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SONOMA, Calif. -- Kyle Larson showed how quickly he has gotten acclimated road-course racing Saturday.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie dominated the Carneros 200 at Sonoma Raceway to pick up his first NASCAR K&N Pro Series West victory. Larson, who had two wins in the K&N Pro East in 2012 en route to the series title, was running the West event to prepare for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race, the Toyota-Save Mart 350.
Despite the complete control over the race he exhibited, leading every one of the race’s 66 laps, Larson said he began his first race on the demanding 10-turn course a little unsure of which line to run.
“I couldn’t remember from the videos I’d watched which lane the leaders would choose,” Larson said. “I chose the left lane the first three or four starts, and Ricky (Stenhouse, Jr.) stayed with me, then Pursley got me once – so I moved over to the right lane, and that was the key choice to winning the race.”
The Elk Grove, California, driver pulled away from K&N Pro West points leader Greg Pursley on the green-white-checkered restart to win by 3.191 seconds. Larson led all 66 laps on the 1.99-mile road course, ceding the point briefly on Lap 51 to Pursley but put the No. 42 Clorox Chevrolet back in the lead before the lap was complete.
“We had a great race with Kyle pretty much all day,” Pursley said. “He had awesome forward drive off the corners, and that’s where we struggled all day.”
Though a little frustrated with finishing second, Pursley chose to focus on the positives at Sonoma.
“I’m happy to come home second,” said Pursley, whose previous best was a third in 2012. “We got another top five, and that’s a good day for the points.”
Earlier in the day, Larson won the Coors Light Pole Award for the K&N Pro West race and then qualified third for Sunday's Sprint Cup race.
Dylan Lupton finished third Saturday, followed by Sprint Cup's Stenhouse, and Brandon McReynolds. Pursley was able to extend his points lead to 21 over Lupton and 32 over McReynolds after six of 14 races.
Lupton and McReynolds are members of the NASCAR Next class, an industry initiative designed to spotlight the sport's rising stars. Larson was in the program during his season in the K&N Pro East. Larson is also a graduate of NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program.
With NASCAR Sprint Cup regulars Justin Allgaier and Stenhouse charging to the front as the final laps of the race ticked off, Lupton worked to protect his position.
“We had a top five car, and I knew I had to get a gap on (Allgaier and Stenhouse, Jr.) and hold them off,” Lupton said. “Luckily I was able to do that on the green-white-checkered laps, and that allowed me to cruise to a third place finish even though we struggled with forward drive off the corners.”
Larson was pleased with his performance, and hopes to use the experience he gained today in the Sprint Cup Series race.
“I’m glad they let me come out here and learn as much as I could, it’s always fun racing the K&N cars – I really miss them,” Larson said.
Michael Annett, John Borneman III, Jim Inglebright, Tom Klauer and Matt Tifft rounded out the top 10. The race had five cautions for 16 laps.
The Carneros 200 will air on FOX Sports 1 on Friday, July 4 at 2 p.m. ET.
The K&N Pro West returns to the ovals with its next race, the inaugural visit to Stateline Speedway in Post Falls, Idaho, on Saturday, July 12.
Kyle Larson (42) leads the way in the Carneros 200 Saturday en route to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West victory at Sonoma Raceway. Getty Images for NASCAR