It was the moment when Kyle Larson lived up to the hype.
Coming to the checkered flag for the Nationwide Series race at Bristol, this 20-year-old rookie was battling one of the biggest stars in NASCAR for the victory.
Larson came up a fender-length short to Kyle Busch, losing by just .023 of a second at the finish line.
Still, it enabled Larson to show why he was being touted by many as the sport’s next big star. Just a month earlier, his Nationwide Series season started off in spectacular fashion at Daytona where his car flew through the air and was ripped into pieces as it slammed into the catchfence.
“Daytona, with the crash, was my breakout race, but I felt like Bristol was my real breakout race,” said Larson, a California native. “I was able to show the speed I had, the patience and everything. It helped people realize who Kyle Larson was as a race car driver.”
A year later at the ripe-old age of 21, Larson will return to race his No. 32 Chevrolet in Saturday’s Drive to Stop Diabetes 300. He will also race in Sunday’s Food City 500 as a Sprint Cup Series rookie for Ganassi Racing.
Although Larson scored plenty of big wins coming up through the ranks including the Turkey Night Grand Prix for USAC Midget cars, he understood the significance of his runner-up finish at Bristol.
“To come up a couple of feet short against Kyle Busch, who basically owns Bristol, that was really special,” said Larson, who went on to win Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year honors. “I felt like even before I went there that Bristol was my kind of race track. Being the fastest car there and coming up a little short wasn’t a bad feeling at all.”
It wasn’t a bad feeling either when car owner Chip Ganassi signed him to replace veteran Juan Pablo Montoya as the driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series. Larson, a teammate to former Daytona 500 champion Jamie McMurray, knows the pressure is tenfold in Sprint Cup compared to what he faced last season the Nationwide Series.
“There is definitely pressure on it, but the goals I’ve set are realistic,” said Larson, currently 23rd in the Sprint Cup points. “I’m not going to go out there and say I’m going to win 4-5 races. I’m shooting for top 12’s, top 15s, and being consistent. I think those are realistic goals.”
He hopes to duplicate aspects of his famous Bristol finish over this rookie season. In particular, it’s important that the Cup Series veterans see him as a good, solid racer.
“Hopefully, they all feel I race them with respect,” he said. “The last half of the year, I was able to battle the Cup drivers. Hopefully, I can change cars and still battle them. I’m excited to be racing the guys in the Cup Series and learning from them. Hopefully, I learn a lot and then I become competitive.”comments powered by Disqus