‘Inches away from anything’: Kyle Larson explains his love of the high lane

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
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FORT WORTH, Texas – Kyle Larson swears perception isn’t reality.

“I don’t get into the wall every race,” Larson said last Saturday, causing a ripple of laughter in Texas Motor Speedway’s media center.

In the closing laps of the O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge, with Brad Keselowski less than a second behind him, Larson took his No. 42 up high and zipped around the track right next to the wall.

And yes, he brushed said wall. But like the 2015 Xfinity finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Larson went on to win.

Larson, who has won twice in the Xfinity Series this year and earned first Sprint Cup victory, admits he thought his chance of winning ended after he made contact with the wall.

“I looked up in the mirror and (thought) ‘All right, here (Keselowski) comes. He’s probably going to get a big run and clear me into (Turn) 3 and take my line away,'” Larson said. “I was able to have a big enough gap on him from when I did hit the wall that he wasn’t able to get too close to me. It took me a corner, probably a lap to make sure I was all good.”

Larson’s Xfinity crew chief, Mike Shiplett, knows his driver’s tendency to run the highest of grooves for laps on end goes against conventional wisdom.

“We’ve made a point in practice to run on the bottom a little bit more, but he still went up there,” Shiplett said. “You cringe when he goes up there because you know he’s inches away from anything. With a bumpy race track, it’s a little bit harder, it’s easier to lose the car. On a smoother track, it’s not that big of a deal.”

Larson’s rim-riding ways originated in his sprint car days and he’s transitioned them into the Xfinity and Sprint Cup cars, with varying levels of success. Though it’s more likely to be successful when he’s piloting a Xfinity car.

“They’re really easy to run up by the wall,” Larson said. “It seems like I can go a lot faster than most people up there. I can enter higher, I can enter faster.”

Larson acknowledges there’s “more risk” in racing right next to the wall. But in a situation like Saturday’s, with Keselowski within striking distance, Larson considers the reward worth it, even if his car takes a little beating.

“I can go I feel a half-second faster a lap when I run the top,” Larson said. “That’s why I do it. It’s a lot harder in the Cup car. Xfinity cars you can actually hit the wall and like I said, go faster the next lap. Cup cars, you can barely touch the wall and you can ruin your race. I don’t seem to run the top as much in the Cup series, because the risk is a lot bigger.”

Larson doesn’t run for points in the Xfinity Series as he does in Cup. That’s why Larson has been working this season to improve his racing in the conventional driving line.

“(I’ve) been trying hard this year to get better on the bottom, but (I’m) still able to run the top as good as I have in the past,” Larson said. “Been trying to become a better all around driver and move around. But today, didn’t have to. I was fast on top.”

Even though Shiplett cringes when his driver goes higher than everyone else, he’s confident in Larson’s talent.

“He knows what he’s doing and he gets the job done,” Shiplett said.