Just like his truck performance on Eldora Speedway's dirt four months earlier, he nearly stole the show.
Larson led the most laps in the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but faded to a second-place finish behind race winner Brad Keselowski on older tires for the final restart. Still, the 21-year-old's fourth runner-up effort of the season wrapped up Nationwide Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors as he progresses into the Sprint Cup Series in 2014.
"It means a lot just because a lot of the veterans in the Cup Series have won Rookie of the Year over here," said Larson, a product of NASCAR's Drive for Diversity initiative. "Hopefully that means something, and hopefully next year I can go and get the Cup Rookie of the Year. Even tougher there with racing Austin Dillon and Allgaier and whoever else is racing in the Cup Series as a rookie next year. Seems like there's a lot of young guys moving up, so it's great for our sport and great for the fans."
The only black mark on the night was a technical infraction in the post-race inspection, with the No. 32 Chevrolet found as too low in the left-front corner. NASCAR officials said they would address the violation after the race weekend.
Much like in the inaugural Mudsummer Classic for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in July where he led plenty and finished second, Larson used his dirt-track experience on Homestead-Miami's low-traction surface to his advantage. He rode the high line throughout the night, bypassing more seasoned Sprint Cup regulars while flirting with the outside retaining wall.
He brushed it early, but his No. 32 Turner Scott Motorsports entry kept making progress as the night went on, eventually leading four times for 54 of the 200 laps.
"This place definitely is my favorite track. It suits me the best," Larson said of the 1.5-mile track with steep progressive banking. "It reminds me a lot of Eldora. You run right on the wall on entry, all the way around the corner. As you saw in the dirt truck race at Eldora, I was pretty good there, too, and I'm a lot better there in a Sprint car.
"We were good here last year in the truck, good all day in both Nationwide and Cup practices. Now we've got one more race to go, so we'll try and get 'em tomorrow."
Trent Owens, Larson's crew chief, agreed that the track fit his young driver's style like a glove, but lamented leaving him without fresh Goodyear rubber for the final restart with five laps left.
"We had the best car, and it's hard to take the best car and lose because you didn't put tires on," Owens said. "All in all, it was a great season for us, and it's been a lot of fun with him. It's definitely been fun to be part of his education in NASCAR racing; I mean, he's one of the best talents I've ever worked with. It's just a pleasure."
And even though his rookie season ended with a truck series triumph at Rockingham but without a Nationwide win, Larson has more Victory Lanes around the corner, according to Owens.
"Without a doubt," said Owens. "We started the season out, and we wanted to be a top-10 team out of the gate, and we were. We wanted to be able to compete for top-fives by the middle of the season, and I think we did that. Then, we wanted to be in contention to win some. You know, it's disappointing that we didn't get a win this season, but I think the last few months we showed that -- he as a driver, us as a team -- we were capable at any given time of winning a race, and that says a lot in your first season."
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