Dejected Larson feels 'stupid' after thrilling race
July 23, 2014, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
ROSSBURG, Ohio -- Kyle Larson couldn't begin to estimate how many times he hit the wall during the course of the night on Eldora Speedway's dirt half-mile before his Turner Scott Motorsports entry finally succumbed to the damage. Pressed for a tally, the number he pulled out of the air would've averaged out to contact nearly every other lap.
"Oh, I'd say at least ... I probably hit it close to 70 times," said Larson, who added he lost count after the first five brushes with the outside barrier. "No joke. I probably hit it 20 times before practice was over."
Larson's dogged pursuit of race winner Darrell Wallace Jr. filled up the highlight reel again in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series' 1-800-CarCash Mudsummer Classic. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie finished second last year in the inaugural running of the only current national series race on dirt. Even though the race results listed him in 26th place, two laps down at the finish, his performance rivaled that of the winner's.
Even so, Larson was left kicking himself for another near-miss in NASCAR's most unique race at a facility near and dear to his heart.
"I feel stupid. It's tough to lose a race like that," Larson said. "I don't think anybody hit the wall as many times as I hit it."
Larson's background of racing at Eldora continued to pay dividends as he wheeled his truck up against the cushion all night, pulling off slide jobs and crossover moves to finally take the lead from Wallace in the 128th lap. He held it for five circuits, benefitting from a scoring decision that placed him first for the final restart.
A late caution period stalled his momentum in the 2013 running of the Mudsummer Classic. Though he benefitted from Wednesday night's yellow flag, he was unable to hold the lead, giving way to Wallace shortly after the green re-emerged. Though Larson was able to close on the race winner down the stretch, sparks flew from his No. 32 truck as the hits got progressively heavier.
"It sucks that I got the benefit of it this time and didn't take advantage of it," said Larson, who started 11th in the 30-truck field. "It's easier to take the defeat of this one, I guess since I DNF'ed out of it, but it still sucks that I got to the lead and then couldn't really hold onto it."
The on-the-edge performance was reminiscent of his dazzling run to second place last season. But it also drew the notice of Eldora Speedway owner Tony Stewart, who like Larson lives and breathes dirt-track racing.
"Kyle had one of those gladiator runs," Stewart said. "He did not leave anything on the table. If he didn't win it, he was going to wear. Again, that's moments that happen at places like this that make for great racing."
After Larson finished his interviews beside his used-up Chevrolet, he accepted several commendations from fans and met the appreciation with a sheepish grin and a what-can-you-do shrug. He also savored a pat on the back and high praise from fourth-place finisher Ken Schrader, a veteran dirt-track master cut much from the same cloth.
"He's a phenomenal young talent," Schrader said. "I guess I'm partial, the fact that he wins and can drive the hell out of so many different types of cars. I'm just a big fan."