Racing Reality Smacks Rookie Larson In Face
By Mike Harris | Senior Writer
LOUDON, N.H. – It all seemed so easy for Kyle Larson at the start.
NASCAR’s latest wunderkind was sailing along in his first full season in the elite Sprint Cup series, seemingly headed for a stress-free run to his first berth in the Chase for the championship.
Then bad things began happening to the young Chip Ganassi Racing driver.
“Our chances were really good up until three weeks ago,’’ Larson said Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “Then we lost power steering at Sonoma and finished in the high 20s (At) Kentucky, we were pretty fast and blew a right-front tire. Then, at Daytona, we got caught up in a typical Daytona crash and got a 36th-place finish or something like that.
“I think we went from being tied for seventh (in the season points) to 18th (actually 17th) in points over three weeks. It was looking great up until now.’’
But, with five races remaining until the 16-driver field for the Chase is settled, Larson knows he has to turn things around in a hurry if he expects to compete for at least a top-10 finish, if not a championship.
“Now we have fallen to where we have to fight really hard again,’’ Larson noted. “It makes it nerve racking.’’
One thing that would make an immediate difference would be a win in Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 301 or any of the other four races left before the start of the 10-race playoffs.
Any driver who has a win and finishes in the top 30 in points is assured a spot in the Chase.
“It would be nice to get a win soon, for sure,’’ Larson said.
That’s not an outlandish thought, considering Larson, who will turn 22 on July 31, already has seven top-10s, including a runner-up finish at Fontana, in 18 starts this season.
But, first, he has to figure out a way to break out of his sudden slump.
“I figured we may have some bad luck one week or two weeks in a row, not three,’’ Larson said. “It makes you stress out coming here to New Hampshire hoping that you get a good finish. You can’t have four bad finishes in a row.
“I understand the whole luck factor, so it was humbling. But it didn’t surprise me.’’
His recent problems have also cut into Larson’s early lead in the tight battle with 24-year-old Austin Dillon for the rookie of the year title. Dillon has only two top-10 finishes, but has run very consistently on his way to 13th in the current points.
Heading into Sunday’s race, Larson still leads in the somewhat complicated points formula for choosing the top rookie, 200-185.
It’s important to Larson to win that battle, too.
“I feel like we have been a little stronger than Austin, mostly,’’ Larson said. “I think our stats have been a little bit better than his so far this season.
“So I think once we get back to finishing some races, hopefully, we can pad that gap between him and myself in the rookie points. I’m not really even sure how the whole rookie thing works. I don’t know if they base it off points or votes or what.’’
Besides accumulating points at each race, depending on where they finish, the final decision on the rookie crown includes a vote by a committee of NASCAR officials at the end of the season.
“We’ve just got to keep sticking with it and trying to set it as a goal to beat (Austin) every weekend, as well as get top-10s,’’ Larson said. “We have to turn it around – now.’’
– Mike Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments