Historic win doesn't faze 20-year-old Larson
April 15, 2013, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com
The celebration was loud and forceful and genuine.
Kyle Larson steered his winning No. 30 Chevrolet into Victory Lane, lowered his safety net, climbed onto the ledge and began pumping his fist. His boisterous team screamed at the sight, spraying him and each other with Cheerwine -- a popular cherry soda produced in North Carolina -- for a few moments as the 20-year-old soaked in his first career win in one of NASCAR’s national series.
And then it was over.
Larson accepted congratulations from James Buescher, the defending Truck Series champion and Turner Scott Motorsports teammate, and calmly began doing TV interviews. When wrapping up at the track nearly an hour later, with his fire suit still covered with splotchy red stains from the previous celebration, it was clear Larson had moved on, was already thinking about future victories and how to get them.
“It’s definitely sunk in,” Larson reiterated Monday during NASCAR’s weekly teleconference with reporters. “It feels good to finally win a national race with NASCAR. I got close at Phoenix last year in the truck race and then again at Bristol in the Nationwide Series. So it finally feels good to get the monkey off my back.”
Finally? Monkey off my back? Those are words and phrases uttered by veterans who have spent, at times, years searching for that elusive first victory. Sunday’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at The Rock presented by Cheerwine was the fifth Truck Series start of Larson’s career. He’s made 11 total starts in NASCAR’s top three touring series.
But while Larson may not be a veteran in the traditional sense, he has plenty of in-car experience and enough success to earn the nickname of “Next Sliced Bread,” a nod to 22-year-old Sprint Cup Series driver Joey Logano who was, like Larson, a fast riser at a young age. Folks took to calling Logano “Sliced Bread,” as in the greatest thing since. Coincidentally, it was a hard-charging Logano that Larson held off at Rockingham for his victory.
"It feels good to finally win a national race with NASCAR."
“I think it's good that we're able to race with Sprint Cup guys that have a ton of experience,” Larson said. “It's only better for us young guys that are trying to gain experience. We can learn a ton off racing with those guys. It makes it better for our resume or our career, or whatever, when we go out there and beat them or race hard with them.”
Beating drivers older than him hasn’t yet been an issue for Larson, who began racing before he turned 10. He earned notoriety as a phenom through his victories in all types of cars.
Larson, of Japanese-American heritage, was selected as a member of the 2012 NASCAR Drive for Diversity class. He spent the 2012 season racing in the K&N Pro Series East, where he won twice, had eight top-fives and 12 top-10s in a 14-race schedule to win the series championship.
Sunday’s Truck Series win was the first at the NASCAR national level for a graduate of the Drive for Diversity program. And it came on a high-banked track that opened in 1965 and is teeming with history, from its quaint setting, nestled among pine trees, in rural North Carolina to its past races involving the likes of Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough.
That moment wasn’t lost on Miguel Paludo, who also drives for Turner Scott Motorsports. Paludo sought out Larson in Victory Lane on Sunday, offered a few words of encouragement and patted him on the head.
“I mean, that’s one of the toughest tracks,” Paludo said. “It’s really rough, it’s bad on tires … but that’s why he’s so special. I’m glad for him.”
“It was cool to win at Rockingham with how much history it has,” Larson added. “It's a really fun race track. The driver is really important there. You can do a lot as a driver to make your car better, so it's a lot of fun to drive there.
“It was really special too because we had Autism Speaks on the truck. And my crew chief, Trent Owens' son, his 5‑year‑old son, Gray, has autism. And I know it's special for him, and it felt good for me to be able to win for Trent.”
Larson isn’t slated to drive a truck this week when the series heads to Kansas. The NASCAR Nationwide Series, where Larson drives the No. 32 full time for Turner Scott Motorsports, is off for the third time in four weeks.
Don’t call it an off weekend, though. Larson will return to his roots and race small cars in small towns. He’ll drive a sprint car at the World of Outlaw events in Paducah, Ky., on Friday and at Haubstadt, Ind., on Saturday. He also hopes to add a Sunday race in Jacksonville, Ill.
“(I’m) getting three races in this weekend, which is nice,” Larson said. “I’m going to try to race as much as I can. I think the more you're in a race car, the more you're learning. … I just keep trying to learn as much as I can, so I race as much as I can."
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