NASCAR’s Larson, open wheel legend Swindell headed to Winter Heat

NASCAR’s Larson, open wheel legend Swindell headed to Winter Heat

It’s getting cold outside, but the 2016 Winter Heat Sprint Car Showdown is starting to sizzle.

On Monday it was reported in the Speed Sport News that NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kyle Larson, the 2014 rookie of the year, is planning to again race in the Winter Heat at Cocopah Speedway, which comes less than a week after Cocopah Speedway’s director of operations, Greg Burgess, announced that open-wheel legend Sammy Swindell has committed to running all five nights of the event.

The 2016 show is scheduled to get under way with the opening night of racing on New Years Day. The program, for 410, winged sprint cars, will also feature racing on Jan. 2, Jan. 5 and Jan. 8 and 9 at the Somerton oval.

Larson, who drives for Chip Ganassi Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and is currently ranked 20th in driver standings, said he will begin his off-season by racing in the Turkey Night Grand Prix midget race Nov. 26 at Perris Auto Speedway, in Perris, Calif. He then will race his winged sprint car in the Winter Heat before racing in the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Midget Nationals in Tulsa, Okla.

“I’ll do the first three nights at Cocopah Speedway and then I’ll do the Chili Bowl. So that’ll be my open-wheel schedule for the offseason,” said Larson, who has to get permission to go open-wheel racing from Ganassi, his NASCAR car owner and boss.

In 2015 Larson, from Elk Grove, Calif., came to the inaugural Winter Heat and won the feature event on the second night. He then appeared to be headed for another win in the Tuesday night feature event before a flat tire ended his bid.

Larson then exited the Winter Heat and headed to Florida for Rolex 24 at Daytona testing. There he and teammates Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Jamie McMurray won the Prototype Class and got the overall win.

“Slammin’ Sammy” Swindell, meanwhile, is a three-time World of Outlaws STP Racing Series champion and a five-time Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Midget Nationals champion. He did not enter the inaugural Winter Heat event in 2014.

“I’ve always enjoyed going out there (to Arizona) in the winter time because the weather is usually nice,” he said in a press release on

Swindell is no stranger to dirt track racing in the Grand Canyon State. He raced in the Slick 50 Sprint Car World Series event in the early 1990s at Manzanita Speedway in Phoenix and Canyon Speedway in Peoria.

“I pretty much did most all the stuff out there,” he said. “I’m sure it will be sort of the same. Most of us will be staying in the same place and you just go out there to race and have a little fun.”

Swindell, from Germantown, Tenn., drove to two wins for CJB Motorsports in 2015 and hopes to build on that success at Cocopah Speedway.

“The goal is to go out there and win. At the same time we’re wanting to learn. It’s an opportunity for us to make sure everything is clicking. There will be a lot of new things for us out there,” said Swindell of his first trip to Cocopah Speedway.

Also already entered in the 2016 Winter Heat is the defending series champion, Danny “The Dude” Lasoski, from Dover, Mo.; 21-year-old sensation Christopher Bell, from Norman, Okla.; open wheel ace Shane Stewart, from Tulsa, Okla., who drives for Larson’s sprint car team; and five-time Lucas Oil American Sprint Car Series National Champion Jason Johnson, from Eunice, La.

Bell is the 2013 USAC National Midget Champion who now drives for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. The 21-year-old won his first Camping World Truck Series race in July at the 1-800-CAR-CASH Mud Summer Classic on the famed Eldora Speedway dirt.

Sprint car veteran Brian Brown, from Grain Valley, Mo., is also reported to be heading back to the Winter Heat.

Along with Larson, the other inaugural Winter Heat feature event winners were Paul McMahan, from Elk Grove, Calif., on opening night; 20-time World of Outlaws STP Racing Series champion Steve Kinser, driving for Tony Stewart Racing, in the Tuesday night show; Lasoski on the second Friday night; and Aaron Reutzel, from Clute, Texas, in the final night’s feature event. The Winter Heat was Reutzel’s first time in a 410 sprint car.

The Friday and Saturday night feature event wins are each worth $12,000, and the Tuesday night win is worth $5,000.

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