Kyle Larson was already excited about what the weekend at Darlington Raceway would mean, adding a moment to remember with his first career win at the track.
Larson rallied from 30th, hitting John Hunter Nemechek in the final turn as the two raced to the finish line to win the Xfinity Series race on Saturday.
Larson, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion, was named one of the 75 Greatest Drivers in Stock Car Racing who were honored during a celebration at Darlington’s annual throwback weekend.
Now, he has a checkered flag after numerous close encounters at Darlington, where he finished second three times and third twice in 10 career Cup races. He hadn’t finished worse than seventh in his previous five Xfinity events at Darlington.
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«Every time you come to Darlington, it’s special,» Larson said. But this weekend’s festivities are very different. Larson is looking forward to lunch before Sunday’s Goodyear 400, where 33 of NASCAR’s 75 all-time greats will meet.
«You’ll get to see legends and Hall of Famers and everyone still alive on the 75 list,» he said. «I’m looking forward to that. I think it’s going to be a special morning for me that I’ll probably never forget.»
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Larson, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion, was making his first season start in the Triple-A Series. It appeared his chance to win ended when he was issued a speeding ticket on pit road that dropped him to 30th place before the final stretch.
But there was Larson joining Nemechek at the end for his 14th career Xfinity win.
«We had a very, very good car the whole race,» Larson said. «We were just bouncing off each other a bit. I’m not sure what happened in three, but it looked like he tried to get behind me to push me into the corner.»
«He hooked me up good and hit the wall,» Larson continued. «What an exciting race there.»
Larson took the lead going into turns three and four. Nemechek, who led a race-high 58 laps, attempted a final pass, but Larson hit him and he slid into the inside wall. Nemechek finished fifth.
Nemechek was disappointed with the finish, not the way he and Larson raced at the finish.
«Those are good, tough races,» Nemechek said. «I’m smiling from ear to ear internally, let’s just say it, for what a tough race we had today and how he and I raced each other.»
Justin Allgaier, who won Xfinity’s previous two spring races at Darlington, was second. Cole Custer was third and points leader Austin Hill was fourth.
Larson took the first stage and was in line to win the second stage before being caught at the end by Nemechek.
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The biggest crash came after a restart on lap 67 in turn four when Sheldon Creed’s car spun high in turn four, slid down the track and was hit by Brandon Jones’ car so hard that the car Creed’s hood slumped against the car’s windshield.
«I mean, what happened?» Series points leader Austin Hill asked his team over the radio.
Along with Creed, Hill and Jones, 15 cars were involved in the fight. Officials said it was the most in an Xfinity Series crash since 2019, when 15 cars were trapped at the summer Daytona race.
Jones was in a bind during Creed’s slide into the infield and had no choice but to take the hit.
«I don’t know if there was anything else I could do,» Jones said.
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All four drivers, including Jones, who came to the infield care center were tested and released. Still, the slow cars turning and piling up behind Creed made Darlington look more like Talladega after the big one.