The resurrection of Kyle Larson's career began with a 25-hour drive from California to Iowa for a $15,000-to-win World of Outlaws race.
Larson hitched a ride with the team that fielded a car for him Friday night at Knoxville Raceway. It's a total reset for a driver who less than a month ago was the top free agent in NASCAR.
His career came to a sudden halt when he was fired by Chip Ganassi Racing for using a racial slur in an iRacing event late Easter Sunday.
Back to his beginnings — and arguably the type of racing he's always favored — Larson was one of 24 drivers to advance to the main event. He started 18th, one position ahead of brother-in-law and reigning series champion Brad Sweet, and moved to 11th in just five laps.
Larson slipped to 15th on a restart on the sixth lap of the race, and in a 30-lap event he only had enough time to earn a 10th-place finish.
David Gravel, winner of the Knoxville Nationals last year, won the Invitational that was held without spectators on the semi-banked 1/2-mile dirt oval located on the Marion County Fairgrounds in Knoxville. An anonymous donor added $5,000 to the purse during the main event.
Ian Madsen was second, followed by Hanover's Logan Schuchart. Daryn Pittman and Cory Eliason rounded out the top five. Donny Schatz was sixth, followed by Lynton Jeffrey, Brian Brown, Sweet and Larson.
Brock Zearfoss, from Jonestown, Lebanon County took 11th, while Danny Dietrich, from Gettysburg in Adams County, was 12th. Hanover's Jacob Allen was 23rd.
Larson's sponsors: Larson, meanwhile, drove a car fielded by Sacramento-based Paul Silva. The No. 57 was primarily white but sported sponsorship from Fresno-based labor contractor Tarlton & Son Inc., and Finley Farms, a previous sponsor of Larson's that said it would continue to back him when almost all of his commercial partners ended their relationship.
“We all make mistakes, and deserve a second chance!” Jason Finley wrote on Twitter about Larson.
Also featured on the car was Lucas Oil, which had suspended its relationship with Larson within 24 hours of his iRacing debacle.
Precautions taken: There has been racing by smaller series in various venues across the U.S. over the last two weeks, but World of Outlaws was the first to go with a product it could broadcast across the country.
Less than 400 people were permitted into the venue, where masks and social distancing were required. Drivers did interviews at a stationary microphone and the pay-per-view event was streamed on DIRTVision.com.
“It's a ghost town here, but I'm just happy we are at the race track,” Gravel said after winning his heat. He won the race after a fierce back-and-forth battle with Madsen.
Drivers were socially distanced and wearing masks prior to the race as they did brief interviews during a qualifying draw. The microphone they spoke into was periodically sprayed with Lysol by the interviewer.
Said driver Daryn Pittman, “I feel like I'm at a spelling bee standing with this microphone in front of me.”
Kahne's return: The event also featured the return of Kasey Kahne, who retired from NASCAR at the end of the 2018 season. He was supposed to race 50 sprint car events for his own team last year but was injured in a March 2019 accident and had not raced before Friday night.
Kahne was a fill-in because his usual driver James McFadden could not travel from Australia. Kahne did not make the feature.