ROSSBURG – Kyle Larson overcame a flat tire and a penalty that put him down a lap to win the fourth annual Aspen Dental Dirt Derby NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on Wednesday night at Eldora Speedway.
In 2013 and 2014 Larson came extremely close to winning the Dirt Derby – NASCAR’s only dirt track race in its top three series – but fell just short. After sitting out last year’s race, he said, he became a smarter driver and more mature over the past two years.
“I came close the first two years – really close – and just wasn’t able to get it done. Probably didn’t drive smart enough,” said Larson, who started seventh in Wednesday’s race. “This truck race for how close I came in the past and how frustrated I was with myself not winning makes this one really special.”
In the inaugural NASCAR truck race at Eldora in 2013, Larson led 51 laps but finished as the runner up to Austin Dillon. The following year he led five laps but his aggressive driving style took its toll on his truck and he finished in 26th after hitting the wall with two laps to go.
This year, though, the 23-year-old California native held off defending champion Christopher Bell in the nationally televised race to claim his second career truck series victory.
“I knew it would be tough to get by Bell and (Bobby) Pierce,” Larson said. “Just kind of got lucky. Bell got into the wall, and I was able to get by him in (turns) three and four. And Pierce, I think he had a transmission issue and was able to get in front of him on the restart. He was better than I was for sure.”
There were nine cautions that covered 52 of Wednesday’s 150 laps. On lap 51 Larson had a flat tire and then was cited for intentionally causing a caution by stopping on the track, which put him a lap down.
He was able to guide his No. 24 car back to the front of the pack, however, and overtook Pierce for the lead with 30 laps remaining. Pierce, the pole setter, led 102 laps but ended up 25th following a late accident. Larson led the other 48 laps of the race, which had three lead changes.
Being the only NASCAR race of the year on dirt, Larson said Eldora provides a challenge for drivers that they usually don’t experience on asphalt tracks.
“These trucks aren’t designed, I don’t think, to race on dirt,” he said. “That also makes them a lot of fun, though. This place has a lot of character like I said earlier, bumps and moisture in different spots and stuff that makes a driver really work hard to try to find those little parts of the racetrack that will pick up a half of a 10th or quarter of a 10th a lap.”
Even though the trucks aren’t designed the conditions, Larson enjoyed navigating Eldora’s dirt. He would like to see the dirt race remain exclusive to the truck series, though.
“I would like to not see XFINITY or (Sprint) Cup go to dirt,” Larson said. “I think it’s pretty special that this is a truck-only thing for the top three series. There’s a lot of other great dirt facilities out there that would be really cool for the truck series to go to.”
While there are other deserving tracks, Larson thinks it would be just fine to keep Eldora as the sole dirt track on NASCAR’s schedule.
“If it happened to just stay Eldora only, for the only dirt race on the schedule, I think it would be cool, also,” he said.
Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4316. Follow me on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.