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Kyle Larson “surprised” to be part of wild Fontana ending

Mar 23, 2014, 7:45 PM EDT

Auto Club 400 - Practice Getty Images

Lightning almost struck twice for Kyle Larson at Auto Club Speedway.

One day after he bested Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick for his inaugural Nationwide Series victory, the 21-year-old from Elk Grove, California found himself battling Busch once more on the final lap for what would have been his first Sprint Cup triumph.

The two shot to the front of the field on the final lap of a green-white-checkered finish in today’s Auto Club 400, but this time, Busch had enough to keep the sensational young gun at bay.

But even with the near-miss, Larson admitted he couldn’t have asked for more from the Fontana weekend, even if he said he was “surprised” to be in contention to win today in the first place.

“We were probably a 12th-place car for most of the day,” said Larson after his runner-up performance. “We struggled with our Target Chevy being too loose on exit but still too tight in the center. We tightened the exit up and got way too tight in the center.

“My guys worked really hard all day long to find that right balance, and right there on the last pit stop, we were able to make good enough adjustments where we could go hard for a couple laps.”

Larson lined up ninth after pitting under yellow prior to the green-white-checkered finish. This initially worried him as he figured to be on the bottom line, which in his eyes had not been the quickest line on restarts heading to Turn 1.

But somehow, Larson was able to carve his way through traffic and find his way to Kyle Busch, who led him past Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart on the last lap.

“I came out in fourth there, I think, and then got to second off Turn 2 the next lap, and thought I might have a shot at Kyle depending on where he’d go into Turn 3, but he was good enough to keep it on the bottom and stay ahead of me,” he said. “But we’ll take a second.”

Able to dodge the tire problems that plagued some of the other teams during today’s race (“I think it was a little bit of camber issues or something,” he surmised), Larson was able to get to crunch time and then once again showcase his talent for getting up on the wheel.

It was another impressive display that should have NASCAR fans thinking about what he can do in the future as he gains more seasoning.

“[It was] a long race and definitely didn’t expect to run second, so I’ll take it and head back to North Carolina with a smile on my face,” he said.

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