BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — While Kyle Larson was expected in the pit area Tuesday night at Bakersfield Speedway, the surprise was the car he raced.
Originally projected on the entry list in his own No. 1k midget, Larson ended up driving for the team that helped launch his career — Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports — as the team fielded nine Toyota-powered Bullet Chassis midgets at the third-mile dirt oval.
Wheeling the No. 71w, in a nod to team partner Pete Willoughby, Larson finished second to teammate Buddy Kofoid after a thrilling battle between the pair during the second half of the 30-lap feature.
Though Larson led the lion’s share of the laps, Kofoid made the winning pass stick with four laps to go and edged the Elk Grove, Calif., native by .552 seconds at the checkered flag.
While he didn’t earn his 43rd major dirt-track win of the season Tuesday night, Larson found it difficult to hang his head when talking about his run.
“Whenever you have an exciting race like that, it’s hard to be disappointed about a second,” Larson noted. “I just made a mistake. I thought I could go to the bottom there and just try to change up the rhythm the run and the race there, but I just got in, got to the brakes and stalled, and that cost me.
“I hate that I made a mistake there, but I had a lot of fun racing with Buddy.”
Larson’s runner-up effort extended a streak of 10 consecutive top-two finishes in USAC national midget competition, dating back to a win at Bakersfield in 2019 that arguably ignited one of the more-impressive yearlong hot streaks by any driver in recent memory.
In just shy of 100 dirt appearances since then, Larson has earned nearly 50 feature wins, including a triumph in the prestigious Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa, Okla., in January.
Tuesday, however, marked Larson’s first race as a part of the KKM stable since the BC39 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Dirt Track in September of 2019. That week, Larson won the Stoops Pursuit race before finishing ninth in the 39-lap finale the following night.
Larson won the first 15 features of his USAC National Midget Series career in KKM equipment.
“It was a lot of fun to get back with this team and Keith Kunz,” said Larson, who will return to the NASCAR Cup Series next year with Hendrick Motorsports. “It’s been a year and half since I’ve raced with them. It was fun to get back in the seat and thanks to all of them for allowing me to run their car.”