If you could sum up Kyle Larson’s rookie season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with one word, it might just be "almost."
The driver of the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Chevrolet was a threat for the win on multiple occasions, finishing the highest in the season standings than any other driver not to qualify for the 16-driver Chase field, and earning the 2014 Rookie of the Year title.
Entering the season, many had pegged Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon as the favorite to win the Rookie of the Year honor. Dillon was the defending NASCAR Nationwide Series champion, put the famed No. 3 Chevrolet on the pole for the Daytona 500, and had both hype and expectations surrounding him.
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However, once the season got underway it was clear Larson was head and shoulders ahead of the other rookies in his class.
"It’s pretty special to me to win Rookie of the Year," Larson said after his 13th-place finish in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. "I would say 80 maybe 90 percent of the people out there didn’t think we would be the Rookie of the Year at the end of the season and I don’t blame them. Just happy with how this season has gone. I want to thank all my guys for making it so fun for me this season."
Despite not making the Chase, the 22-year-old driver scored some of the highest points during the final 10-race stretch of the season. The former dirt track racer was especially a threat on the 1.5-mile tracks, often using the high line to contend for wins. However, Larson was unable to score his first career Sprint Cup Series victory in his rookie campaign, instead scoring three runner-up finishes, eight top fives and 17 top 10s.
"I wish we could have gotten our win this season, but we challenged for a handful of them so that is pretty awesome," he said. "To win Rookie of the Year feels great."
Larson had a strong of strong runs though the long summer stretch of the season, climbing the ladder in the point standings and contending for a spot in the Chase field.
What ultimately ruined his chances at competing for the title was a blown tire that sent him hard into the outside wall at Michigan International Speedway in August. The blown tire led to a 43rd-place finish and dropped the rookie contender from 10th to 14th in the standings.
Although he missed out on making the Chase in his rookie campaign, Larson was pleased with his overall efforts during his first season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
"I think just being competitive and challenging for top-fives and top-10s most every week has been really good," he said Sunday in Homestead. "There are a lot of moments that stand out, a lot of heartbreak moments as well. We will come back next season peel the rookie stripes off and try and go out there and win a race and get into the Chase and do what Kevin Harvick did tonight."
VIDEO: Kyle Larson talks about making life difficult for title contenders early in the Chase