Kyle Larson has turned a lot of heads this season with quick success in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
What the rookie driver has yet to do is translate his success into a trip to Victory Lane.
Will Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway be the race when it all finally comes together for the 22-year-old Chip Ganassi Racing driver? The last rookie to win a Sprint Cup race was Joey Logano all the way back in 2009. And it happened at New Hampshire, of all places.
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After an impressive third-place finish in last Sunday’s Chase for the Sprint Cup opener at Chicagoland Speedway, where Larson led 20 laps and battled Kevin Harvick for the top spot in the closing laps, the youngster is so close to winning he can taste it.
"This is probably not one of my favorite racetracks, but I seem to run pretty well here whenever I’ve been here in the three different types of cars," Larson said on Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. "It kind of reminds me of IRP (Indianapolis Raceway Park) which I like that track, so I think that kind of racing there helps me for here. It’s just harder to pass here.
"We finished third here earlier in the year, so hopefully we can improve on that or just still end up somewhere in the top five. I thought we were a seventh- or eighth-place car and was able to luck out on the pit strategy things and have enough fuel to make it to the end. It would be nice to get a win."
Of the remaining tracks, there are several Larson has identified as an opportunity for a breakthrough.
"I think Kansas will be a good one for us, as well as Texas, maybe, our best shot," said Larson, who owns 12 top-10 finishes, including six top fives, in the season’s 27 races. "We were running in the top five there pretty much the whole race early in the year. Homestead is my favorite track. You run the wall there similar how you did in Chicago. Hopefully, if I can keep it out of the wall, I can be up front. Those three, Charlotte I think we will be pretty good at."
Larson, of course, is not among the 16 drivers who make up the Chase for the Sprint Cup, so he’s willing and eager to take risks that others might not over the season’s final weeks. The freedom to go for broke, combined with Larson’s clearly demonstrated penchant for driving the wheels off about anything he gets in, could be just what he needs to reach the Winner’s Circle.
It also doesn’t hurt that a significant segment of the NASCAR garage, including four-time champion Jeff Gordon, has expressed a growing sentiment that Larson has an extremely bright future in the sport.
"I think this kid is the real deal," Gordon said after finishing second and one position ahead of Larson last Sunday at Chicagoland. "He’s going to be a star in this series for a long time. I really wanted to see him win because I like him and I know he’s going to win a lot of races."
While Larson appreciates the vote of confidence from his peers, he admits there’s a downside, too.
"Every race (weekend) I will sit in the motorhome and watch TV and flip to Twitter — everybody always says this is your weekend," said Larson, who scored the best finish of his young Sprint Cup career – second — in March at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. "I believe them, but it kind of sucks when you don’t win, but I definitely feel like we are really close. We have been close a couple of times this year. Heck, we were just a little bit off of winning at Fontana. Then I thought we had the first or second best car last week.
"If I could have done things right, we could have two wins this season. I think it is coming. I hope it’s before the end of this year. But if not, we won’t be too disappointed, because we have been running well all season long."
Not being in the Chase has allowed both Larson’s team and that of Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Jamie McMurray to already start building for next year.
"I think since we didn’t make the Chase, I think you can work on 2015 stuff a little bit more, maybe not a whole lot," Larson said. "Jamie and I have been fast all year long — we just didn’t get that win that we needed before the Chase started to get in. I really think both Jamie and I could make it to the top eight or, whatever in the Chase, and possibly to Homestead.
"Yeah, it’s just a shame we didn’t make the Chase, but now we get to work on developing stuff for next season and get a head start maybe a little bit."