KNOXVILLE, Iowa — Kyle Larson was among the notable names who struggled during the opening night of the NOS Energy Drink Knoxville Nationals on Wednesday.
BRANDT Qualifying Night appeared to get off to a solid start for Larson and his Paul Silva-led No. 57 team, as they went ninth-quick, but a seventh-place starting position in his heat with the top eight cars inverted, was too much to overcome for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular.
Larson finished seventh in his heat race, which relegated him to the Last Chance Showdown with one more shot to move into the 25-lap preliminary night feature.
Starting seventh again, Larson was unable to get to the top four in the 12-lap B-main, leaving him out in the cold for the night after podium runs in the Saturday finale each of the last two years.
“We were a field filler tonight,” Larson wrote on social media after the feature, won by Trey Starks, had concluded. “You’ll have that sometimes. Paul Silva is still the best, though.”
Larson capped his note with the hashtag, “WoO Tour 2031 Champions.”
Silva expounded on his driver’s remarks, noting that Wednesday night’s misfortune was, to the best of his recollection, the first time in their history together that they weren’t in the A-main at a race track they were competing at.
“Auto racing is one of the most humbling sports there is,” said Silva. “I believe that last night was the first show that (Kyle and I) have ever missed together. The cool thing about racing with him, though, is that we say our piece, usually laugh about it and then move on. There was no laughing last night, though.”
Larson’s tough night — which resulted in only the 21st-highest points total, 406, in the 53-driver field — leaves him with a difficult decision to make and even tougher logistics if he wants to qualify for this year’s Knoxville Nationals championship A-main on Saturday night.
His NASCAR duties for Chip Ganassi Racing put him at the two-mile Michigan Int’l Speedway on Friday for practice and qualifying. Busch Pole Qualifying for the Consumers Energy 400 kicks off at 5 p.m. ET (4 p.m. in Knoxville, which is on Central time), and the Friday night Hard Knox program sees hot laps beginning at 7:15 p.m. Knoxville time, leaving a very tight window of travel and arrival.
Factoring in around a two-hour flight from Michigan to Iowa, it would seem tough at best that Larson would be able to make it back to Knoxville in time to compete on Friday night for one of the four spots on offer in the Hard Knox program — however at Knoxville, it’s the car which qualifies, not the driver.
That could open up the possibility of someone else trying to lock the Silva Motorsports No. 57 in on Friday and then Larson running the car in the feature Saturday night, if Larson were unable to make the trip to Knoxville to try and race his way in due to sponsor commitments or
In a reversal of that scenario, Chip Ganassi Racing could also put someone else in Larson’s Cup Series car for practice and qualifying on Friday, and have Larson start from the rear of the field on Sunday – if, of course, he’s able to make the Friday trip in the first place.
Should Larson be unable to fall back on the Friday program or didn’t make it in on Friday night through one of the four Hard Knox A-main transfer spots, he would have the option of attempting to race his way in through the alphabet soup on Saturday.
However, that task could be exponentially tougher if Larson is unable to compete in the Friday-night program, as the lineups for Saturday’s E-, D-, C- and B-mains (aside from the top 10 starting spots in the B) are based off of drivers’ Friday night performances.
The fourth option? Larson withdraws from this year’s Nationals program, after finishing second and third on Saturday night, respectively, over the past two years at the black-dirt, half-mile oval.
We don’t have the answer as to what Larson will do yet, but in any case, Wednesday night’s proceedings have certainly left both he and Silva with plenty of decision-making to do in regard to the rest of their week.
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