Like so many rookies, Kyle Larson eagerly anticipates the day when he will pull into a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Victory Lane for the first time.
Unlike many rookies, Larson may not have to wait too long, relatively speaking.
Larson, who along with Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon has headlined a 2014 rookie class that is easily the deepest in several years, has by far been the best of the bunch. In fact, it really hasn’t been all that close.
While Dillon — Larson’s main competition for rookie-of-the-year honors — hasn’t logged a top-10 finish since coming home 10thin the Daytona 500, Larson has been consistently fast in his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Chevrolet.
As the series prepares to return to Daytona International Speedway for this weekend’s Coke Zero 400, Larson has seven top-10s — including three top-fives – in 17 Sprint Cup starts this season.
With nine races remaining before the cutoff to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the 21-year-old Asian-American driver is 12th in points and in great position to qualify for NASCAR’s 10-race playoff.
Of course, the easiest way to ensure a Chase berth under NASCAR’s new-for-2014 points system is to win a race.
Larson, who already has a pair of Nationwide Series victories under his belt this year, is aiming to add a Sprint Cup race winner’s trophy to his collection. His next opportunity will come Saturday night under the lights at the World Center of Racing.
"I think going into Daytona everybody has a good chance of winning," said Larson, who is running a part-time Nationwide Series schedule for Turner Scott Motorsports in addition to his full-time Sprint Cup duties with Ganassi. "We’re really confident, but at the same time it’s a track where things can go really badly. Just kind of setting goals as every other week, try to finish the race and get a top 10 and see if we can put ourselves in position to get a win at the end. That would be great.
"The biggest goal is to try and stay out of the Big One, because it’s going to happen. I’m sure there will be one or two of them throughout the race. … But yeah, it’s been nice running as well as we have, and if we could get a win sometime before the Chase, that would be great."
If Larson can make the Chase, he would be the first rookie to do so since Denny Hamlin in 2006.
"We’re pretty confident," Larson said. "We’ve just got to stay consistent and put ourselves in position like we have all year if we don’t win a race to get into the Chase. If we do win a race, that would be awesome. Just got to make sure we finish every race and can’t have weekends like we’ve had the last couple races.
"I think if we do get in the Chase, too, we’re well capable enough to make it on each round to the final round at Homestead. If we do get there, I’d be super-confident that we’d pull it off, so I am hoping we can get into the Chase, for sure. I think we have got a good shot."
Illuminating Larson’s quick success is that after just 17 races the California native is only one top-five and one top-10 finish shy of the number of top-fives and top-10s recorded last year by Juan Pablo Montoya, his predecessor in the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevy.
Larson, however, credits the entire Ganassi organization for the improved speed in both his No. 42 car and the No. 1 Chevrolet of teammate Jamie McMurray.
"The whole team, from Chip to everybody in the shop and just everybody in the whole organization, has done a great job to get into both mine and Jamie’s teams, being able to compete for wins every week, which is awesome," Larson said. "It’s definitely lit a fire in Chip and everybody at the shop again. We’re all super-pumped up to get to the track.
"It would be nice to start delivering him some wins frequently, but we’re close. We’ll get there."