MONTE DUTTON: THE FORCE IS WITH LARSON
Kyle Larson took a while to get started. It’s because he started young. He was 21 when he debuted on what is now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in the fall of 2013.
It took Larson 101 tries to win. Now he’s won four of the past 36 and finished second nine times during that span. Oddly, all four victories have been at two-mile tracks. The runner-up finishes have occurred at every kind of NASCAR venue except a road course. He did, however, turn in a fourth at Sonoma back in 2015.
Larson has gone from “talented, but it’s too soon” to “talented, but he’s got to learn to close the deal” to “talented, end of story, period.” No question mark.
Always “talented.” It’s entirely possible that he is still nowhere near reaching his potential. What is his potential? Have you ever seen footage of a volcano erupting?
What his most recent Michigan victory demonstrated is that he is honing his virtuosity. Way back yonder, in a galaxy far, far away, before Larson was born, Luke Skywalker struggled to harness the Force.
Make room, Kyle Busch. Perhaps there is a place for a new wunderkind.
Larson didn’t settle for second last week. He stole a victory from Martin Truex Jr. in the guise of a cat burglar. He’s got a target on his chest, literally, when he’s wearing his firesuit. No worries. Apparently, next year, he won’t have Target on his car.
In the span of less than 24 hours, Larson finished second in the Knoxville Nationals at a dirt track in Iowa and first in the Pure Michigan 400 on the banked pavement of the latter state’s Brooklyn.
Larson requires no more strict supervision. He has reached a point where his crew chief, Chad Johnston, and his owner, Chip Ganassi, have told him what Fleetwood Mac could have: “You can go your own way.”
“He’s more than capable of making those decisions of what the best move is going to be, way more capable than I am,” said Johnston of Larson, and a while later, “To me, he’s the best talent out there, and if we can put him in position, I think you’re going to get that outcome 99 percent of the time.”
The most successful driver of the season, and the most likely still to win the championship, Truex, spun the rear tires of his Toyota on the restart, Larson’s Chevy gave it an understandable tap, and Larson proceeded to use a middle lane he created to lead, economically, only the final two laps.
“It honestly worked out exactly how I had hoped it would …” Larson said later.
Truex could not have been more sportsmanlike on TV. He flashed some anger in the media conference later, particularly at a suggestion that he was somehow trying to help teammate Erik Jones win. It must have been no fun to insist that he was beaten as fairly as a judge and as squarely as any garden where basketball and hockey are played.
“There was no distinctive move,” Truex said. “I mean, if a guy screws up in front of you, take advantage. So I screwed up, and he (Larson) took advantage. That’s the way it works.”
The drivers have strength trainers. They ride bicycles on race mornings. Larson races sprint cars the night before. A little shuteye. Cup of coffee. He’s good to go.