FOX Sports Exclusive
Larson ready to return to racing
Kyle Larson's NASCAR Nationwide Series debut at Daytona was far from what he expected.
“It was wild,” Larson said on Tuesday.
Larson, 20, was running sixth before he was punted from behind by Brian Scott and vaulted over the top of Brad Keselowski’s car into the catch fence at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday. The incident scattered pieces — including the engine, wheels and transmission — from Larson’s No. 32 Chevrolet throughout the grandstand and injured at least 28 people.
“(I was) just trying to find a hole to get through to try and get to the front,” Larson said. “I was getting pushed from behind so we had a lot of speed. There off of (Turn) 4, I was tucked up right behind Sam Hornish Jr. and really had nowhere to go. I knew I wasn’t going to win, but just hoping for a good finish. By the time my spotter said they were wrecking and to get slowed up — I was already caught up in the wreck.
“There was nothing I could really do. I knew it was a big wreck, but I wasn’t expecting to see half my car sitting there when I got out of the car. It was wild, but just glad that none of the fans got seriously injured. I know there’s a lot of debris that ended up in the stands. I’ve watched the wreck multiple times — just really thankful that the fans are doing OK.”
Fortunately for Larson, he climbed out of his cockpit and walked away with a 13th-place finish. But on Tuesday, he was still concerned for the spectators that were injured by the debris.
“I guess it just goes to show how safe the cars and everything is now,” said Larson, who is ninth in the NNS points standings. “Thankfully, I’m not sore, though. But the first thing is to say how thankful I am that the fans are all right. I think that was more important than how the race went. “
Larson has not yet talked to any of the fans who were hurt but says he “would definitely like to.
“I read that Tony (Stewart) had gone to the hospital after the 500, which I thought was really, really nice.” Larson said. “Maybe I could get some of their phone numbers and talk to them sometime."
For Larson, the entire day was a learning experience. He had never drafted on a superspeedway in one of NASCAR’s top divisions before Saturday. While he dropped in and out of the top 30 in the early stages, after Lap 40 Larson navigated his way through traffic and found himself in close quarters with some of NASCAR’s top stars.
But when he woke up on Saturday morning did he ever believe he would be drafting with Dale Earnhardt Jr.?
“Definitely not,” Larson said with a laugh. “Maybe at some point in the race I figured I could get close to him, but I never would have thought in a million years that he’d be pushing me on the last two laps to try to push me to a win. I thought that was really cool.
“The race was a lot of fun for me. I learned a lot. I dropped back early and kind of lost the draft and was trying to figure everything out and learn how to draft and everything. There towards the halfway point of the race, I got back to the pack and got to racing a little bit and got to the front and got shuffled back. I worked my way back up there and got to restart in the first two rows a couple times.
“It was a really exciting race and cool to be racing with a lot of Cup guys and getting to push them and get pushed by them. It was a lot of fun.”
Saturday’s trip into the catch fence was not the first time for Larson on a racetrack, particularly given the number of Sprint Car races he has run.
Last year, the Nationwide Series rookie drove in 123 races for 22 different owners and won 30 times in seven different style cars on 20 different types of track, including both dirt and pavement. During the Four Crown Royal at Tony Stewart’s Eldora Speedway in September, Larson took another nasty lick when he slammed into the wall during the Sprint race and was rolling when another car hit him in the door by another car. Larson was sent to the hospital and missed competing in the Silver Crown finale in a Stewart-owned car.
Still, Larson says both wrecks were “pretty equally scary.”
“They were both a little different though,” Larson said. “The Eldora one, when I started wrecking that car that hit me almost came in my cockpit, which was pretty disturbing. Then the one at Daytona where the front half of my car got ripped off and parts went in the stands was scary also. They were both really bad wrecks. I don’t know if I could say that one was worse than the other because they were both pretty bad.
“I’ve wrecked Sprint cars quite a few times. It happens quite a bit. It was a scary wreck, but I’ve had a few scary ones. It doesn’t really hurt my confidence or anything like that.”
Not at all. Six days after the Eldora crash, Larson finished fifth in the K&N race at Dover.
Certainly, at Larson’s age there’s a no-fear element involved. However, top drivers just simply seem to be able to shake it off and roll on.
“I think we know as drivers that as we strap into the cars that can happen,” Larson said. “We’re just used to it, and I think coming from Sprint car racing where the wrecks happen not often, but they are more likely to happen or big wrecks are more likely to happen than in stock cars that we get used to it and know it can happen.
“Most of the time they hurt more. It doesn’t really bother me. A lot of drivers don’t have much fear, which is good.”
Larson says that after his Daytona run he has a lot of confidence entering Phoenix International Raceway this weekend and beyond. In his last start on the 1-mile Phoenix track, he finished a career-high second in the Camping World Truck Series in just his third race. It was also his first introduction to his current crew chief Trent Owens.
“I finished second there and had a good shot at winning the Truck race had that caution not come out at the end,” Larson said. “We were really fast. Trent Owens and the team were really strong. I’m definitely looking forward to going to Phoenix. I think it will be a good race and hopefully can get good track position and be there at the end.
“I think we’ll be really good and can lead some more laps and it would be really nice to get top fives or even a win. I think our team is good enough we can do that too.”
More Stories From Lee Spencer