Being perpetually optimistic is a trait that has served Kyle Larson well.
The fourth-year Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver is coming off the most successful season of his career – and although an engine issue stunningly cost his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing team a shot at the 2017 title, Larson remained all smiles and high hopes circulating at the annual year-ending banquet in Las Vegas early this month.
“It was definitely a terrific year for us,” the 25-year old California said with a grin. “I look back and four wins in the Cup series. … It was a really good year and it was a breakout season for us and our race team.
“We went from being kind of an underdog team to favorites early in the year and that was cool to be a part of.”
RELATED: See Larson’s career stats
Larson had career highs in pole positions (three), top-10s (20), top-fives (15) and most importantly, victories with four. And he firmly established himself a championship contender advancing to the penultimate round before a blown engine in Kansas stunningly eliminated him from a hard-fought, well-deserved championship run down the stretch.
“It was a little tough to deal with at first but now that we’re through Homestead, I’m already on to the next year,” Larson said. “I’ve already put that behind us and honestly, I’m not even thinking about that anymore.
“It was just an engine failure, nothing that I or our team did wrong, or even [engine supplier] Hendrick did wrong. It was just a part failure. I don’t think about. I move on and look forward to next year.”
Larson’s positive demeanor is genuine, and no-doubt a trait passed to him from his doting parents Janet and Michael who – along with sister Andrea — spent much of the last decade driving around the country supporting Larson’s great desire and massive talent to race.
It was that natural talent combined with his easy-going yet highly-focused attitude that made Larson attractive to his team owner Chip Ganassi – and has also made him one of the sport’s most popular young drivers.
Ganassi smiles proudly at how well the pairing has worked out since hiring Larson. He considers Larson a rare gem among some of the sport’s young drivers, because he hired him solely on his ability to race, not because he brought any big sponsorship dollars. It’s an important distinction and one that has created much loyalty between Ganassi and Larson.
“I love racing for Chip and I’m extremely grateful and thankful,” Larson said, making sure to make eye contact. “I’ll always be loyal to that and I’m glad we’re running good and maybe can bring a championship to our organization.
“I feel like we’re good enough to go out there and expect to contend for wins and contend for championships. It changes year by year. Next year we could be the 78 team [2017 champion Martin Truex Jr.] or we could be a mid-pack team again. You just have to put in the hard work to stay ahead of the game and I feel like we’ve done a good job of that.”