Harvick, Kyle Busch impressed by Larson’s poise in furious N’Wide finish

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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.”

F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on NBCSN, NBC Sports App this week

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After five years and 98 Grands Prix broadcast since 2013, NBC Sports Group’s coverage of Formula 1 concludes with the 2017 season finale from Abu Dhabi at the Yas Marina Circuit this week.

The lights come on for the day-into-night Grand Prix of the year as the sun sets on five years of broadcasts, original content and additional digital specific features such as Paddock Pass.

For Abu Dhabi this week, all of the race, qualifying and second free practice will be live on NBCSN with first and third free practice live on the NBC Sports App. The race returns is back in the usual morning a.m. time slots after three mid-day races in Austin, Mexico City and Sao Paulo, and a pair of overnight affairs in Kuala Lumpur and Suzuka. Formula 2 coverage of its season finale from Abu Dhabi also airs both on NBCSN and online.

With this the final race of the season before F1’s winter break, there’s still a handful of things to get sorted even though Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes have wrapped their respective championships.

Sebastian Vettel (Brazil) and Max Verstappen (Mexico) have won the last two races, with Hamilton’s most recent win coming at Circuit of the Americas. Will it be any of these three that wrap the year on a high or could any of their teammates – Kimi Raikkonen, Daniel Ricciardo or Valtteri Bottas – upend the script?

Mercedes has won the last three races in Abu Dhabi, Hamilton winning in 2014 and 2016 with Nico Rosberg taking the 2015 crown.

Vettel and Hamilton have three wins apiece in Abu Dhabi, Vettel having taken all of his with Red Bull in 2009, 2010 and 2013, and Hamilton adding a 2011 McLaren triumph to his last two with Mercedes. Raikkonen (2012, Lotus) and Rosberg are the other Abu Dhabi winners, and while both Vettel and Raikkonen have won in Abu Dhabi, Ferrari never has in the first eight races here.

The last place up for grabs in the constructor’s battle is for sixth, with Toro Rosso (53 points), Renault (49) and Haas (47) separated by only six total points. Toro Rosso and Renault got into a nasty war of words in Brazil, and will part ways after the weekend.

Felipe Massa signs off his career in F1 for the second and expected final time at Williams, and with Toro Rosso having confirmed Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley last week, his seat is one of only three left to fill for 2018, and the most attractive.

McLaren and Honda also bring to an end their partnership after three troubled seasons, but on the bright side will look to score points for a third straight race together, which hasn’t happened since the Hungarian, German and Belgian Grands Prix of 2016.

As ever, and perhaps for the final time as a collective unit, Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett will be on the call with Will Buxton reporting from the pits and paddock.

Here’s the F1 schedule, with stream links and TV network if applicable:

  • Practice 1: Friday, Nov. 24, 4 a.m.-5:30 a.m. ET (Streaming)
  • Practice 2: Friday, Nov. 24, 8 a.m.-9:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Practice 3: Saturday, Nov. 25, 5 a.m.-6 a.m. ET (Streaming)
  • Qualifying: Saturday, Nov. 25, 8 a.m.-9:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Pre-Race: Sunday, Nov. 26, 7 a.m.-8 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Race: Sunday, Nov. 26, 8 a.m.-10 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Post-Race: Sunday, Nov. 26, 10 a.m.-10:55 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Race (Replay): Sunday, Nov. 26, 7 p.m.-9 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • F2 Race: Sunday, Nov. 26, 6 a.m.-7 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • F2 Race (Replay): Sunday, Nov. 26, 9 p.m.-10 p.m. ET (NBCSN)