May 5, 2014, 12:13 AM EDT
Rookies aren’t expected to do well in their first restrictor plate race at Talladega Superspeedway.
If they don’t wreck out early, a finish of 30th or worse is what most first-timers can realistically anticipate.
But Kyle Larson is not like most first-timers. The 21-year-old Northern California native drove Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 like a veteran – and even outdrove guys like Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart (who finished last, by the way), Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon.
And when the wrecking ended and the dust settled, Larson not only passed his first ‘Dega test, he aced it with an impressive ninth-place finish, the best of the entire rookie crop.
So how did the leading favorite for Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year react? To say his response was subdued is an understatement.
“Yeah, it was good,” Larson said.
And then, talking more like a veteran than a first-timer at ‘Dega, Larson expressed what he hoped he would finish vs. how he actually did.
“I was really hoping for a top 20 just to stay out of trouble, and to get a top 10 is really nice,” he said.
If Larson appeared somewhat passive in the assessment of his performance at ‘Dega, maybe he was still in a state of shock.
“I spent pretty much all day just trying not to make any spectacular moves to put myself in a bad spot to get in a wreck,” Larson said. “The 42 hasn’t had much luck on superspeedways with Juan (Pablo Montoya) and myself at Daytona (finished 38th in the season opener).
“I just wanted to stay out of trouble. We’ve been making up a lot of points throughout the year after Daytona, and to come back to another superspeedway, I was really nervous. I’m glad to get a good finish and stay up there in points.”
While Larson didn’t improve in the standings – he remains 13th – Sunday was his fifth top-10 finish in the first 10 races of the season.
That’s quite a statement from NASCAR’s new budding king of the understatement.
“All in all, it was a pretty decent day,” Larson said.
Yep, he’s probably still in a state of shock – but given what he did, that’s a good thing, indeed.
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