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Larson competitive in Sprint Cup debut

October 12, 2013, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com

21-year-old driver makes the most of debut despite engine failure

RELATED: Full Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup coverage

CONCORD, N.C. -- Kyle Larson didn't make it to the end of his first race in NASCAR's premier series, but he was on the track long enough at Charlotte Motor Speedway to show that he belonged.

Making his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut Saturday night, Larson fell out of the running when the engine in his No. 51 car first dropped a cylinder, and then gave out completely. But while he was out there he held his own, hanging around the top 15 and staying on the lead lap for the majority of his run.

"I just had a lot of fun racing those guys," the 21-year-old Californian said in the garage area. "I had good restarts, I thought. Got close to the top 10, and I felt like I could hang with those guys. So it makes me a little more confident going into my next Cup race."

That will come in a few weeks at the 0.526-mile Martinsville Speedway, where Larson tested for two days earlier this week. The NASCAR Nationwide Series standout will succeed Juan Pablo Montoya next season in Earnhardt Ganassi Racing's No. 42 Chevrolet. Montoya's contract was not renewed at EGR, and the Colombian will return to the open-wheel ranks in 2014.

That means an accelerated career path for Larson, currently in his first season on the Nationwide tour, where he's ninth in points. The EGR developmental driver is making his first two Sprint Cup starts in the No. 51 of Phoenix Racing, recently purchased by Harry Scott Jr., who also co-owns the Turner Scott Motorsports team where Larson competes on the Nationwide circuit.

"It was a lot of fun. I learned quite a bit," he said of his experience Saturday night. "It was nice to run close to the top 10 there for a while. … We got too loose, and then that last run I felt like we were pretty good and then the engine let go. Not sure what happened, I think it dropped a cylinder. But hat's off to my guys, and thanks to Chip Ganassi and Harry Scott and everybody at Phoenix Racing and Earnhardt Ganassi Racing for letting me get out here and do my debut at Charlotte."

Larson was one of three drivers making a Sprint Cup debut Saturday, along with Brian Scott and Blake Koch. Scott wound up with the best finish among that trio, placing 27th. Larson finished 37th after the engine failure, while Koch placed 38th. Larson was among the leaders until he lost a lap to leader Kasey Kahne on Lap 168, but soon afterward gained it back by being the beneficiary on a debris caution.

"It was a lot of fun, really," Larson said. "The more horsepower, the different air out there, just everything. I have a lot of fun in the Nationwide Series, too, but racing out there with guys I don’t race with all the time makes it a lot of fun."

What did he take most from his first Sprint Cup race?

"Just how I want to get better on my green-flag stops, for sure," he said. "Just how the track changed. It changed a lot more, I thought, than it did (Friday) night, and you could move around a little bit more. The lines change a little more -- last night you felt like the top was where to be, and there were points where you could run the top. But most of the time you're on the bottom. So it’s just a little more searching around over here."

Officials from Hendrick Motorsports, from which EGR gets its engines, were among those peering under the hood of the No. 51 car after it was parked in the garage. Larson, though, was still raring to go.

"I wish I would have gotten a full race in," he said. "I feel like I could have finished the race, and I'm not tired at all. So that was good to know."

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