For any driver, claiming your first checkered flag is a special accomplishment. But for Kyle Larson, who earned his inaugural Nationwide Series victory today at Auto Club Speedway, this has to feel doubly special.
Larson took the lead off the final restart with 16 laps to go but then had to hold off not one but two of the best stock car drivers on the planet in Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch.
But while the Sprint Cup superstars continuously filled Larson’s rear view mirror in the final dash to the finish, neither of them could put Larson in theirs.
Racing the high line to perfection with Busch right behind him, Larson still withstood a last-lap attack on the low line from Harvick to win the race.
Afterwards, both Harvick and Busch couldn’t help but be impressed.
“Since the first race he’s come in here, he’s been competitive,” Harvick said of Larson before expanding his praise to include another young gun, Chase Elliott, who finished sixth.
“He’s a lot like Chase [Elliott]…It’s like, ‘No big deal.’ They just go out, drive, and act like they’ve been here for 20 years. It’s pretty fun to see.”
Third-place finisher Busch also complimented Larson, who will start 11th in tomorrow’s Auto Club 400 for the Cup Series at Fontana.
“He held everything together – he was a little loose running on the edge and right up against the wall but that’s what Larson likes to do,” he said. “We see it a lot of weeks out of the year that he can do that, and he proved it again here today and didn’t buckle under the pressure [from] either Kevin or I up alongside him.
“He knew what he needed to do to win, and he did that.”
While Harvick and Busch obviously wanted to win as they drove their guts out every bit as much as Larson did, the fact that they were able to lay it all on the line seemed to make their own near-misses a bit more tolerable.
“You race as hard as you can, and I think if we had got our butt kicked today and finished third by a straightaway, it probably wouldn’t been as easy to swallow as it was [while] racing for a win and going back and forth with these two guys and having fun,” Harvick said.
“You want to come out here and win – that’s what we’re all here to do,” said Busch. “But when it all comes down to the end like that and it’s a great finish happens, there shouldn’t be anybody happier than the fans in the stands…All in all, the fans won today.”