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Rookie Kyle Larson outperforms many of NASCAR’s top veterans at Talladega

May 5, 2014, 12:13 AM EDT

Kyle Larson dega Getty Images

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 more top-10 finishes thus far in 2014 than race winner Denny Hamlin (3), runner-up Greg Biffle (4), third-place finisher Clint Bowyer (3), Ryan Newman (4), Brad Keselowski (4) and Stewart (4).

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.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

  1. PangeaNative - May 5, 2014 at 12:23 AM

    You do any research for your conclusion?

  2. 950003cups - May 5, 2014 at 12:24 AM

    This kid is damn f’n awesome!!!!

  3. 950003cups - May 5, 2014 at 12:27 AM

    By the way, Larson finished 9th today. Not 10th.

  4. gbart22 - May 5, 2014 at 1:37 AM

    I’m surprised a gratuitous mention of junior wasn’t mentioned as is typical in these nbc articles. That said Jamie McMurray won in his second start and had a couple of good seasons in terms of top tens his first full season in nascar did he go on to be a great driver? No. Ryan Newman won a million poles and a bunch of races great driver? No. Having a decent rookie season doesn’t mean much. Can’t we just wait and see what he does over the next 5 years before jumping to conclusions throwing around labels?

  5. bru308 - May 5, 2014 at 10:20 AM

    Yeah… It’s really impressive to finish 9th at Talladega when +/- 20 of his opponents were involved in some sort of accident. So technically, he finished 9th out of 23.

    Not taking anything away from Larson’s season, but I think this was a poorly thought out article. Do you really think he “outperformed” Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson just because they wrecked? No, he just finished better.

  6. techmeister1 - May 5, 2014 at 1:09 PM

    Plate racing is a wreckfest as always so you can’t take much from the experience. Larson is doing a good job as a rookie to CRASHCAR but he ain’t no rookie by any means.

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