NASCAR: Live from Pocono

Sunday Conversation: Gordon's big day

Rookie Larson earns first pole

By Mark Ashenfelter

LONG POND, Pa. -- Kyle Larson started first at Richmond earlier this season, but that's because he "won" practice on a day when rain canceled qualifying. Friday at Pocono Raceway, he went out and beat Joey Logano for the top spot.

Larson's lap of 183.483 mph was enough to edge Logano on a day when Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon rounded out the top five.

"I had butterflies in that last round," Larson said. "... I was nervous and I hit all three corners about as good as I could, so I was really excited about that. Thanks to Target and everybody at the shop. They're making the cars faster and faster every week, and we're getting better and better. I really think a win is coming soon, maybe before the Chase starts."

Larson sits 13th in points with six races left until the Chase for the Sprint Cup field is set. With only 11 race winners thus far, Larson would make the provisional field as the points standings fill the remaining five spots.

But with additional winners still a possibility, Larson knows he has work to do to ensure a Chase berth.

Larson has struggled with shifting in a Cup car, something that's a priority here. He ran the ARCA race here in June, winning it a day before finishing fifth in his Cup debut at the track. This weekend, he's running the Camping World Truck Series race to get ready for Sunday.

"I think anytime you can get laps around here at Pocono, it helps. This place is so different," Larson said. "Each corner is different. It really helps with your rhythm and things. We've been fast in every car I've run here so far."

With just 43 cars entered, everyone made the field on a day when Team Penske's drivers qualified second and third.

Junior happy crew chief search over

By Mark Ashenfelter

Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn't want to play a major role in choosing his new crew chief, content to leave that decision to current crew chief Steve Letarte, Jimmie Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus, and others in management at Hendrick Motorsports.

Greg Ives, announced earlier this week as Earnhardt's crew chief for 2015, was Knaus' engineer for five consecutive championships with Jimmie Johnson. So a strong working relationship with Knaus will be crucial as the Johnson and Earnhardt teams share a shop at HMS. Doug Duchardt, the team's GM, and owner Rick Hendrick also played key roles in the decision.

Earnhardt already has a strong relationship with Ives, who is in his second year as a crew chief at JR Motorsports, the Nationwide Series team in which he has an ownership stake. Much of the relationship has been built over friendly banter and trash talk as the two have been in a fantasy football league together since 2008, so the relationship goes beyond racing.

That's important to Earnhardt, who didn't want to simply find a clone of Letarte to sit atop his pit box. Even if he wins a title with Letarte before the crew chief moves to the broadcast booth next year, Earnhardt's focus is on getting better.

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