Kyle Larson held off defending winner Christopher Bell in a stunning turn of events at the Aspen Dental Dirt Derby at Eldora Speedway on Wednesday.
Larson, who rallied from being a lap down, also survived a side-by-side battle with Bobby Pierce with about 25 laps left. The NASCAR Sprint Cup regular overcame those obstacles to join Austin Dillon, Darrell Wallace Jr., Christopher Bell as winners of the Dirt Derby.
Bell gave chase in the closing laps but couldn’t reel in Larson, who had come so close to winning the Dirt Derby in the past. He beat Bell by 0.767 seconds.
The race featured three segments of 40, 50 and 60 laps. With not enough room on Eldora’s pit road for traditional pit stops, competition cautions were held between segments for teams to make adjustments.
Pierce started the final segment in first, but his truck was stuck in fourth gear going into a restart with 31 laps left. That left the door open for Larson, running in second place, to get past him on the restart.
Pierce and Larson battled with 25 laps left. Pierce regained the lead when Larson bobbled, but couldn’t hold it when his truck drifted up Turn 4. His tail tagged the outside wall, which bounced him nose-first down the track and into the inside wall with 21 laps to go. His night ended in the pits after leading a race-high 102 laps.
Larson kept the lead to start the 50-lap segment but it didn’t last long.
Larson told his team he could feel the right rear tire going down. He lost it with 52 laps complete. Larson went to the pits for a tire change, and NASCAR slapped him with a penalty for causing the caution. Larson’s truck could have made it to the pits under its own power, but Larson stayed on the track. NASCAR held him in the pits, dropping him to 21st and a lap down.
Pierce inherited the lead after Larson’s struggles.
Larson rallied to finish the segment in sixth.
Pierce led the first 34 laps, including the first 20 under green. He’d built a five-second lead over Tyler Reddick before that caution bunched up the field 20 laps in.
He led 34 laps before Larson roared passed Pierce to lead lap 35.
Fan favorite Rico Abreu started the Dirt Derby buried deep in the field at 27th. He fell further behind after NASCAR assessed a penalty for an illegal pass. His punishment was a pit lane drive-through. He did rally to finish the first segment in 16th and finished third overall.
The action came to a halt soon before the first competition caution when an eight-car accident in Turns 3-4 brought out the red flag.
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