BROOKLYN, Mich. — Sunday was a rough day on the track for rookie Kyle Larson.
It got worse when he looked at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings after the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
An early pit lane collision with Dale Earnhardt Jr. damaged the left front of his No. 42 Chevrolet and his race ended on lap 98 when he hit the turn 4 wall. His car caught fire as it rolled to a stop but he was not injured.
The last-place finished dropped him from 10th to 14th in the standings and put greater pressure on him to win or stay near the front in the next three races to ensure a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Twelve spots in the Chase are taken in this year’s new format, which expanded to 16 drivers and grants automatic berths to drivers who win a race and finish in the top 30 in the final points standings. A.J. Allmendinger became the latest member of the fortunate dozen with last weekend’s win at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International.
Larson will head to Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway on Saturday (Aug. 23, 7:30 p.m. ET on ABC) 15 points out of the final spot in the Chase. Atlanta and Richmond are the final stops before the postseason gets under way.
Matt Kenseth, the highest ranked driver without a win, fell from third to fifth in the standings after finishing 38th. He was one of the nine cars that sustained damage during a lap 26 pileup that began when Danica Patrick spun in turn 1.
Kenseth’s No. 20 Toyota was in the garage area for 30 laps before he returned to the track.
Barring a string of finishes near the rear of the field, Kenseth still appears to be comfortably in the Chase field.
Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer and Greg Biffle — all of whom are winless this season — are ninth through 11th in the standings and separated by 19 points. Kasey Kahne is nine points out of the last spot.