With Kyle Larson’s early prowess in the open-wheel ranks, he earned the moniker Yung Money.
Following his Golden State sweep last month in USAC Midgets, the nickname Easy Money could just as easily apply to the 27-year-old racer.
Larson continued to entertain fans in St. Louis at last weekend’s Gateway Dirt Nationals, winning the feature in his Paul Silva-prepared midget.
Then it was on to Western Springs Speedway in Auckland, New Zealand, where Larson’s talent has made the racer a fan favorite. He charged from ninth to second in his first heat, won the first four-lap international test and was racing for the lead in the third international segment when he flipped on Wednesday night.
Larson tweeted, “Had a bit of a tumble last night. Feeling surprisingly not too bad. That’s a huge thanks to @AraiAmericas, @SimpsonRacing Hybrid Pro and seat belts, @ButlerBuilt, @Justin_insley King Chassis. Oh and my parents for making me drink lots of milk growing up.”
Larson can laugh at himself, but now pundits are suggesting he put his passion on hold to concentrate solely on NASCAR? That’s ridiculous.
Larson honed his racing skills driving midgets and sprint cars. His car control is at an elite level in the Cup Series. Anyone who has studied his craft has watched Larson dig around asphalt— just as he does on dirt—searching for the fastest line around the race track. Want a lesson in Restart 101? Watch video of the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet take off once the rag drops.
Questioning whether Larson’s lack of dedication has been a deterrent in his stock car maturation is equally unfounded. After six full seasons in Cup, Larson has collected six wins. Jamie McMurray collected as many victories in 13 years with Ganassi. Juan Pablo Montoya scored two wins over seven seasons. Among current Cup drivers, Larson is tied with Chase Elliott for 71st on the all-time win list. Fourteen-year veteran Clint Bowyer is the next active driver ahead of him on the list with 10 wins. But ponder this: It took Martin Truex Jr. 11 seasons to reach six wins. Look at him now.
When Larson first started competing in the Cup Series in 2014, he was racing against the likes of Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne in addition to current drivers and champions such as Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ganassi teammate Kurt Busch. Hendrick Motorsports was still on top when Larson made his debut, but it was Stewart-Haas Racing winning the championship with Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske representing in the final four.
The NASCAR dynamic has changed in the last six years. Whether it’s the talent pool, the cars or how the races are officiated, comparing Larson’s success in dirt and stock cars is apples and oranges.
“I think it’s just more situational in NASCAR,” Larson said. “There are a lot of other factors that lead into how you finish. In dirt, when you’re out there, you’re not worried about a pit stop or a double-file restart or a 500-lap race. It’s just 30 laps, and there’s a lot less stuff that can happen to affect your race, because it is so much shorter.
“You can control your own destiny a little bit better… I feel like I’ve got everything it takes to win in the Cup series. We did it in 2017. Our race cars were really good then. Our pit crew was on it. So it’s just more situational, I guess.”
The suggestion that Larson should spend more time at the shop is ridiculous. Larson has never worked on a stock car—and his crew chief Chad Johnston likes it that way. A stock car driver can contribute more to a team these days by taking the crew to lunch, offering a moral support or monetary bonuses that can be put to good use. Unless a driver has worked on his own cars throughout the years, generally, he’s simply getting in the way.
It’s equally nuts to question Larson’s appreciation of NASCAR. The kid thrives on competition.
“If it was work, I wouldn’t do it,” Larson said. “I tell people all the time, yeah, the money’s great, but if I wasn’t having fun, I wouldn’t be doing this. I would have gotten out of this a long time ago. I enjoy the travel. I enjoy the race cars. I enjoy the rules changes.
“I enjoy the competition—just the lifestyle. I enjoy everything about NASCAR. People probably think, because I go back and race dirt cars, that I do it because I don’t love NASCAR, and I need to get away and do something fun, but I have fun every single weekend.”
Larson has dominated the midget circuit of late. Since Larson started racing for himself at Kyle Larson Racing, he’s won almost every feature entered. Despite leaving the comfortable confines of Keith Kunz Motorsports, Larson has to be considered the favorite to take home his first Golden Driller in the 2020 Chili Bowl Nationals.
After Tulsa, Larson will return Down Under, where he will race sprints along with his KLR driver Carson Macedo with Dyson Motorsports. Larson is scheduled to compete in the USA99 sprinter starting with the President’s Cup at Avalon Raceway in Lara, Victoria. His adventure continues with the King’s Challenge at Borderline Speedway in Mount Gambier, South Australia and the Grand Annual Sprint Car Classic at Premier Speedway in Warrnambool, Victoria.
“I can’t thank Sean (Dyson) enough for the opportunity to get back to Australia,” Larson said. “Carson has driven for Dyson Motorsports the last few seasons and they’ve always been competitive. So, I can’t wait to get behind the wheel of the No. USA99 and hopefully win my first race down under.”
Sure, Larson could spend the off-season sitting on a beach. But it’s likely he’ll enter the 2020 NASCAR season in better shape, having spent his downtime racing on dirt, rather than getting rays on the sand.