In what was scheduled to be his last sprint car race of the 2017 season, Kyle Larson led night one of the Knoxville 410 Nationals at Knoxville (Iowa) Speedway on Wednesday and beat Donny Schatz to the line by nearly one second.
Now the racing world awaits news of whether Larson will be able to extend his season by one more race and return on Saturday. His contract with Chip Ganassi Racing precludes him from running sprints within a day of a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event, and he will have to travel from Michigan International Speedway to Iowa in order to try and win the featured race.
"I hope he understands how big this event is to me. I think I know what his answer will be," Larson said about his upcoming phone call.
Overnight, the Twitter hashtag #LetKyleRace began to trend, with @CGRTeams using it to poll fans about what the team should do in regard to Larson's situation.
Larson finished second in his heat behind Bill Balog, but his victory was helped by winning the inversion and sitting on the pole. Larson lined up alongside Austin McCarl, who managed to jump him on the start -- taking the lead briefly. It was short-lived as Larson swept back around before the lap was complete.
The World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series points leader Schatz suffered with the inversion. After winning his heat, he was dropped to sixth on the grid but rapidly made his through the field. Schatz passed Greg Hodnett for third on lap five and grabbed second from McCarl nine circuits later. With Larson in his sights, Schatz looked like the driver to beat.
Working through traffic became the keystone to victory, and Schatz was able to close to within 0.6 of a second and then fall as far behind as 1 1/2 seconds. Larson was in clean air at the end and won by a comfortable margin.
"Kyle did a phenomenal job," Schatz said. "He moved around when he needed to. We had a very decent night."
The Pennsylvania Posse member Hodnett held onto the third position.
Sweet scored his third straight top five and 13th consecutive top 10 with a fourth-place finish that keeps the Outlaws regular in the points hunt.
"You have to put yourself in position and I think we did a great job of that all night," Sweet said. "Coming to the biggest race of the year, we had high expectations. There's still room for improvement, but I feel like we are really close right now."
McCarl, the outside pole sitter, rounded out the top five.
Night two of the Knoxville 410 Nationals gets underway Thursday and readers can follow live updates at FloRacing.
Top 10 Finishers
1. Kyle Larson
2. Donny Schatz
3. Greg Hodnett
4. Brad Sweet
5. Austin McCarl
6. Kerry Madsen
7. Shane Stewart
8. Paul McMahan
9. Christopher Bell
10. Bill Balog
Complete Results, with Heats and B-Main finishes
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