ABBOTTSTOWN, Pa. — Leading into the 28th annual Pennsylvania Sprint Speedweek that runs June 29 through July 8 at seven different tracks, “Larson vs. The Posse” shirts were sold to hype up the elite racing worlds set to collide.
Every true race fan knows the pedigree of Kyle Larson, a diverse wheelman who’s a threat to win every time out in the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series and on the sprint car scene. And “The Posse?” They’re a group of Pennsylvania-grown sprint racers who own the Keystone State — and widely known as the best collection of sprint drivers who don’t compete in the World of the Outlaws.
On Monday night, Larson and NASCAR personalities Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Christopher Bell and Rico Abreu invaded Lincoln Speedway to take on The Posse in night No. 4 of Pa. Speedweek. And in the end, its most colorful figure triumphed over you know who.
Danny Dietrich passed Larson with 10 laps to go and never missed a beat down the stretch, holding off the Chip Ganassi Cup driver to claim the fourth race of Pa. Speedweek in the 30-lap, $7,000-to-win feature at Lincoln Speedway.
It’s his seventh win of the season and second in four nights — both at Lincoln. Larson started on the pole and led the first 20 laps, utilizing the high side to open a 2.16-second cushion in the early stages until lapped traffic made things interesting. Dietrich, who made the bottom work all night long, took advantage of Larson’s hiccup when he slapped the Turn 2 wall in the thicket of lapped traffic on Lap 20.
On the restart, it stayed green for the next four laps, as Dietrich built a 0.705-second lead on Larson until Brian Montieth brought out the red flag when he flipped in the middle of Turns 1 and 2.
“[The red flag with six to go] just adds so much pressure, because if you miss your mark, he’s going to be there to hit his mark and he’s going to drive right past you,” Dietrich said.
Larson pulled within Dietrich’s right rear on the final restart but Dietrich drove six flawless laps in the shootout and never allowed Larson to get close enough for a slide job.
“My golly, I think I ran the most intense five laps in a while,” Dietrich said. “There wasn’t nothing left but the fence. He made it easy on my decision to really focus on the bottom. Hats off to him. He drives a helluva race car. I learned in Ohio just how hard he drives.”
For Larson, he couldn’t pull within striking distance in the final laps like he did in Sunday’s Cup race at Chicagoland, when an epic battle with Kyle Busch ended with flare. Off the truck, Larson was, to the eye at least, the fastest sprint in the garage. But one uncharacteristic mishap ended up costing him.
“I was good up [top]. I just made that one mistake and allowed him to get by me,” Larson sais. “I didn’t really have a plan [on the final restart]. I didn’t know how bad of shape my car was after hitting the wall. We were OK.
“I’d lose ground in Turns 1 and 2 make up a little bit through 3 and 4. We were pretty equal with him. We were good. I just made a mistake.”
Rico Abreu, who won his heat race and started second, finished third, 3.476 seconds off the pace.
“It was decent. Third-place, we’re getting better and better as a team,” Abreu said. “I just needed to be a little better at the end of the race to keep up with their pace. Their cars were a little better at the end of the race where I was too good too early.”
Last year’s Pa. Speedweek champion, Lucas Wolfe, placed fourth and Ryan Smith completed the top five. Fast-time winner Chad Trout came sixth. Gerard McIntyre, Cory Haas, four-time Pa. Speedweek champion Greg Hodnett and NASCAR Cup driver Kasey Kahne rounded out the top 10.
Kahne, like Abreu and Larson, won his respective heat race, but couldn’t adjust to the slick conditions and faded as the race wore on.
“It was just kind of slippery. We didn’t get our car quite tight enough,” Kahne said. “I couldn’t figure out where grip was. Backed up a few spots in the main, but it’s a tough track. The longer the race went, the looser I got.”
Christopher Bell, NASCAR XFINITY Series driver for Joe Gibbs Racing, dug himself in a hole early on with a pedestrian qualifying session and never made up ground as the night progressed to eventually finish 13th.
“I just ran a couple bad laps qualifying. That’s all it was,” Bell said. “I buried myself in the heat race and just never recovered. I don’t have a bunch of laps here. It’s my first time here. We just didn’t hit it.”
And for Tony Stewart, he failed to qualify for the A-main. After car malfunctions in qualifying, Smoke started from the rear in his heat race and finished seventh. He then came fifth in the consolation race, one spot short of making the show.
But when it was time to pack up shop, Dietrich cracked open a cold Bud Light and savored this night in which The Posse reigned again.
“I just kicked his ass. That’s all that matters,” Dietrich said. “Posse won! Posse won! Larson zero.”