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King Kyle XXXVII: Shipwrecked to Sweet Reward

Kyle Larson emerged from the fire, figuratively and quite literally, as King Kyle the XXXVII in the 37th Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway on Saturday. Photo by me.

ROSSBURG, Ohio — Surveying the mess he left his crew, Kyle Larson appeared stone-faced in the throes of a Kings Royal quest that had been shipwrecked on the grainy terrain of Eldora Speedway.

He junked the only race machine Paul Silva and crew hauled to Rossburg, Ohio, when he overstepped his limits in Saturday afternoon’s Last Chance Showdown trying to make the 38th running of the mega event and right a week’s worth of struggles.

It started that Sunday, when a pit road speeding penalty erased a top-five effort in the NASCAR Cup Series two Sundays ago at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

It spilled into his busy week with the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Sprint Car Series, first at Attica Raceway Park on Tuesday when he broke out of the feature and then in the Jokers Wild at Eldora on Wednesday when more issues relegated him to the B-Main.

And when he went tumbling in another B-Main trying to punch through a closing window along the wall to make the grand event on Saturday afternoon, how else was there to respond?

“It’s probably one of the worst weeks I’ve had in the states,” Larson said, and not from the sun-drenched Eldora pit area in the middle of his mess.

By midnight, the 37th Kings Royal trophy sat to his right on the table in the media center designated for the winner’s interview. To his right, the event’s coveted royal crown.

He had emerged from the fire of adversity and the fiery celebratory backdrop as King Kyle XXXVII.

Somehow, Larson and the relentless hands that bandaged Silva’s lone machine had been found glory. Somehow, all the doubt later became one of Larson’s career defining moments.

“I didn’t know if I’d get to race … I didn’t feel good anytime I hit the racetrack,” said Larson, who was slow all week until the drop of the green for the 40-lap feature, when he instantly raced from ninth into the top five.

If there’s anything to be learned from the blossoming story of Larson, it’s to never write him off.

In a sense, Saturday came full circle for Larson, winning the very Kings Royal that was supposed to be run last year, the year he won practically everything on dirt. He needed another lifeline from the man who’s given him a second chance in NASCAR, Rick Hendrick, to do it too.

On Thursday night, when persistent rain set the stage for two Kings Royals on Saturday, Larson sent his boss a text. He asked Hendrick if he could stay in Eldora to fulfill his Kings Royal quest through Saturday and use one of his charter planes to get to New Hampshire Speedway early Sunday morning for the Cup Series race.

Two constants unfolded: Hendrick didn’t want to be the one to write Larson off in his next chance to redeem and Larson wasn’t about to squander it.

Once Larson raced from ninth to lead the final 21 laps and fulfill his quest, and once he finished reflecting on it all in his post-race interview, he swung open the media center door to a pool of fans shouting his name.

“I’ll sign at the trailer, all you guys,” he said as he pointed and veered left, donning the royal crown. “This way, let’s go!”

Larson basked in perhaps his most rewarding victory of them all.

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