The question among observers this season has not been if, but when would Kyle Larson win his first national-level NASCAR race.
Turns out, “when” for Larson was on Sunday.
The 20-year-old rookie held off Sprint Cup veteran Joey Logano in a green-white-checkered finish and won the North Carolina Education Lottery 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Rockingham Speedway.
“It feels good to hold on and finally close out a win,” said Larson, who is running the full Nationwide Series this season for Turner-Scott Motorsports.
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“I’ve been close a couple of times to winning races (a Truck race at Phoenix last year and a Nationwide race at Bristol last month), and I’ve lost in the last couple laps in both of them. I’m happy it didn’t happen again.”
Brendan Gaughan finished third, followed by Truck Series points leader Johnny Sauter and Chase Elliott, the son of former NASCAR champion Bill Elliott.
Even though Larson was the class of the field in his No. 30 Chevrolet, leading 187 of the 205 laps, events over the final 45 laps opened the door for Logano’s late charge.
Logano went a lap down after having to pit under green to fix loose lug nuts, dropping him back to 18th place. But he made up the lost lap on a caution flag on the 180th lap, then pitted for four fresh tires.
“We decided to go for it,” Logano said. “We’re not running for points, so we decided to go with a ‘checkers or wreckers’ move. That’s what makes this track so cool, using strategy like that.”
Logano quickly made up ground, eventually climbing to second on the 193rd lap. But Larson had a 1.5-second lead at that point, and Logano said he wouldn’t have caught the leader had the race stayed green.
However, a wreck on the next-to-last scheduled lap brought out the race’s seventh caution, setting up the green-white-checkered finish.
“I was pretty nervous on that last restart,” Larson said.
Logano spun his tires at the green flag, allowing Larson to pull ahead by three car lengths. Logano quickly made up the lost ground, but Larson cut off an attempted pass in the second turn, then kept his car stuck on the bottom.
“I’m so frustrated with myself,” said Logano, who will run three more races with Brad Keselowski’s team this season. “We didn’t have the truck to win the race, but we had the strategy to win the race.”