ROSSBURG, Ohio — The third time was finally the charm for Kyle Larson at Eldora Speedway, as he overcame adversity in multiple facets to claim a long-awaited victory in Wednesday night’s Aspen Dental Dirt Derby.
Larson first took the lead from polesitter and race-long dominator Bobby Pierce on a lap 35 restart, but spun down the frontstretch with a flat right-rear tire on the 51st round, ceding the lead back to Pierce and being penalized a lap by NASCAR for “intentionally drawing the caution” as a result of his issue.
The former Eldora Four-Crown Nationals champion would not give up, however. It took Larson just 20 laps to move into position for the free pass, which he received on lap 73 when Cody Coughlin, Brandon Brown and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series points leader William Byron crashed to bring out the sixth of nine yellows on the night.
Larson restarted 20th at that point, but was up seven positions in just 10 laps and ran eighth by the time the final segment was set to begin following the break point with 57 laps to go.
On that restart, he surged from sixth to third — behind Pierce and defending race winner Christopher Bell — lurking for eight circuits before grabbing the runner-up position from Bell with 49 laps to go and setting his sights on Pierce.
Pierce was seeking redemption after a stunning second-place finish in the Eldora Truck race a year ago, and looked as though he would be in the cat-bird’s seat after leading 102 of the first 118 laps on the night. However, under an extended caution inside of 50 laps to go, Pierce radioed to his crew that his truck was stuck in fourth gear — creating problems as he hoped to get up to speed and hold off Larson for the victory.
It unfortunately was not meant to be.
Pierce fell into second on the restart with 32 laps left and patiently waited for several laps as his truck came back up to speed, before mounting a final assault on Larson entering turns three and four on lap 125. He took the lead from Larson with a well-timed slide job, but slid too high exiting turn four and smacked the outside wall, popping the right front tire off the rim and spinning his truck nose-first into the inside wall.
As Pierce tried to get the truck into reverse, the clutch burned out of the No. 63 MB Motorsports truck and stalled him out, forcing the 19-year-old and two-time DIRTcar Summer Nationals champion to take the mandatory ride to the infield care center and ending his night after a valiant effort.
Following the cleanup, Larson was left with a 16 lap run to the checkered flag after the green flag resumed the race for good, and he took full advantage of clean air to drive off into the Ohio night.
Despite Christopher Bell going all out, smacking the wall lap after lap in an effort to go back-to-back and find his way back to Larson’s tailgate, the Elk Grove, California superstar and former Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year maintained a perfect line and raced underneath the twin checkers .767 seconds clear of his former dirt teammate in the end.