Kyle Larson in victory lane at Thunderbowl Raceway. (Paul Trevino photo)
TULARE, Calif. — Kyle Larson has said for years that Thunderbowl Raceway is his favorite track. He further proved that this weekend by pulling out all the stops to make sure he competed in the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series return to the third-mile track.
The 29-year-old hadn’t raced there since his memorable Trophy Cup title in 2013 and was extra motivated to make it happen with his NASCAR Cup Series obligations only 500 miles away at Phoenix Raceway.
Larson’s chaotic travel plans (which included four flights in two days) were made possible by Jason Finley’s plane, Paul Silva’s wrench, Kevin Kozlowski’s sprint car and Cliff Daniels’ approval.
He paid them all back by doing what he does best – winning. After starting sixth, Larson drove by Sweet, both Scelzi’s, Eliason, and Bayston to take the lead by lap 19 and then ran off with his 25th career World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series feature win.
It marked his first sprint car triumph of the 2022 season and added Kevin Kozlowski to the record books with his first-career World of Outlaws win as a car owner of the Finley Farms, HendrickCars.com, JVI Group No. 57.
The victory made it a clean sweep of the weekend at Tulare by California natives with Fresno’s Giovanni Scelzi winning on Friday. For Larson, it was his first World of Outlaws triumph at the Thunderbowl and brings him to five Series wins inside his home state.
“Central California fans are some of the best in the country,” Larson told a nearly sold-out crowd at Tulare. “I always love getting to race in front of these people, especially at places I grew up at. It’s been a long time since I’ve been here, but it was technical and kind of old school the way I remember Tulare. This is amazing. I owe a huge thank you to Jason Finley, Kevin Kozlowski, Paul Silva, Cliff Daniels, a lot of people who made this weekend happen. We’ve still got one more win to chase tomorrow.”
Following the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion to the checkered flag was none other than his brother-in-law, Brad Sweet. The Big Cat put together a season-best second-place finish on Saturday in the Kasey Kahne Racing, NAPA Auto Parts No. 49. Sweet remains winless at Tulare, but the three-time and defending World of Outlaws champion believes they’re trending upward as the California swing continues.
“It was fun to be back,” Sweet said after a three-year hiatus from the Thunderbowl ended this weekend. “It’s especially fun to race against Kyle because he really makes everyone step up and elevate our game to another level. I don’t know how many realize the things he can do in a race car is amazing. I was searching around trying to make something happen when I caught clean air with him ahead, but just couldn’t make up enough ground.”
Point leader David Gravel continues to produce unrivaled consistency, this time finishing third for his fourth podium in seven starts. His drive in the Big Game Motorsports No. 2 is especially impressive when you consider that the Watertown, Connecticut native was as deep as 13th at one point in Saturday’s feature.
“We really want those wins, but I know if we keep rolling like this the wins will take care of themselves,” Gravel noted. “I almost crashed, hit the infield wall, jumped a tire, just everything happened tonight. I’ll take a third at the end of the day.”
After leading the opening nine laps, Spencer Bayston finished fourth, with Rico Abreu fifth.
Feature (35 Laps): 1. 57-Kyle Larson [$10,000]; 2. 49-Brad Sweet [$6,000]; 3. 2-David Gravel [$3,500]; 4. 5-Spencer Bayston [$2,800]; 5. 24-Rico Abreu [$2,500]; 6. 26-Cory Eliason [$2,300]; 7. 41S-Dominic Scelzi [$2,200]; 8. 41-Carson Macedo [$2,100]; 9. 18-Giovanni Scelzi [$2,050]; 10. 17-Sheldon Haudenschild [$2,000]; 11. 21-Mitchell Faccinto [$1,600]; 12. 1S-Logan Schuchart [$1,400]; 13. 88-Austin McCarl [$1,200]; 14. 17W-Shane Golobic [$1,100]; 15. 83-James McFadden [$1,050]; 16. 1A-Jacob Allen [$1,000]; 17. 3Z-Brock Zearfoss [$1,000]; 18. 57W-Tyler Courtney [$1,000]; 19. 19AZ-Tanner Thorson [$1,000]; 20. 11K-Kraig Kinser [$1,000]; 21. 83T-Tanner Carrick [$1,000]; 22. 20G-Noah Gass [$]; 23. 16A-Colby Copeland [$1,000]; 24. 15-Donny Schatz [$1,000]; 25. 83JR-Kerry Madsen [$1,000]. Lap Leaders: Spencer Bayston 1-9, Dominic Scelzi 10-18, Kyle Larson 19-20. KSE Hard Charger Award: 17-Sheldon Haudenschild[+11]