For Kyle Larson, a breakthrough victory at Sonoma is not far-fetched

Kyle Larson practices at Sonoma Raceway Friday June 24, 2016

Kyle Larson practices at Sonoma Raceway Friday June 24, 2016

SONOMA, Calif. – As proficient as Kyle Larson has been on high-banked ovals, you might be tempted to discount his chances of getting his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory on a road course.

Then there’s his lack of experience at venues like Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International. Interestingly, Larson credits his dirt-track background with the ability to get a quick handle on road courses.

“I don’t have hardly any road course experience,” Larson acknowledged on Friday at Sonoma. “My first road course race was (at Road America) in 2013 when I ran Xfinity full-time. Then I have done the Rolex 24 now three times and then just the few road course races we get to run in the Sprint Cup and Xfinity Series.  I’m getting more experience, but still I probably ran a little over 10 road course races in my life.

“But I like them because you can feel the car kind of move around a lot more. You can feel the suspension, so it feels more similar to kind of a dirt track. I don’t know if it’s the dirt track, but just sprint cars and stuff the suspension moves around a lot and you can feel the balance of the car. On this stuff you can, too, where on the ovals our cars are so stiff and rigid you can’t really feel a whole lot with them.

“I think that’s why I can feel the car little bit better and these tracks get really slick and you have to hit your marks every lap, which is something I feel like I’m okay at.”

Friday’s opening Sprint Cup practice did nothing to disprove Larson’s assertion. The driver of the No. 42 Chip Ganassi racing Chevrolet topped the speed chart at 95.141 mph. That’s not particularly surprising, given that Larson set the track record of 1 minute 14.186 seconds (96.568 mph) during the first round of knockout qualifying last year.

In his two previous Cup starts at the 1.99-mile road course, Larson has qualified third and fourth but hasn’t brought home comparable finishes (28th and 15th).

Nonetheless, he’s willing to contemplate a possible breakthrough victory at the track.

“It would be awesome,” said Larson, who grew up in Elk Grove, Calif., roughly 90 minutes from Sonoma Raceway. “We’ve been close a couple of times this year now. If I was able to get it in my home state here, close to home, that would be awesome.”

SHORT STROKES

Tony Stewart and Ernie Irvan were inducted into Sonoma Raceway’s Wall of Fame on Friday afternoon. “Any time you get inducted into anything it’s a huge honor,” Stewart said. This has always been one of my favorite race tracks. To be on their Wall of Fame means something to me.”…

Dale Earnhardt Jr. posted the fastest lap of the day in the second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice, running 95.298 mph in qualifying trim. Earnhardt was fourth fastest in opening practice. His only top five in 16 Sonoma starts came in 2014, when he finished third…

Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Toyota had a too-close encounter with a jackrabbit during second practice. The rabbit lost. “That thing came out of nowhere,” said Busch, who exhorted the rabbit to continue across the track—to no avail. “He stopped, and we looked eye-to-eye, and then it was over.”

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