LAS VEGAS — Saturday afternoon, NASCAR fans both at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and watching from home were treated to what dirt track enthusiasts have enjoyed for years: a no-holds-barred dogfight between Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson.
It all stems back to how both drivers got their start — driving Toyota-powered midgets for Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports — and while the two are good friends off the race track and away from it, they are the fiercest of competitors when they strap their helmets on and get behind the wheel.
Bell and Larson have proved that fact on numerous occasions over the past year, notably going wheel to wheel at both the Turkey Night Grand Prix at Ventura Raceway last November and again at the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals in January.
Both times, they came within inches of contact, but never banged wheels or nerf bars and enthralled fans all the while. Bell came out on top and took home the trophy on both occasions, each time leaving Larson wanting more.
But though their dirt track duels have been well-documented, the duo only had three prior chances to meet in the same field for a NASCAR event on pavement before Saturday’s clash in Sin City.
Two of those occurrences were during Bell’s rookie season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, a year when he was still learning what he needed to consistently close out races, while the third was in the Xfinity Series last fall at Texas Motor Speedway.
That day, the two found each other briefly during the course of the race, and it was clear the competitive storm was brewing. Larson outran Bell by three spots in in the end, but Bell struck back with his wins in Ventura and Tulsa and the duel was on.
Saturday, it finally came to a head for the NASCAR crowd.
Bell edged out Larson for the pole after a weekend in which Larson had led every session up to that point in the Xfinity Series, and when the dynamic duo started side-by-side on the front row for the Boyd Gaming 300, fans across the spectrum knew they were in for a treat.
The highlight of the early going was when Bell ran Larson down twice in the first 45-lap stage, hauling around the outside to take the lead on lap 26 for an instant before Larson returned the favor with a huge slide job in turns three and four to lead at the start-finish line.
Bell didn’t let Larson pull that trick the second time he caught him, passing Larson with three laps left before the first stage break and going on to score the stage win in impressive fashion.
On the radio following pit stops, Bell relayed the words that have been his hallmark any time he and Larson have raced in recent years.
“Man, that was fun!” he said with an audible grin.
Larson wasn’t threatened and dominated the second stage with ease, while Bell faded to the fringe of the top 10 runners, but the two seemed destined to meet again before the checkered flag fell.
And meet they did, as Bell slowly crept back into the picture while Larson cruised out front, climbing all the way to third amid a fuel mileage race before the caution finally waved with 16 laps to go.
Following pit stops, Larson led the field back to green with Bell on his bumper, and Bell gave Larson a huge shove forward at the restart to put them first and second before another yellow bunched the field up one final time.
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