Returning to his short-track racing roots, Kyle Larson made his third-career start at Bristol Motor Speedway during Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) race. Larson and his Turner Scott Motorsports (TSM) team flew through the weekend's two practice sessions with undeniable speed and placed the No. 42 Cartwheel by Target Chevrolet at the front of the pack for the Drive To Stop Diabetes 300. In what seemed like a repeat of last year's show, Larson battled NASCAR veterans throughout the race and ultimately crossed the finish line in second place.
Larson, the 2013 NNS Sunoco Rookie of the Year, and his TSM team unloaded chassis TSM-406 in Thunder Valley, the same car he raced just two weeks ago at Phoenix International Raceway. During the weekend's first practice session, Larson laid down the third-fastest speed of 15.727 seconds, followed by the second-fastest speed of 15.478 seconds in the final session. As "knock out" qualifying began at the World's Fastest Half Mile, Larson faced an extremely loose car but managed to advance into the final round. Running just three laps in the final ten-minute segment, the No. 42 Cartwheel Chevy jumped to the top of the speed charts with a lap time of 15.415 seconds and the 21-year old Elk Grove, California native claimed his first pole award of his NASCAR career.
Leading the NNS field to the green flag, it wasn't long until the first caution arose on lap five and Larson told crew chief Scott Zipadelli that his Cartwheel Chevy was tight in the center. Remaining on the track until the second caution came out, Zipadelli called Larson down pit road for a quick track-bar adjustment, four tires and fuel, but despite a solid pit stop for the No. 42 crew, Larson received a speeding penalty and was sent to the back of the longest line. Within ten laps, Larson had worked his way to the sixth position and remained there until the third caution arose. The No. 42 Cartwheel team gave Larson four tires, fuel and made air-pressure and track-bar adjustments to correct his exit. During a long green-flag run, Larson had worked his way into the top three until the yellow flag waved again. The No. 42 Cartwheel car came down pit road for four tires and fuel, and returned to the track in fourth position.
Larson and his No. 42 Cartwheel Chevy continued to run among the top five throughout the caution-filled final laps. With just ten laps to go, Larson once again found himself behind leader Kyle Busch. As the checkered flag waved, it seemed all too familiar as Larson drove his No. 42 Cartwheel Chevy across the finish line just short of a victory.
"Second again," Larson said with a smile on his face. "I wish we could've gotten a win but I just couldn't catch Kyle [Busch] in the final laps this time around. In the beginning, I was pretty tight in the center and then my exit got loose and we were getting killed being on the bottom in those final restarts. I couldn't be more proud of my Turner Scott Motorsports guys though. It feels great to have gotten my very first pole award and I owe it to these guys. I think we're off to a really good start and we're more anxious now than ever to get a win."
Larson and the NNS will leave short track racing behind as they head to the west coast for an afternoon of racing at Auto Club Speedway. The California 300 can be seen live on Saturday, March 22 at 4:00 p.m. EDT on ESPN.