19-year-old gains ground in NASCAR

From his ARCA debut at Michigan International Speedway two weeks ago to his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series coming-out party Thursday night at Kentucky Speedway, Kyle Larson is quickly rising through the racing ranks.

While most youngsters are concentrating on their studies, the Elk Grove, Calif., native who turns 20 next month is getting his education behind the wheel.

“Based on my schedule, I have 120 – 130 races that I’m running this year,” Larson said. “So I’m pretty busy between Sprint cars, Midgets, wing, non-wing, pavement, dirt.”

Larson, 19, will drive the No. 4 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet for Turner Motorsports just a day or so after he passed one of his heroes, Tony Stewart, in a winged-sprint car.

When Stewart was asked on "Wind Tunnel" who he believed would be the next SPEED Performer of the Year, his answer was Larson.

“It’s a guy that I’ve got to run with a little bit, and he’s not in a major series as far as IndyCar or Formula One or NASCAR right now,” Stewart told Dave Despain. “Kyle Larson is a kid that definitely stands out right now. Watching him in the USAC Midgets, Sprint Car and Silver Crown and watching him in the winged-sprint cars with the World of Outlaws and out on the West Coast, the kid is absolutely phenomenal.

“He’s been running those K&N races and doing a really good job. He’s a kid that really has a lot of potential.”

For Larson, it’s a long way from the days when he sat on his mother’s lap at Silver Dollar Speedway in Chico, Calif., learning about racing flags.

Larson’s parents were “big fans” when he was younger. Larson’s father, Mike, built him his first go-kart when Kyle was 4 “just to play around in.” He didn’t run competitively until he was 7 and moved into Sprint cars at 14.

Before the season started, Larson — who became the first racer to post wins in a World of Outlaws event and all three USAC divisions in the same season — was named to the 2012 NASCAR Drive for Diversity program. Under the D4D banner, Larson runs for Rev Racing in the K&N Pro Series. His first victory on that tour came at Gresham Motorsports Park on June 9.

Larson was also placed under contract by Chip Ganassi at the start of the season. However, Larson says he doesn’t feel any “added pressure” being recruited by one of the most successful owners in American motorsports.

“It doesn’t feel much different other than I’m racing stock cars a little bit,” he said. “I still get to race the Sprint cars and stuff. Other than racing stock cars and living in North Carolina, it’s about the same as it was before. It’s been good. I don’t pay attention (to the publicity). I just try to race and do the best I can.”

Larson recently moved to Huntersville, NC, but admits he’s “never there. I’m always racing.” Not surprising since his season began in Auckland, New Zealand, before jetting back to Tulsa for the Chili Bowl and back down under to Australia for four more events. Leading into Thursday’s UNOH 225 Truck race, Larson had competed in 60 events.

“Obviously, I want to get to the Cup series someday,” Larson said. “But if I could ever get a shot at running the Indy 500, that would be real cool. To race in a series week in and week out, I’d like to run NASCAR for sure. We’ll have to wait and see (what my next stock car move will be). It all depends how I’m doing this year. They’re not going to move me up until I’m ready, and I wouldn’t want to either.

“Hopefully, as each year goes on, I move up more and more, but I’m just taking it as it comes. As of right now, I just want to go out and win as many races as I can and try to build my name up even more. I just want to win.”

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