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Jim Utter

Larson successfully navigates "conservative" Roval run

Larson entered Sunday’s Round of 12 cutoff race with little margin for error if he was going to transfer to the semifinal round on points.

After wrecking out of Texas and a 15th place finish at Talladega, the 2021 series champion was going to need a solid run to remain in the top eight.

His weekend got off to a bad start when he hit the wall in practice and had to move to a backup car, which sent him to the rear of the field to start Sunday’s race.

Advancing through the field proved slow-going, but Larson was able to avoid any serious issues and his 13th place finish left him comfortably above the transfer line at race’s end.

“It was a stressful weekend, but the No. 5 team and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports did a great job working hard on this backup car. I felt like our car was really good,” Larson, 31, said.

“We were just pretty conservative there at times. I just didn’t want to make a mistake like I did last year and take ourselves completely out of it.

“It was just stressful there the final stage, but we were able to get in, which was the goal.”

Last year late in this race, Larson got loose at the exit of Turn 7, hit the wall and suffered a broken toe link in the rear suspension. He finished 35th and was ousted from title contention.

It was touch-and-go for Larson to the end as Kyle Busch – who needed a win to move on in the playoffs – remained in the battle for the win almost to the end. A Busch victory would have made Larson’s advancement on points much more difficult.

“Yeah, I had my eyes on (Busch), for sure. I was nervous on the restarts. I just assumed that (Ty Gibbs) and (race winner A.J. Allmendinger) would crash or something, and then Busch would get in the lead and throw a wrench in everything,” Larson said.

“It worked out and I’m just happy to get through this round. I didn’t execute nearly good enough.”

The semifinal round of Las Vegas, Homestead and Martinsville offers Larson excellent opportunities for good finishes and even wins.

He was second earlier this year at Las Vegas, won the spring Martinsville race and has typically run well at Homestead.

“We’re going to some great tracks for us in this next round,” he said, “and hopefully, we’ll make it to Phoenix.”

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