In the moments immediately after Ryan Newman knocked him out of the way on the final lap of last Sunday’s Chase elimination race at Phoenix International Raceway, Kyle Larson was admittedly a bit perturbed.
But once he realized Newman had to have that position — 11th — to beat Jeff Gordon and claim the final spot in the Championship 4, rookie Larson quickly calmed down.
"I didn’t want to kick his butt," said Larson, whose No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet slid up into the wall following the bump from Newman’s No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevy.
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"He called me this week and we talked. I told him I was upset for 10 minutes, then I realized Ryan knew what was on the line for him. I think there are a lot of people out here that probably would have done the same thing that he did. At least he is in the Chase; it would be a great move if he goes on to win the championship. Like I said, I get over things pretty quickly."
Would Larson have moved Newman out of the way if the roles had been reversed?
"It’s hard to really say until you are in that position," said the 22-year-old driver. "I got a ton of criticism a couple of years ago when I did an even probably worse move at a Late Model race. Yeah, I don’t know, it’s hard to say, but there is a ton on the line at that point."
While last weekend’s penultimate Sprint Cup event of 2014 certainly didn’t end as Larson had hoped, it doesn’t put a damper on his season.
Defying all the odds for a rookie driver, Larson has enjoyed major success despite still being relatively new to full-bodied stock cars. Over 35 races, he’s posted 17 top-10 finishes, including eight top fives. Three of those top fives were second-place finishes.
The only notable item missing from Larson’s 2014 resume? A trip to Victory Lane.
"He’s just a guy that’s got natural talent, and natural talent’s really something. It’s pretty hard to teach a guy how to go fast," 1989 Sprint Cup champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace said on Friday in the Homestead-Miami Speedway media center. "He’s a superstar. There’s no doubt about that. He’s a racer at heart. He gets it, he understands it, does great interviews, talks to his team real good, his feedback’s fantastic, so he’s the real deal."
Dale Jarrett, the 1999 Sprint Cup champion and another Hall of Fame inductee, has been equally impressed with young Larson — an alumnus of NASCAR’s Drive For Diversity program.
In fact, Jarrett says he saw Larson’s potential for greatness last season when Larson was running full time in the Nationwide Series.
"The thing that I think raised my attention to him last year was — and this isn’t to take away from the race team — but when you see young drivers doing better than what they’re equipment is really capable, then you know that driver is very capable, and I think Kyle Larson was doing that last year," Jarrett said.
"I’ll go all the way back to Jimmie Johnson. When I saw him driving in inferior equipment in what was the Busch Series at the time, I’m not going to say that I saw a six-time champion, but you knew that he was very talented, and I put Kyle Larson in that respect, too. He’s going to win races and he’s going to win championships in the right situation."
In Sunday’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Larson is set to join Wallace and a host of other NASCAR greats as a winner of the prestigious Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year Award.
Expected to battle hard with fellow rookie and 2013 Nationwide Series champion Austin Dillon for the honor, Larson has consistently performed at a higher level throughout the season.
"It feels awesome. I think everybody kind of picked Austin Dillon as a favorite going into the year, and I don’t blame them," Larson said. "He has accomplished so much in his NASCAR career and even dirt career before that. I have only been in stock cars a couple of years, so it’s nice to prove some of the doubters wrong. It’s been a good rookie season. It would be nice to cap off the year with a win here at Homestead."
Especially after how things went down last week in Phoenix.
VIDEO: Ryan Newman talks about sneaking into the Chase with his bold late-race move at Phoenix