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Kyle Larson still learning how to shift


SONOMA, Calif. (AP) — Kyle Larson’s teammate believes the rookie will face his toughest challenge of the year Sunday at Sonoma Raceway.

He’s struggled this year to adapt to shifting, and team owner Chip Ganassi had to get Larson into a Chevrolet Camaro to use as his street car to practice around the streets of Charlotte, North Carolina. It paid off earlier this month at Pocono, where Larson won the ARCA race and finished fifth in the Sprint Cup race.

But Jamie McMurray believes Larson will have a trickier time at Sonoma, a 10-turn road course. He spent time with Larson before Friday’s practice session to discuss the 1.99-mile track with the rookie.

“This will be his biggest challenge all year long, to come here and the limited amount of time we have on the track,” McMurray said. “He’ll figure it out. Kyle’s best quality is that he is able to put it all together at the end of the race. Even if things don’t go well at the end, he seems to be able to find a way to finish well.”

Larson seemed to be adapting quickly on Friday, jumping into the top five on the leaderboard during the first of two practice sessions.

Larson, who is seventh in the Cup standings, ran three road course races last year in the Nationwide Series. His best finish was seventh at Road America.

His biggest test could come not from the adapting to the Sonoma course but from fellow driver Tony Stewart.

Stewart was unhappy with Larson last week at Michigan, where he accused the rookie of blocking him late in the race. Stewart has zero tolerance for blocking, and finds ways to retaliate when he feels he’s been wronged.

“We had a really good car. On a restart, he swerves over to block us and puts a big hole in the nose we’ve got to come in and fix, and by the time we get it fixed, we’re buried so far back, we couldn’t do anything,” said Stewart. “He will learn, just like we all learned when we were rookies one way or the other. He’ll either slow down enough to think about what he’s doing or he’ll be forced in a situation where he’ll have time to think about it and there will still be cars on the racetrack.”

Although Stewart preaches against blocking, he’s been known to do it himself. He triggered a 25-car accident at Talladega in 2012 when he tried to block Michael Waltrip late in the race as Stewart tried to protect his lead.

Larson team owner Ganassi wasn’t too worried about Stewart’s warning to the driver.

“Isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black?” Ganassi asked.