Jan 28, 2014, 6:50 PM EDT
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – When you have incredible talent, some things are just foregone conclusions. But no matter what Kyle Larson accomplishes in his rookie Sprint Cup season with Chip Ganassi Racing, he’ll still likely go down in NASCAR history as having the shortest job interview and hiring process.
“If you know Chip, he’s really quick about what he says,” Larson said with a laugh, recalling the day Ganassi called and changed the young driver’s life.
“The phone call lasted probably 45 seconds. I was just driving down the road, I kind of maybe knew what the phone call was going to be about, so I pulled over and he said, ‘Hey, it’s Chip. Yo! Ready to drive the 42 next year?’ I said yeah. He said, ‘Okay, anything else?’ Click. That’s how it went.”
As the replacement for Juan Pablo Montoya in the No. 42 Target Chevrolet, Larson will definitely have a proverbial target on his back that is more than just representing his team’s primary sponsor.
There’s his age (21), his relatively short apprenticeship in the Nationwide Series (one season) and a reputation of being perhaps one of the most talented drivers to come up through the short track, sprint car and midget ranks in the last decade-plus.
But it’s hard to ignore the confidence Ganassi and Sabates have in Larson, not to mention the respect he’s already gained from several of his Sprint Cup peers and heroes.
“I am blown away by this kid,” Gordon said of Larson in a TV interview a little over a year ago. “He makes me look like nothing. He’s maybe a little more closer to Tony Stewart, who drove a lot more cars over the years than I have. I have Kyle’s number. I text him when he wins a race. I’m getting tired of texting him. The kid will win two different divisions in the same weekend. The kid is really spectacular. I think he’s probably the rawest, most talented race car driver I know of.”
In an interview with AutoWeek magazine last year, Tony Stewart said of Larson, “That kid is a lot better than (Jeff) Gordon or I was at his age,” Stewart said. “You’re going to be hearing about him for a long time. He’s a special talent.”
Larson was the talk of the morning session Tuesday in the second day of the four-day annual NASCAR Media Tour. He’s one of eight contenders for Rookie of the Year in the Sprint Cup Series, but it would not be a stretch to consider him the favorite already.
“The kid’s ready,” Ganassi said last August when he announced he had signed Larson to replace Montoya, who has moved back to the IndyCar Series this year after a seven-year run in NASCAR.
Ganassi was not able to attend Tuesday’s media session due to other commitments, but team co-owner Felix Sabates was there and readily admitted Larson will be a game-changer for both the race team but also for NASCAR.
To illustrate that, Sabates admitted he’s cut back on his travel schedule to races in recent years, but plans on ratcheting that up considerably to about 28 races on the 36-race Sprint Cup schedule so that he can watch Larson race – and ultimately win.
“I want to be there when Kyle wins for the first time,” Sabates said. “He didn’t just come out of the closet yesterday. I’ve been following him for awhile. When he was 17 years old, I said he’s the real McCoy. Very seldom do you get someone that age, that mature, in a race car. When he hit the wall at Daytona and went airborne, I thought that was it, put a fork in him, he’s done. And then the next week, he was (back) out there, going sideways.”
For such a young man, Larson is a seasoned driver. He’s spent the last several years racing primarily sprint cars and midgets on short tracks around the country, winning dozens of races. He captured the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship in 2012, winning two races and finishing in the top 10 12 times in 14 starts.
In just two Camping World Truck Series events last season, he won one and finished runner-up in the other. And then in his first full-time campaign on the Nationwide Series, Larson made 33 starts and, while he failed to win a race, finished runner-up four times, had 17 top-10 finishes and wound up an outstanding eighth in the final standings.
While Larson was involved in a massive pileup in the season-opening race at Daytona last year, where his car essentially disintegrated around him and with parts including a tire that flew into the crowd and injured two dozen fans, he amazingly was unhurt in the wreck. It was one of the most vicious crashes in NASCAR in recent memory.
“Having a background in sprint cars, wrecks like that happen – not all the time, but enough to where you’re not surprised when it happens,” Larson said. “It didn’t affect me mentally at all, I was just more worried about the fans and stuff. I was supposed to run a race that night, but I decided not to.
“It wasn’t because I was scared about racing, it was more out of respect for the fans. It probably wasn’t even in the top five of my worst wrecks. On video, it looks real bad, but as far as being injured or sore, it wasn’t bad at all. As a race car driver, you can’t be scared, and I tried to put things behind me pretty quick. So, I don’t think about it a whole lot.”
