need that’. So it’ll be a selfish race car driver thing, one way or another.”


Do you feel like this package will fit your driving style after this practice session?

“Yeah, I don’t know. I mean I feel like this place has been hard for me and I ask for the wrong things out of the race car in certain areas of this racetrack. So just trying to do the right things and Blake (Harris, crew chief) is really good about helping me lap-to-lap to try to do better things at some of these places. But yeah, hopefully it suits me. We’ll see on Sunday.”




How excited or nervous are you? Can you take me through Monday and Tuesday until they told you that you were definitely going to do it? What type of emotions or conversations did you have?

“Well, to be fair, really before I got home from Vegas, I had a pretty good idea that I was racing. So that eased my mind a little bit and let us focus on this week. We were able to start preparing really as soon as we got home. Monday afternoon, I was at HMS; and in the afternoon, I was at Chevrolet (Technical Center) running laps (on the simulator). It’s been a busy week.


Really thankful to be doing this. It’s a weird opportunity obviously.. we’re all thinking about Chase (Elliott). We want him to get healthy and get back. But thankful for the meantime, I’ll get to run some races.”


What does it mean to you to know you’ll be able to be in four or five races and maybe not just one race to try and prove yourself?

“Yeah, I think that definitely helps knowing that I at least have a couple of them. We don’t know how many that’s going to be. Like I said before, I’ll be available as long as this group needs me. It’s giving me a great opportunity to learn and grow. I’m just excited to keep going.”


Just having the extra time, last week everything was just kind of thrown together. You’re kind of finding your comfort zone now that you’ve had time to work with these guys.

“Yeah, I mean I think from my side of things, it’s hard to set expectations. We’ve seen this Next Gen car be a challenge for everybody. Everybody in the industry is having to adapt to that. I’m just trying to control two things.. and that’s my attitude and my effort towards this. Staying positive, working hard and working with this group, and doing everything I can to be prepared. Work with these guys, work with Chase (Elliott) and everybody back at the shop to just try to continue to do better. It’s just one lap at a time and I think if we keep doing that, we’ll be able to get some solid finishes.”



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