FORT WORTH, Texas—Christopher Bell isn’t the only driver leaving the secure confines of the Keith Kunz Motorsports’ nest. Kyle Larson also is venturing out on his own this winter.
Larson, 28, has advanced to the Chili Bowl Nationals feature eight times since 2010. His best result of second came in January to Bell. He has also posted five Prelim Night Feature wins.
Yet after unsuccessfully battling his KKM teammates—including both Bell and Rico Abreu for the Golden Driller—Larson will pair with Paul Silva, starting with a West Coast run later this month. Larson has worked with Silva since 2012.
“I really just thought it would be fun more than anything,” said Larson, who made his Chili Bowl debut in 2008. “I know I can go there and be good in (Kunz’s) stuff, but you never know if you can go and be better in something else, too. I believe in Paul Silva. He’s the smartest crew chief I’ve ever had on the dirt side of things. He can bring his knowledge to the midget and maybe we’d be better than Keith and it would be easier to win the Chili Bowl.
“But it’s also just fun. Sometimes it gets overwhelming when you’re in a big pit area like that, and it’s crowded and all that but it would be nice to, kind of hopefully, blend in a little bit. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun really to run, not only, Chili Bowl but, hopefully, do all my own racing.”
Larson currently fields a full-time World of Outlaws team for Carson Macedo with Kyle Larson Racing. Larson won consecutive WoO races this summer in his own equipment in starts at Lawrenceburg (Ind.) Speedway and Fairbury (Ill.) Speedway, where he held off current points leader—and his brother-in-law—Brad Sweet for the victory.
Certainly, the KKM/Toyota Racing compound can present an intimidating front to the competition in the Chili Bowl paddock. Kunz’ juggernaut of nearly a dozen midgets holds prime real estate inside the Tulsa Expo Center just beyond the staging area of the half-mile dirt track. But for the competitors, the atmosphere can seem a bit hectic at times, particularly come Saturday. Although the driver ran under his father Mike Larson Racing’s nameplate, he was still squeezed in among Bell and his fellow KKM drivers.
Could running his own equipment be the fresh start Larson needs to claim his first driller?
“At least I’ll have an excuse now—or a better excuse if he’s beating me still and we’re not in similar equipment,” Larson said with a laugh. “We’ll see how it is. I don’t even know which drivers are going to be in Keith’s lineup. I don't even know if Bell’s going to be in Keith’s lineup. That stuff all remains to be seen. (Bell revealed on Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway he’ll be driving for Chad Boat Motorsports. Story here: bit.ly/2N9uxeG )
“I hope to just kind of blend in in the building—but I also want to be good. I look forward to Chili Bowl and what it’s going to be like cause I’ve been with Keith now for so long there and you get kind of used to being in that pit and being a favorite. I’m sure, hopefully, we will be a favorite, but it will be fun.”
Like Bell, Larson is grateful for the experience afforded him by Keith Kunz and Pete Willoughby. He’s also leaving the door open should an opportunity present itself in the future.
“I told Keith I would still—and they’re open to me running for them throughout the summer if it’s too tough for me to get my own car out to the Midwest,” Larson said. “It’s not like I’ll never race for them again. I still want to race for them when I can and when it makes sense.”
NOTE: Kyle Larson rolls off 13th for Sunday's AAA Texas 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway. Larson is currently seventh in the Cup standings with two races to determine the Championship 4.