Kyle Larson Wins Final Qualifier At Knoxville
Kyle Larson was the big winner in Friday’s final qualifying night for the 53rd Knoxville Nationals and in the process earned a spot in Saturday’s $150,000-to-win, 50-lap main event at Knoxville Raceway.
Larson, who started his day in a NASCAR Nationwide Car at Watkins Glen International in New York, passed Chad Kemenah on the second lap, holding off Cap Henry and Kemenah on a late restart and winning a Knoxville Nationals preliminary feature for the second consecutive year.
With 26 cars already locked into Saturday’s sprint car spectacular – 16 in the A-main and 10 in the Last Chance Showdown – Larson’s victory moves him into the 17th starting position for Saturday’s 50-lap A-main. Henry, Kemenah and fourth-place finishing Jac Haudenschild also earned positions in Saturday’s A-main while the rest of Friday night’s competitors will be lined up by order of finish after the 10 cars locked into the Last Chance Showdown.
Larson struggled on his original qualifying night and was outside the locked in top 26 in event points, forcing him to race on Friday night. Larson made the most of a late draw and while much of his competition late in the session were struggling to crack the top 20, Larson posted a 15.901-second lap to qualify fourth.
In his heat race he picked up a pair of spots to finish second and earn a coveted transfer spot to Friday night’s feature race.
The feature event opened with a multi-car wreck taking out several competitors towards the rear of the field. A jumbled restart saw Larson struggle but a caution quickly waved again and on the ensuing restart he lunged forward picking up a couple of positions and running tight on Kemenah’s tail. Kemenah worked the bottom while Larson worked the top and just one lap later, Kemenah couldn’t keep the pace and Larson grabbed the lead.
Larson held the lead for the rest of the event as he worked the top of the track while Henry, Kemenah and Haudenschild jockeyed for position. A caution with 8 laps to go tightened the field, but also gave Larson the clean air he needed to roll away to victory.
“I struggled in lapped traffic,” said Larson, of Elk Grove, Calif. “I was really good in clean air, but once I got the car into dirty air, it was pretty tight. Thankfully, that yellow came out because I didn’t think I was ever going to get by that lapped car. From there I had clean air, and that was the key to winning.”
Kemenah was excited to finish in the top four and earn a position in Saturday’s A-main.
“Anything from first to fourth for us is like a feature win to get us into the Knoxville Nationals, now we’ve got 50 laps to try to go forward. Kyle was so fast in clean air that it didn’t matter, he was just really good. I just wanted to make sure that I didn’t miss the bottom and seal the tires up. If you seal the tires up here you can go from a hero to a zero in one lap.”No Comment