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.
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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