2024 Wild West Shootout

Kyle Larson Takes First Wild West Shootout Victory At Vado Speedway Park

Kyle Larson Takes First Wild West Shootout Victory At Vado Speedway Park

After two years of trying, Kyle Larson won his first Wild West Shootout feature in Sunday's finale.

Jan 15, 2024 by Kevin Kovac

Kyle Larson finally broke through for his first Rio Grande Waste Services Wild West Shootout presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts in Sunday night’s 50-lap finale at Vado Speedway Park.

But would the NASCAR Cup Series superstar have emerged triumphant if a flat right-rear tire hadn’t snuffed out Bobby Pierce’s bid for a fifth straight win — and a $100,000 Penske Paydirt Jackpot bonus — as the Oakwood, Ill., driver led the feature on lap 43?

Larson, 31, of Elk Grove, Calif., wasn’t sure if he could have overcome Pierce without the pacesetter’s twist of fate, but he was certainly ready to take his shot in the final circuits.

“I think it was getting ready to get good there down the frontstretch into (turn) one,” Larson said of the moments before Pierce’s tire gave up.

The battle didn’t happen, however, as Larson inherited the lead on the lap-43 restart following Pierce’s problem and controlled the remainder of the distance to secure the $26,000 first-place prize. He steered his K&L Rumley Enterprises Longhorn Chassis across the finish line 2.823 seconds ahead of Winfield, Tenn.’s Mike Marlar, who led laps 1-13 before fading as far back as fifth and then rallying to reach second following the lap-43 restart.

Cade Dillard of Robeline, La., who won Jan. 6’s Wild West Shootout opener, finished close behind Marlar in third. Garrett Alberson of Las Cruces, N.M., placed fourth for his fifth top-five finish in six events and Stormy Scott, also of nearby Las Cruces, N.M., completed the top five after running as high as second.

The 27-year-old Pierce saw the 100-grand bonus slip through his fingers after leading laps 14-43, but he managed to rally after pitting for a new tire and finished seventh to clinch his second career Wild West Shootout points title. He also collected a $25,000 bonus for his four victories in the miniseries.

Larson’s triumph put a satisfying cap on his otherwise difficult week at Vado, which saw him struggle to find the start-to-finish speed necessary to outrun Pierce and other contenders. He seemed more comfortable in his 22nd-to-fifth run on Saturday driving Kevin Rumley’s backup car — after the primary machine was sidelined in a heat-race tangle — and carried that strength into the finale.

“I’ve been qualifying so bad and then tonight I finally ran the middle and went (overall) quick time,” Larson said, “so maybe I was just running the wrong line all week.”

Larson conceded during his post-race interview that reaching his winning form was a process.

“Racing’s been good and fun, it’s just been a lot of work,” Larson said, praising Rumley and his team for all the hours they put in during the miniseries. “These are by far the toughest vehicles, most confusing vehicles, for me to figure out how to drive. I mean, a sprint car’s confusing to me on the mechanic’s side of it and they’re way simpler than these. I try even not to understand anything (mechanical) about these. I just try to focus on driving. That’s tough enough.

“They’re just so hard, and they’re such a challenge for me to try and figure it out. Honestly, that’s what I like and hate about (Late Model racing). I get so frustrated in these things more than any other car that I run, but, when you win, it’s also very satisfying, or when you have runs when you come from 22nd to fifth.”

Larson, who started fourth, came alive midway through the A-main, just after the first caution flag flew on lap 22 for Collen Winebarger slowing in turn two with a flat right-rear tire. He grabbed third on lap 23 and moved to second a couple circuits later.

Then Larson began his chase of Pierce, who started third and overtook Marlar for the lead on lap 14.

“I felt like just before the caution my tires were coming in good,” Larson said. “I had good traction at that point. The top was starting to come in as well in one and two.

“I was just making tons of mistakes behind Bobby trying to run really hard. I was trying to peak at the (score) board and see how many laps were left because I felt like we were on a long run there. He kept getting away, and then I’d get back to him.

“I think our tire selection maybe was better than his is all, but our car was good as well against the cushion,” he continued. “I didn’t feel great around the bottom early, but up top I was good.”

Larson nearly drew even with Pierce through turns one and two on lap 41 as the leader dealt with slower traffic. Two circuits later came the deciding moment of the race when Pierce slowed off turn four with a flat right-rear tire — directly in front of Larson, who actually made contact with Pierce on the homestretch and thought he might have caused Pierce’s demise.

“It’s cool to get in victory lane,” Larson said after climbing from his car. “I just wish it would’ve happened a little differently there off of (turn) four.”

When pit reporter Trenton Berry informed Larson that video showed Pierce was slowing with a flat tire before Larson hit him, the news was a relief to the former NASCAR Cup Series champion.

“Well that’s good to know, because I did get up underneath him a little bit and I just assumed it was my nose that cut his tire so I wasn’t too excited inheriting the lead like that,” Larson said. “That definitely makes me feel better.”

Pierce confirmed that Larson played no role in his misfortune.

“Kyle got into me here (on the homestretch), but that was after my tire was already going flat off the corner so I was slowing down,” Pierce said. “Nothing he did there. Just one of them deals, man.

“I think just, six races here, parts fall off cars, it gets knocked up in the cushion, and running up there … sometimes you’re just the unlucky one. We’ve been pretty lucky and fast all week. Right here at the end it bit us. I think I just ran something over and it went right away.”

Larson was excited to win, but he had sympathy for Pierce.

“I hate that for Bobby either way if I gave him the flat or not,” Larson said. “I wanted to race it out with him. He obviously had a lot of money on the line tonight too, and if I couldn’t win it would’ve been cool to see him take home that bonus money. But it’s always fun racing him. Him and I have very similar driving styles, and there’s not many guys that can hustle a Late Model like he can.”

Pierce accepted his heartbreak with a smile. He thought he was well positioned to capture a fifth win in six starts to bag a six-figure bonus but he had to be satisfied with four wins, a runner-up finish and over $70,000 in earnings for the week.

“I was pretty confident,” said Pierce, who pocketed $3,000 for his first Wild West Shootout title since 2017. “Around like, 20, 15 to go, I wasn’t really feeling pressured. Then I knew Larson was closing in on me, I saw the 6 on the board in second and my dad was telling me, ‘Get back up on the wheel.’

“I was feeling like I was getting pretty loose … I don’t know if my tires sealed up or what. I was really shocked the tires that (Larson) went with worked like that, but his left-rear, he could really abuse that thing and get it going running that cushion.

“All in all, we’re happy with our week,” he added. “I can’t thank my guys enough. If we would’ve won that first night out, and if we would’ve been going for six tonight (and a $300,000 bonus), I would’ve felt really bad. Maybe the insurance company (underwriting the bonus) won’t feel too bad now (that he fell short of the second-richest bonus). They don’t lose as much money, so hopefully they’ll come back and do it again next year and we’ll come back and win all six of ‘em.”

Notes: Runner-up Marlar remarked afterward that his Skyline Motorsports machine wasn’t quite strong enough to reach victory lane. “I felt like I did everything right,” he said. “I just ain’t got the speed right now. I’m just way too free and  loose.” … WISSOTA competitor Jason Strand ran inside the top-10 the entire distance and finished eighth. ... Brandon Sheppard ran as high as sixth on the lap-44 restart before losing two spots on the final lap and settling for ninth. ... Sunday's finale lasted 20 minutes, with 13 drivers completing 50 laps and 19 running at the finish.