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Comeback caps big week for dad-to-be Larson

June 15, 2014, Pat DeCola, NASCAR.com

Chip Ganassi Racing driver places eighth at Michigan in eventful race for rookie

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BROOKLYN, Mich. -- This time next year, Kyle Larson hopes to be celebrating his first Father's Day in Victory Lane. For now, the recently announced dad-to-be will just have to settle for his second consecutive top-10 finish, his seventh of the season. Considering the day he had in Sunday's Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway, he'll take it.

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"We had to fight really hard today," said the Chip Ganassi Racing rookie, who sits eighth in points. "We fought our way back to the top five and pretty much stayed there for most of the race. Then with under 50 laps to go I sped on pit road and I was really bummed about that because I knew we had a shot at the win. I fought really hard after that to finish eighth. Shine (crew chief Chris Heroy) made great pit calls all day long and I just screwed up. I hate it, but I'm still somewhat happy to get a top-10, just disappointed I let my team down.

"All-in-all a good day. Another top-10 for us. Go on to Sonoma next week. Home state, so I will hang out with some friends and see what we can do there."

Larson's speeding penalty wasn't the first obstacle he had to overcome. After a wreck between Brian Vickers and Travis Kvapil halted the race on Lap 1, Larson got loose on the ensuing restart on Lap 7, hitting the wall, spinning out and collecting Kasey Kahne and Martin Truex Jr. in the process.

The incident put Larson in a significant hole, knocking off his rear bumper and sending him to the tail of the field. In retrospect, however, it may have actually been a blessing in disguise. Several drivers chimed in over their radios that the No. 42 Chevrolet might actually be faster without its rear bumper and Jeff Burton even mentioned on Twitter that Larson could have an extra aero advantage because of his newly-remodeled SS.

"I’m sure it was somewhat of an advantage from what my crew members said," Larson added. "I've never had that happen before, and it happened so early in the race that I don’t know how it would have handled had I had a rear bumper. Either way, I think we would have had a really good car because we were good in practice, but it probably did help a little bit."

While one rear bumper issue may have propelled Larson to his strong comeback, there's another one that he may have to keep his eye on in the coming weeks. For the second week in a row, a certain driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet has been in a teaching mood. Tony Stewart gave the 21-year-old a little bump from behind during practice last weekend at Pocono Raceway and sent a similar message Sunday mid-race, which actually put a hole in the nose of Stewart's ride and forced him to pit.

It can certainly be intimidating to get a nudge from a fiery three-time champion, but Larson is unfazed.

"That's Tony being Tony," he said. "With the Tony issue, I was pretty tight on whoever was inside of me on the restart. I was looking in my mirror and saw him juke to the right, so I juked to the right and he hit me and I don't know. He was trying to teach me a lesson I'm guessing. Oh well, that's two weeks in a row. Happened in Pocono in practice -- same kind of deal."

For now, Larson will continue to absorb those sorts of "lessons" from those around him -- he is just 15 races into his full-time Sprint Cup Series career, after all -- as he remains intent on picking up his first win in 2014. But if victory No. 1 has to wait til June 21, 2015, the date of next year's Father's Day, so be it.

"Yeah, it would have been cool to get a win today. I don't know, I guess it'll mean more next year."

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