LONG POND – Sprint Cup Series rookie Kyle Larson never turned a lap at Pocono Raceway until the Cup test at the track a few weeks ago.
Sunday, Larson drove from the 14th starting position to a fifth-place finish in his first Cup race at Pocono.
“It was a good day,” Larson said “I knew we had a good car from the start and just tweaked on it a little bit and got it better and better.”
The No. 42 car took fuel only on lap 109 as Larson had some good restarts late to crack into the top five. He started chasing Denny Hamlin down but had to settle for fifth.
The rookie driver didn’t expect to run that well after happy hour practice on Saturday.
“Yeah, it was a lot better finish than I thought we were going to get,” Larson added. “After happy hour yesterday I thought we might be a 15th place, maybe a little bit better, but all the guys on the Target team did a great job to get the car better.”
Larson was also the highest finishing rookie in the race as three rookies placed in the Top 20. The fifth-place finish was also his third top-five on the season after finishing second at Auto Club Speedway in March and fifth at Texas Motor Speedway in April.
He had a good start to the weekend by winning the pole for the Pocono ARCA race and had a decent run in Cup qualifying on Friday, making it to the second round before settling into the 14th starting spot.
Larson also ran Saturday’s ARCA race to gain an additional 200 miles under his belt and learn more about the track.
“I think I learned a little bit that helped me through Turn 2 in the ARCA cars,” he said.
The 21-year-old driver led 66 of the 80 laps on Saturday, but ARCA regular Mason Mitchell made him work for it late by passing the Cup rookie after a restart with 10 laps to go.
Larson started to reel in Mitchell and made the final pass for the lead with three laps to go to score the victory.
The ARCA cars don’t shift, compared to the Cup cars which shift at Pocono, as it was something Larson had to work on. His Cup test at Pocono didn’t start off as planned, as the rookie missed a shift and the team had to change the engine and transmission.
“Seems like I’m probably the worst shifter of all-time in a stock car,” the Cup rookie said Saturday. “After I missed the shift last week, I haven’t missed a shift. It’s kind of embarrassing missing a lot of shifts.”
His team thought of an interesting way to not make him miss any more shifts by making Larson drive a stick-shift around town.
“I did miss a couple shifts,” he said about today’s race. “Just twice, which is a lot better than probably it would have been if I didn’t practice shifting a whole lot.”
All shifting aside, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver has different thoughts about Pocono after 400 miles.
“It’s a pretty cool track, I think,” Larson said. “I enjoyed it quite a bit.”