Larson shows he can handle tough track
April 15, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
Rookie rebounds from rough start for eighth-place finish at Darlington
DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Kyle Larson finished eighth in Saturday night's Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, the highest finish among the eight rookies participating in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
It was an impressive effort by the 21-year-old, much more so given that the Chip Ganassi Racing driver crashed his primary car during the weekend's first practice on Friday, forcing the team to roll out a backup No. 42 Chevrolet.
"It was a long one," Larson said of the two-day weekend that also saw him compete in Friday's Nationwide Series race -- after crashing during qualifying for that event. "It got off to a bad start (but) I'm really proud of all my guys for working their butts off on Friday to get the backup (Cup) car ready for me to get out there."
Larson re-acquainted himself with the wall Saturday night, but the cosmetic damage inflicted by the unforgiving concrete wasn't severe enough to take him out of contention. Right-side body damage was evident on many cars by night's end, however, so no shame in that.
"We started off the race wicked loose, and they got it good once the sun went down," he said. "Got in the wall a few times; they had to work on my fenders, we'd lose spots on pit road and then I'd work my way back up (through the field).
"It was a good day; I'm glad to get a top 10 here, based on the way our week started."
It was his second consecutive top-10 finish -- he was fifth a week earlier at Texas Motor Speedway -- and his fourth in five races. He sits 14th in points as the series prepares for its first break of the long season.
"Last year when I ran here I was wishing we could run here more often," said Larson, who finished sixth here in the Nationwide Series race last year and again on Friday. "But this year it was a lot tougher. It would still be nice; this place is pretty special, a historic track that a lot of people want to win at."
The incident during Cup practice didn't rattle his confidence, he said.
"Actually (not) at all," he said. "It was when I wrecked in Nationwide qualifying, that's when it really got in my head because I knew I had screwed up for both teams.
"But they both worked hard and we got two solid finishes this weekend."