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  • Jim R. Bounds / Associated Press

    Larson celebrates in Victory Lane after outdueling veteran Joey Logano to win the Camping World Truck Series race in Rockingham, N.C., on Sunday.

  • David Graham / Associated Press

    Kyle Larson's car goes airborne during a multicar wreck on the final lap of the Nationwide Series race at Daytona in February. Pieces from the crash injured fans, and a forklift was needed to get Larson's engine out of the catch fence.

  • Kyle Larson: The 20-year-old rookie would like to be known for his driving instead of his crashes and close calls this year.

Elk Grove driver gets crash course in Nationwide

Published: Friday, Apr. 19, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Monday, Apr. 22, 2013 - 6:33 am

DARLINGTON, S.C. – Kyle Larson can't wait for the day when fans talk about his driving skills and not the crashes or close calls that have tainted his rookie season in the Nationwide Series.

Larson, 20, of Elk Grove was in the national spotlight when his car flew off the track and into the fence at Daytona International Speedway in February. More than two dozen people were hurt when debris, including a tire, went into the stands.

Two weeks later, Larson's car was in flames after a crash in Las Vegas.

Then last Friday night, he nearly slid into a cleanup truck at Texas Motor Speedway after blowing a tire. He capped the weekend with a victory in the Camping World Truck Series at Rockingham (N.C.) Speedway on Sunday.

"Hopefully, I'm getting all these weird races out of the way early in my career," Larson said this week at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. "I've been running well, maybe a little bit better than I expected. I'd like to get more exposure for that than for events like Daytona."

That's why Larson and his Turner Scott Motorsports teammate Nelson Piquet Jr. came to Darlington for two days of rookie testing. Larson, who had only seen Darlington on TV, got an up-close look at the speedway's narrow straightaways and misshapen corners.

He and Piquet were tutored by Todd Bodine, who has won Nationwide and truck series races at Darlington, on the best way to get around NASCAR's oldest superspeedway. Larson has shown he's a fast learner.

Signed as a developmental driver by Earnhardt Ganassi Racing for the 2012 season, Larson debuted in the truck series last June with a 10th-place finish in Kentucky.

He moved up to the Nationwide Series with TSM and has found his way into the headlines, if not Victory Lane. Larson's frightening accident at Daytona was replayed over and over on television, his car going airborne as pieces from the crash injured spectators. A forklift was needed to get Larson's engine out of the catch fence.

Larson, who was back a week later and finished 13th in Phoenix, said in February that the Daytona wreck wasn't the worst of his career. He considers his accident in a midget car at Eldora Speedway in New Weston, Ohio, last September worse because his car flipped after hitting the wall and then got hit broadside by another car.

"Off the top of my head, that wreck at Eldora hurt more and was just as scary. I almost had a car come in my cockpit," Larson said.

After Dayton, Larson was far from finished with raceway accidents. Two weeks later, he started 13th at Las Vegas but ended 32nd after a collision with Joey Gase and Ryan Sieg.

Larson's latest brush came last weekend at Texas as he sped down the backstretch during a caution period. Larson's tire blew, and he veered left toward a truck that had come onto the raceway to help clean up the track. Larson slid between the truck and the wall, avoiding what could have been a terrible accident.

"Hopefully, I'm done with these crazy events and get known for running well," Larson said.

Larson finished a close second to Kyle Busch last month in the Nationwide race at Bristol. Larson is second in rookie points and 11th overall among Nationwide drivers.

Larson showed his racing skills at Rockingham, outdueling veteran Joey Logano for the truck victory. The win for Larson, who is of Japanese-American heritage, also was the first in one of NASCAR's national series for a graduate of the organization's Drive for Diversity program.

Larson previously became the first NASCAR "D4D" competitor to win a NASCAR Touring championship. Driving for Rev Racing, Larson won last season's NASCAR K&N Pro Series East title and was named the Sunoco Rookie of the Year with two wins, eight top-five and 12 top-10 finishes in 14 starts.

NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France called the Rockingham victory a historic moment for the sport.

"We applaud his tremendous talent and this landmark milestone for the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program," France said.

Trent Owens, Larson's Nationwide crew chief, said Larson takes to racetracks quickly and puts in the necessary work.

"That's one of the things he really excels at," Owens said.

Larson simply hopes to make it through his debut Nationwide season.

"It's been up and down," Larson said. "We've been fast pretty much everywhere, but we just haven't caught all the breaks we've needed."

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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