At Fontana, Calif. 5 p.m. Sunday, ESPN

Bristol battle with Busch boosts Kyle Larson’s reputation

jutter@charlotteobserver.comMarch 21, 2013 

This was the kind of headline much more to Kyle Larson’s liking.

Larson came up short last weekend in his side-by-side battle with Kyle Busch at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.

A 20-year-old development driver for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, Larson drew raves for his performance – something that had been missing during the first few weeks of the season.

“A young kid like that, he’s got a lot of talent and he’s going to make a name – obviously, he already has made a name for himself, but I think that he’s got a lot going for him,” Busch said of Larson.

“It was fun racing with him, but wish it was a little easier on my end.”

Larson, who won last season’s K&N Pro Series East championship, got off to a dicey start to 2013 when he was widely criticized for wrecking a competitor to win the Whelen All-American series feature race at the preseason Battle at the Beach in Daytona.

Later that week, Larson’s Nationwide debut came under difficult circumstances when his car was sent airborne into the catchfence during the series opener at Daytona on the final lap.

At least 28 fans were injured.

Larson generally had an incident-free 13th-place finish at Phoenix but was involved in another hard wreck the following week at Las Vegas.

The runner-up finish at Bristol was a welcome change.

“We got really good there in the midway point of the race. We kept inching our way forward,” said Larson. “I got to third and ran down Kyle and Kevin (Harvick) and wasn’t quite sure what to do when I got to them so I just tucked in behind them.

“I tried a couple moves on Kyle around the bottom but was just a little too tight on the bottom (groove). On the last lap I was pretty happy he went to the bottom to block because it gave me one more shot to get around him.”

Larson’s patience over the final laps drew a much more positive response.

“I was wondering what he was going to do because he had a faster car and at that point he had a reputation – short-lived – but he had a reputation for being pretty aggressive to win a race,” said Hall of Fame driver and Fox analyst Darrell Waltrip.

“I think he gained back a lot of respect from people like myself that thought he was a kid that needed to learn to be a little bit more respectful. …

“That was racing like a champion.”

Busch echoed Waltrip’s sentiments.

“I think that a lot of people have been looking at him to try to see if he’s going to be a wrecker or a checker and, even though he didn’t get the checkers, that’s how you get them,” Busch said.

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