In classic finish, Kyle Larson holds off Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch at Fontana for first career Nationwide Series win

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It was a classic shootout between the winningest driver in series history against one of the most promising bright stars in NASCAR today, ending up being the kind of race fans will be talking about for a long time.

While the first name on their lips will be Kyle, the next name and word will be Larson and not Busch.

The young gun, Kyle Larson, outworked, outdrove and outfinished the winningest driver in Nationwide Series history, Kyle Busch, to capture Saturday’s TreatMyClot.com 300 at Auto Club Speedway.

“Those last 11 or 12 laps were the longest laps of my life,” a smiling Larson said in victory lane. “It’s nice to get a win. I was looking at the board over there in (turns) one and two and it said ‘five second-place finishes in the Nationwide Series,’ and I didn’t want to make it six,” said Larson, a native of Elk Grove, Calif., about 425 miles northwest of Fontana. “It means the world to finally get it here, in my home state of California.”

Larson led just 17 laps, including 15 of the final 17, to notch his first career win in the Nationwide series (and second NASCAR win overall, having won a Trucks race last season at Rockingham), edging Harvick at the finish line, with Busch falling back on the last lap to finish third.

“The 54 (Busch) and 5 (Kevin Harvick) were really good behind us,” Larson said. “I had a heck of a race with those guys, it was amazing. … I could see the 54 and 5 racing hard behind me and they weren’t getting any further behind.”

No matter what Busch, who has won a record 65 NNS races in his career, tried to do, Larson displayed the savvy of a veteran driver in holding off his main challenger.

Larson had more than Busch to contend with as Harvick began a late surge with seven laps to go, but couldn’t quite get to the front.

Busch skimmed the wall with six laps to go, but damage appeared minimal and didn’t seem to affect his Toyota Camry.

Busch regained the lead briefly right after that, but on the next lap, Larson incredulously found a way to sneak by Busch on the right without hitting the wall.

If Larson had a couple of inches to clear, it was barely that, at best.

“(I’ve dreamed of this) for quite a while, ever since I finished second last year at Bristol,” Larson said. “It’s been over a year now since I’ve been close to winning, I finally got it done and it means a lot to have done it here in California.

“That was a blast racing out there and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a heck of a race in the Cup car, too (on Sunday).”

Busch, who started from the back of the 40-car field due to his car failing pre-race inspection, came into victory lane while Larson was giving a post-race interview to congratulate him, as did Sprint Cup team owner Rick Hendrick.

“You want to come out here and win, that’s what we’re here to do,” Busch said. “When it all comes down to the end like that and a great finish happens, there shouldn’t be anyone any happier than the fans in the stands.  I thought that was a really good day.  Maybe we put on the best show because I had to start last and drove all the way to the front.  There at the end we were just a little shy and (Kyle) Larson won.  All in all, the fans won today.”

In the closing laps, and to his credit, Harvick continually worked the low line and gave Larson all he could handle.

Meanwhile, Larson and Busch stuck to the high groove, forcing Harvick to slide up several times before going back down to the bottom of the two-mile track.

That strategy wasn’t enough to win, but did earn Harvick the runner-up finish.

“It’s pretty cool to beat those guys,” Larson said. “The 54 and 22 (fourth-place finisher Joey Logano) have dominated this series for a while now and Harvick’s with a good team, so I’m sure we’ll be battling them for a while. It was a blast.”

Logano led the most laps (96) in the 150-lap race around the two-mile oval, but faded in the latter part of the race to finish fourth. Busch led 25 laps and Harvick eight.

Elliott Sadler was fifth, followed by Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth, Ty Dillon, Trevor Bayne and Regan Smith finished 10th.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Check out the video of the closing laps below, followed by the unofficial finishing order:

Unofficial finishing order of Saturday’s TreatMyClot.com 300 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.:

1 Kyle Larson

2 Kevin Harvick

3 Kyle Busch

4 Joey Logano

5 Elliott Sadler

6 Chase Elliott

7 Matt Kenseth

8 Ty Dillon

9 Trevor Bayne

10 Regan Smith

11 Dylan Kwasniewski

12 Brian Scott

13 David Ragan

14 Chris Buescher

15 Brendan Gaughan

16 James Buescher

17 Ryan Reed

18 Mike Bliss

19 JJ Yeley

20 Dakoda Armstrong

21 Mike Wallace

22 Ryan Sieg

23 Jeffrey Earnhardt

24 David Starr

25 Eric McClure

26 Joey Gase

27 Daryl Harr

28 Derrike Cope

29 Carlos Contreras

30 Kevin Lepage

31 Tanner Berryhill

32 Jason White

33 Josh Wise

34 Jamie Dick

35 Landon Cassill

36 Jeremy Clements

37 Matt DiBenedetto

38 Carl Long

39 Blake Koch

40 Jeff Green

MRTI: Chris Griffis Test Sunday times and notebook

Thompson (90, Exclusive) and Hoogenboom (78, BN) in Pro Mazda. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.

Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.

COMBINED TIMES

INDY LIGHTS (Best Session)Full Results

Jamin. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

1. 5-Nico Jamin, Belardi Auto Racing, 1:15.7173 (Session 2)
2. 98-Colton Herta, Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, 1:15.7808 (Session 8)
3. 23-Victor Franzoni, Juncos Racing, 1:15.7953 (Session 8)
4. 3-Pato O’Ward, Team Pelfrey, 1:16.0900 (Session 5)
5. 4-Rinus Veekay, Belardi Auto Racing, 1:16.1419 (Session 5)
6. 31-Carlos Cunha, Juncos Racing, 1:16.1585 (Session 8)
7. 31-Nicolas Dapero, Juncos Racing, 1:16.2491 (Session 4)
8. 48-Ryan Norman, Andretti Autosport, 1:16.3285 (Session 4)
9. 27-Anthony Martin, Andretti Autosport, 1:16.5185 (Session 4)
10. 2-TJ Fischer, Team Pelfrey, 1:16.8124 (Session 5)
11. 21-Heamin Choi, Juncos Racing, 1:18.1931 (Session 5)

PRO MAZDA (Best Session); Full Results 

Askew. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

1. 8-Oliver Askew, Cape Motorsports, 1:19.8142 (Session 5)
2. 79-David Malukas, BN Racing, 1:19.9394 (Session 5)
3. 90-Parker Thompson, Exclusive Autosport, 1:19.9815 (Session 5)
4. 1-Carlos Cunha, Juncos Racing, 1:20.0236 (Session 2)
5. 3-Robert Megennis, Juncos Racing, 1:20.1268 (Session 4)
6. 81-Kaylen Frederick, Team Pelfrey, 1:20.1928 (Session 5)
7. 18-Calvin Ming, Pabst Racing, 1:20.2141 (Session 5)
8. 2-Sting Ray Robb, Juncos Racing, 1:20.6289 (Session 5)
9. 91-Nikita Lastochkin, Exclusive Autosport, 1:20.7001 (Session 2)
10. 80-Kris Wright, Team Pelfrey, 1:20.9930 (Session 4)
11. 82-Aaron Telitz, Team Pelfrey, 1:21.2144 (Session 8)
12. 78-Leonard Hoogenboom, BN Racing, 1:21.3713 (Session 8)

USF2000 (Best Session); Full Results

Keane ended head of queue in USF2000. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

1. 36-Darren Keane, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:25.1424 (Session 5)
2. 22-Andres Gutierrez, Pabst Racing, 1:25.5618 (Session 3)
3. 27-Callan O’Keefe, BN Racing, 1:25.6295 (Session 2)
4. 21-Hunter McElrea, Pabst Racing, 1:25.7021 (Session 5)
5. 31-Rasmus Lindh, Team BENIK, 1:25.7791 (Session 5)
6. 81-Jacob Loomis, Team Pelfrey, 1:25.8514 (Session 5)
7. 90-Parker Thompson, Exclusive Autosport, 1:25.8743 (Session 2)
8. 23-Lucas Kohl, Pabst Racing, 1:25.9792 (Session 6)
9. 37-David Osborne, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:25.9996 (Session 8)
10. 20-Aaron Telitz, RJB Motorsports, 1:26.0042 (Session 6)
11. 80-Michael D’Orlando, Team Pelfrey, 1:26.2295 (Session 8)
12. 37-Jake Craig, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:26.2452 (Session 4)
13. 25-Elliott Finlayson, BN Racing, 1:26.3668 (Session 8)
14. 32-Jaden Conwright, Team BENIK, 1:26.4557 (Session 2)
15. 38-Max Peichel, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:26.5058 (Session 2)
16. 33-Myles Rowe, John Cummiskey Racing, 1:26.6004 (Session 8)
17. 90-Justin Gordon, Exclusive Autosport, 1:26.6460 (Session 5)
18. 82-David Osborne, Team Pelfrey, 1:26.6824 (Session 2)
19. 34-Sabre Cook, John Cummiskey Racing, 1:26.9362 (Session 6)
20. 38-Oscar DeLuzuriaga, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:27.7455 (Session 8)
21. 92-Justin Gordon, Exclusive Autosport, 1:27.7750 (Session 3)
22. 24-Zoey Edenholm, BN Racing, 1:28.5449 (Session 8)
23. 93-Jayson Clunie, Exclusive Autosport, No Time

NOTES

Old USF2000 teammates Jamin and Telitz share a high-five. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
  • There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
  • The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
  • Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
  • Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
  • Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
Veekay. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.

Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.