Race Weekend Central

2014 NASCAR Driver Review: Kyle Larson

Kyle Larson

2014 Ride: No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Chevrolet
2014 Crew Chief: Chris Heroy
2014 Points Finish: 17th
2014 Stats: 36 starts, zero wins, eight top fives, 17 top 10s, one pole, 53 laps led, four DNFs, 15.6 average start, 14.2 average finish
2014 Best Finish: Second at Fontana, Loudon II, Kansas II

Winner Rookie of the Year 2014

High Point: Late in the Camping World Truck Series Mudsummer Classic at Eldora Speedway, Kyle Larson led the field to the restart. With but 18 laps remaining, Darrell Wallace Jr. left Larson’s No. 32 behind. However, Larson had no intention of letting Wallace just drive away with the win. Larson spent the remainder of the race using up every inch of dirt, the cushion and the wall in a truly classic chase to the checkers. If anybody had questioned the Sprint Cup rookie’s will to win, it was on full display that night.

Low Point: But the win at Eldora was not meant to be. With only two laps remaining, Larson gave up the pursuit of Wallace and slowed to a crawl. After knocking down the walls over 70 times in the 150 lap features, his truck was now a crumpled mess. He limped back to the pits, where Larson gave a morose and regretful post-race interview. He owned the act of demolishing his truck and wasting the hard work of the entire team. It may have been a low moment for him as a racer, but it was a moment of growth for him as a man.

Summary: Great things were expected of the 2014 Sprint Cup rookie class. We had the grandson of a legendary car owner driving the fabled black No. 3, going up against a hot-shot Californian who lived on dirt all through his short life. The Californian is the one who stood up to those expectations. Larson wowed the establishment by running in the top 10 more races than not, knocking on the back doors for wins and doing what no rookie has done in the top series for nearly a decade – earned the respect and admiration of his fellow drivers.

Of course, this respect is never achieved without bending a nose or two: Tony Stewart had more than a few words for Larson, who blocked the veteran at Michigan in June. “He’ll learn it’s not a good idea,” said Stewart.

It may have been lessons learned at Michigan, Eldora and other races that temporized Larson’s reaction to his final spotlight moment of the year: On the last lap at Phoenix, Ryan Newman slid up the track and bumped Larson into the wall, killing the rookie’s momentum but ensuring the No. 31’s place in the final round of the Chase. Larson could’ve climbed from his car calling Newman names, but after thinking on it for a week, he gave the kind of interview that we expect from a seasoned veteran. “I completely understand the situation and can’t fault [Newman] for being aggressive there.”

We often spend a year or two calling a driver on his “rookie mistakes,” it was extremely refreshing to find one in Larson who was willing to learn from them.

2015 Outlook: It appears the Target team has everything lined up to improve upon 2014’s results by keeping driver, crew chief and sponsors together. Considering the steep and impressive learning curve Larson climbed this season, it should be expected that we will see his Chevy in victory lane and in the Chase in 2015.

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