Jan 28, 2014, 6:50 PM EST
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.”
Dec 17, 2014, 8:47 PM EST
NASCAR revealed the 2015 schedules for the Whelen Modified Tour and its Southwest Modified Tour, including a first-time visit at the legendary Hickory (NC) Motor Speedway.
Dec 17, 2014, 7:23 PM EST
Do you like watching old racing videos and programs from the past? If so, you’re going to love this BBC video about NHRA drag racing from back in 1990.
Dec 17, 2014, 6:38 PM EST
Kurt Busch got the chance to tell his side in the legal battle with former girlfriend Patricia Driscoll. We break down what Kurt said in court on NASCAR America.
Dec 17, 2014, 5:16 PM EST
Kurt Busch testified Wednesday he asked former girlfriend Patricia Driscoll numerous times to leave his motorcoach on the night she claims the NASCAR driver struck her head several times.
Dec 17, 2014, 3:03 PM EST
The race to the finish line of Phase 1 of Daytona Rising at Daytona International Speedway kicked into high gear Wednesday, with a record 1,002 construction workers on-site.
Dec 17, 2014, 3:00 PM EST
Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup’s status grew in 2014. We caught up with the series manager during Austin F1 weekend.
Dec 17, 2014, 2:00 PM EST
Ferrari mass exodus continues.
Dec 17, 2014, 1:30 PM EST
At least two IndyCar stars will join the Rolex 24 lineup, but teams are TBD.
Dec 17, 2014, 1:23 PM EST
Ben Kennedy, the great-grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. and 2014 Camping World Truck Series Rookie of the Year, will race for Red Horse Racing in 2015, the team announced Wednesday.
Dec 17, 2014, 12:46 PM EST
As we continue our series on the top 30 drivers of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, next up is series veteran Greg Biffle.
Dec 17, 2014, 12:10 PM EST
James Hinchcliffe tests Tuesday at Sebring with Schmidt Peterson.
Dec 17, 2014, 12:00 PM EST
Crafton made history in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series this year as its first back-to-back champion.
Dec 17, 2014, 11:00 AM EST
Allmendinger propelled his single-car team into the Chase with a win at Watkins Glen.
Dec 17, 2014, 10:32 AM EST
We’ve all been there, Jimmie. We’ve all been there.
Dec 17, 2014, 9:00 AM EST
No drivers, but DCR’s shock/damper program should be good in 2015.
Dec 16, 2014, 8:04 PM EST
It’s not an ideal situation for NASCAR, but as the NASCAR AMERICA gang explained today, it’s not a hopeless one either.
Dec 16, 2014, 7:14 PM EST
Patricia Driscoll broke down on the stand during the hearing in Dover, Delaware.
Dec 16, 2014, 5:30 PM EST
A two-day website auction on the assets of the former F1 outfit began today.
Dec 16, 2014, 4:44 PM EST
Scott Hargrove to test for 8Star’s Indy Lights team.
Dec 16, 2014, 4:30 PM EST
Coming up: What will Sprint’s departure in 2016 mean for NASCAR’s future?; Steve Letarte revisits his final race as a crew chief; more on the health of Brian Vickers; the inspiring story of the NHRA’s Jay Blake.
Video from NASCAR America
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