LOS ANGELES — Although Kyle Larson cannot profess to being Phil Connors from the 1993 hit film “Groundhog Day,” he might have felt like the previously cantankerous turned good natured meteorologist in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
Unlike Bill Murray’s character, seemingly trapped living Groundhog Day endlessly, Larson relished a repeat performance at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. In this case, like his performances in 2022 and ’23, the 31-year-old racer had a respectable outing at the temporary 0.25-mile track.
On Saturday night, Larson was tenacious, aggressive and relentless after starting eighth. During the opening 75 laps, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion rocketed his way inside the top-five, comfortably among the fastest drivers on the track.
During a pivotal, one-lap restart leading into the 10-minute break, Larson cashed in from the inside line to take a runner-up, trailing Joey Logano, the 2022 Busch Light Clash and Cup champion.
However, the second half of the Clash was a bit scrappier and rambunctious. The No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro sported the battle scars prevalent with short track racing, adorning scratches toward the right rear and a crumpled up right front fender.
Nevertheless, even as Larson’s long run speed was not as consistent as in the first half of the Clash, he stayed inside the top 10. When a caution came out within the final laps of the 151-lap race, he opted to restart in fourth, the second car on the outside line.
Contrary to taking the customary inside line for the ensuing restart, the gamble to take on the outside row gave Larson a shot to potentially win the Clash. Instead, it looked like Larson was going to come home with a top 10 result with some rough, paint trading between himself and Bubba Wallace.
On the final lap going into the final corners, Larson and Wallace tangled. With Wallace spinning, dropping to a 12th place result, Larson netted a fifth place finish for the third consecutive year.
Given the history between Larson and Wallace, the former considered this latest dos-à-dos with some hopeful understanding from the latter.
“I don’t know… obviously Bubba (Wallace) and I have a history in the past,” Larson said. “I don’t really know. Hopefully, you ‘forgive and forget.’ I mean like I said, he ran through me three times and I was just the one that happened to get him at the end. I hope he understands that part of it. Given our history, who knows. But I’m over it.”
Namely, Larson reflected on the incident by considering how he would feel if he had been on the receiving end with Wallace, understanding their personality differences.
“I probably would have been over it too if roles were reverse and I ran through him three times and he finally spun me out the last corner,” he said. “But we have different personalities too.. we all do out there. Everyone handles it differently. But yeah, it’s just the product of this racing, really.
“I try to tell myself to let things slide a little bit more, just knowing hits are coming from behind and stuff. Usually when you’re out there, you can get a good sense of when it’s happening – from the car wrecking behind you or before that. Yeah, it’s just kind of the way it goes with this race. It’s just the Clash.”
Although Saturday night’s race may have been the Clash, it was a race that was possible with some quick thinking and flexibility from NASCAR, the drivers, teams and partners.
Given the intense storms forecast to hit California on Sunday afternoon, Larson, like many drivers, applauded the unprecedented but heads up call by the series’ sanctioning body to move the race up to Saturday night.
“Yeah, it was awesome,” Larson said. “I was not planning on racing anything other than a heat race tonight and had no thought that racing was an option. Cliff (Daniels) had asked me if I had heard the rumors around 11:30 a.m. (PT), or so, and I got excited. I’m happy that we were able to do that.
“Obviously, I’m sure NASCAR took a huge financial hit. I think, at the same point, the crowd was awesome out there for a spur-of-the-moment race with free admission and all of that. Hopefully a lot of these fans, who maybe have never been to a race before, will now fall in love with the sport and it can kind of grow from there. Maybe this could accidentally work out really well for NASCAR.”