Friday, March 25, 2016

Days After Hard Crash, NASCAR's Larson Rolls Sushi

Same guy, but two very different venues.

Elk Grove NASCAR driver Kyle Larson went from a hard head-on crash at Fontana Sunday to a sushi restaurant in Sacramento on Thursday. His Sunday crash on lap 48 of the Auto Club 400 was shown over and over on SportsCenter for the next 24 hours. The cameras were on him once again Thursday as local chef Taro Arai invited Larson to his downtown restaurant to roll sushi.

With his Kyle Larson T-shirt on under his kitchen jacket, Asai was all smiles and full of help as Larson put the fish and all the ingredients all together, rolled it up and then sampled his dish.

"I might be the only Asian that doesn't like sushi," the soft-spoken Sprint Cup driver admitted. However, he gladly took a few bites of his handiwork.
Kyle Larson's car moments after hitting the wall last Sunday

Arai called Larson's concoction the "#42 roll." Larson drives the No. 42 Target Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing.

The whole event was an opportunity for Sonoma Speedway to promote NASCAR's annual visit to their road course. This summer the event will be June 24-26 at Sonoma. The Toyota/Save Mart 350 is one of the very few road courses the pro stock cars drive every season.

Larson is glad he gets the weekend off. He's still aching from the effects of the crash that was the result of a blow rear tire that cut the brake line to his car. After hitting the outside wall, the car turned towards the infield and, at speeds estimated around 160 mph, went right into the SAFER (Steel And Foam Energy Reduction) barrier protecting the inside retaining wall.

"When you realize you don't have brakes, you just brace yourself to get ready to hit the wall," he explained. "That wasn't my worse wreck but was probably the hardest hit I've taken."

Though the on-track doctors gave him a clean bill of health, Larson said he felt soreness in his neck and shoulders. It bothered him enough that the lunch appointment with Arai was delayed by two days. Plus, Larson bowed out of driving Wednesday in the Short Track Outlaw Showdown at Placerville Speedway.

"I wanted to get more rest," Larson said.
Kyle Larson, right, has a few words for Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson

His next date with NASCAR's Sprint Cup racing is coming next weekend at Martinsville, VA. He says he'll be ready to go.

After finishing eighth overall in his rookie season, 2014, he slipped last season to 19th. Part of that was because NASCAR re-tooled the Spring Cup cars from 900 horsepower to 750 horsepower engines.

"For guys like me, Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart, that are used to more horsepower, it was an adjustment," Larson said. "But, by now we should adapt to that. But, we got to keep working hard and learn to work together as a group."

In his third season on the Sprint Cup circuit, Larson is 24th in the points standings. He is very disappointed with his performance through the first eight races. He has a new crew chief in the pits, Chad Johnson, who was with Stewart the past two seasons.

"I like Chad a lot, he's a great crew chief," Larson said. "The way he communicates is a little bit different. He came from Stewart-Haas (Racing) and he has a few different ideas."
Larson finishes his sushi rolls with Chef Taro Arai

Larson and his #42 crew have plenty of time in the 2016 season to make up some ground. He says in his brief experience in NASCAR he's seen an improvement in the overall racing.

"I think most drivers are pleased with the quality of racing and the current rules package," he said. "NASCAR is going in the right direction."

Larson says he'll have to do more preparation for the race at Sonoma than he'll typically do at other tracks. He'll be spending time watching videos of the races at Sonoma to familiarize himself more with the track.

"The wheels fall off the track, there are more switches and knobs and where there are pockets," he said. "That's the hardest thing, to memorize where there is all that stuff."

His son, Owen, and girlfriend Katelyn Sweet travel with the 23-year-old Larson from track to track throughout the season.

"Owen is 15-months now, has lots of energy, is a crazy kid and is a lot of fun," Larson said.

The "#42 Sushi Roll"
Most NASCAR tracks provide play areas for children because so many drivers have young families and bring them with them as they travel around the country.

"We stay in our RV's for about half the week and they become our second homes," Larson said. "There's a lot of time to kill at NASCAR races so having a playground and your RV is good."

The rest of their family time is spent in Charlotte, N.C., where the couple have purchased a house. Most drivers and their crews live in that general vicinity because that's the headquarters for NASCAR. But Larson loves it there and thinks that's where he and Katelyn will raise their family.

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