Once the peak of Mt. Everest has been reached, the only way to go is downhill from there. In the minds of many, accomplishing the feat of claiming the NASCAR Cup Series championship is equivalent to reaching the peak of the tallest mountain in motorsports. But at least one driver does not necessarily see it that way.
For those who might have wondered just how much dirt racing Kyle Larson would be able to to in 2022 as NASCAR resumes practice and qualifying, the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion demonstrated this past weekend that he plans to do quite a bit. And he plans to do it at a high level.
With the Cup Series contesting the ‘Ruoff Mortgage 500k’ at the Phoenix Raceway, Larson was able to make jumps back-and-forth to the Thunderbowl Raceway in Tulare, California on both Friday and Saturday nights to compete with the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series on dirt. And he did so in fine fashion.
Although Thunderbowl ranks at the top of the list in terms of the Elk Grove, California native’s favorite places to race, he had not been there since 2013. Further, the World of Outlaws had not been able to compete on the third-mile clay oval since 2019 due to Covid-19 restrictions. It didn’t take long however, for the racer who excels in multiple forms of motorsports to get reacquainted with those surroundings on Friday night.
After starting the feature race from the ninth position, Larson powered his way toward the front in his Paul Silva-prepared No. 57 machine. With just five circuits remaining in the 35-lap affair, ‘Yung Money’ briefly moved by then race leader and eventual winner Giovanni Scelzi to take the top spot but was unable to hold on after a brief bobble on the dirt surface.
Ultimately, Larson registered a podium finish on the first of two nights at Thunderbowl behind Scelzi and defending World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series champion Brad Sweet.
After making his way to Phoenix Raceway, Larson practiced his No. 5 Chevrolet around the same one-mile layout where he clinched the 2021 championship last November. He then made his way into the second round of NASCAR Cup Series time-trials and eventually placed his Hendrick Motorsports ride seventh in the final qualifying results.
However, he would have to start from the rear of the field in that race due to an unapproved adjustment related to the car’s steering.
Saturday night proved to be the highlight of Larson’s weekend. After arriving by plane from Phoenix, the star driver placed his No. 57 Sprint Car in the sixth position on the starting grid following a second-place effort in his heat race and the redraw for feature starting positions.
During the interview that accompanied his redraw, Larson explained his reasoning for doing all the racing he does.
“I think it’s just me focusing on racing because I feel like every time I get in a race car I get better,” he told DirtVision.com. “Paul(Silva) and I need to race more to get the car better too.”
Just past the halfway point in the 35-lap main event Larson blasted to the race lead.
The car obviously did in fact get better as Larson eventually drove under the checkered flag to claim the 25th WoO Sprint Car win of his career. In the Thunderbowl victory lane, he offered words of appreciation to those who had made it possible for him to jump back and forth throughout the weekend.
“Central California fans are some of the best in the country,” Larson declared to DirtVision.com. “I always love getting to race in front of these people, especially at places I grew up at. It’s been a long time since I’ve been here, but it was technical and kind of old school the way I remember Tulare. This is amazing. I owe a huge thank you to Jason Finley, Kevin Kozlowski, Paul Silva, (Cup crew chief)Cliff Daniels, a lot of people who made this weekend happen. We’ve still got one more win to chase tomorrow.”
After receiving the accolades in victory lane, it was back to the airport and away to Phoenix for the driver who has already assured himself of a place in the NASCAR Playoffs with his win two weeks ago in the ‘Wise Power 400’ at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.
Unfortunately for Larson, things did not go as well once the Cup Series cars took the green flag in Phoenix. After starting in the rear, Larson charged into the top-10 but was unable to go much further than the fifth position. Eventually, a broken valve spring would send the No. 5 Chevy to the garage area and out of the race prematurely.
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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.
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