To his credit, Larson appears rather level-headed. While he smiles and says Jeff Gordon is his idol and that he at some point collected autographs of all his favorite drivers, he’s not letting the magnitude of his ascension to Sprint Cup to leave him awestruck. He knows he has a job and plans on going out and doing it.
“It’s exciting, but I don’t think about that stuff a whole lot,” he said. “When we’re strapped into the cars, we’re all just race car drivers. It’s just not that big of a deal to me. They’re just other race car drivers. I mean, when they come up to me, they’re probably not like, ‘Wow, that’s Kyle Larson.’ Like I said, they’re just other race car drivers I’m out there competing with.”
Ganassi and Sabates have both said they want to bring Larson along slowly, but his youthful expectations are more elevated than his bosses.
“Chip and Felix are both realistic with their goals as well as me, and theirs might be lower than mine,” Larson said. “But mine are just to be competitive each week and finish in the top 12 or 15 of the race, win Rookie of the Year and make the Chase.
“I don’t think anything could have worked out better for me. I couldn’t have caught any better break. I’m just really thankful and really to do the best job I can.”
Apr 16, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
Sebastian Saavedra fined $10,000 for yellow-flag infraction in Long Beach.
Apr 16, 2014, 4:40 PM EDT
Bentley confirms Pirelli World Challenge GT program with Dyson Racing, to premiere later in the year.
Apr 16, 2014, 4:09 PM EDT
Jeff Gordon has said several times that if he were to win a fifth Sprint Cup crown, that he likely would retire after that championship season and go out on top. Some of his competitors may be looking forward to that day coming – and some hope it comes as soon as after this season so Gordon won’t continue to confound them in coming seasons as he has for the last 21 seasons. But ever the kind of guy who plays his cards close to the vest, Gordon may be getting ready to throw his fellow drivers and NASCAR fans a curve ball.
Apr 16, 2014, 3:41 PM EDT
NASCAR’s birthplace, the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach, Fla., is going to be – well, streamlined. According to Wednesday’s Daytona Beach News-Journal, the hotel where NASCAR was formed back in 1947, will soon undergo extensive renovations to bring back some of the hotel’s luster of days gone by.
Apr 16, 2014, 3:35 PM EDT
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Apr 16, 2014, 3:17 PM EDT
Scott Bloomquist just keeps motoring along in the National Dirt Racing League. Bloomquist is coming off a strong weekend performance where he was runnerup Saturday at Virginia Motor Speedway, and then for an encore won Sunday’s main event at Winchester (Tenn.) Speedway.
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Apr 16, 2014, 2:42 PM EDT
It’s rare that someone is happy to get or pay a traffic ticket from a state trooper. But thousands of NASCAR fans will gladly fork out their hard-earned money for a different kind of ticket, and one that carries the same kind of meaning as many of the tickets that police across the U.S. issue countless times each day.
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Apr 16, 2014, 2:08 PM EDT
While much of NASCAR may be on its version of spring break, the NASCAR AMERICA team is hard at work to bring you some intriguing content. Rick Allen and Kyle Petty hold down the fort at the anchor desk on Wednesday’s show at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra for your online or mobile device.
Apr 16, 2014, 1:46 PM EDT
NASCAR may have the upcoming weekend off for the Easter holiday, but that doesn’t mean its crack team of statisticians is on vacation like most of the drivers and teams. Even without a race, they’re still pumping out numbers that fans love to devour. So for an appetizer prior to next week’s countdown to the April 26 race at Richmond International Raceway, here’s some food for thought and to munch on
Apr 16, 2014, 12:03 PM EDT
After five winners in last five Chinese Grands Prix, is a sixth possible?
Apr 16, 2014, 8:48 AM EDT
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Apr 15, 2014, 8:33 PM EDT
If Sprint Cup drivers’ comments during today’s Goodyear tire test at Kansas Speedway are an indication, we can expect to see track records fall next month on the 1.5-mile oval.
Apr 15, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT
Kyle Petty breaks down critical pit strategies in recent races, and Nate Ryan reports on today’s Goodyear tire test at Kansas.
Apr 15, 2014, 6:42 PM EDT
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Apr 15, 2014, 5:45 PM EDT
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Apr 15, 2014, 4:55 PM EDT
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Apr 15, 2014, 4:01 PM EDT
The first race of last month’s season-opening weekend in St. Petersburg was rained out.
Apr 15, 2014, 3:16 PM EDT
The Force India driver will look to continue his momentum this weekend in China.
Apr 15, 2014, 2:11 PM EDT
The test will help determine the aerodynamic options available to teams for this June’s IndyCar event on the 1.5-mile oval in Fort Worth.
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