For Larson, Pocono requires shift in approach
June 07, 2014, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
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LONG POND, Pa. -- It has to be the only time that driving a black Camaro could be considered homework.
Yet that was indeed the case for Kyle Larson, who in the days leading up to this weekend's event at Pocono Raceway was driving around greater Charlotte in a manual Camaro, on orders from his Chip Ganassi Racing team. The goal was to help the Sprint Cup Series rookie get more accustomed to shifting gears, something the 21-year-old isn't exactly comfortable with -- but will be necessary to navigate the 2.5-mile triangular track in Sunday's race.
Pocono is the only track where drivers routinely shift gears after getting up to speed. Larson had some issues with shifting during recent tests at Pocono and Road Atlanta, leading his race team to assign him some remedial work in the form of a stick-shift Camaro.
"It seems like I’m probably the worst shifter of all-time in a stock car," said Larson, who qualified 14th. "It's kind of embarrassing, missing a lot of shifts. That's my biggest worry going into this weekend, making sure I don't miss any shifts. My timing is just off. I think I try to rush things too quick, and I start missing shifts."
Since the Nationwide Series does not compete at Pocono, this marks Larson's first event weekend at one of NASCAR's more unique tracks. Each corner at Pocono is different -- they're modeled after turns from Indianapolis, Milwaukee, and Trenton, New Jersey -- and they each require drivers to shift gears. With more gear-shifting ahead at the two road course races looming this summer, Larson next week will spend two days at the Bondurant School in Phoenix for a refresher course.
Larson missed a shift in a recent test at Pocono, requiring his team to change the engine and transmission in his car. "Hopefully, I got it out of the way early," he said then. Larson took part in Saturday's ARCA race at Pocono in part to give him more seat time at the facility. And that venture was a success as he won the Pocono ARCA 200 in just his third start in the ARCA Racing Series.
Sunday, though, comes the big test. And that stick-shift Camaro is still awaiting him back in North Carolina.
"I feel like one of those 16-year-old kids who just got their license, revving it up and listening to the engine pop," Larson said. "I can’t wait to get through all the tracks that we have to shift at a lot and get back into an automatic."