Open Wheel ace Kyle Larson serves notice on NASCAR
On Sunday, Larson held off a furious charge from Sprint Cup veteran Joey Logano in a three-lap green-white-checker finish to score his first career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory in just his fifth series start, winning the North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Rockingham Speedway.
Brendan Gaughan was third, followed by Johnny Sauter and Chase Elliott.
Larson led a total of 187 laps, including the last 22, and benefited from a great jump on the final restart to beat out Logano, who himself was making just his second career start in the trucks.
“I saw (Logano) get the lucky dog, and I knew he has to be on new tires, so I was definitely worried,” said Larson. “I could see him getting closer and closer in the mirror, just hoping we could get to the white flag, and we got that yellow. I’m usually not the best on restarts, I’m surprised I got that good a start. But I was able to beat him into (Turn 1) and then hold him off for the win.”
Larson, just 20 years old and a development driver for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, already has a NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship under his belt and is steadily proven he can hang tough with the big boys.
Larson has made more than his share of headlines so far this season, first finishing second in the season-opening ARCA Series race at Daytona, then following it up with a controversial finish in the Whelen All-American Series event when he punted race leader C.E Falk III to win to race.
All that was tame compared to his Nationwide Series debut, where his Chevrolet was launched into the Daytona frontstretch catchfence, tearing his car in half and sending 30 spectators to the hospital.
Then just last month at Bristol, Larson nearly won his first Nationwide Series victory, challenging Kyle Busch for the lead in the closing laps. Running second, Larson chased Busch down and refused to back down, going door to door with the all-time Nationwide win leader, finishing second by inches at the line.
This time, it was Larson’s race to lose, but not before Logano made him work for it.
Driving a truck owned by defending Sprint Cup Champion and Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski, Logano started seventh and stayed in the top 10 for much of the race until a loose wheel began to slow him up, eventually falling a lap down with 33 to go.
Just five laps later, Chris Jones spun to bring out the sixth caution flag, and Logano – the first truck one lap down – got back on the lead lap and pitted for tires.
Restarting 18th with 22 laps to go, Logano and his fresh tires sliced through the field, catching Sauter for second place with just seven laps to go.
Larson had the advantage, maintaining a one-second lead over the final laps before Timothy Peters and Ryan Sieg tangled on the frontstretch with three laps to go, sending the race into overtime.
With Logano restarting on the outside, Larson brought the field to green flag and got a good jump as Logano spun the tires, opening a five truck-length advantage.
Logano rallied again, closing in to right behind Larson’s bumper coming off turn two on the final lap. Logano tried the high side coming through turn four before pulling a cross-over maneuver, but Larson held firm on the outside and beat Logano by two truck-lengths at the finish.
“I just got beat,” said Logano of the final restart. “I spun the tires. When that caution came out, I thought ‘this is just where I want to be’, because I was a couple of tenths faster than Kyle (Larson). Just got beat on the restart. It was my fault – cost these guys a race.”
Ron Hornaday, Jr. got caught up in a late-race incident with Darrell Wallace, Jr., spinning the rookie into the outside wall under the final caution flag. Hornaday was sent to the tail end of the longest line and then summoned by NASCAR after the race.
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