Sports

Kyle Larson gets first Nationwide Series win at Fontana

SportsAuto RacingStock Car RacingKyle BuschKevin HarvickDale Earnhardt, Jr.Joey Logano

Kyle Larson has earned untold plaudits since the 21-year-old racing prodigy joined NASCAR's upper ranks last year.

On Saturday, the driver lived up to his reputation in a big way.

The Elk Grove, Calif., native won his first race in NASCAR's second-tier Nationwide Series at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana after a thrilling battle with veterans Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch.

"It was a blast," Larson said after he drove his No. 42 Chevrolet prepared by the Turner Scott Motorsports team into Victory Lane. "It means the world to get [the win] here in my home state."

Larson also is a rookie this year in NASCAR's premier Sprint Cup Series, where he drives for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Larson will race against Harvick and Busch again Sunday in the Cup race in Fontana.

Harvick finished second Saturday, Busch was third and Joey Logano fourth.

Larson took the lead on a restart with 16 laps left in the 150-lap race, then was unflappable as he dueled with Harvick and Busch, two of NASCAR's most aggressive drivers.

As the laps wound down and the grandstand crowd remained standing, Harvick and Busch took turns getting their cars alongside Larson's on the two-mile Fontana oval but couldn't clear him to take the lead.

"Those last 11, 12 laps of that race were the longest laps of my life," Larson said. "I just had to keep a cool head. Luckily it all worked out."

Busch, who at one point scraped the outside wall trying to catch Larson, called it a "really cool battle" and that Larson "deserves it, he's worked hard." Busch had won six of the prior eight Nationwide races at Auto Club Speedway.

Before moving to stock-car racing, Larson excelled driving a variety of midget cars, sprints and other open-wheel cars on dirt and paved tracks, winning praise from the likes of star drivers Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart.

The praise continued Saturday, when NASCAR's Dale Earnhardt Jr. said on Twitter he had "no doubt Larson wins on the Cup side this year" as well.

Larson also is a graduate of NASCAR's Drive for Diversity effort. His mother is Japanese American and her late parents were among the thousands of Japanese Americans sent to an internment camp in Tule Lake, Calif., during World War II.

james.peltz@latimes.com

Twitter: @PeltzLATimes

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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SportsAuto RacingStock Car RacingKyle BuschKevin HarvickDale Earnhardt, Jr.Joey Logano
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