Kyle Larson “surprised” to be part of wild Fontana ending

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Lightning almost struck twice for Kyle Larson at Auto Club Speedway.

One day after he bested Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick for his inaugural Nationwide Series victory, the 21-year-old from Elk Grove, California found himself battling Busch once more on the final lap for what would have been his first Sprint Cup triumph.

The two shot to the front of the field on the final lap of a green-white-checkered finish in today’s Auto Club 400, but this time, Busch had enough to keep the sensational young gun at bay.

But even with the near-miss, Larson admitted he couldn’t have asked for more from the Fontana weekend, even if he said he was “surprised” to be in contention to win today in the first place.

“We were probably a 12th-place car for most of the day,” said Larson after his runner-up performance. “We struggled with our Target Chevy being too loose on exit but still too tight in the center. We tightened the exit up and got way too tight in the center.

“My guys worked really hard all day long to find that right balance, and right there on the last pit stop, we were able to make good enough adjustments where we could go hard for a couple laps.”

Larson lined up ninth after pitting under yellow prior to the green-white-checkered finish. This initially worried him as he figured to be on the bottom line, which in his eyes had not been the quickest line on restarts heading to Turn 1.

But somehow, Larson was able to carve his way through traffic and find his way to Kyle Busch, who led him past Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart on the last lap.

“I came out in fourth there, I think, and then got to second off Turn 2 the next lap, and thought I might have a shot at Kyle depending on where he’d go into Turn 3, but he was good enough to keep it on the bottom and stay ahead of me,” he said. “But we’ll take a second.”

Able to dodge the tire problems that plagued some of the other teams during today’s race (“I think it was a little bit of camber issues or something,” he surmised), Larson was able to get to crunch time and then once again showcase his talent for getting up on the wheel.

It was another impressive display that should have NASCAR fans thinking about what he can do in the future as he gains more seasoning.

“[It was] a long race and definitely didn’t expect to run second, so I’ll take it and head back to North Carolina with a smile on my face,” he said.

AJ Foyt Racing promotes Benjamin Pedersen from Indy Lights to IndyCar for 2023 season

Benjamin Pedersen AJ Foyt
AJ Foyt Racing
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Benjamin Pedersen is the first driver to land a promotion from Indy Lights into IndyCar for next season as AJ Foyt Racing confirmed Wednesday he’ll be part of its 2023 lineup.

Pedersen, a 23-year-old dual citizen of Denmark and the United States, spent last season running the full Indy Lights schedule for HMD Motorsports. Linus Lundqvist, his teammate, won the Lights title, and Pedersen finished fifth in the final standings. Pedersen earned his only win earlier this month when he led every lap from the pole at Portland.

Pedersen also ran four races for HMD in 2021 with back-to-back runner-up finishes in his debut. Pedersen landed on AJ Foyt Racing team president Larry Foyt’s radar through a “trusted colleague” and Pedersen spent most of last season shadowing the IndyCar team.

His promotion to IndyCar comes ahead of all four drivers who finished ahead of him in the Indy Lights standings, including champion Lundqvist.

“We are really looking forward to having Benjamin as part of the team,” Larry Foyt said. “His enthusiasm is infectious, and he is 100 percent committed to IndyCar, AJ Foyt Racing, and doing the best he can to win races.

“It’s been great to have him embedded with the team this past season, and everyone is excited to hit the ground running when testing begins. It is also great to have a multi-year program in place, which will help him and the team grow together.”

Foyt did not announce a car number for Pedersen. Kyle Kirkwood spent his rookie season driving AJ Foyt’s flagship No. 14 but Kirkwood is moving to Andretti Autosport. The team has not yet announced if Dalton Kellett will return for a fourth season, and a third car for Tatiana Calderon was pulled from competition after seven races because of sponsorship non-payment. Shutting down Calderon’s team removed the only semi-regular female driver from the IndyCar field.

Pedersen, however, was signed to an agreement Foyt said “spans multiple seasons as the team plans to develop the young rookie and is aligned to a longer-term plan for AJ Foyt Racing.”

Pedersen was born in Copenhagen but raised in Seattle and currently lives in Indianapolis. He said his time shadowing the IndyCar team has given him a jump on his rookie preparations.

“I’ve spent a lot of time this season with AJ Foyt Racing learning the ins and outs of making the jump to IndyCar and it’s been really nice to do that in conjunction with my Indy Lights season,” Pedersen said. “IndyCar has been my target goal since I started open wheel racing in 2016. The racing, atmosphere, fans, events, tracks, etc. are all awesome.”