DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Kyle Larson spent a lot of time watching short-track races via online videos, and he was left with one impression.
“I don’t get to do this short-track stock car stuff very often,” said Larson, the 2012 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion with a busy background in open-wheel sprint and midget cars on dirt. “It seems to me like every video I’ve ever seen from a short track like this, it seems the second-place guy coming out of the turn always wins.”
Larson made certain it happened again Monday night at Daytona International Speedway.
Larson, of Elk Grove, Calif., initiated contact with leader C.E. Falk off the final turn of the final lap, turning Falk into the infield on the superspeedway’s .4-mile backstretch oval to win the inaugural UNOH Battle At The Beach NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model race. Falk made it across the finish line in third place, behind Larson’s teammate and pole sitter Ben Rhodes.
Larson and Falk traded the lead three times over the final 10 laps of the 150-lap event.
“It’s the first race I’ve ever won in that manner, but this was a pretty big race,” Larson said. “I wanted to win it.
“It was a cool race. My adrenaline was really going… My heart was pounding. When I got the checkered, I was just really excited and glad I could win. It was a good win for the team.”
Larson, who started on the outside pole after winning one of two 25-lap heat races earlier in the day, was content to ride inside the top five for most of the caution-filled event. He finally started to make a charge that seemed destined to come up short when he suffered front-end damage after contact with Rhodes. He recovered from that and set his sights on the leader.
Larson led for a single lap on Lap 142, and after conceding the point back to Falk on Lap 143, he chased him down yet again on the final circuit. As the two raced into Turn 4, Larson nudged Falk’s No. 40 once to get him loose. Both cars bobbled, but Larson again ran into Falk on the frontstretch in the ensuing drag race to the checkered flag.
“I did dirty him up there,” Larson said. “I got into him once, got into him twice and then got him around.
“It’s the last lap. You have to slow down so much in the center of the corner, I got a run on him and got into the back of him. I got underneath him and then got him around. I feel bad for him, but like I said, I wanted to win.”
Falk — who led 61 laps on the night — was visibly frustrated as Larson celebrated in Victory Lane, at one point turning away and swatting the air with his hand in disgust.
“I just tried to protect the bottom as best I could,” Falk said of the last lap. “He got me once and I thought I was going to be OK, but I was wheel-spinning the whole time. Finally, he just finished us off. It sucks that it ended up that way, but our car’s still in one piece — and I’ve got some great notes for next year to go and try and win this thing.”
Larson will try to repeat on Tuesday, where he has rides in both the NASCAR K&N Pro Series and NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour races here. He’s also entered in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race on the superspeedway Saturday.
Anthony Anders and Deac McCaskill rounded out the top five in the 29-car field.