Double duty serving Kyle Larson well
March 18, 2014, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
Body of work in Sprint Cup, Nationwide Series improving with added track time
"I would be disappointed if they ever did that. I don't see them ever doing it," he said. "I think the Nationwide regulars like Cup guys running with them. I know I do. I consider myself still young, I guess, in racing stock cars. Whenever I'm out there with guys like Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, I can see them in front of me, I'm learning a lot from them. I like it. I think it's good for the development side of the young drivers, because it is a development series for those kids. I think it's a good thing for NASCAR to have the Cup guys in there, because it's just going to make their series more competitive when those young guys move up."
Larson, who broke through last year with a stellar Nationwide debut, certainly stands out as an example of that. The 21-year-old Chip Ganassi Racing rookie has been competitive in his first campaign at NASCAR's highest level, notching a career-best 10th-place finish Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway. His development has been aided in part by a double-duty strategy in which he's also running all Nationwide companion events this season for Turner Scott Motorsports.
"Chip Ganassi, he really wanted me to do double duty," Larson said Tuesday on a teleconference with reporters. "I think I read a stat somewhere -- before the year, I've only ran 40-something stock car races in my career. I'm getting double the amount of experience in stock cars this year running both. I think it's a good thing."
He's certainly progressed more quickly at the Sprint Cup level than many forecasted when he was chosen to succeed Juan Pablo Montoya in the organization's No. 42 car. After being involved in a crash late in the Daytona 500, he was caught a lap down on a pit stop at Phoenix, and then sped on pit road at Las Vegas. Still, his results gradually improved, and at Bristol he ran right behind leader Kenseth for a solid stretch of the race.
"Bristol was the first week of the season that was mistake‑free and drama‑free, I guess, and we didn't have anything happen to us," he said. "Hopefully we'll have more and more of those. After the first three weeks, I realized to even get a top 15, you have to be almost perfect or have a perfect race. It's tough to come back from mistakes in this series. I learned that really quick."
Even so, toward the middle of Sunday's race he allowed himself to think that he might have a chance of winning -- which made his first career top 10 at the Sprint Cup level feel a little disappointing as a result.
"There at the end maybe we pitted when we shouldn't have, and then it was tough to pass," he said. "It's really actually exciting to be a little bit disappointed in a top‑10 finish in the Cup Series. Like I said, this series is really competitive and hard to do well in. I thought we had a top‑five race going for sure, and ended up 10th. Career‑best Sprint Cup finish for me, and a little bit disappointing, too. I guess that's a good thing, though, from where this team has come from."
The No. 42 team finished 21st in points with Montoya last season. The Bristol finish gives Larson some momentum heading to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., where he will compete in both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup events again this weekend. The double duty benefits go both ways -- he's off to a tremendous Nationwide start, finishing fourth or better in each of his last three events.
"I really think it helps for my Nationwide race, running the Cup stuff," said Larson, a native of the Northern California town of Elk Grove. "Now when I get in the Nationwide car, it feels slow. Things happen slower. I have more confidence in that. That's why I've been running really well in that car so far, too. I think it helps the Cup Series a little bit, but I think it helps the Nationwide Series a whole bunch."
Larson is battling with Austin Dillon of Richard Childress Racing for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award in the Sprint Cup ranks. Although he's ineligible for the Nationwide title, his hot start in that series for Turner Scott has him hoping to claim some hardware nonetheless.
"I guess I can still try and get Harry Scott and Steve Turner the owners' championship," Larson said. "Maybe I can help them accomplish that."