Kyle Larson says his team has ‘a target on our back’

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver finished second Sunday despite starting last due to an unapproved part found on his car after qualifying.

In many ways Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway Kyle Larson experienced a microcosm of his 2017 season.

Despite failing to pass technical inspection — the fourth such occurrence — meant he would have to start the Overton’s 301 at the rear of the 39-car field, Larson quickly made his forward. He was up to 16th within 15 laps, then inside the top 10 by Lap 30.

When the checkered flag waved Larson finished runner-up to winner Denny Hamlin. The seventh time the Chip Ganassi Racing driver has placed second in seven of 19 Monster Energy Cup Series races this season, and the second race in a row he had done so after starting last because of an issue clearing inspection pre- or post-qualifying.

Larson ended up failing inspection Friday after officials found an unapproved rear deck fin lid on the No. 42 Chevrolet. NASCAR consequently disallowed Larson’s speed, which would’ve earned him the pole position, forcing him to start Sunday’s race at the back.

“Finished second, but another hard‑fought race,” said Larson, who’s a two-time winner in 2017. “You know, this is the third time we’ve had to start last and drove up to second. I wish we could have been a spot better again, but really proud of my team and proud of the cars that they’re bringing for me to drive each and every week.

“It’s been a tough couple weeks through the tech line, so if we make it through here and then have a good Tuesday at (NASCAR’s Research and Development Center), we’ll see.”

The strong performance capped a week where the No. 42 team came under scrutiny for its penchant of violating NASCAR’s rules.

On Wednesday, the sanctioning body announced the car Larson raced last Saturday at Kentucky Speedway had a nonconforming rear brake cooling assembly. That earned crew chief Chad Johnston a three-race suspension, a $75,000 fine and cost Larson 35 driver points.

The points deduction dropped Larson, who has two wins on the season, to second in the Cup Series standings behind Martin Truex. Then on Friday there were the issues in inspection, which elevated Truex, who had qualified second, to the top starting position.

“It seems like we have a target on our back,” Larson said. “But that’s a good thing, too. It means everybody is paying attention to us. This is my fourth year, and I’ve never been in the position to where NASCAR and other teams are paying so much attention to our racecar.

“That’s a compliment to everybody at our race shop.”