Larson uses last-lap shove to win All-American Series feature
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Kyle Larson's rapid jump out of the starting blocks to the 2013 racing season isn't just measured in terms of strong finishes in the top five. It's calculated by winning percentage.
After a rough-and-tumble race at Daytona International Speedway on Monday night, Larson now sits above the .500 mark on the year.
The Earnhardt Ganassi Racing prodigy bumped aside C.E. Falk III on the final corner of the final lap to win a wreck-filled inaugural UNOH Battle at the Beach for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series on the backstretch of Daytona's 2.5-mile track.
By his count, Larson -- who will drive a full schedule in the NASCAR Nationwide Series this year -- has won five times in eight races this season across several forms of motor sports. Larson finished second in Saturday's ARCA race at Daytona, wound up first in a midget car event at nearby New Smyrna Speedway on Sunday night before snatching victory on the temporary .4-mile layout on the superspeedway's backstraight Monday.
"It's been a great week so far; well, it's been a great 2013 so far," said Larson, who plans to make the Battle at the Beach a tripleheader; he'll drive in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and K&N Series races here Tuesday night. "… Busy two weeks, but I've been doing it for the past two years and it's a lot of fun."
For as much fun as the winner's celebration was, complete with a jump for joy on the roof of his battered No. 98 Chevrolet, it also gave Larson his first smattering of boo-birds from the crowd for how he won.
Larson waged a spirited tussle over the last 10 laps with Falk, who led 61 of the 150 laps. The two swapped the lead twice and exchanged plenty of contact before Larson closed in with the help of lapped traffic on the final circuit.
After Larson doled out one bump in the middle of the final corner, he held his foot in the gas for another with the checkered flag in sight, sending Falk -- a regular late model competitor at Langley Speedway in Hampton, Va. -- looping toward the infield.
"I knew he was going to try to hit me," said Falk, who was gracious in defeat after some initial frustration and was even jocular in the post-race news conference. "I thought I did a good enough job. He hit me once and I was a little sideways. I thought, 'All right! I survived that,' and then I think I got monster-trucked at the end. It just tore my car all to heck, but I made it back, didn't get torn up too back and can race my car another week. Silver lining there, what little there is."
Larson, for his part, acknowledged that winning with the help of a bumper wasn't his preferred way to finish first.
"Pretty much anything goes," Larson said. "I did dirty him up there, got into him once and got into him twice and got him turned around. I don't get to do this short-track racing very often in stock cars. … It seems to me like every video I've ever seen at a short track like this coming out of turn four, the second-place guy wins, so I was just going to do what I thought C.E. would've done."
Pole-starter Ben Rhodes, who shared the front row with Larson after the two prevailed in 25-lap qualifying heats, slipped past the spinning Falk to take second place at the line, 2.642 seconds behind Larson. As he ran third while sparks flew between the two protagonists in the final stretch, Rhodes -- who led the first 87 laps -- salivated at the chance to steal a special victory.
"I was thinking 'wreck, wreck, wreck!' " Rhodes said, drawing a playful jab from Falk as the two talked to the media. "I didn't mean it to be against them, but if it was going to fall into my favor, that's what needed to happen. I was hoping for it and I was trying to put myself back into position, trying to catch back up, but there at the end, we just didn't have the car."
Falk recovered from the spin to finished third, just ahead of Anthony Anders and Deac McCaskill, who completed the top five.
Lee Pulliam, the defending All-American Series national champion, survived the nine caution periods to take seventh place. He started ninth in the main event after a spin during his qualifying heat.
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