EAGLE, Neb. – Despite a lack of on-track action for the immediate future, Kyle Larson still has dirt racing on his mind, and it showed in full force on social media late last week.
Larson spent some time reminiscing on Twitter Thursday about his World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series win at Eagle (Neb.) Raceway in 2017, one of the more-notable triumphs of his dirt career.
In that 30-lap race, the Elk Grove, Calif., native rode the top side to a monumental victory, as it marked the first win for what was then Stenhouse Jr./Wood Racing.
The team co-owned by Larson’s longtime friend, NASCAR Cup Series star Ricky Stenhouse Jr., is now known as Stenhouse Jr./Marshall Racing thanks to the support of businessman Richard Marshall.
For the driver who made his sprint car name largely by running his now-team manager Paul Silva’s No. 57, getting to drive a car for his longtime friend was a unique – if unexpected – treat.
“I don’t remember why, but for some reason we couldn’t run the (No.) 57 that weekend,” Larson recalled on Twitter. “I was kind of half ass scrambling trying to figure out some ride options and struck out on a few different deals, so I decided to ask Ricky if they would be willing to run a second car.
“We ended up lining up all the logistics with just a few days left before the race. I asked my NASCAR mechanic David Fero if he’d like to help out and come with us to crew chief my car. It was his first time back to a sprint race in over a year, I believe,” Larson noted. “So anyways, we loaded up the plane full and headed to Nebraska with my helmet bag, seat, and some seat spacers since I’m short and got to the track with a few hours left (before) hot laps.”
Upon arrival, an interesting path of events broke out leading to Larson’s eventual victory.
“So I got in the car and (we) realized (Joey) Saldana is also short, so we started grinding on some spots of my seat to scoot me back and get me feeling halfway comfy in time for hot laps,” Larson said. “Once I was out hot lapping, I realized I’d never driven a sprint car that was that long … (it) felt weird. I said I felt I was driving a school bus.
“The engine wasn’t running crisp all night, but we qualified OK and I think I made the dash and ran last in that. (Editor’s note: Larson finished sixth of eight cars in that dash) I still was not feeling great on the track, but (was) having fun,” he continued. “The track was gnarly through (turns) one and two, with some big holes tearing up cars. I didn’t wanna tear up Ricky’s car but lining up for the feature, I was in ‘F it’ mode and decided to hammer it hard.”
That feature began with Daryn Pittman on the pole for Kasey Kahne Racing, and Pittman proceeded to pace the first 29 laps of the feature, looking like a shoe-in for the victory.
Meanwhile, behind Pittman, it was an adventurous start to the main for Larson.
“I almost awkwardly looped it a couple times in one and two on the bottom, so I decided to just rip the fence in one and two (the) rest of the race. The engine kept loading up too, so I needed a lot of wheel spin to make it run crisper. I got a good line going and started tracking the leaders down,” Larson recalled. “I got clear of Schatz and my car that Shane Stewart was driving, and then went to try and catch Pittman with what I felt like was only a handful of laps left. I made a million mistakes throughout the race and almost allowed Shane back by, but at that same time, Pittman made a mistake and had to check up a lot to miss the tractor tire.
“I happened to nail the top at the same time, got a big run down the front for the lead and the white flag was waving.”
That last lap remains one that’s etched in the minds of many, including Larson.
“I hung a left and drove across his nose, and (we) touched a little,” Larson noted. “I got through one and two average, then slid myself in three and four to block any run they might have and got to the finish line first.
“I was freaking out and super pumped up for all of us and their team … I was smoked after that race. Could hardly calm down to do an interview.”
That win, Larson’s fifth career Outlaw victory and first since 2013, sparked a run that saw him triumph in six straight sprint car events – plus a NASCAR Cup Series race at Michigan Int’l Speedway – during the summer of 2017.
And while a lot has happened since then, including Larson’s breakthrough Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals victory, he still ranks that Eagle win among his favorites.
“It’s one of my coolest wins, no doubt.”