What Are Realistic Expectations for Kyle Larson's Sprint Cup Debut?
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Saturday night when the Sprint Cup Series stops in Charlotte for the fifth race of the Chase, three drivers will be making their series debuts.
Brian Scott, Blake Koch and, most notably, Kyle Larson will all be behind the wheel of a Sprint Cup car for the first time in their careers.
Racing in Charlotte, Larson gets an early start on his upcoming rookie season in the sport's top series. Earlier this season Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing announced that he would be replacing Juan Pablo Montoya in the No. 42 in 2014.
For his first race, Larson will be behind the wheel of Harry Scott's No. 51 car.
What is a fair expectation for Larson's debut? Should we expect something similar to Carl Edwards' Sprint Cup debut, when he finished inside the top 10 at Michigan in 2004? Is a result outside the top 30, like Montoya, more likely?
When deciding what to expect from Larson's debut, a couple of factors should be taken into account.
First and foremost, we should all understand that the car he is driving at Charlotte is not as competitive as the one he will be piloting next season.
Through the first 30 races this season, the No. 51 car has finished inside the top 10 just twice. Both times came with Regan Smith behind the wheel, and both were at restrictor-plate tracks. Since posting a 17th-place finish at Charlotte Motor Speedway in late May, this car has failed to finish inside the top 20.
The second factor to consider is how Larson has fared on similar tracks in the Nationwide Series.
Including Friday night's race, Larson has competed at Charlotte twice this season, posting finishes of fourth and 13th.
In total, he has raced on mile-and-a-half tracks 10 times this year. The results have been mediocre. Three times Larson finished better than 10th, but five times he has posted a finish of 30th or worse.
It is obvious that Larson is extremely talented and will likely be a race winner at some point in his career, but based on the aforementioned factors, expecting anything better than a top-25 finish in Charlotte would be asking a lot.
Where will Kyle Larson finish at Charlotte?
The most valuable thing that Larson can do at Charlotte is get acclimated with the equipment and start learning the differences between Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series race cars.
Larson's night will be monitored closely. He is one of the most-hyped young drivers to enter the Sprint Cup Series in a number of years.
Everyone should remember that Larson is only in his second year of driving stock cars. He came up through the open-wheel ranks. Expecting big things right out of the gate would be putting a lot of pressure on the him.
After all, when Joey Logano, another recent high-profile youngster, began his Sprint Cup Series career, it came with plenty of fanfare and a lot of early disappointment.
Nine of his first 10 starts at the sport's top level resulted in a finish outside the top 25. Now, nearly five years later, Logano is a multi-time winner in Sprint Cup competition and is in the midst of his first Chase appearance.
Maybe saying that we expect Larson to finish in a particular position is unfair. Instead, his debut should have more significant expectations.
Let's expect Larson to learn how the Sprint Cup cars handle, run competitive lap times, stay out of trouble and race everyone cleanly.
With those goals in mind, where he finishes really does not matter.
While it most likely will not happen this Saturday night, we can all expect Larson to end up in Victory Lane sooner rather than later in his Sprint Cup career.
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