NASCAR at Dover notebook: Larson hits high speed in Monster Energy Series practice

Kyle Larson signs autograph on a die cast car before practice at Dover International Speedway on Saturday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — Kyle Larson was literally banging off the walls on the final lap of last Sunday’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s new road course/oval layout just to advance to the Round of 12 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.

It wasn’t pretty, but a 25th-place finish effectively advanced Larson into the second round of the playoffs, which start with the Gander Outdoors 400 (2 p.m., NBCSN) at Dover International Speedway this afternoon.

Judging from Larson’s performance in the final practice session on the high banks of Dover’s one-mile concrete oval on Saturday afternoon he is more about power and precision this weekend rather than crash and persevere.

Larson topped the leaderboard by zipping around the Monster Mile with a lap of 159.011 mph in his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.

Two drivers already eliminated from NASCAR’s playoffs — Denny Hamlin (157.343 mph) and Erik Jones (157.095 mph) — were second and third-fastest in the practice session, while Aric Almirola (156.808 mph) and Chase Elliott (156.556 mph) rounded out the top five.

Larson will start today’s race from the 10th position after qualifying was rained out on Friday and the lineup was set based on the owner’s points standings.

Larson was quick on Saturday, but he said he still thinks Kevin Harvick, the winner of the spring race at Dover, is the man to beat in today’s race.

“I think (Harvick’s) better than we are, but I feel like our Chevy is really good,” said Larson, who finished runner-up in both spring races at Dover in 2016 and ’17. “I think (Harvick) can run the bottom really well and I think that I’ve got to move around a little bit more.

“I wish we got to qualify (Friday) because I think we would have had a good shot at the pole but, in race trim as well, we’re fast.”

Larson won the pole position at Dover in May and finished 10th.

A win can’t come soon enough for Larson, who has a Monster Energy Series-best six runner-up finishes this season but is still looking for Victory Lane.

“It’s a long tough race,” Larson said. “So far the weekend has gone well and hopefully we can close it out with a good finish.”

Saturday morning’s Monster Energy Series practice at Dover International Speedway was canceled after a persistent, misting rain continued to fall on the track.

The rain eventually stopped falling and the Monster Energy Series’ final practice was lengthened to 80 minutes by NASCAR, giving the drivers more time to get their race cars dialed in.

Harvick’s like a fine wine at Dover

Harvick seems to get better with age when it comes to navigating the challenges and difficulties that Dover presents to the Monster Energy Series’ drivers twice a year.

After all, he drove to victory in the spring race at the Monster Mile and has earned two wins in his last six races at Dover.

He led 355 of 400 laps in winning the fall race in 2015 – the most dominant showing at Dover in more than a decade.

Harvick starts the second round of NASCAR’s Playoffs at Dover trailing Kyle Busch by five points and leading third-place Martin Truex Jr. by 12-points.

“I think as you look at Dover, if you look at our history, when I was at RCR (Richard Childress Racing), it was probably one of our worst racetracks,’’ Harvick said. “It’s been one of our best since I came to SHR (Stewart-Haas Racing) in 2014.

“For me, the thing I love about Dover is just the fact it’s hammer-down and you’re up on top of the wheel for 400 laps. … It’s fast.”

Harvick, who has earned seven victories this season, said Dover certainly has its’ challenges, but he likes it.

“You can just be aggressive with the car and you have to get in there and wrestle that thing all day because it’s bumpy, slings you up out of the corners, dumps you down in the corners, and there’s just a lot going on,” he said. “The car is bouncing around a lot and, with as rough as the cars have been just as the ride goes, we are in for a rough ride. It’s one of my favorite racetracks to go and race on.”

Garcia finds redemption in K&N Pro Series East race

DOVER — Ruben Garcia Jr. got some redemption in the rain-delayed Crosley 125 K&N Pro Series East season finale at Dover International Speedway on Saturday morning.

Garcia, driving the No. 6 Max Siegel Inc. Toyota, edged Brandon McReynolds by less than a half-second at the checkered flag on the high banks of Dover’s one-mile concrete oval.

Last fall, Garcia led a race-best 71 laps in the K&N Pro Series East race at the Monster Mile before a crash in the final laps ruined his finish.

This time around, he was celebrating with his new Monster Trophy in Victory Lane at Dover.

“This is my favorite track that we visit,” said Garcia, who led a race-high 75 laps on Saturday to record his second win of the season. “I feel like we led every single lap here last year. It’s really cool to accomplish what we started last year.”

Garcia, a 22-year-old from Mexico City, posted an average speed of 99.206 mph in completing the 125-mile event in one hour, 15 minutes and 36 seconds.

“Finishing the season strong gives us momentum for next year,” Garcia said.

Derek Kraus finished third on Saturday, followed by Sam Mayer in fourth and defending event and series champion Harrison Burton in fifth.

Garcia wasn’t the only driver doing a burnout on the frontstretch after the race as Tyler Ankrum celebrated his NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season title with a smoke show of his own.

Ankrum, driving the No. 17 Modern Meat Company Toyota, had already secured the title before starting the Dover race.

Ankrum, a 17-year-old California native, ran in the top-five for the majority of the race and led eight laps until a mishap on pit road led to an 11th-place finish, 13 laps behind Garcia.

“It’s not the race we wanted but definitely the season we wanted,” Ankrum said. “I was on my computer looking at the other drivers who have won the K&N Series title, and a lot of them are at the Cup level or Xfinity or Truck Series. The experiences we’ve had are amazing.”

In recent years, NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champions have included Joey Logano (2007), Kyle Larson (2012) and William Byron (2015).

Ankrum said he ran into many of his heroes in the garage area this weekend before the green flag dropped.

“Growing up in Southern California, you want to be like Jimmie Johnson,” Ankrum said. “Then, you’re walking in the garage and go ‘Oh, look, there’s Jimmie Johnson.’ It’s a great experience.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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