Apr 13, 2014, 5:53 PM EST
It’s quickly gotten to the point where it’s not a surprise that Sprint Cup rookie Kyle Larson winds up with a top-10 finish in almost every race.
Rather, it’s almost becoming expected from the Elk Grove, Calif. native.
After finishing 38th in the season-opening Daytona 500, 20th at Phoenix and 19th at Las Vegas, Larson has two top-five and two other top-10 in the last five races.
Broken down, he was 10th at Bristol, runner-up at Fontana (after winning the Nationwide Series race there the day before), fifth at Fort Worth and eighth Saturday night at Darlington. The only blemish during that five-race stretch was a 27th-place showing at Martinsville three weeks ago.
“We have been good every week,” Larson said. “Every week I feel like we have had great speed. Our car has been in the top 10, I feel, in most races.
“Martinsville was probably our worst one and that’s a lot of it to do with me. I think we have been doing a great job. The first couple of races we made some mistakes, but now it seems like we have kind of got some momentum and figuring things out and the races have been going smoother for us.
“We have been getting solid finishes so we just have to keep that little streak going and just be consistent. So far, there have been a lot of winners so you have to put yourself in position for later in the season if the 16 fill up and you don’t have a win. I feel like we should get a win here shortly.”
Corresponding with those outstanding finishes for the 21-year-old rookie driver are how he’s quietly climbed upward in the Sprint Cup standings.
After leaving Daytona 35th in the rankings, he’s progressively moved up each week, to 14th-place after Darlington.
And that’s after wrecking his primary car in practice and being forced to go to a backup car.
“I was really confident going into tonight,” Larson said after Saturday’s race. “I started the race off so loose and just had to hang on for a couple runs and Shine got the car tightened up the car for me and we were able to run I thought top‑10 or ‑12 speeds.
“Finally got up there and then I got in the wall a couple times and had to pull the fenders back out and drive back up there. We had four tires at the end when a lot of people had two, so I was pretty excited about that.
“The restarts just didn’t really work out for me that well. I was 12th the first restart and got to 10th and got to 8th. I finally had the restart in that last one in 8th, I was going to be in a good spot but we just stacked up on the top. Still ended up 8th, but all in all it was a good Saturday for us. Friday was terrible, but my team worked hard.”
Although Larson is keeping a close eye on where he’s at in the Sprint Cup standings, he’s also keeping an extremely sharp eye on where he is in the Rookie-of-theYear rankings.
With his top-10 finish at Darlington, he extended his lead in the ROY standings, as well.
“My goal was always to win the Rookie-of-the-Year so it hasn’t changed yet,” Larson said. “We have put ourselves in position to win that so far. I pay attention to the rookie points and right now we are leading it.
“I definitely pay attention to where Austin (Dillon) is at as well as Justin Allgaier and the other rookies just because I want to win that bad, so just working hard to do that. Austin is really good at finishing races and being consistent in getting his car better throughout each run so it makes me work hard to do that also.”
Dillon isn’t the only fellow driver Larson is keeping track of. There’s the budding rivalry between himself and fellow Sprint Cup driver Kyle Busch, and given the quick success in the Nationwide Series this season for two-time winner Chase Austin, Larson is eager to build a good-natured Sprint Cup career-long rivalry with him soon, as well.
“I don’t even call me and Kyle (Busch) a rivalry, we are just racing each other each week and want to beat each other,” Larson said. “It’s not like a bad rivalry or anything like that.
“Chase (Elliott) does an amazing job in a race car. He has been quick every race so far this season. He seems like he gets better and better each week. He is going to win a couple of more times this year and hopefully with us both being young we are going to be racing and battling each other for the rest of our careers.
“Hopefully we will be doing it up front in the Cup series. He is with a great organization over there with Hendrick Motorsports and JR Motorsports. I’ve got good stuff over at Chip Ganassi Racing too, so hopefully we will be duking it out for a long time.”
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