The last couple of weeks have showcased some fascinating duels between young drivers in the Sprint Cup Series.
Kyle Larson has been involved in each.
Larson dueled with Chase Elliott for second place at Dover earlier this month. Larson eventually pulled away and challenged Matt Kenseth for the win before settling for second.
In Saturday’s Sprint Showdown, Larson battled Elliott for the win in the final segment to advance to the Sprint All-Star Race. Although their Dover battle was without contact, Larson squeezed Elliott into the wall off Turn 4 of the final lap of the Showdown, and they hit before Larson won.
“Kyle did what he had to do to beat us back to the end of the line, which is part of it,’’ said Elliott, who advanced to the All-Star Race via the fan vote.
Larson was aggressive on that final lap because he feared that if he finished second he wouldn’t advance to the All-Star Race via the fan vote.
“I had to use him up pretty good there,’’ Larson said of Elliott. “Feel bad about that. I feel like me and Chase race really well together. He’s always raced me clean, and I know I raced him dirty there, but I had to.’’
Saturday night saw Larson facing another nemesis in the Sprint All-Star Race.
Larson charged to the lead at the start of the final segment, but Logano stalked him. Logano passed Larson with two laps to go. Logano won $1 million. Larson bounced off the wall and finished 16th.
“I hate that I keep letting my team down,’’ Larson said. “I tried to hang on his quarter panel like I did with Chase earlier (in the Showdown). I got really loose as soon as I got in the corner. We were going so fast that I couldn’t correct it and ended up drilling the wall.
It’s not the first time that Logano has kept Larson from winning. In 2014, Larson finished runner-up three times. He finished second to Logano at New Hampshire and Kansas that year.
“He’s a heck of a racer,’’ Logano said about Larson. “He’s going to win a lot of races, that’s for sure, and it’s fun to race against him, and it’s fun to see the youth in this sport. For me, starting eight years ago now, to see guys that are close to my age now, and I get to race them for wins is a lot of fun.”
The All-Star Race marked the eighth time in the last nine Sprint Cup races that at least one driver age 25 and younger has scored a top-five finish.
All-Star Race: Joey Logano (he turns 26 Tuesday) won.
Dover: Kyle Larson (age 23) finished second. Chase Elliott (20) placed third.
Kansas: Ryan Blaney (22) finished fifth.
Talladega: Elliott was fifth.
Richmond: No driver 25 and younger placed in the top five.
Bristol: Elliott was fourth. Trevor Bayne (25) placed fifth.
Texas: Logano placed third. Elliott was fifth.
Martinsville: Larson was third. Austin Dillon (was 25 at the time) placed fourth.
Auto Club: Logano was fourth.
STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
Days after a frank assessment of his team and season, Dale Earnhardt Jr. felt better after his third-place finish in the All-Star race.
Earnhardt is 11th in the points — the lowest he’s been in the points at this time of the season since 2010 — and said on his weekly podcast that “we’ve got to look ourselves in the mirror and really get to it here, figure out what’s going on and what we need to be doing, start really trying to find some speed and some answers.’’
Earnhardt noted on his podcast that the All-Star weekend wouldn’t solve all their issues but would be a start. After Saturday night’s race, Earnhardt was encouraged.
“For our team it’s a good step in the right direction to get more competitive,’’ he said. “A lot was made about the comments I made in the podcast on Monday. I just want the team to succeed and really like the crew and Greg (Ives, crew chief), and I think we can do it. We did it last year.
“We started this year off really awesome and hit a little rough patch, but this week was a great opportunity for us to learn, and I think we did. We had about 80 percent of the setup on the car was new stuff. So I hope Greg learned a lot. We didn’t get a lot of practice, so we had to learn as much as we could in the race, and I think we learned some stuff.’’
By placing fourth and as the highest-finishing Toyota driver in the All-Star Race, Carl Edwards will be on the cover of the NASCAR Heat Evolution game for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC. The game will debut Sept. 13.