Things just went from bad to worse for Kyle Larson and the 42 team’s championship hopes.
Generally speaking, when a NASCAR Cup Series team gets hit with an L1-level penalty that involves point deductions, fines and suspensions, it’s because they just did something good but violated a rule, thus getting stripped of the benefits of their success. In the case of Kyle Larson and the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing team, they were pretty bad at Talladega, but got hit with some sanctions anyway.
Larson’s team was assessed an L1-level penalty by NASCAR on Wednesday for violating Section 10.9.9.d of the NASCAR Rule Book. Put plainly, the team used metal tabs instead of the approved fasteners or tape to reattach parts of Larson’s Chevrolet during the 1000Bulbs.Com 500 at Talladega, which was banged up after he blew a tire and spun out during the race.
He recovered to come home 11th, but only because lead lap cars ran out of gas during the race’s overtime finish. The NASCAR penalty includes the loss of 10 driver points, which is equivalent to Larson finishing 21st at Talladega instead.
It’s a huge blow to a team already in serious danger of not advancing to the Round of 8 in the NASCAR Playoffs. Larson would have been 26 points behind the cutoff spot currently occupied by Martin Truex Jr. That would have been difficult to overcome, particularly with both Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney ahead of him, but a top-3 finish and the right things happening to other drivers could have been enough to get them through.
Now 36 points back, Larson will almost certainly need to win the race at Kansas this weekend to move on. The good news is that only he and Chase Elliott among all Chevrolet drivers have shown the speed to consistently run with the best cars from the other two manufacturers. Yet the bad news is much, much more daunting: Larson hasn’t won a race in 2018, and his last three Kansas fall races resulted in finishes of 29th or worse (albeit while leading a ton of laps in one of them).
It’s not impossible to see Larson pulling a rabbit out of his hat on Sunday, particularly since the playoffs have already seen surprise winners like Ryan Blaney and Aric Almirola who were sans regular season victories. But given how hard it is to win any Cup Series race, particularly when you absolutely have to do it, the odds are overwhelmingly against it, and one of NASCAR’s brightest young stars seems doomed to suffer postseason disappointment for the second straight year.