Kyle Larson: Young Star on Pace to Take the NASCAR World by Storm
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I'll forgive you if you don't know who Kyle Larson is.
Chances are, whether you're a casual NASCAR fan who just tunes in on Sundays or a diehard who watches every lap with the giddy anticipation of a child at midnight on Christmas Eve, the 20-year-old Sacramento, California, native's name doesn't ring a bell.
Just don't expect that to stay the case for long.
Larson has been lumped in with the next group of rising NASCAR stars—and no, I'm not referring to the likes of celebrities Danica Patrick and Travis Pastrana.
I'm talking about the young guns who have raced four-wheeled vehicles in circles since they were about yay big, with immense amounts of success, to boot.
Larson shared the track in the K&N Pro Series East this season with the likes of Chase Elliott, son of 1988 NASCAR Cup champion Bill Elliott, and a pair of young drivers who raced on a part-time basis in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, Darrell Wallace Jr. and Brett Moffitt.
Not only did Larson hold his own in his first season racing in the K&N East Series, amassing two wins and 12 top-10s in 14 races, he won the championship by 15 points over Corey Lajoie.
In addition, Larson has competed in two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races for Turner Motorsports, finishing 10th and sixth, respectively.
But here's the kicker: Prior to 2012, the Earnhardt-Ganassi development driver had never driven a stock car before.
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"This is my first year in stock cars, so I've learned a lot," Larson told the media on Tuesday's NASCAR teleconference. "I've really learned how to race side-by-side with guys for a few laps before you can actually get by them because with the sprint car stuff you just blow right past them and don't waste any time passing them."
Larson also added that patience and tire conservation are two crucial things he has learned in his rookie year of stock car racing.
In addition, Larson seemed stunned to win the K&N East Series points championship based on his driving style, not his lack of experience.
"I don't usually worry too much about points races," Larson said, "so this year was kind of a shocker to me that I was up there in the points just because it seems like my driving style is more of a go out there and try and win races."
Interestingly enough, the driving style Larson describes is the very same style which last year's NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, Tony Stewart, employed when he won five of the 10 Chase races en route to his third Sprint Cup title.
It's also the style which will likely be used by the driver who wins this year's Sprint Cup, whether it's Brad Keselowski or Jimmie Johnson.
That bodes well for Larson's future prospects:
Larson earned 12 top 10 finishes in 14 K&N East Series starts in 2012
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I look forward to just watching the Chase each and every year because it doesn't take consistency to win, you definitely have to win races. I think that I really—I will look forward to that if I ever make it to the Cup Series, to be in the 12 drivers fighting it out for the championship at the end of the year, just because I think the short 10-race shootouts kind of fit my driving style.
Of course, it's easy to get carried away by the idea of somebody who's running so well in the minor leagues, so to speak, someday making it to the Sprint Cup Series and dominating week-in and week-out.
Several times we've called out the "next Jeff Gordon," that driver we believe will come into NASCAR's top division and begin competing for and winning championships.
Unfortunately, and more often than not, we've seen drivers such as Casey Atwood and, most recently, Joey Logano, fall short of expectations.
Very seldom do we ever hit on a Jimmie Johnson or a Brad Keselowski.
But then there's Larson. In just one season of stock car racing he already has a championship and has begun to make his Truck Series races look like little more than Friday night cruises.
At least there's one person who isn't getting carried away:
If I could get a win [in the final two Truck races], that would be great. That would be really cool. [But] I'm just looking to go out there and gain some more experience and get used to the bodies and the different types of tires and get some experience racing on bigger tracks like Homestead.
That's going to be really fun.
If Kyle Larson can continue on his current career progression, his meteoric rise through the stock car ranks will be fun to watch, too.
All quotes were obtained via the NASCAR teleconference with Kyle Larson. For the full teleconference transcript, click here.
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