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Larson's early success more than beginner's luck

April 07, 2014, Holly Cain,

Another top-five finish shows that rookie can hang with the big boys

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FORT WORTH, Texas -- As the final laps wound down in Monday’s Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, Chip Ganassi Racing crew chief Chris Heroy asked his rookie driver Kyle Larson over the team radio a typical litany of questions about his race car. Then he followed it up by simply asking if Larson was having fun.

“Yeah,’’ the 21-year old Larson replied without hesitation.

“That’s what it’s all about,’’ answered Heroy.

Of course racing is a lot more fun when you’re enjoying the kind of results this pair has recently put up in the No. 42 Target Chevrolet.

Larson’s fifth place finish in his first Cup start on the 1.5-mile Texas high banks Monday was his third top-10 in the last four races and second top-five. The Californian finished runner-up at Auto Club Speedway two weeks ago -- tying the best showing for the 42-team since former driver Juan Pablo Montoya won at Watkins Glen, N.Y., in 2010.

The car collected six top-five finishes total in the last three years. Yet only seven races into Larson’s rookie year, this team feels absolutely on the verge of victory.

And that’s fun.

“I think if we just keep keeping ourselves in contention, things will work out late in the races or we might have a dominating car one day and get our first win,’’ Larson said.

“I feel like right now it could come at a mile‑and‑a‑half or a little bit bigger track. Hopefully that comes soon because there's a lot on the schedule.”

Certainly it looks like Larson has taken a liking to these big and mid-size tracks -- a little ironic considering his roots stem from sprint car racing.

Monday’s race was indicative of the potential Larson has shown all year, minus a frustrating Daytona 500.

“He’s really good on these type of tracks and he did a great job on that (final) restart today,’’ Heroy said. “I was really proud of the team today because of how the Target Chevy unloaded, I swear we were a 30th-place car, we were really bad (in opening practice).

“So it’s a good day to come home fifth. We’re really happy with that.

“Everybody’s behind him. He’s a great kid and here for the right reasons. And he’s fast.

“We expect to win a race this year.’’

Not only does the team have a good vibe, Larson’s competitors have taken note. As he did in California, he made himself a factor right up through the final restart on Monday, dicing it up with champions and veterans.

“Kyle (Larson) is just super talented,’’ four-time Cup champion and Monday’s runner-up Jeff Gordon said. “He has great car control, really knows how to be aggressive and search the race track.  

“I only wish I had the talent those two [Larson and Texas Nationwide race winner 18-year old Chase Elliott] have. I think that the future obviously looks very bright for our sport."


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