Takes Both Hard Charger Awards With Ninth at Merced
Merced and Calistoga, California. April 1 and 2, 2011. Overcoming disastrous qualifying efforts each night in last weekend’s World of Outlaws doubleheader at Merced and Calistoga Speedways, 2010 King of California Kyle Larson made amends by racing to top ten finishes in both feature events. Highlighting the pair of races was the 18 year olds highest ever WoO placing of third at the legendary Calistoga half mile, topping his sixth place finish at last year’s Gold Cup Race of Champions at Chico’s Silver Dollar Speedway.
With the World of Outlaws sanctioning a race at Merced Speedway for the first time ever on Friday night, 33 cars appeared to do battle on the tight little bullring. Larson’s attempt in qualifying resulted in 25th quick time and set up an uphill climb for the night. When he left his heat race early due to handling issues, his chances of making the feature race looked bleak. However, with a “get up on the wheel” struggle with Cody Darrah for the last transfer spot into the main event, Larson survived to become the final entrant into the headliner.
As Sammy Swindell jumped into the lead from third starting on the opening lap Larson showed that he was ready to race also. While Swindell led in furious action Larson steadily moved forward from 21st. By the quarter mark of the 40 lap distance the Elk Grove, California driver had advanced the Stadelhofer Construction/ Peppermill Casino and Resort mount into 16th. When second place Joey Saldana and the lapped car of Justin Sanders brought out the yellow after contact on the 19th circuit, Larson sat 14th.
A lap later fifth place Kerry Madsen brought out the caution and moved Larson to 13th. When the green flag reappeared Larson came to life with a double pass in turn two of Jac Haudenschild and Craig Dollansky. A lap later Lucas Wolfe became his next victim as Larson made his first appearance into the top ten. On lap 25 Larson made a quick outside pass of Steve Kinser in turns one and two to make it into ninth. While Swindell raced on to capture his second WoO feature of the year Larson chased Jason Meyers to the finish and settled for ninth.
After Larson’s sponsor and Calistoga resident, Rich Stadelhofer, and crew, worked all week to use heavy equipment to blend and shape badly needed new clay into the surface, 25 teams trekked to the scenic Napa Valley for the first test of the newly configured track. The local connection provided Larson no advantage as he timed in 23rd fast, putting himself behind the eight ball once again.
However, this time in his heat race, Larson made a beautiful outside pass of Madsen in turn three and four to avoid another trip to the semi feature. As the 24 car field gridded for the 25 lap main Larson once again lined up 21st with an even more daunting task ahead of him for a top finish.
As Chad Kemenah led the first two tours before Saldana took over Larson steadily moved forward once again. By lap eight Jason Sides was the new leader. Larson made quick work of Tim Kaeding and Meyers after a lap nine restart and worked his way into 15th. A lap later Larson leaped past Bill Rose, Kraig Kinser, and Wolfe to move into the top dozen. In another lap a falling Kemenah fell to the surging Larson. When Larson got by Haudenschild as seventh running Swindell slowed to bring out the yellow on lap 14, the youngster cracked the top ten for the first time in ninth.
Two laps later Larson drove around the outside of Steve Kinser in turns one and two to move into eighth. When Haudenschild flipped to bring out the red on the same lap a fuel stop was ordered. Seventh place Darrah was not ready when the call was made to fire engines and he was penalized one position behind Larson on the restart. As Larson closed on Donny Schatz after the restart the four time WoO champion rolled to a stop on the frontstretch on lap 17, moving the #99 car to sixth.
On the next restart fifth running Jonathan Allard got loose in turn three and came to a stop as Larson slipped into the top five. On the lap 18 restart Larson got by fourth place Paul McMahan and closed on Saldana, who trailed Dollansky as Sides still led. On lap 20 Larson moved past Saldana into third but the Red Bull driver retook the spot a lap later. After a yellow that involved Rose, Jason Statler, and Swindell on lap 22, Dollansky drove around Sides for the lead as Larson did the same to Saldana to retake third.
While Dollansky held Sides at bay Larson gradually raced away from Saldana over the course of the last four laps. Unfortunately for Dollansky his fuel starved mount coughed over the last half lap and a surprised Sides raced by in a very exciting finish in front of the capacity crowd. Larson couldn’t quite capitalize on Dollansky’s misfortune, but still raced to a satisfying third place finish.
“If I can ever qualify I might have a shot at winning one of these things,” Larson said when interviewed on the frontstretch after the race. “I seem to get hard charger every time I’m out here. This is the greatest feeling I’ve ever had to finish up on the podium with these Outlaw guys. I really think I can hang with them out here. I just need the opportunity to tour with them because I think I can give them a run for their money every night.”
Larson’s racing efforts are sponsored by Stadelhofer Construction, Peppermill ~ Resort ~ Spa Casino ~ Reno, ButlerBuilt Professional Seat Systems, Simpson Race Products, Abreu Vineyards, JW Web Design, Kaeding Performance, Safety Solutions and All Star Performance.
For more information and news on 18-year-old Kyle Larson visit his website at www.kylelarsonracing,com.
Race: April 1 & 2, 2011
Photos Courtesy of Steve’s Racing Photo