Monday, October 06, 2014

"Real Deal" Larson Has Silenced His Critics

The conventional wisdom says it’s difficult for a non-Chase driver to get noticed in the final 10 races of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

Don’t tell that to Kyle Larson.

The Sacramento, California, native has exploded onto the Sprint Cup scene in 2014, putting together the kind of consistent, quality performances most first-year drivers only dream of. After chasing championship leader Joey Logano to the finish line at Kansas Speedway Sunday, the Target Chevrolet driver now has a total of eight Top-5 finishes in 2014; eighth-best in all of Sprint Cup.

Pit road observers no longer wonder whether Larson will win a race before season’s end. It’s now a question of when. And where.

“Another second,” said a beaming Larson Sunday. “Can’t be too disappointed with that. The wins will be coming, so I just have to be patient. Every time I am in the top three, it’s just going to make the wins feel that much better. We have been really fast lately, so hopefully, we can start clicking off some wins.

Larson came to NASCAR with impeccable credentials. He dominated the Open Wheel ranks, winning the 2011 USAC Four-Crown Nationals at Eldora Speedway by becoming only the second driver ever to sweep all three features – Silver Crown, Sprint Cars and Midgets – in the same night. In 2012, he turned his attention to stock cars, winning the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship in his rookie season, while also claiming six USAC National Midget checkered flags, including the prestigious Turkey Night Grand Prix. He was last year’s NASCAR Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year, before being named to replace Juan Pablo Montoya at the wheel of the No. 42 Target Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.

Larson chased Logano home Sunday
At the time, the decision to promote Larson to NASCAR’s senior circuit was the subject of considerable debate. Some considered the then-21-year old to be too young and too inexperienced for the rigors of Sprint Cup racing.

Those concerns now seem almost comical. With finishes of third, second, sixth and second in the four Chase races so far, Larson can be forgiven for wondering, “what if?”

“I know we’d be in the (Contender) round with the finishes we’ve had,” he said. “It’s a little disappointing, seeing how well we’ve been running, but not be in the Chase. The only thing we’re racing for right now is wins. We’re not just out there being field-fillers, we’re out there racing.”

While conscious of not ruining anyone’s championship bid, Larson said he is determined to race the Chase contenders aggressively.

“We’re obviously not going to do anything stupid to affect them,” he said, “(but) they’ve got to understand we’re not going to back down just because they’re in the Chase.”

Larson’s performances are not going unnoticed in the Sprint Cup garage. Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon sang his praises last week, saying, “I’ve had my eye on him for a long time and he’s the real deal.

“Throughout the years, we’ve seen young guys come along who can separate themselves from others and do exciting things that make people want to watch,” said Gordon. “I’ve heard a lot of people say that about me over the years, and now I get it. I see what he’s doing and how people are reacting to it.”

Larson, meanwhile, remains focused on the job at hand, determined to visit Victory Lane -- at least once -- before the 2014 campaign is complete.

“I know other teams in the Chase notice (what we’re doing),” he said, “and I’m sure they’re worried about us for next season already.”








  1. Right now he's only a babe among men with lots of talent and marketability. Reminds me of "The Kid," some greenpea named Gordon you might have heard about 20 years ago or so. Nascar needs new "Young Guns" to replace some aging superstars. I just hope, for everyone's sake he doesn't, as often happens, turn into a jerk.

  2. Anonymous12:41 PM

    Wait, he had critics?