NorCal Racing

Kyle Larson content after falling short in battle with Kyle Busch · Kickin’ The Tires

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By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

JOLIET, Ill. — The thing about classic moments in sport – every one has a winner and a loser.

Such a moment played out on Sunday between Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson at Chicagoland Speedway, and Larson played the role of loser admirably.

Larson found himself within a second of race leader Kyle Busch when the duo took the white flag in Sunday’s Overton’s 400, having clawed within range of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points leader with pace in the high lane and a bit of help from lapped traffic.

The Californian had spent the last 30 laps of the race rising toward the front. Running his traditional high line around the 1.5-mile oval, Larson proved to be the fastest driver on-track in his No. 42 Chevrolet with the race winding down.

Busch forced Larson to both run different lines and make a mistake from the lead, moving up to the high lane himself and requiring the Chip Ganassi Racing star to adapt. He scraped the wall at one point and dropped back, but ultimately made his way back to within reach of the leader courtesy of hard-battling lapped traffic that impede both of the duo.

Going into Turn 1 on the last lap, Larson dove deep into the bottom lane – a move that resembles the slide jobs he’s known for when he runs sprint and midget cars on dirt. But the run wasn’t enough to propel him to the lead, sending Larson up the track right alongside instead of in front of him.

So Larson did the only thing he could do to keep his chances of winning alive – he ran into Busch.

“I didn’t initially go in there planning to run into the side of him,” Larson said. “When I ran in there and figured I wasn’t going to have enough momentum to clear him and get going, I kind of made the plan to try and squeeze into him, to bog him down.  It worked.”

The move – and a side-draft down the back straightaway – gave Larson the lead going into Turn 3. There was only one issue – Busch was right behind him.

With the precedent for contact already firmly set, Busch didn’t hesitate to return the favor to Larson in the final set of turns. The Nevadan gave Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet a solid bump, sending him spinning into the infield.

Busch went on to take the victory, securing the glory of the moment and eliciting a cascade of boos from the partisan Illinois crowd.

Larson saved his machine in the grass and crossed the line behind Busch in a distant second.

He hadn’t won his first race of 2018, or first ever on a 1.5-mile oval. But Larson had been a part of arguably the most memorable moment of the 2018 season to date.

“That has got to be one of the best NASCAR finishes of all time,” he said. “I know I’m on the short end of the stick again, but you know it was fun.”

The 25-year-old also noted that he held no ill will towards Busch after their contact, saying “I roughed him up, he roughed me up. That’s racing.”

“I love racing Kyle (Busch),” Larson said. “I know all these fans are probably mad at him, but hey we put on a hell of a show for you guys and that was a blast.”

Busch voiced similar praise for Larson afterward, acknowledging that he was a good competitor and saying, “we’ve always raced each other super hard and super clean.  We’ve never had issues.’

While he ultimately fell short of toppling Busch, Larson also felt he’d proven that his No. 42 team are close to joining Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. – a trio nicknamed the ‘Big Three’ after winning 13 of the opening 17 races.

“I think we showed today that we were right there with them,” he said. “I think the track kind of played into my favor.  If I wasn’t able to run the wall I wouldn’t have been as fast as them, but I was still comparable.  I was happy about that.”

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