BRISTOL, Tenn. — Kyle Larson’s first chance to get a big win in NASCAR ended with him claiming a controversial win.
With a shot at grabbing his first Nationwide Series win Saturday, he wasn’t going to make that same mistake again.
Especially not against Kyle Busch.
The 20-year-old Larson stalked the Las Vegas native over the closing laps around Bristol Motor Speedway, waiting to make a move. It came as they closed in on the finish line, and Larson made a last-gasp push on the high side that fell just short as Busch held on for his second win of the season.
But in chasing the win the right way, Larson cleaned up some of the criticism that had followed him from Daytona last month after spinning C.E. Falk III on the final lap of the “Battle at the Beach” late model race.
“You certainly want to try to win races the right way,” Busch said. “He played it smart today. That was good on his end. I think a lot of people have been looking at him to try to see if he’s going to be a wrecker or a checker. Today he didn’t get the checkers, but that’s how you get them. You drive into the corner, or drive into the back of me, I’m going to be here for a while, and if he keeps coming up through the ranks, he’s not going to have fun dealing with me every week.
“But right now? I’m going to race him as hard as he raced me, but just as clean as he raced me because he didn’t put a fender on me all day.”
Larson had his win over Falk in the back of his head during the closing laps as he looked for a place to try to grab the win. Although he’s gotten high praise from Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne as NASCAR’s next big star, his move in the “Battle of the Beach” caused many top Sprint Cup drivers to openly criticize Larson.
“I was pretty aggressive at the “Battle of the Beach,” and I didn’t want to have anything like that happen again and have more people look at me,” Larson said. “I don’t race that way and didn’t want to move (Busch). I wanted to outrace him. I’d gain a little more respect that way, and it made for a better finish, I think.”
Indeed it did, as both drivers closed in on lapped cars as they neared the finish line. Busch chose the low line, and Larson went high, then tried to squeeze his way past Busch. Larson’s car bounced off the wall and Busch’s car, but he was nipped at the finish line by Busch by .023 seconds.
“He’s got a lot of talent,” Busch said. “Obviously, he’s already made a name for himself, and he’s got a lot going for him. I’m 27, and I feel like I’m getting old. Every time I looked in the rear-view mirror, he caught me, so I stopped looking. I didn’t want to know where he was at.”
It was Busch’s fifth career Nationwide victory at Bristol, tying him with Kevin Harvick for the most in the series. Busch has a series-record 53 wins and two in the past four weeks after going winless last season.
Brian Vickers was third, followed by Nationwide Series points leader Sam Hornish Jr. and Harvick.
■ NASCAR K&N — At Bristol, Tenn., Las Vegan Dylan Kwasniewski won the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Kwasniewski, the reigning K&N Pro Series West champion, led a race-high 96 laps on the .533-mile banked oval in topping the field of 36.
■ NHRA — At Gainesville, Fla., Doug Kalitta qualified first in the NHRA Gatornationals with a run of 3.779 seconds at a top speed of 326.32 mph.
Kalitta moved around defending series champion Antron Brown on his final qualifying attempt at Auto-Plus Raceway.
Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock) led their divisions.