Kyle Larson’s rookie season in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing is off to an encouraging start. The Sacramento, California native has collected three Top-20 and one Top-10 finishes in his first four starts, and said today that he has actually run better than he has finished.
“We've had really fast cars all year long,” said Larson. “We just haven't caught the right breaks to get those Top-10s. At Daytona, I got in the wall (and) got in a wreck late. At Phoenix, we got caught under green‑flag stops and went a lap down. We kept barely missing the Lucky Dog (and) like I said, thought we had an eighth‑ to 12th‑place car there. At Vegas, I sped on pit road and we had lots of green‑flag runs and could never get a Lucky Dog.
“Finally, at Bristol, we had a race where nothing went wrong for us. Bristol was the first week of the season that was mistake‑free and drama‑free. We didn't have anything happen to us, and hopefully, we'll have more and more of those.”
As most rookies do, Larson said he is learning what it takes to compete at the highest level of NASCAR.
“After the first three weeks, I realized that to get a Top-15, you have to be almost perfect. It's tough to come back from mistakes in this series. I learned that really quick. This series is really competitive and hard to do well in.”
He also said that while drivers are sometimes accused of saving their equipment in the early and mid-stages of Sprint Cup races, the pace is far more taxing than it appears.
“The whole field is really aggressive in the Cup Series,” he said. “The pace throughout the field is a lot quicker and more aggressive. In Nationwide, you get up to the top three or four, that's when the pace quickens. But in Cup, everybody is so even that it's tough to get an edge on somebody. At Bristol, I got to be up front, but when you get in the back, it's tough to pass because everybody is going so hard. It makes it interesting and makes us try harder.
“As a fan, before I ever came over here (to NASCAR), I thought, `Oh, they're long races. They just ride around until the last 100 laps,’ or whatever. But at my first Cup race at Charlotte last year, I realized there's not as much give‑and‑take as I thought. It's all racing -- really hard racing -- the whole time.
“I feel like the Top-25 guys are racing really hard,” said Larson. “Even though it could be a 500‑mile race, you're still racing as hard as you can to position yourself near the front at the end.”
Larson said the level of competition in NASCAR far exceeds what he experienced in Sprint Cars and Midgets.
“I’ve grown up racing winged Sprint Cars and I used to think the best drivers in the world were in the World of Outlaws Series. I still think they are very good, but the depth of really good drivers in the Cup Series is amazing. That's what makes it tough, there are 25 to 30 drivers out there each week that are extremely good and fast. You go to the World of Outlaws race, there might be seven or eight guys you have to beat.
“That's what makes it really tough.”