Kyle Larson appears calm, cool and collected heading into his first Chase for the Sprint Cup playoff.
What do you call a driver who’s only 24 years old, half-Japanese, a graduate of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program and has only won one of his 102 Sprint Cup Series starts?
You call him the Most Dangerous Man in NASCAR right now.
His name is Kyle Larson and he’s suddenly become the hottest driver in NASCAR and someone legitimately being discussed as a serious contender to win the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
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Larson came into NASCAR in 2014 after burning up the dirt tracks of the West Coast as a teenager. In his first Cup season, Larson had four runner-up finishes and claimed Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors.
But his performance fell off in 2015, as he developed a reputation as someone who was frequently fast but had trouble finishing races up front.
The 2016 campaign featured much of the same, as he posted just one top-five and two top-10 finishes in the first 10 races of the year.
But lately, Larson has been on fire. He won his first Cup race in 99 starts with a great run last month at Michigan International Speedway. He followed that up with a third-place finish at Darlington Raceway and then a runner-up at Richmond International Raceway.
This weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, the Chase begins and Larson has been impressive here, too, pacing the field in both of Saturday’s practices in advance of Sunday’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400.
Suddenly, Larson is talked about as being a dark horse to win the Chase.
"I think he’s sort of a dark horse, but he’s actually on a Draft King value, he’s very high because he’s cheap, but, man, he can definitely punch out the results," reigning series champ Kyle Busch said of Larson. "And they have shown that the last few weeks of having good cars, having good speed and being right there in the running for the final finish."
Larson says he’s good with the attention.
"I don’t see that as pressure or added pressure," Larson said Thursday at Chase Media Day in Chicago. "I just get excited about these 10 races. You know, I’ve ran good at most all of them in the past.
"Especially 2014 we had a good run in the last 10 races," Larson said. "Even last year there were a couple where we did well at. I could have won Homestead last year had that caution not come out at the end."
So while other drivers head into the Chase with questions Larson insisted he’s ready to roll.
"That adds confidence to our team and myself knowing that these are a great lineup of tracks," said Larson. "We just got to go out there, do our part, stay out of trouble, and hopefully it all takes care of itself."
Car owner Ganassi is bullish, too.
"He thinks those are good tracks for him," Ganassi said of Larson and the 10 Chase tracks. "We think they’re good tracks. He’s shown before he knows his way around Miami. That’s always good, to be good at the final track.
"He’s a shootout kind of guy," Ganassi said. "A lot of those races turn into shootouts. You’re not so much racing the entire field in those races a lot of times. I look forward to it."