Is Kyle Larson Ready to Make the Jump to the Sprint Cup Series?
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With the recent news that Juan Pablo Montoya will be out of the No. 42 car for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing after the 2013 season, it is fair to wonder if EGR developmental driver Kyle Larson will make the jump to the Sprint Cup Series next year and take over that ride.
With just six career starts in the Camping World Truck Series and now 22 races into his first full-time season in the Nationwide Series, the question becomes whether he is ready or not.
Is Larson ready for it? You could say he is, You could say he isn't. It's the same as myself. A lot of people said I was [ready]. I ran the Nationwide Series in 2004 and [if you could] change a couple races the way the outcomes were and maybe I could have been champion.
Larson, I think, is in a different situation than I was. I'd like to see him getting more top-fives, more times challenging for wins like he was at Bristol earlier this year. In a couple of other places, he's been real close. You can throw a guy like that in a Cup car, and he could be another Jimmie Johnson – a guy who doesn't win very much of if ever in the Nationwide, but then goes and wins 60-something Cup races.
Busch wasn't the only Sprint Cup star to chime in with an opinion on Larson. Five-time series champion Jimmie Johnson also gave his thoughts on the 21-year-old driver. In the same report, Johnson said:
You don't know [if you're ready] until you get there. And when you look at his background, and he's driving cars with far more power than grip, I think the Cup car will suit his style far better than a Nationwide car. You can learn the tracks and understand some things [in Nationwide], but you've to be careful not to stay there too long.
While his peers seem to think Larson would be a good fit in NASCAR's top series, history says that waiting another year would be best.
David Ragan, Joey Logano and, most recently, Danica Patrick were all given Sprint Cup rides after very brief stints in the NASCAR's lower tiers. All three struggled in adjusting to the Sprint Cup Series. Between the three, they posted just 11 top-10 finishes in 95 total starts (although, keep in mind, Patrick is still in the midst of her first full-time season in Sprint Cup competition).
Larson will undoubtedly find a job in the Sprint Cup Series at some point, as his brief Nationwide Series career has proved he is capable of succeeding. In his 22 starts, he's scored 12 top-10 finishes and currently sits ninth in the standings. All in all, he has done well considering he is only in his second year of stock car racing.
Larson knows that making the move to the Sprint Cup Series will have its challenges, but he thinks he would be able to adjust successfully. In a telephone interview with Bob Pockrass of SportingNews.com Larson said, "I think I would handle it pretty well. I think I would get used to it. I think I would race OK."
In the coming weeks and months, we'll find out what EGR's plan for Larson is.
If recent history has taught us anything, it is that rushing these kids into the top series very rarely pans out in the short term. Another season in the Nationwide Series would only further Larson's development.
But then again, there really is no other way to gain Sprint Cup Series experience than by making the transition and competing against the sport's top drivers.
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