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Larson's car catches on fire at Michigan

August 17, 2014, Staff report,

Rookie forced to evacuate with haste: 'I had smoke in the cockpit'

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BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Kyle Larson felt the right front tire of his No. 42 Chevrolet blow without warning, and he certainly felt the ensuing impact as his car crunched the outside wall in Turn 4.

After that unpleasant experience Larson used a pair of other senses to determine he might be in danger -- sight and smell. It was impossible to miss the dark orange flames leaping out of his battered car as acrid smoke drifted into the cockpit, plugging Larson's nose and throat.


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It was that final sensation that caused Larson to lower his window net and quickly climb from his car in an incident that provided the first test case of a rule NASCAR formalized Friday. It states, in part, that a driver cannot emerge from a wrecked vehicle until told it's OK to do so by either the sanctioning body itself or track or safety officials. There is an exception made for instances of fire or smoke in the cockpit, and Larson had both.

So he radioed his team to declare he was climbing out, dropped the window net and emerged from his still-on-fire car and stood as far away from the on-track action as was safe.

"There was a little bit of a hesitation (to get out of the car), but I had smoke in the cockpit," Larson said after being checked and released from the infield care center. "I let my crew know I was going to get out. I don't know if NASCAR listens to that stuff. Once I got out, I just stayed as close as I could to the car. But I had to get out with all the smoke in there." 

The 22-year-old rookie, who entered the day with three top-10s in his past four starts and a fast Chevrolet at the 2-mile Michigan International Speedway oval, was scored 37th when he emerged from the infield care center with the race halfway gone.

As cars that had previously wrecked either continued logging laps or exited the garage and got back on track, Larson was soon scored in last place. Considering his vehicle was blackened and out of the race at that point, it's also where he finished.

The magnifications were massive, as Larson fell from 10th in the point standings to 14th, a precipitous drop that also knocked the rookie out of the current 16-driver Chase field.

"It's a shame," Larson said. "We were up there in the points battle and we'll just have to work even harder now on our Target Chevy to make the Chase. It sucks. … We've been working really hard to get back up in points after a couple of DNFs (this year). We're going to try to get a win and not worry about points anymore."

His next opportunity is Saturday night at Bristol. Now that Larson is 24 points behind the current 16th-seeded driver Greg Biffle with three regular-season races remaining, a win becomes the sole focus of the No. 42 team.

"We did have a really good car this weekend, that's why this is so disappointing," Larson said. "But we've been fast every weekend and we were really good at Bristol earlier in the year. So we just have to go back there and try to get a win. That's all we can do at this point."


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