Kyle Larson: Living up to His Potential

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Dan Beaver
·4 min read
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When Kyle Larson entered the NASCAR Cup season in 2014, it came with a lot of anticipation. Chip Ganassi Racing had strong equipment and an alliance with Hendrick Motorsports that gave them access to a greater volume of notes than the two car operation would otherwise have.

Larson scored his first top-10 in Week 4 of that season on the high banks of Bristol Motor Speedway. A week later, he finished second to Kyle Busch in the Auto Club 400 in a race that was difficult on tires. Two weeks later, Larson was in the top five again. This time his strong run came at Texas Motor Speedway. He was beginning to develop a reputation as a driver who like the larger, faster tracks.

The former dirt track ace scored his first victory in August, 2016 at Michigan International Speedway. His next three wins also came on 2-mile tracks with a pair at Michigan and one at Auto Club. Larson scored a short track win at Richmond Raceway in 2017, but that course often behaves like a unrestricted, intermediate speedway.

The 2018 and 2019 seasons were frustrating. Without the deep pockets of a Hendrick, Joe Gibbs Racing or Team Penske, Ganassi did not challenge for wins as often as he would like. Larson was winless in 2018. He scored his sixth career win at Dover late in the 2019 season.

Then came 2020 and a season that had a great impact on everyone. Larson’s problems were bigger than most of the field and self-imposed. He was suspended by NASCAR for the use of a racial slur during an online event and fired by Chip Ganassi Racing.

Larson fulfilled the NASCAR’s requirement for sensitivity training, but sat out the remainder of the season – opting instead to race dirt cars and reenter when the time was right. He won a remarkable 46 features in Sprint Cars, Midgets, Silver Crown and even Late Models, with which he had no experience. Twelve of his wins came against the best Sprint Car drivers in the World of Outlaws Series.

LARSON’S BIGGEST PAYDAY LAST 365 DAYS: (2021 Las Vegas 1, +900)

In 2021, Larson is not only getting a second chance, but he is in the best equipment of his career. Arguably, he is racing for one of the top three organizations with Hendrick – taking over a slot vacated by a seven-time champion, Jimmie Johnson.

It’s safe to say that much is expected from him. Winning once or twice a season will not be sufficient. As soon as multiple winners emerge in 2021, he needs to be among them in order to fulfill his destiny. Larson has already won this season. He took the checkers at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the Pennzoil 400. At the time, he was the only driver with an odds line lower than 10/1.

Larson nearly won again at Atlanta Motor Speedway – another 1.5-mile speedway – but after dominating the race, he was passed in the closing laps by Ryan Blaney, who managed his tires better.

For all his success on similarly-configured, 1.5- and 2-mile tracks, Larson is actually statistically better on rough pavement tracks. His career average finish of 6.7 in six Darlington Raceway starts comes with a best finish of second. Dover is second on his list of active tracks with a 7.4 in 12 starts, including that 2019 win.

Larson has been one of the strongest drivers in the field all season. He swept the top-10 on ovals in the first five races of 2021, should have contended for the win at Bristol on the dirt track until Christopher Bell spun into his path and rebounded immediately at Martinsville Speedway.

Last week’s Richmond effort was the only time he has shown weakness on an oval. He got lapped when a part time driver spun a veteran during a green flag sequence of stops. A long uninterrupted green sequence followed and he lost another lap. It’s anyone’s guess as to what number he will draw in the Talladega Superspeedway lottery.

With that in the books, however, the month of May should be very rewarding with Kansas Speedway, Darlington, Dover, and Charlotte Motor Speedway making up four of the next five races. Get your wallet out and ride this horse for as long as you can.