Kyle Larson not shying away from dirt even during NASCAR Playoffs

Kyle Larson

Kyle Larson didn’t win the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series championship by accident. He is a talented driver with a great crew and both of those elements are part of a great organization. Even with all of that, the Elk Grove, California driver’s path to the title might have seemed like an unorthodox one for some observers.

Rather than being solely focused on the Cup Series task at hand, Larson spent a good deal of last season racing in places other than the venues which were hosting NASCAR. Over the course of the season, the driver who had been suspended from by that sanctioning body for most of 2020 drove Sprint Cars, Midget Sprint Cars, and Dirt Late Models. In the process, he won some of the biggest events contested on dirt.

Crown jewel Sprint Car races such as the Knoxville Nationals and the King’s Royal were conquered by ‘Yung Money’. The Prairie Dirt Classic, which is one of Dirt Late Model racing’s biggest prizes fell to Larson. And before the 2021 NASCAR season even began, he had already won the Chili Bowl for Midget Sprint Cars.

During the course of last season, it seems apparent that all of the racing the now 30-year-old star did during that campaign did not hurt his NASCAR efforts when it is considered that he won ten Cup Series races and the championship.

But all the racing he did away from NASCAR last year was not a one-time thing. Larson has been every bit as active on the dirt in 2022 as he was a year ago if not more so. That formula for success worked well last season and the defending champ has gone back to that same well in hopes of not only achieving success in the NASCAR Playoffs but also on the clay.

Just because the NASCAR Playoffs are in full swing doesn’t mean Larson will leave dirt racing behind.

Kyle Larson in the K&L Rumley Enterprises No. 6 Longhorn Chassis

Last Wednesday night, Larson drove to victory in one of dirt racing’s more traditional events. Wheeling a Longhorn Chassis prepared by crew chief and team owner Kevin Rumley, this driver with relatively little experience in Dirt Late Model competition triumphed in the $30,000-to-win Hillbilly Hundred at West Virginia’s Tyler County Speedway.

The Tyler County win was Larson’s fourth of the season a Late Model. He has also won four times in World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car competition.

Competing in other forms of motorsports during the Playoffs is nothing new. Last year, Larson won a preliminary event for the crown jewel WoO Sprint Cars-sanctioned National Open at Pennsylvania’s Williams Grove Speedway. That race was held in early October just as the driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was closing in on his first Cup crown.

“It’s always a lot of fun,” Larson declared in victory lane when asked about driving Late Models. “I haven’t gotten to race a Late Model a lot here in the last few months. I think we won our prelim night at Fairbury(PDC) and won here so I think we’ve won two of our last four races, which is cool. This is a big win here, 100-lap race, the Hillbilly Hundred.”

Still somewhat new to Late Model racing, Larson admitted that there are some areas where he struggles in this type of machine.

“I just don’t know how to run these things that bent and around the flat on the bottom,” he explained. “It just felt better to get up on the banking. Like I said, they were much better than me in traffic and were probably doing a better job of moving around. I had to get aggressive a couple of times with some lappers just to get clear and that really saved some of my race in the middle portions.”

Even though he engaged in some texts with one of the best Late Model drivers in the country prior to the Hillbilly feature, Larson ultimately decided to do what he felt would work best for him.

“I was texting Brandon Overton after the heat race because I didn’t feel good at all then, and he’s really good everywhere, especially on this kind of surface,” Larson revealed. “He told me to take care of my tires until I got some laps in but I just ran hard the whole time. I didn’t want to try to slow down and get caught trying to save too much.”

He was happy to have carried early speed throughout the entire night.

“I feel like a lot of times in Late Models I qualify good and win heats and start real good then start taking care of my stuff and just go backwards,” he added. “I just tried to run hard the whole time. I don’t know if it benefitted me or not but when the lanes got cleaned off I could get grip. Sometimes I’d miss it a little bit but my car felt good enough that I could stay out front. I got really lucky with the cautions too.”

The NASCAR star enjoys the challenge of the longer races contested in the Late Model ranks.

“I love Late Models because of the longer races,” he declared. “Anytime I run a Sprint Car race, 40 or 50 laps is a long race for them and I enjoy those a lot. Getting to run some 100-lap races in the Late Model is a blast. To get to win a historic one is great. Thanks to Kevin Rumley for letting me run whenever I want to run and have some success.”

Kyle Larson in his more familiar Sprint Car

And more than just simply racing, he appreciates the tradition of the bigger shows.

“That’s neat,” Larson said to the crowd after winning such an historic event. “I didn’t realize that. I’m really new to Late Models. I don’t know the history as well as all of you do and as well as my competitors do but I’m learning it pretty quick. It’s neat to win a historic race, for sure. These 100-lap races, I love running them.”

Racing is what Kyle Larson does and he does very well. His strategy of continuing to race away from NASCAR tracks worked last year and it doesn’t look as if he has any plans of abandoning that strategy during the 2022 NASCAR Playoffs.

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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.

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