PEVELY, Mo. – The first chapter of the Kyle Larson redemption story was written Saturday night during the finale of the Drydene Double Down Invitational at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55.
Larson, who lost his NASCAR ride with Chip Ganassi Racing in April after using a racial slur on an iRacing stream and transitioned over to the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series as a result, led the final 16 laps to notch an emotional $20,000 victory at the third-mile, high-banked dirt oval.
The Elk Grove, Calif., native wasn’t necessarily the best car on track for the first half of the 40-lap main event, but he was good enough to take advantage when Sheldon Haudenschild flipped out of the race lead on lap 25 and seized control of the night from there.
Despite a broken Jacob’s ladder, Larson still drove the Silva Motorsports No. 57 away from Brent Marks down the home stretch to notch his ninth-career World of Outlaws win and first of the season by .794 seconds.
After climbing all the way onto the top wing to celebrate in front of the fans in attendance, Larson was emotional in victory lane as he spoke about what this particular win meant to him and his family.
“This feels really cool. I’ve always wanted to race here at Pevely, and it definitely didn’t disappoint,” Larson said. “This was great. With all the track prep, I was a little worried, but it turned out to be a great race track.
“I can’t thank all the fans enough for the support they’ve shown over the last handful of weeks. Everyone on this car – the Tarltons, Finley Farms, Lucas Oil, Durst, Priority Aviation, Glenn Styres – along with my family and friends … this win means so much personally,” he added. “I can’t even describe it.”
Though Larson was the star of the show at the end, the first half of the race belonged to reigning Ironman 55 winner Sheldon Haudenschild, who was chasing his second $20,000 win in a row at Pevely.
Haudenschild won the DIRTvision Fast Pass Dash and started from the pole, but stumbled off the initial start and ceded the top spot to reigning Outlaw champion Brad Sweet before retaking command on the outside at lap three.
From there, Haudenschild proceeded to flex some of the same muscle that won him that Ironman payday last August, opening up a second over his nearest pursuers with ease while Larson had to work forward from fourth – the same position he gridded in for the feature the previous night.
A caution with nine laps scored for a flat tire on Parker Price-Miller’s No. 14 set up Haudenschild and Sweet on the front row for the restart, but Larson came calling quickly and dispatched his brother-in-law for second as soon as the green flag waved.
But Haudenschild mastered traffic better than anyone else in the field, knifing his way past slower cars and looking to be on his way to an easy victory when he stumbled on the cushion and flipped out of the top spot with 16 laps to go.
Though Haudenschild climbed out unhurt, just like at Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway two weeks earlier, his night was over without a shot at a strong finish.
That left Larson at the sharp end of the field over Marks, who had passed Sweet for second just before the yellow flag waved, but Sweet took the runner-up spot back on the ensuing restart as Larson ran away out front.
After that, not even a caution for the stalled Terry McCarl machine and a nine-lap shootout to the finish could keep Larson from taking the checkered flag first, though he tipped it wasn’t as easy as it may have appeared.
“I knocked the Jacob’s ladder out of (the car) around lap 12, so that made it a lot harder,” noted Larson in regards to running the cushion around the third-mile dirt track. “I was extremely tight, but I felt good before I got in the wall. … I finally just started running the crap out of it; going wide open was the only way I could keep it from bouncing.
“I felt like I was better than Sheldon before I got in the wall, and once I figured out how to drive the thing I still felt like I could have beaten him heads up,” Larson continued. “Just unfortunate to see him go out like he did, because it would have been a great race.”
Marks chased Larson all the way home and, though he finished second, completed a tremendous rally after missing the feature at Pevely on Friday night.
Sweet completed the podium, with Outlaw point leader Logan Schuchart crossing fourth and Pennsylvania Posse member Brock Zearfoss finishing fifth.
Shane Stewart, Carson Macedo, Donny Schatz, Ian Madsen and Cory Eliason filled out the top 10.
Schatz was the night’s KSE Hard Charger, advancing from a provisional starting spot in 25th to his eventual eighth-place finish.
The 10-time champion’s night was rough from the get-go, as he qualified 21st in his flight, had to run a non-qualifier’s race just to get to the heats, and failed to transfer into the feature on merit after finishing seventh in the Last Chance Showdown.
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