ROSSBURG, Ohio – Entering turn three on the final lap of Wednesday night’s Governors Reign finale at Eldora Speedway, Kyle Larson could see the checkered flag and a $52,000 winner’s check within reach.
The only problem? David Gravel was an arm’s length ahead of him with a point to prove.
In the end, two of sprint car racing’s current titans went wheel-to-wheel coming off the final corner for one of the biggest victories of the season, with Gravel coming out on top and handing Larson a rare defeat.
Considering the Elk Grove, Calif., ace had won 39 dirt track features this season – including 30 behind the wheel of Paul Silva’s familiar No. 57 sprint car – the expectation was that he’d come out ahead when he pitched a last-gasp slider to the bottom of turns three and four coming to the checkered flag.
That expectation was heightened when the slower car of Brock Zearfoss bottled up the outside lane and slowed Gravel’s momentum slightly, leaving Larson with a perfect opportunity to pounce.
Gravel wasn’t having any of it, however. The pilot of the Jason Johnson Racing No. 41 was able to break out from behind Zearfoss’ machine just in time, stopping Larson’s advance in the last few feet and edging out the victory by .098 seconds in a thrilling photo finish.
Despite Larson coming out on the losing end of the battle Wednesday night, he still cracked a smile during his post-race interview, noting how enjoyable his battle with Gravel was from the driver’s seat.
“It was a fun race there; the track finally opened up, which was great because I wasn’t quite sure if it was going to get slick at all this week,” Larson noted. “But the track conditions got great for the main and I had a good restart to get to second there, that last green (with 16 to go). It was just about pacing him (Gravel), because I felt really good. I just wanted to get to traffic, because I had a good line working for me in (turns) one and two.
“I was kind of surprised when I got to traffic and couldn’t use that line as well. I just got too tight when I got to the cushion,” Larson added. “I should have given up on that line a few laps sooner, and maybe I could have carried more speed down the backstretch to try what I tried on the last lap, because I’d probably have been a lot closer than I was. It was a great race, though; David didn’t make any mistakes.”
The difference between winning and finishing second on Wednesday night was $41,000. Larson took home an $11,000 check for his runner-up effort, but felt at times he did have a car capable of winning.
In the end, it just wasn’t in the cards on this particular night for the driver nicknamed “Yung Money”.
“There were a couple times David had to go to the bottom in (turns) three and four, and I thought I was going to be able to get some steam up top and be able to close on him,” Larson noted. “But he hit the bottom nice and got the win. I hope all the fans watching at home enjoyed that; it was a good 35 laps for us and we look forward to continuing to contend for other wins.
“It’s been a lot of fun this year. We’d have liked to have been one spot better, but second doesn’t always suck.”