When Kyle Larson got out of bed last Saturday morning, he faced what most racers would have thought to be a daunting schedule ahead of him.
He first had a NASCAR K&N East Series stockcar race to run. After that, Tony Stewart’s plane was to fly him to Stewart’s Eldora Speedway to defend his USAC Four Crown Nationals titles.
He was scheduled to drive Tony’s USAC Silver Crown car in relief of Tony’s regular driver, Levi Jones. Jones ended his season early to get needed neck surgery that would permit him to return to competition in the spring.
At New Hampshire, Larson qualified third quick behind Brett Moffitt and Sergio Pena. He fought his way to the lead until Lap 86 when he passed Corey LaJoie to take the lead, which he held until the checkered flag waved.
The win left Larson second in the series lead, three points behind Moffitt, and in the lead for Rookie of the Year honors.
When Larson arrived at Eldora Speedway, the hot laps for the Silver Crown Cars were just getting under way. He had rides in all three USAC divisions in competition — National Midgets, National Sprint cars and Silver Crown cars. He was going to have a busy day.
Larson finished fifth in his heat race to earn a berth in the midget feature. His teammates, Rico Abreu and Bryan Clauson, qualified third and fourth, respectively, while Brady Bacon and Tracy Hines won the two heat races.
When the green flag dropped to start the feature, Larson started his charge to the front. Brad Kuhn and Jerry Coons Jr. started on the front row. Coons took the initial lead with Hines in close pursuit. Hines employed a slide job to take the lead at the end of the first lap. Unfortunately for Hines, his engine lost power coming out of the fourth turn, bringing out the first yellow flag of the race. Hines returned to the pits as the race restarted.
On the restart, Coons charged ahead while Bobby East and Kuhn waged a pitched battle for second. When Kuhn took control of second place, East found himself in a battle with Darren Hagen and Bacon for third. While those three continued their fight, Larson went up to the cushion and motored past all three of them. On the following lap, he passed Kuhn for second on the 11th lap.
By the 14th lap, Larson had caught and passed Coons for the lead. For the remaining laps, Larson added to his lead as he negotiated his way through lapped traffic. As he took the checkered flags, his engine died.
It lasted as long as it needed to; but I’m certain that car owners Pete Willoughby and Keith Kunz would have preferred not to have cut it so close. Kuhn finished second, trailed by Coons, East, Hagen, Clauson, Abreu, Bacon, Davey Ray and Thomas Meseraull.
From Victory Lane, Kyle commented, “Toyota gives me great engines ... first time I blew one up.”
When sprints took to the track, Coleman Gulick, Chris Windom (in Tony Stewart’s sprinter), Chase Stockon, and Hines won the heat races; and Dave Darland prevailed in the hooligan. Larson finished third in the second heat race to earn a place in the feature.
On Lap 5, Larson got a little too deep in the cushion and tagged the Eldora concrete. He took a nasty flip. That was easy part. The hard part came when Mitch Wismiller stormed onto the scene and drilled Larson in the roll cage. Wissmiller had nowhere to go. A hush came over the crowd. Most of them had been there before.
However, Larson climbed out of the sprinter under his own steam; and the crowd cheered. Larson wasn’t sure that he could compete in the Silver Crown without risking the safety of other competitors.
When the race got under way again, Hines pulled away from the field and built a sizable lead.
Behind Hines, Darland and Clauson battled each other for fourth place. Hines maintained possession of the lead; and, the top sprint drivers in the Midwest battled over who would finish second. Hines drove on to win followed by Darland, Chris Windom, Chase Stockon, Clauson, C.J. Leary, Robert Ballou, Brady Bacon, Wes McIntyre and Scotty Weir.
The last race of the night was the Silver Crown feature. With Tony’s car being scratched, Clauson and East started on the front row. East took the initial lead followed by Clauson, Ballou, Coons, Hines and Bud Kaeding. However, Darland rolled to a stop on the backstretch bringing out a yellow flag.
After the restart, Clauson moved up on East’s back bumper hunting for a route to the lead. Clauson finally made the pass stick on lap 14. He blasted off into lapped traffic. A battle among Coons, East and Ballou waged as Clauson continued to stretch his lead. Clauson won his second career Silver Crown feature followed by Ballou, Coons, East and Kaeding.
Tim McKinney is an auto racing columnist for The Republic. He can be reached at 372-3936.