Larson Sweeps Vermeil Classic Finale
CALISTOGA, Calif. – Kyle Larson can finally strike winning at Calistoga Speedway from his bucket list.
Larson returned to Northern California, where he began his career, and showed the versatility that has rocketed him to the top levels of racing by sweeping the final night of the Louie Vermeil Classic, winning both the midget and sprint car main events on Sunday night. Each feature victory was worth $10,000.
“This is my first win at Calistoga Speedway,” said Larson after claiming the 25 lap Honda USAC Western Midget Series feature. “It’s taken a long time.”
That was only because Larson, whose move up to the Sprint Cup series with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing was announced on Friday, had too few opportunities to race here before his career took him around the country.
On Sunday, Larson mastered the half-mile oval to win a two-car duel with Rico Abreu for the midget honors before running down race leader Mike Spencer to claim the co-sanctioned AMSOIL USAC/CRA and USAC Western Classic sprint car feature with a daring pass for the win three laps from the checkered flag.
Larson had already showed his muscle in the midget, passing six cars in half a lap to win his heat race, before the showdown with Abreu, Saturday’s midget winner. The pair ran a race all their own, a full straightway ahead of third place Shane Golobic.
Abreu tried unsuccessfully to use the momentum of the high groove to slingshot past the bottom running Larson, while the pair diced through lapped traffic.
“I knew Rico would be right there,” said Larson “I ran the bottom because I knew he would go to the top.”
Abreu admitted that “I drove my butt off” trying to catch Larson.
“I was able to run him down in traffic,” said Abreu, who said his only chance for the win was if Larson had made a mistake around lapped cars.
In the 30 lap sprint car feature, Larson gradually ate away at what seemed like an insurmountable lead by Mike Spencer, who at the halfway mark was almost a full straightaway ahead of the field.
Over the last half of the race, Larson chopped down the lead by fractions of a second each lap and caught Spencer to set up a wheel to wheel fight over the last eight laps.
Larson dove under and then slid up in front of Spencer in turn one, only to have the five-time USAC/CRA champion dive underneath him to regain the lead. With three to go, Larson tried the move again and the cars rocketed off turn two almost touching before Larson won the drag race down the backstretch to take the lead.
Behind them, Austin Williams and Saturday night’s sprint car winner Bud Kaeding were in a dogfight of their own for third. On the white flag lap Spencer suddenly faded to fourth while Kaeding nearly caught Larson at the checkered flag, but had to settle for second by less than a car length.
“It was a heck of a race,” said an excited Larson, who was standing in victory circle for the second time in less than an hour. “I was hoping for a caution when Spencer had that big lead. But then I found a groove that felt good in the car and I knew I could cut down the distance by diamonding the corners.”
“I didn’t know that passing Kyle would be for the lead,” said Kaeding. “I thought I was running fifth or sixth. A caution would have helped, but Kyle did a heck of a job.”