Social media is in an uproar today, after Kyle Larson once again dared to mention NASCAR and the Chili Bowl in the same sentence.
The Elk Grove, California native carved out another chunk of history for himself Saturday night in Tulsa, Oklahoma, overhauling rival Christopher Bell with a testosterone-rich, high line pass that carried him all the way to Victory Lane in the country’s premier indoor midget race, the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals.
The win earned Larson his first Golden Driller trophy and reversed a pattern of “close, but no cigar” Chili Bowl performances that have repeatedly denied him a shot at Victory Lane in recent years.
“It’s a pretty different range of emotions,” said Larson, who came out on the short end of a late-race, wheel-banging battle with Bell in last season’s Chili Bowl. “365 days later. I feel like I’m going to pass out.
“I’m sorry NASCAR. I’m sorry Daytona. But this is the biggest f’ing race I’ve ever won.”
Those comments triggered a veritable firestorm of reaction, with NASCAR fans leaping to defend their piece of the motorsports landscape against Larson’s perceived insult, while dirt track fans hooted in delight.
The debate continues at maximum volume today, with the two fan factions – dirt vs asphalt, big-time vs grassroots – lobbing digital insults at each other in a misguided attempt to prove that their form of motorsport is the best form of motorsport.
There are obviously plenty of differences between the Daytona 500 and the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals.
The “Great American Race” tops 100,000 in attendance each season and is watched by millions more worldwide on FOX. The Chili Bowl plays out before a somewhat cozier in-person crowd of roughly 15,000, with thousands more watching on MAV-TV.
Both events do tremendously well. And while undeniably different, the Daytona 500 and Chili Bowl Nationals share identical roots. Both showcase the very best that our sport has to offer, galvanizing legions of supportive fans to pack their respective grandstands, clad in a rainbow of apparel that pledges allegiance to their favorite driver.
That’s a good thing, my friends, regardless of where your motorsports allegiance lies. And before the rising tumult drowns out any remaining semblance of rational thought, here are a couple of points, for what they’re worth.
Kyle Larson has never won the Daytona 500. He did go to Victory Lane in an Xfinity race there – the Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 in July of 2018 – but until he does, Saturday night’s Chili Bowl win should indeed rank as the “biggest f’ing race” he’s ever won.
Perhaps a Daytona 500 win – if it comes -- will change his perspective. Perhaps not. Either way, it’s fine.
The contention in some corners that Larson has short-changed his NASCAR career by giving so much time, attention and emotion to his Sprint Car and Midget program is difficult – if not impossible – to prove. Easier to determine is that with 20 NASCAR National Series wins in eight seasons, the 27-year old has experienced far more success than the vast majority of drivers his age.
“Yung Money” has been a Top-10 points finisher in four of his six NASCAR Cup Series seasons, and since going full-time with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2014, he has finished above his respective teammates (Jamie McMurray and Kurt Busch) every year but one.
It is difficult to measure the success of a driver against competitors who drive different equipment; either better or worse. Has Larson won enough to rank with Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano on the talent scale? That’s a matter of opinion.
But the facts show that he has been the lead horse in the draft at CGR, just about every step of the way.
Larson clearly loves driving race cars; either full-fendered or open wheeled. He demonstrated that affection by showing up for last week’s Chili Bowl preliminaries with the whites of his eyes tinted an eerie mixture of purple, red and black; the result of an end-over-end, eggbeater midget crash at a dirt track in New Zealand late last month.
He didn’t have to tape his eyes open, Ricky Rudd-style. But Larson’s dedication to the game was on full display in Tulsa last week.
The current debate over Larson’s “Sorry NASCAR” comment is like cats fighting over a favorite toy. There’s enough of Kyle to go around; enough for us all to share from Daytona to Tulsa, Watkins Glen to New South Wales.
Larson is a walking, talking throwback to a bygone era in our sport when drivers like AJ Foyt and Dan Gurney jumped from stock cars to sports cars to Sprint Cars to midgets – sometimes in the same weekend – and earned our undying respect by doing so.
It’s time to cut Larson some slack.
Let him race what he wants, and love it all.