Larson leaps into Nationwide spotlight
February 06, 2013, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
The wait -- however brief by racing standards -- is over for 20-year-old Kyle Larson.
The development driver for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates and first championship graduate from NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program formally announced Wednesday his plans to run a full 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule with Turner Scott Motorsports.
The biggest challenge for this much-touted young talent may be managing the high expectations. And no one associated with this opportunity is complaining about that.
“There’s no question that everybody’s eyes are going to be on Kyle and the job that he’s doing,” Ganassi said in a teleconference with national media Wednesday. “I think that’s why we thought it was important to get him with a first-class team like Harry Scott and Steve Turner. That’s what he needs. We really want to do it right. If you’re willing to give him the best shot, you have to get him with the best team.”
Larson, a California native whose mother is Japanese, comes from a stellar line of United States Auto Club open-wheel pedigrees such as Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne -- NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers who have mentored Larson during the early part of his career.
Like this special group of NASCAR stars, Larson has proven himself in a variety of race cars on a variety of surfaces.
In 2011 he won in all three of USAC’s top divisions -- sprint cars, midget and Silver Crown cars -- on the same night, racing at Stewart’s famed Eldora Speedway dirt track. Last February he won the first stock car race on asphalt that he’d ever entered -- a super late model event at New Smyrna, Fla.
While participating in the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program in 2012, Larson became the third driver in history to win the highly competitive K&N Pro Series East championship as a rookie.
And he really turned heads late last season when he scored top-10 finishes -- including a runner-up at Phoenix International Raceway -- in three of the four NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races he drove for Turner Scott Motorsports.
“The opportunity we have here (with Larson) I really think it’s going to be a rewarding experience,’’ team owner Scott said. “I think very few people in racing get to watch a driver like Kyle kind of flourish and grow and be a part of that.’’
Confirming a multiyear agreement with the Ganassi team and Larson, Scott explained, “We feel like we’ve got enough time that we can take our time with Kyle, we can try to give him the opportunity he needs in order to move on to the next level in his career.
“That in itself is going to be rewarding. It’s not how many trophies he ends up with. What I’m looking forward to is just watching him grow.’’
The plan is for Larson to run the ARCA race at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 16 so NASCAR officials will approve his Nationwide Series debut the following week in the Feb. 23 DRIVE4COPD 300 there.
He’ll also compete in three different short-track series during NASCAR’s first-ever UNOH Battle of the Beach Feb. 18-19 on the famed Daytona track’s backstretch.
All the seat time should bolster Larson’s confidence and his goals for his Nationwide Series rookie campaign. Veteran Trent Owens will serve as crew chief on Larson’s No. 32 Chevrolet Camaro.
“I feel like I’m with a really good team with Turner Scott Motorsports,’’ Larson said. “I’d like to win at least a race or two, hopefully contend for the championship. If I could finish in the top five in points at the end of the year, lead some laps, win a race. … I think those are pretty good goals to set.
“It’s going to be a really tough season. There’s a lot of good talent (in the Nationwide Series). It’s going to be fun to race with those guys and I’m going to learn a lot. Hopefully at the end of the year, I’m a lot better than where I am at Daytona.’’
Asked when he expected Larson to make his Sprint Cup debut, Ganassi chuckled and reminded the media that Larson hadn’t even made his first Nationwide Series start yet.
“The good news is I think Kyle has shown an uncanny ability to really drive anything put under him so far,’’ Ganassi said. “He seems like a great young man with plenty of raw talent. It was just a matter of finding the right situations for him along the way.’’
Both Larson and Ganassi credit the diversity program for moving Larson’s career along. It gave him the exposure and opportunity.
Now it’s time for him to show why.
“I know I have a lot of pressure on me,’’ Larson said. “I try not to pay attention to it at all. Racing is what I love. It’s more of a hobby than anything. I try to go out, do the best I can. I don’t really try to read articles about me or listen to what people might have to say.
“It’s always good to have people talking about me and putting pressure on me, ‘cause if I live up to it, it just makes the story so much better.’’