Larson downplays Michigan drama with Stewart
June 19, 2014, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
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SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – During a luncheon with local media in San Francisco's famed Gharadelli Square on Thursday, Sprint Cup Series rookie Kyle Larson downplayed that any drama existed between him and veteran Tony Stewart after an on-track exchange last week at Michigan.
However fellow Cup driver Brian Vickers seized the opportunity to offer advice to the 21-year-old first-year Cup driver having had his own on-track "issues" with Stewart several years ago at this week's Sonoma Raceway road course.
"There is no right or wrong answer to your problem, but there are consequences," Vickers said, inciting loud laughter from those in the room and getting a big grin from Larson and 2012 Cup champ Brad Keselowski as the three conducted a news conference in advance of Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350.
Last week at Michigan, the three-time Cup champ Stewart was critical of Larson's driving during a restart and pulled alongside him at one point to express his frustration.
After the race, Stewart said of his 11th place finish: "We got the nose damage when the 42 (Larson) got impatient there and blocked us."
Asked for his take after the race Larson – who finished eighth in the No. 42 Target Chevy - explained the situation as "Tony just being Tony" in reference to the famously feisty champ, who shares an open-wheel background with Larson and has often praised the Chip Ganassi Racing team rookie.
Larson offered a more detailed version of the events on Thursday.
"On the restart he lined up behind me and I was mirror driving and saw him go to the right so I went to right, felt him hit me and thought, 'Tony's going to be pissed,' so I pulled up top, let him by and drove around him a couple corners later," Larson said. "When the (next) caution came out, I knew what was going to happen and I knew he was going to pull next to me and show me he wasn't happy."
Egging on the recollection, Keselowski asked Larson, "How did he show he wasn't happy?"
"His middle finger," Larson replied, smiling.
"In sprint car racing, blocking is a little more normal so I don't know if he gets as angry in that as he does with blocking in stock cars. Anyway, a guy like Tony Stewart probably respects you more if you don't back down.
"Coming to a place like Sonoma, I'm sure we'll be around each other and we'll see what happens. But I don't feel like I've done anything dirty so I'm not going to do anything to make the situation worse and I hope he doesn't."
Larson insisted Thursday throughout questioning that he wasn't worried about things going forward. He's ranked eighth in the Cup standings and Stewart is 16th – both still looking for their first victory in 2014.
"It's not as if I did something real bad to him," Larson said. "I'm real good friends with Tony, but it doesn't matter on the race track, we all know how super competitive he is. I'm not too worried about it.
"Maybe he's just trying to intimidate me or treat me (like the new kid.) I get that. I understand that.
"It's really not a big deal yet. We haven't wrecked each other or anything major. I really don't think it's a big deal."