Short-track fans at Daytona International Speedway and a national television audience were treated to a dramatic late-race duel between Kyle Larson and C.E. Falk in the NASCAR All-American Tour Late Model race on Monday night. Larson won the race but controversy raged to kick off the two-day Battle at the Beach short track event at the World Center of Racing.
Larson trailed Falk with six laps to go and appeared to make his move too soon, getting under Falk and passing him off the exit of turn two. Falk immediately ducked under Larson and retook the point, going into turns three and four. Larson closely trailed Falk until the last lap when, using the lap car of Trey Gibson as a pic, he got behind Falk and turned him before the start/finish line.
Larson crossed the line first and Falk scrambled to finish third, just behind the surging Ben Rhodes who led the most laps and beat Falk to the checkered flag. Falk had every right to be furious but was surprisingly calm following the race.
“Look, I’m not a 15-year-old kid anymore,” Falk said. “I’m 25 years old and I want to be in this sport for a long time. I can’t get there by acting like a spoiled brat. I had a moment to vent when I walked over to turn 1 and that was it. When you have the cameras on you like this, you need to be a professional. Kids were watching this race, especially on Speed on a Monday night, and they’re looking for someone to look up to.”
Ultimately, Falk believes there wasn’t much more he could have done. He wishes Larson hadn’t turned him but, on the last lap at a short track, Falk said that anything goes.
“I was staying on the brakes as long as I could,” Falk said. “I’ve been short track racing for a long time and on the last lap, when you’re two car-lengths ahead, you’re pretty much free game up front — you’re just a sitting duck… I just tried to protect the bottom best I could and tried to cut the corner and get around that tire barrier but he got into me once, thought I would be OK, and the wheels were just spinning.
“He got into me that last time and he turned me at the line. I wish he hadn’t done that but on the last lap, it’s anything goes.”
Larson admits that he was too aggressive at the end – dirty even – but did what he had to do to win the trophy, a replica of those handed to the winner of the Grand National races held on beach circuit in NASCAR’s youth.
“I don’t do a lot of short track racing,” Larson said. “But every video I’ve ever seen of it, the second-place driver wins in this scenario. I did what I think C.E. would have done to me if the positions were reversed.”
Both drivers had used up most of their brakes at the end of the race, with Larson saying he had to lean back into the seat just to put pressure on his brake pads. Decreased brakes forced the drivers to let off the throttle early to get a better entry and thus resulted in some of the contact between the two at the end.
“I hit the center of his bumper and got up underneath him and just turned him around,” Larson said. “I feel bad for him but we were coming to the finish line.”
A video of the finish can be found below: