Once again, Kyle Larson turned Eldora Speedway into his playground.
As a host of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers were locked in a see-saw battle with the half-mile oval — experiencing some ups and some downs — Larson was sliding around the track having some fun. The 20-year-old from Elk Grove, Calif., clicked off the fastest lap in 19.645 seconds (91.626 mph) during Tuesday’s practice session. That topped a field of 34 trucks.
Larson then cemented his spot as a driver to beat in tonight’s Mudsummer Classic by turning the third fastest lap in the second qualifying session.
“I thought there’d be a lot more spin outs. When I tested I probably spun out 20 times,” said Larson, noting running straight on Tuesday was preferred to trying to get a little sideways like a sprint car. “I was really nervous coming here and didn’t know what to expect. This track, the slicker it gets the harder it’s going to be to run.”
Well, maybe not for Larson. He found momentum working the top of the track in the first session and had one of the best moves of the day with a slide job in Turn 1. A couple of his Turner Scott Motorsports teammates — 2012 Series champ James Buescher and Jeb Burton — didn’t fare as well with middle-of-the-pack efforts.
“It’s pretty difficult here because you have to be so smooth on everything,” Larson said. “And you see a lot of the pavement guys out there and are real aggressive on the throttle and it kind of gets their truck unbalanced and they screw up the whole corner.”
Should Larson win NASCAR’s first race on dirt since Sept. 30, 1970, it won’t be his first brush with history at Eldora. In 2011, Larson — making his first-ever appearance at Eldora — joined Troy’s Jack Hewitt as the only two drivers to sweep the USAC portion of the 4-Crown Nationals, winning a midget, sprint and Silver Crown feature in the same night. Not even Eldora owner Tony Stewart can claim that.
“I feel like they’re similar to a Silver Crown car. They’re a lot heavier and even slower, but the way you kind of drive them is similar,” Larson said. “I think that’s helped me out.”
Like father, like son: Well, almost. The father-son duo of Dave Blaney (19.856) and Ryan Blaney (19.918) were second and third, respectively, in that first practice session. But the elder Blaney didn’t exactly follow his son’s line around Eldora.
“You can run it right next to the wall and not feel out of control,” Dave said. “I was watching my kid for a little while and I was really shocked. He was way closer to the wall than I was and was really getting after it. He’s great.”
Hot laps: Brothers Austin Dillon (21.644 seconds) and Ty Dillon (21.703) topped the second practice session. … The 150-lap Mudsummer Classic will test the endurance of the Truck drivers, but it falls short of the longest race in Eldora history. Baltes’ Eldora 500 holds that distinction with races in 1965, 1966 and 1967. The 500-lap races featured supermodifieds, which evolved into sprint cars. … It’s no surprise Eldora Speedway is the site of NASCAR’s return to dirt. As Eldora GM Roger Slack said, “Eldora, since Earl and Berneice Baltes started it, has always been about firsts. … There’s not many firsts left in this sport.”