BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – The third try was the charm for Kyle Larson Saturday night at Bakersfield Speedway, as he finally got past Michael Pickens and then led the final 20 laps of the November Classic en route to victory.
After passing Pickens on laps six and 10, only to see the moves wiped out by untimely yellows, Larson made the winning move stick on the 11th round and never looked back after that.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series star then pulled away over the remaining distance in his No. 1k Lucas Oil/iRacing King-Speedway Toyota to take his 18th career NOS Energy Drink USAC National Midget Series win.
Saturday night’s performance was Larson’s third win of the season and second in a row, making him the first driver since J.J. Yeley in 2003 to win back-to-back USAC national midget races in the state of California.
“Once again, my car just felt really good up against the cushion,” Larson said in victory lane. “I knew I was quite a bit better than he was when I was behind him. I kept thinking he’d move up in front of me, so my entry speed was a little bit slow, but we were finally able to get by him there on one of the restarts and run some really good laps out in the lead.
“It’s just a cool deal, to go back to back in my home state and have some great runs with this new program,” Larson added. “We weren’t sure what to expect starting off, but Paul Silva (crew chief) has had this thing right since we got to Placerville and it’s firing on all cylinders. We’ve brought it out five times and won four of them, so that’s a pretty good record and one we’re really proud of as a team.”
Pickens led the field off from the pole while Larson fought forward from sixth on the grid, but it was less than a lap before Larson found himself in a three-wide battle for second with Jesse Colwell and Jason McDougal.
A caution shortly after, for the flipping cars of Chris Windom and Cory Elliott in the first turn, set up a lap-two restart that saw Larson go rim-riding to take third away from McDougal off turn four.
One lap later, he used a bomb of a slide job to wrest second from Colwell before setting his sights on Pickens for the lead, running the New Zealand native down in just three revolutions.
From there, Larson laid in wait briefly before firing his car to the bottom of turn three and diving past Pickens for the top spot, but a flip by Zeb Wise in turn one negated the pass and sent Larson back to work.
Larson slid Pickens for the lead on the ensuing restart, but Pickens turned back to the left and drove back around Larson exiting turn four to hold the spot on the seventh round.
Still, though, Larson was there and made sure Pickens knew it – especially after Cannon McIntosh slowed for a yellow with nine laps scored. The restart after that incident saw Larson again get past Pickens, this time off turn two, but a Spencer Bayston spin again put the lead back in Pickens’ hands.
Finally, the lap-11 green flag was where Larson took command for good, going high off turn two and driving past Pickens down the backstretch. Once out front, Larson opened up a half-second lead in the blink of an eye as he took off coming to the halfway point and left the field in his dust.
Not even two cautions in the final 10 laps – one for a stopped Logan Seavey with nine to go and the other for the slowing car of Aaron Reutzel with two laps left – could keep Larson from taking the trophy.
On each of those restarts, Larson pulled away effortlessly and fended off everything Pickens could throw at him, including a Hail Mary slider attempt on lap 22 that fell short of the mark.
Even with only two green-flag laps at the end, Larson ran off to a 1.978-second margin of victory, while Pickens had to settle for second and lauded his rival after climbing from his RMS Racing No. 1nz.
“We were just talking, a second to Kyle Larson is like a win. He’s so damn good; one of the best in the world,” Pickens said with a laugh. “These guys have worked their butts off. Matt and Dave (Estep), my car owners, just said to go with whatever we needed … to do it, and they haven’t let us down.
“It’s a (shame) we couldn’t get them a win, but second’s pretty neat and I just have to thank them once again for the opportunity.”
Rico Abreu completed the podium as the highest-finishing Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports entry, with recently-crowned series champion Tyler Courtney crossing fourth and Colwell finishing fifth.
McDougal, Gio Scelzi, hard charger Thomas Meseraull, Jerry Coons Jr. and Tanner Carrick completed the top 10.
To view complete race results, advance to the next page.