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Photo credit: Chris Graythen - Getty Images

Photo credit: Chris Graythen – Getty Images

It was as if Eddie Gossage took every last promotional idea he had ever packed away over his 24-year tenure as Texas Motor Speedway track president, loaded a full chamber into those signature No Limit victory lane pistols and shot them from his luxury suite, before setting sail into retirement.

And this was only pre-race for the 2021 NASCAR All-Star Race.

NASCAR contributed something to the three-ring circus too, an even more reduced horsepower competition package that took engines already capable of producing 950 HP, since throttled to 550 on intermediate-length tracks, and choked them down even more to 510 for the annual summer exhibition.

Since the giant spoiler affixed to the back of the cars doesn’t exactly inspire passing on tracks like Texas Motor Speedway, or especially Texas Motor Speedway, Jeff Gordon introduced a solution for one night only — a format featuring constant inverts and random draws.

And as has been the case for the better part of a full year, it doesn’t matter what you throw at Kyle Larson, because he’s going to figure it out and win with it. For the second time in three years, and across two different tracks, Larson won the All-Star Race.

It’s his third consecutive Cup Series win, even if this one doesn’t technically count in the standings, and his fourth overall. It continues a historic run of success that has seen ‘Yung Money’ win in everything from Cup Cars to Sprint Cars, Midgets and Dirt Late Models.

His Cup victories include the Coca-Cola 600 and the All-Star Race, those two races alone almost netting him 1.5 million dollars, although the exact figures aren’t public anymore.

When considering his consecutive wins in the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals or 46 wins in 97 appearances on dirt last season, Larson has clearly become the marquee attraction in the NASCAR circus, and is a definition big race player.

In fact, that’s actually the original definition of the outlaws — a group of racers who enter the biggest events with the biggest purses.

“I think it’s a credit to all the race teams that I get to race for,” Larson said. “I’m in some of the best equipment, and any time I sit in a race car, I’m in some of the best if not the best equipment out there.

“I believe Paul Silva is the best sprint car mechanic. Kevin Rumley, who I got to spend all week with at Eldora, he is a genius. His cars are always good, too, and then obviously my (Cup Series) team is unbelievable.

“Just very fortunate to be in these cars. I’ve worked really hard to put myself in the best equipment. But yeah, it’s definitely enjoyable for sure.”

But there was actually several moments Larson didn’t feel it was a realistic outcome on Sunday night.

He started on the pole, the result of a random draw, but just didn’t think his car would be capable of the requisite passes once he was inverted into the back of the field, but he kept moving forward. He was plowing tight the deeper into traffic he restarted. The starting lineup for the penultimate stage was determined by best average finish throughout the four previous stages and that was good for second.

Larson and Chase Elliott restarted on the front row for the final 10 lap shootout and nearly permitted Brad Keselowski to take the win from both of them.

Larson was too good and was able to hang on the rear quarter panel of both other contenders on the final restart. Once he was squarely out front, it was just a matter of dumping dirty air onto Keselowski, which he did flawlessly.

“There were points in the race that I didn’t think I was going to win,” Larson said. “I think through the second and third rounds there, I was like, you know what, ‘I’m just out here logging laps, I’m not going to be able to win tonight.’ My car was not driving nearly as good. I’m getting passed by people. I can’t pass cars that we lapped typically. I was like, ‘there’s no way.’

But then, he looked at the scoring pylon and realized that none of the previous leaders could pass back there either.

Elliott and Kyle Busch were in the same figurative boat. They were eventually cycled back to the front via their average finishes.

“I think I was so excited because there was a while where I didn’t think I’d win, and then to go and steal it in a shootout from Chase Elliott, who in my opinion is the most aggressive and best restarter — one of the best restarters, especially from the front row — that was really cool,” Larson said. “And to win a lot of money is awesome too.”

His crew chief, Cliff Daniels, gives Larson a lot of credit for making it happen too. Daniels graded himself a ‘B’ for his set-up decisions and strategic calls, meaning that his driver picked him up.

Total team effort.

“I never bet against ourselves, and I kind of knew Kyle could get it done in that position,” Daniels said. “My confidence was lacking a little bit in kind of what we had given him with the issues we had in traffic earlier, so I was kind of crossing my fingers that our adjustments worked out, and we had to get pretty aggressive with the car in some adjustments that we made.

“Fingers were crossed that the adjustments were going to be okay and the car was going to be under him, and I knew that he was just going to make whatever move he could to get to the lead, and he did, which was really cool to watch.”

The star attraction this season, revitalized by his move to Hendrick Motorsports, delivered on one of the brightest stages.

One of its architects this year, Gossage was provided a fireworks show thanking him for his efforts in spearheading the development and evolution of this track. That same show thanked the fans for braving the Texas heat.

Out of promotional bullets, at least for now, Gossage exited stage left. He was replaced on victory lane, perhaps by the championship favorite.

Jimmie Johnson (2013) and Chase Elliott (2020) most recently captured the championship after winning the All-Star Race and did it driving for Hendrick Motorsports.

“Yeah, you’re right — I hadn’t thought of that,” Larson said. But yeah, it’s cool, but the races are hard to win, and championships are even harder to win.

“We’ve just got to keep working really hard. This is definitely the best opportunity I’ve ever had to win the championship. But there’s still a long season left, and other cars and teams are going to get better, and so will we. Just got to keep working hard, and hopefully we can have ourselves in position come October or November.”