Race Weekend Central

Ellen’s NL Commentary

Young Guns Weekend At Bristol Motor Speedway
by Ellen Richardson

As the first short track race for both the NASCAR Nationwide and Sprint Cup seasons has drawn to a close, there were so many hot topics of the weekend, including the track, tire issues and rivalries flaring up, but for me, the excitement of the weekend wasn’t just the short track racing, something I enjoy quite a bit. It was watching NASCAR’s “young guns” find some redemption after a rough start to their 2013 season.

As Dale Jarrett stated during the prerace show for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Jeff Foxworthy’s Grit Chips 300, “Every driver that comes here wants to visit Victory Lane.” Of course every driver would like to be in Victory Lane at every track, but the numerous challenges that face drivers at the World’s Fastest Half-Mile make a win or almost win that much more special.

Despite a rocky start to his debut season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, rookie Kyle Larson proved that he can overcome any challenge thrown his way with an “almost win” on Saturday. Not impressed with how his car was handling in practice, Larson said that he would have been satisfied with a top-10 finish in this race. After starting 12th, this new NASCAR young gun was able to wait patiently in the top 10 before weaving his way into the top 5 with 100 laps remaining. As if he could hear his praises being sung from the ESPN race analysts, Larson continued to climb through the field before challenging race winner Kyle Busch to the kind of knock down, drag out fight to the finish that short tracks are often famous for.

Despite coming up short of the win by just 0.023 of a second, Larson gave Busch a run for his money, which resulted in the second-closest finish at Bristol ever in a Nationwide race. After working with this talented driver during his championship season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, I continue to be amazed at his driving talent as well as his never being too proud to acknowledge the hard working team that gave him this opportunity.

“I was really happy with the race at Bristol.” said Larson. “Although we didn’t practice very good, my crew worked really hard for two days to put me in a position to win at the end.”

Capping off an exciting Bristol weekend, a long-time NASCAR young gun also proved that he was a force to be reckoned with in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Food City 500.

Much like Larson, Kasey Kahne had a difficult start to his 2013 season with a 36th-place result in the season opener at Daytona, followed by a top 20 in Phoenix. Kahne’s season took an upswing in Las Vegas, with a runner-up finish to Matt Kenseth. After 19 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series attempts, Kahne was finally able to “seal the deal” at a track that has long plagued this past open-wheel driver.

Lining up second, next to Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race winner, Kahne proved that he had the car that was the class of the field on Sunday by avoiding many of the issues that plagued other drivers and never falling out of the top five. After a furious short-track duel with Brad Keselowski in the final green-flag laps, Kahne was able to pull away for the win.

Much like many of the fans and young up-and-coming drivers who have watched Kahne’s rise to fame, Larson was quick to congratulate a driver whose footsteps he hopes to follow. As Larson tweeted to Kahne following this race, “that trophy will look nice in your new house good job.”

I’ll continue to keep my eyes on these and other talented young drivers throughout the 2013 season and hope to see their success continue.

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