Larson Preps For Busy Year
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on January 28, 2014 | 1:46 P.M. EST
Kyle Larson scored nine top-five and 17 top-10 finishes last year in the Nationwide Series. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)
It won’t be like that soon.
The next can’t-miss NASCAR Sprint Cup rookie will be among the busiest drivers this season, running a full Cup schedule and all the Nationwide companion races. That should give the 21-year-old Chip Ganassi Racing driver more than 60 races combined, leaving little room to run sprint or midget cars as he has before.
“This kid is going to be busy,’’ said co-owner Felix Sabates. “We’re going to test him whatever many days NASCAR allows plus we have a very extensive (test schedule) at non-NASCAR sanctioned tracks.’’
Larson will be busy because he’s the future of Chip Ganassi Racing. Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart are among those who have heaped praise upon the driver known for his ability to adjust to different type of cars quickly.
That was evident early last year in the Nationwide Series. Larson challenged Kyle Busch for the win at Bristol in the fourth race of the season, losing to Busch in one of the closest finishes in series history.
Understand that was Larson’s first Nationwide race at Bristol, while Busch had won four of his last eight starts there.
After the narrow finish, Busch said of Larson: “He’s got a lot of talent and he’s going to make a name’’ - then Busch caught himself - “he already has made a name for himself.’’
Although Larson didn’t win a Nationwide race, he had nine top-five finishes. That success doesn’t guarantee anything in the Cup series, but he and Austin Dillon are expected to be the leading candidates for the rookie honors this season.
While Dillon’s focus will be on Cup, Larson needs the experience and will run both Nationwide and Cup. While he gained some experience running both series in same weekend three times last year, he knows it will be a challenge this season.
“I think the hardest part about when I did it those few times last year was finding time to get food in your system,’’ Larson said Tuesday during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Media Tour. “It’s tougher to do double duty in NASCAR than it is to do triple-duty in a sprint car race. I know there will be times when I’ll feel worn out but in the end it’s going to make me a better driver.’’
A key issue will be how well Larson communicates with crew chief Chris Heroy and the team. With so little stock car experience - Larson’s first stock car race was 2012 - understanding the car and giving proper feedback will play a role in Larson’s success.
“He’s the biggest sensor in the car, and we set up the cars for him,’’ Heroy said.
Larson admits he “probably still needs to learn the feel of the cars a little better. I do want to learn what changes affect what so I can help my crew chief to help speed the process up. I think if I can learn all that stuff quick in the next few weeks, we’ll have a great season.’’