No Nationals this time, but Knoxville still remains special for Kyle Larson

Kyle Larson Knoxville Nationals
Trent Gower/World of Outlaws

A different name but the same motivation for Kyle Larson, who is heading to Knoxville Raceway treating this weekend just as he would the prestigious Knoxville Nationals.

Because the annual event was canceled for COVID-19 concerns, it’s been rebranded as “The One and Only” for the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series, which will race for its richest purse of the season.

“If I won it, I would probably still consider myself a Nationals winner,” Larson said in a World of Outlaws release this week. “The format is a little different, but it’s still tough, if not tougher than the regular Nationals format. You’re racing against extremely competitive cars every single night instead of splitting the field in half. In ways, it could be tougher and mean more.”

LARSON ON NASCAR‘I’d love an opportunity if it came’

Larson certainly will enter the three-day competition as among the favorites to win a $50,000 first-place prize Saturday night at the vaunted short track in Iowa.

The event will include $10,000 feature races Thursday and Friday that will set the starting lineup for Saturday’s Brownells Capitani Classic.

Larson is a two-time Knoxville Nationals runner-up, and he already has three victories at Knoxville this season, including a sweep of the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car doubleheader June 12-13.

It’s been a sharp turnaround from last season when he failed to qualify while trying to win his first Knoxville Nationals main event, but it’s been on par for a summer tear in which Larson has been largely untouchable in dirt racing.

After wrecking his special No. 57 in South Dakota (and ending a record seven-race winning streak in the All Star Circuit of Champions), Paul Silva’s team built a new car that Larson took to a victory at Pevely, Missouri, last Saturday.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Larson said about a season with more than 30 victories in sprint cars and midgets. “I think maybe if I ever start struggling really bad, I can look back to how successful we’ve been.Kind of the hot streak we’ve been on for the past few months now.

“But I just take it week to week. Really race by race because we’ve been running so much. It’s been good. Just fun to be in contention every night.”

Hunter Lawrence defends Haiden Deegan after controversial block pass at Detroit


Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.

Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.

On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.

One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.

After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.

The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.

“It was good racing; it was fun,” Deegan said at about the 27-minute mark in the video above. “I just had some fun doing it.”

Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.

Lawrence defends Deegan
Jordon Smith failed to make the Detroit Supercross Main and fell to sixth in the points. – Feld Motor Sports

“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”

Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.

“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”

As Deegan and Smith battled, Jeremy Martin took the lead. Deegan finished second in the heat and backed up his performance with a solid third-place showing in the main, which was his second podium finish in a short six-race career. Deegan’s first podium was earned at Daytona, just two rounds ago.

But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.

Lawrence defends Deegan
A block pass by Haiden Deegan led to a series of events that eventually led to Jordon Smith failing to make the Main. – Feld Motor Sports

“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.

“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”

Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.

“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.

“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”

The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.