Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – KANSAS CITY, KS – It was one of those incidents that unfolds almost in slow motion.
During Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series final practice for Saturday night’s Digital Ally 400 at Kansas Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), the rear of Kyle Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet stepped out as Larson ran near the outside wall through Turns 1 and 2.
The car slid sideways and angled back down toward the infield. Martin Truex Jr., winner of last Monday’s rain-delayed race at Dover, was the third car in line behind Larson, and he could see it coming.
“That was one of those ‘oh-you-know-what’ moments,” Truex said. “I saw him out of the corner of my eye as we were almost-but-not-quite side by side. I could see him get loose up at the top, and I’m staying wide open, and I could see he’s coming down the track pointing at me.
“He’s coming down the track, and I’m staying wide open, wide open, wide open. And he keeps coming down, coming down, coming down. And I’m like, ‘Oh, man, make a decision here—hold it wide open or try to slow it down.’
“At the last second, I just tried to step on the brakes, because he was obviously coming down on my right front. Luckily, he got it straight—kind of—just in time, and I kind of got backed out of there just in time. And I think we actually touched—barely. About that hard (Truex tapped the dais in the media center lightly). So we got pretty lucky there, for sure.”
Truex needed some luck. He and his Joe Gibbs Racing team struggled during practice to find the right balance on the No. 19 Toyota.
“We had a bit of a rough day today,” said Truex, who was 21st fastest in Happy Hour. “But we’re excited about racing here in Kansas. It’s been good to us. So hopefully we can get it dialed in, get a few things figured out this afternoon and tonight and have a good run (Saturday) evening.”
“AMBASSADOR” PROGRAM TAKES JENNIFER JO COBB TO RUSSIA
It started with an e-mail.
At first, NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series driver Jennifer Jo Cobb thought the note was one of those scam-artist come-ons promising millions from a long-lost foreign bank account.
But she did some checking, and the invitation to serve as a United States “ambassador” to another country turned out to be real.
Cobb has already been to Georgia—not the state known for its peaches, but the country south of Russia. This year, she’ll take her gift of gab on three separate trips to Russia itself, first to Moscow and surrounding cities after the Truck race at Charlotte, then later to St. Petersburg in July and finally back to Moscow in September—all during breaks in her racing schedule.
“They want me to come talk about my racing career,” Cobb said on Friday at Kansas Speedway. “They want me to come talk about overcoming obstacles. They want me to come talk about science, technology, engineering, math, and how it relates to what I do.
“I’m not a natural STEM person. In school I did not excel in those areas. I excelled in talking and writing and socializing. But I’ve had to learn to figure out things like that, because I work on my own race cars, and I want them to go faster.”
Cobb will use a translator when she gives her talks in Russia, but she has been preparing for the trip by learning a few basic Russian phrases and reading spy novels.
“I’m a little scared,” she acknowledged. “I’m reading stupid Russian spy books right now to try to just get a feel for culture, and I need to stop. It’s scaring me.”
In reality, Cobb expects her trips to Russia to be as fascinating and rewarding as her trip to Georgia was.
“It’s amazing as an American to go to other countries and get that perspective,” she said. “I just think everyone who—I’m just going to say it—bitches and moans and complains, needs to go to another country that struggles and see how lucky we are to be American, to be born here.”
ARE CHASE ELLIOTT, ALEX BOWMAN THE CLASS OF THE CHEVY CAMP?
Without tremendous fanfare, Hendrick Motorsports teammates Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman have risen to the top of the Chevrolet pecking order in recent weeks.
Elliott won his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race of the season on April 28 at Talladega Superspeedway. Bowman finished second. Elliott won the pole for Monday’s rain-delayed race at Dover and ran fifth. Bowman finished second.
And in final practice on Friday at Kansas Speedway, Bowman was second and Elliott sixth behind Kurt Busch, who has been solid all season long in his Hendrick-powered No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.
In fact, Elliott has accounted for the last four Chevrolet victories in NASCAR’s premier series—three last year to go with the Talladega win. But Elliott doesn’t feel as if he’s carrying the load for the car maker.
“It’s nice to have wins, obviously,” Elliott said. “I think, as a manufacturer, the more that we all run better, we’re all going to help each other, much like Alex’s good runs the past couple weeks. They’re good for the company as well.
“Just like I think Chevrolet having good runs is good for the manufacturer. I don’t necessarily think we’re carrying it. Any of the Chevrolets could have won Talladega, and that wouldn’t even be a relevant question. It’s nice to have won some races but, no, I think that narrative could have changed pretty easily a couple of weeks ago to somebody else.”