Story By: MIKE WARREN / WORLD OF OUTLAWS – HARTFORD, OH – Kyle Larson proved Saturday night that not even “the reaper” could kill his winning momentum.
The Elk Grove, CA driver – who now has five World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model starts and only a handful of Late Model races under his belt in general – looked like Late Model veteran at Sharon Speedway, leading every lap of the “Battle at the Border.”
It’s his second Series victory in three starts this season, and of his career, adding to the plethora of trophies he’s already collected amongst a multitude of different racing disciplines in 2021.
While the record book will show Larson never relinquished the lead, “The Reaper” took a few swings at the 2021 Prairie Dirt Classic and Knoxville Nationals champion. Ryan Gustin used the cushion to make a late-race charge, pulling even with Larson’s Longhorn Chassis in the closing laps.
The battle forced Larson to change his line, keeping “The Reaper” at bay until the checkered flag.
“I heard [Gustin] going into [Turn 1], and I saw him coming out of [Turn 2],” Larson said. “We kind of drag raced down the backstretch, and he tried to run in and pinch me and kind of block my slider, but I was able to have enough room to get in front of him and kind of get up on the wheel from there.
“The top of [Turns 1 and 2] was definitely better when I got up there, and I just had to not make too many mistakes once I got up there.”
The $10,000 victory came on the type of surface Larson said best suited his driving style – one he’s still fine tuning for the Late Models.
“I feel like when a track is like that is when I’m best,” he said. “When I don’t have to run the top, I don’t have to try and run the bottom, I can kind of use momentum and use the middle to be good.
“That’s kind of how [All-Tech Speedway] was, and [Fairbury Speedway] a little bit, so yeah, I think my car is good in those conditions, and I don’t have to be so precise.”
Gustin brought the crowd to their feet and made his name known with one of the closest attempts of dethroning Larson for a win, while in search of his first Series win. The Marshalltown, IA driver made an impressive run from 14th to third before a caution with 13 laps left gave him the breakthrough he needed.
“[Brandon Sheppard] gave me the outside on that restart, and I knew I had to make the best of it, otherwise he was going to find it and go up there,” Gustin said.
Gustin pounded the cushion off the restart, giving him a chance to catch Larson and try to pass him for the win. Even though he came up short, “The Reaper” knew he left everything on the racetrack.
“We gave it all we had, but we got beat by the best driver in the world as far as I’m concerned,” Gustin said. “Nothing to hang your hat on there, but I wish he wouldn’t have been here, so we could’ve gotten our first [win].”
Three-time and defending Series champion Brandon Sheppard finished third, his 19th podium finish of the season.
The New Berlin, IL driver stated he was happy with the car and feels they aren’t far from rattling off a few more wins.
“We were decent; we were just a little bit free in that Feature,” Sheppard said. “The team’s working their butts off. We’re right there on the cusp of being really good like we’ve been for a long time. We just have to get all of our ducks in a row.”
Tyler Bruening crossed the line fourth—his second top-five of the weekend. Colton Flinner, from Allison Park, PA, rounded out the top-five.
Even though Larson’s experience in a Late Model is limited, he hasn’t shown it. As “Yung Money” gets more comfortable, one can only imagine what he can accomplish in the future.
UP NEXT: The Most Powerful Late Models on the Planet finish their Northeast swing on Sunday, Aug. 22 at Eriez Speedway in Erie, PA.
Morton Buildings Feature (40 Laps)-1. 6-Kyle Larson [$10,000]; 2. 19R-Ryan Gustin [$6,000]; 3. 1-Brandon Sheppard [$3,500]; 4. 16-Tyler Bruening [$2,800]; 5. 48-Colton Flinner [$2,500]; 6. 99X-Boom Briggs [$2,300]; 7. 7-Ricky Weiss [$2,200]; 8. 1X-Chub Frank [$2,100]; 9. 28-Dennis Erb [$2,050]; 10. 22-Gregg Satterlee [$2,000]; 11. B1-Brent Larson [$1,600]; 12. 10-Jared Miley [$1,400]; 13. 77-Tyler Dietz [$1,200]; 14. 1Z-Logan Zarin [$1,100]; 15. 9-Levi Yetter [$1,050]; 16. 44-Chris Madden [$1,000]; 17. 76-Steve Kania [$1,000]; 18. 50-Ryan Missler [$1,000]; 19. 111V-Max Blair [$1,000]; 20. 19-Bob Dorman [$1,000]; 21. 777-Doug Drown [$1,000]; 22. 119-Chad McClellan [$1,000]; 23. 99B-Logan Jaquay [$1,000]; 24. 12B-Andy Boozel [$1,000] Hard Charger Award: 19R-Ryan Gustin[+12]
Qualifying Flight-A –1. 1-Brandon Sheppard, 16.637; 2. 111V-Max Blair, 16.651; 3. 44-Chris Madden, 16.764; 4. 10-Jared Miley, 16.951; 5. 7-Ricky Weiss, 17.062; 6. B1-Brent Larson, 17.125; 7. 99X-Boom Briggs, 17.15; 8. 22-Gregg Satterlee, 17.19; 9. 12B-Andy Boozel, 17.391; 10. 777-Doug Drown, 17.451; 11. 77-Tyler Dietz, 17.674; 12. 1Z-Logan Zarin, 17.739; 13. 99B-Logan Jaquay, 17.829; 14. 76-Steve Kania, 18.029
Qualifying Flight-B-1. 6-Kyle Larson, 16.866; 2. 16-Tyler Bruening, 16.876; 3. 28-Dennis Erb, 16.91; 4. 9-Levi Yetter, 17.233; 5. 1X-Chub Frank, 17.277; 6. 14R-Clay Ruffo, 17.361; 7. 119-Chad McClellan, 17.454; 8. 48-Colton Flinner, 17.502; 9. 50-Ryan Missler, 17.608; 10. 19-Bob Dorman, 17.972; 11. 43X-Garrett Mott, 18.093; 12. 27W-Eric Wilson, 18.253; DQ. 19R-Ryan Gustin, 17.425; DQ. 217-Howard Fraley, 18.46