You might say Kyle Larson has a fair amount of pressure on him right now, but you’d never know it by the way he drives.
Larson, who won’t turn 22 until July 31, is a rookie in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driving for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates in what’s the deepest and most talented rookie class in years.
He’s also a newly-minted home owner, having recently purchased his first house in tony Huntersville, N.C. And, he’s an expectant father, with his first child with girlfriend Katelyn Sweet due in December.
And his three previous NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races prior to Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway saw him finish 36th at Daytona, 40th at Kentucky and 28th on the Sonoma Raceway road course.
We talked about it in our team meeting — that it is going to take a really dumb call or what would look dumb, but hopefully work out. It did.
Those back-to-back-to-back poor finishes saw Larson plummet from eighth to 17th in points.
Add it all up and it’s a lot of pressure.
But Sunday at New Hampshire, Larson drove a great race, helped out with some aggressive strategic moves from crew chief Chris Heroy, a/k/a "Shine," to finish third behind race-winner Brad Keselowski and runner-up Kyle Busch.
The key moment came on Lap 113 of the 301-lap race, when NASCAR threw a caution flag for debris in Turn 3. Larson was running 16th at the time, when Heroy called for him to stay on track rather than pit. It was a gamble for track position, which is so critical on the narrow New Hampshire oval.
And it worked like a charm, as from there on, Larson spent most of the race at or near the front of the field.
"Shine made some bold calls on pit road to get us some track position and really paid off," said Larson, who wound up third after a green-white-checkered finish. "We didn’t have enough forward drive there at the end, but were able to get a good restart and get up to third.
Larson was understandably pleased with the results.
"I will take it," he said. "It’s been a rough three weeks leading up to now. Just have to get back up there in the points. We were really good and then we had two DNF’s and then a bad race at Sonoma. Just got to get back to how we have been doing and that is consistent. All in all, a really good day."
And the rookie said he knew the aggressive pit calls were needed to get to the front.
"We talked about it in our team meeting — that it is going to take a really dumb call or what would look dumb, but hopefully work out. It did," said Larson. "We got to lead some laps and maintained our track position all race long after that. Great pit calls by Shine. The Target Chevy was really good. I thought we definitely had a capable car to run top three. The last restart worked out for us."
The third-place finish moved Larson back up to 14th in points, where he has the exact same number of points as 15th-place Austin Dillon, Larson’s main competition for rookie honors.
"Once again thanks to Target for letting me come out here and do what I do and Chip (Ganassi) and everybody at the shop," said Larson. "These race cars have been a lot faster this year than they have in the past. Just really want to thank those guys and I’m sure having a blast right now."