Kyle Larson demonstrated a quick learning curve in his first ever trip to Road America, earning a seventh-place finish with his No. 32 Cottonelle Camaro in the Johnsonville Sausage 200 and gaining multiple spots in the point standings. Larson battled his way back from a mid-race spin which set him back to the 29th position, avoiding a rash of cautions and fighting to earn his sixth-consecutive top-10 finish in his road course debut.
In a weekend of firsts, Larson took to the 4.048-mile circuit of Road America quickly while not only encountering the first road course of his NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) career, but also adjusting to wet conditions as teams practiced in the rain on Goodyear wet weather radials. After finishing eighth in the final practice session, Larson set the 13th-fastest lap in Saturday morning's qualifying session.
Taking the green flag under dry conditions, Larson broke into the top 10 by lap six and was scored seventh as the team utilized road course pitting strategy and opted to visit pit road on lap 14 while under green. Providing their driver with four tires and fuel, the No. 32 Cottonelle team sent Larson back on the track in 19th just before the second caution flag of the event waved on lap 16. With teams ducking onto pit road under yellow, Larson was in the ninth position when green-flag racing resumed on lap 19.
It took only one circuit around the 4.048-mile track for Larson to battle his way into the top five, and by lap 21 he was fourth on the scoring pylon. After steadily holding onto the fourth position for 10 laps, Larson was just taking over the third position when the leader slowed to a stop on the track, bringing out a full-course caution on lap 31. Larson once again brought his Camaro to pit road, taking four tires and fuel without any adjustments. With a few cars choosing to stay on track through the caution period, Larson was sixth when the field got back up to speed on lap 34.
Past the halfway point, the action on the track became intense as competitors stopped playing nice and began beating and banging through the track's 14 turns. A heated battle for racetrack real estate ensued between Larson and another competitor on lap 39, causing contact which sent the other driver off course. Larson appeared to make it through the scuffle unscathed, but as he rounded Turn 12, a car was at a standstill in front of him, and to avoid hitting him, the Rookie of the Year contender locked up his brakes, causing the No. 32 to spin. Larson was able to keep his Camaro rolling but he incurred front-end damage that required an unscheduled trip to pit road. Larson's team provided him with four fresh tires and fuel while taping up the damage to the car's nose, sending him back onto the track in the 29th position for the lap 40 restart. Crew chief Trent Owens keyed his radio to speak to his driver prior to the green. "Get what you can get and race the guy in front of you; you can work your way back up."
In the closing caution-filled laps, Larson did as instructed, steadily gaining positions. Avoiding troubles at the front of the pack which brought out two more cautions, Larson was 10th when another yellow flag set up the field for the first of two green/white/checkered restarts. The California native avoided the melee caused by a lap-52 spin, putting him in the ninth position for the final restart of the race. When the event finally concluded on lap 55, Larson had gained two more positions in the final miles, crossing the finish line seventh.
"I had a lot of fun today," said Larson after the race. "For my first time on a road course, I'm very happy to walk away with a top-10 finish, especially after we spun. After I made contact with the No. 5 on lap 39, I was concentrating so hard on my mirrors and didn't notice the car stopped in front of me. I locked up my brakes and pretty much had to spin to avoid missing him. We worked really hard to repair the damage we had and we were able to avoid some of the wrecks at the front of the pack while we were working our way back up. I never would have predicted getting a top 10 my first time at a road course. This team has been really consistent lately and we're really working our way deeper into the top 10; I really feel like our season is going in the right direction right now."
Larson's top-10 finish launches him to seventh in the NNS Driver Point Standings. The Nationwide Series next heads to Kentucky Speedway for the Feed The Children 300. The event airs on Friday, June 29 on ESPN at 7:00 p.m. EDT.