When it comes to natural talent, Kyle Larson is without doubt one the top racers on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup tour.
And if the 27-year-old Elk Grove, Californian ever learns to close on a regular basis, he’ll be dangerous.
Larson, who is in his sixth full season driving the No. 42 Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing, has just five wins in 208 career starts, but he can boast 41 podium finishes. When he first arrived on the scene, “Yung Money” was touted as the next big thing to cross over to stock cars from dirt. But unlike Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart or even Kasey Kahne, Larson didn’t score his first win until 24 races into 2016—his third season in the Cup Series.
Larson enjoyed his breakout season in 2017, when he earned a career-best four wins, three poles, 15 top fives and 20 top 10s, but he has yet to duplicate his eighth-place finish in the point standings or the 1,352 laps led that year.
Over the years, Larson apologists have defended the affable driver. The first two years, it was the crew chief. After Chris Heroy was replaced by Chad Johnston in 2016, Larson won. The last two years, some questioned Ganassi’s equipment. But Kurt Busch, in his first season with the organization, won at Kentucky in July to end CGR’s losing streak, which dated to Larson’s Richmond win in Sept. 2017.
Perhaps the most ridiculous criticism directed Larson’s way is that his open-wheel exploits detract from his day job. Nothing could be further from the truth. Driving a sprint car or a midget only sharpens Larson’s skills. Unlike 400 miles at this oval or 500 miles at another track, with 30 to 50 lappers, it’s always go time. There’s no time to rest. Need proof? Just watch Larson on a restart. He’s become one of the best in the business.
And if nothing else, running on dirt brings a level of happiness to Larson that can carry over to stock cars. As Larson’s dirt schedule has increased over the summer, so has his level of performance on NASCAR asphalt. In his last 10 starts, Larson has three podiums and an average finish of 9.3. That’s five positions better than his average for the year.
At Darlington, Larson picked up his second runner-up finish of the season. While it wasn’t the win he had been hoping for, Larson did lock into the Playoffs for the fourth straight year.
“I felt like we were going to have a good shot to make it after the last few weeks we've had,” Larson said. “Would have been nice to get a win today, but yeah, good to be locked in and look ahead to the playoffs.
“We've been running really strong here lately, so just got to keep it going.”
This week, Larson will have three times the fun. He started out with two wins in an outlaw kart at Cycleland in Chico, Calif. On Wednesday and Thursday, Larson will race midgets in the Driven2Save Lives BC39 at The Dirt Track at IMS before climbing back in his Cup car on Saturday and Sunday for the Brickyard 400.
“It won’t feel like triple duty, or whatever you want to call it,” Larson said. “But having the day off (Friday) will be nice, and not being in multiple cars on the same day will be relaxing. I enjoy double duty. I haven’t gotten to do any double duty NASCAR stuff this year.
“I did double duty on my off week at Placerville with the midget and sprint car. That was fun, but hectic just because it’s all happening within a few hours. (This) week will be fun and not too crazy.”