Skip to content

Kyle Larson ready to show he has what it takes in Sprint Cup in 2014

Jan 28, 2014, 6:50 PM EDT

Will phenom Kyle Larson take the Sprint Cup Series by storm in his rookie season in 2014? Getty Images

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.”

Latest Posts
  1. Confusion and strategy error costs Hamilton shot at race win (VIDEO)

    Mar 29, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT

    Hamilton 293d Getty Images

    Did a mistake in Q1 on Saturday cost Lewis Hamilton a chance to win the Malaysian Grand Prix?

  2. Verstappen becomes youngest points scorer in F1 history

    Mar 29, 2015, 7:15 AM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Malaysia Getty Images

    Breaking the record by over two years, Max Verstappen cemented his place in the F1 history books in Malaysia on Sunday.

  3. Arrivabene: Ferrari is back, but must keep focused (VIDEO)

    Mar 29, 2015, 6:30 AM EDT

    Sebastian Vettel AP

    Ferrari team principal oversees his first victory since taking the helm at Maranello.

  4. Rosberg tells Ferrari “game on!” after Vettel’s Malaysia win (VIDEO)

    Mar 29, 2015, 5:56 AM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Malaysia Getty Images

    German driver didn’t expect his challenge to Ferrari in Australia to be taken up so quickly.

  5. Hamilton: Ferrari simply too fast for Mercedes in Malaysia

    Mar 29, 2015, 5:36 AM EDT

    AUTO-PRIX-MAS-F1 Getty Images

    British driver humble in defeat after losing out to Vettel and Ferrari in Malaysia.

  6. Emotional Vettel revels in first victory for Ferrari

    Mar 29, 2015, 5:19 AM EDT

    AUTO-PRIX-MAS-F1-PODIUM Getty Images

    German driver claims a superb win in Malaysia in just his second race for Ferrari.

  7. Vettel claims shock win for Ferrari in Malaysia as Mercedes pays for strategy mistake

    Mar 29, 2015, 4:46 AM EDT

    AUTO-PRIX-MAS-F1 Getty Images

    Ferrari claims its first win since the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix as Vettel perfects his strategy to win at Sepang.

  8. Will Stevens unable to start Malaysian Grand Prix

    Mar 29, 2015, 2:34 AM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Malaysia - Practice Getty Images

    Fuel system problem sidelines the Briton on Sunday for Manor.

  9. WATCH LIVE: Malaysian GP live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 2:30a ET

    Mar 29, 2015, 2:15 AM EDT

    Malaysia 293 Getty Images

    Join us on NBCSN and Live Extra for all of the action from Malaysia as Lewis Hamilton goes in search of another race win.

  10. Starting grid for the 2015 Malaysian Grand Prix

    Mar 29, 2015, 2:00 AM EDT

    Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Nico Rosberg AP

    Lewis Hamilton will lead the grid away at Sepang on Sunday.

  11. NHRA: C. Force, Todd, McGaha and Arana Jr. qualify No. 1 for 4-Wide Nationals eliminations

    Mar 28, 2015, 9:01 PM EDT

    Courtney Force qualified No. 1 Saturday at the 4-Wide Nationals. (Harold Hinson Photo) Courtney Force qualified No. 1 Saturday at the 4-Wide Nationals. (Harold Hinson Photo)

    It was a double dose of Force in Saturday’s final rounds of qualifying for the sixth-annual NHRA 4-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C.

  12. St. Petersburg notes: PWC, MRTI triple-dips heading into Sunday

    Mar 28, 2015, 7:46 PM EDT

    Photo: Pro Mazda Photo: Pro Mazda

    Roundup of the rest of Saturday’s action from St. Petersburg.

  13. Teaser clip: F1 on NBC’s “Off the Grid” hits Mexico (VIDEO)

    Mar 28, 2015, 7:20 PM EDT

    MexicoOTGteaser Getty Images

    NBC Sports Group’s “Off the Grid” digital series hits Mexico City, set to premiere on March 31.

  14. De Silvestro 11th in her first IndyCar qualifying in more than a year

    Mar 28, 2015, 7:11 PM EDT

    SimAndrettiQuals AP

    Simona de Silvestro happy to be somewhat disappointed with 11th in IndyCar qualifying at St. Petersburg.

  15. Sato saves Honda’s day with another St. Pete Fast Six appearance

    Mar 28, 2015, 6:45 PM EDT

    TSstpquals AP

    Takuma Sato puts together a successful qualifying effort for A.J. Foyt Enterprises, ending in fifth and best Honda.

  16. Penske’s quartet pushes each other en route to qualifying dominance

    Mar 28, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT

    PenskeTop4Quals AP

    After top-four qualifying sweep, the Team Penske teammates are praising each other rather than trading shots.

  17. Power on pole in Penske top-four sweep of St. Petersburg qualifying

    Mar 28, 2015, 5:24 PM EDT

    PowerSTPpole AP

    Power on pole as Team Penske goes 1-2-3-4 in St. Petersburg qualifying.

  18. Indy Lights: Carlin’s Ed Jones on top in opening race at St. Pete

    Mar 28, 2015, 3:25 PM EDT

    Photo: Indy Lights Photo: Indy Lights

    Indy Lights’ new era kicks off at St. Petersburg with a new driver and team on top in the series’ new car.

  19. Power on top as Penske 1-2-3 in second straight St. Pete practice

    Mar 28, 2015, 1:27 PM EDT

    WPstpP3 AP

    More Will Power on top of IndyCar practice at St. Petersburg.

  20. Franck Montagny receives two-year ban from FIA after positive drug test

    Mar 28, 2015, 1:01 PM EDT

    Montagnynew Getty Images

    Franck Montagny receives two-year ban from FIA’s Anti-Doping Disciplinary Committee.