By Brett Bowman
Larson talks about his hectic 2012 and how tough it is to win at Kokomo.
Last Friday night, nearly 48 hours before Jeff Gordon pulled his best Cole Trickle imitation during the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at the Phoenix International Raceway, young Kyle Larson showed why he is considered by most in the business as being the next dominant driver.
In just his third career start aboard a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series ride, Larson was just a caution away from scoring yet another victory, which would add to his growing resume that is matched by a very select few, if any.
In the truck race, Larson seemed to have things under control until a caution in the last few laps closed the field and allowed Brian Scott to get a strong run and take home the win. Larson showed his versatility a night later in the Western Classic for the USAC Mopar National Midget Series at the Canyon Raceway Park, getting by Zach Daum on the sixth lap, then waltzing to a convincing 30-lap win.
Talking to Larson late in the summer at the Kokomo Speedway, the well-spoken youngster touched on a myriad of things, including his goal of setting a record for the most races competed in during a season.
“With all of the rainouts early on this season it kind of set my goal back a little,” he explained. “Originally my plan was to participate in 132 races over the summer. Now, it looks like it might be around 120 or so, but it sure has been tough.
“There have been many times that I have raced in California then as soon as the race was over, I would get cleaned up and head to the airport to catch a red-eye flight back to Indianapolis. Once I got there, someone from my team would pick me up then we would load up the sprint car and head here to Kokomo.”
Larson admitted that he has a bit of a love-hate relationship with the local oval.
“Without a doubt, Kokomo Speedway has the toughest weekly program of any track in the country,” he stated. “The talent that comes to that track week in and week out is tough to top. The thing is, any driver can win there on any given night. I know that of all the tracks I have raced at, running around the top at Kokomo is probably the most intimidating of them all, especially in turns one and two. The cushion is right up on the fence and you have to talk yourself into running up there but you about have to do it because that is the fastest way around.”
“That’s the thing that was so special when I won there early in the season,” he said. “I’ve won a lot of big races at a lot of the bigger tracks across the country, but to win a weekly show at Kokomo will always stick out in my mind as one of the biggest highlights of my racing career.”
Larson had a year in 2011 which most could only dream about and even with that, it would seem to be a bit far-fetched. Last year alone he scored wins in USAC Amsoil National Sprint Car Series competition as well as the Mopar National Midget Series and the Traxxas Silver Crown Series. If that wasn’t enough he also picked up a win aboard a winged World of Outlaw Sprint Car Series as well as an ASCS Series event. To put the icing on the cake, at the annual running of the 4-Crown Nationals at the Eldora Speedway, he simply stole the show, scoring wins in all three of USAC’s portion of the 4-Crown, nearly matching Jack Hewitt’s feat when he won everything in one night, including the U.M.P. Modified feature.
His non-wing sprint car career looks to be on hold now, however. At the 2012 version of the 4-Crown, while competing in the sprint car main event, he was involved in one of the more scary looking crashes seen at the track in years. He jumped the turn two cushion in his Hoffman Racing No. 69, and flipped directly into the path of another car which literally destroyed both machines. Although he walked away under his own power, Chip Ganassi, who has signed him to a developmental contract, pretty much let it be known that he no longer wanted his prized up-and-coming star wrestling around in a sprint car without a wing.
Although that is bad news for us traditional sprint car fans, Larson probably cares less than us fans do since he noted that winged sprint cars are really his passion anyway.
“If I had to choose,” he said while sitting on a right rear tire in the pits at Kokomo prior to the finale of the Sprint Car Smackdown. “I would rather race the winged cars. They are really a lot of fun to drive and they are just so fast. Ideally, I would like the opportunity to chase the entire World of Outlaw circuit and compete in all the races on their schedule. They race a few times each week and that’s exactly what I would like to do. But, I have some races lined up in the truck series and the K&N Series [NASCAR K&N East Series, which he clinched the title in a couple weeks back] so I’m just going to see what happens and go from there.”
Having proved that he can win in anything he climbs aboard, it’s just a matter of time before we’ll be pulling for him each Sunday afternoon with the likes of Dale Jr. and Jimmie Johnson.
Just a follow up on what Ken de la Bastide noted in his column this week on the penalty handed down to Jeff Gordon after he intentionally blasted Clint Bowyer with two laps to go at Phoenix, thus ruining any hopes that Bowyer may have had of leap-frogging Brad Keselowlski and Jimmie Johnson.
NASCAR takes away 25 points from Gordon. So what?
He had no chance of competing for the title this year anyway and his temper tantrum nearly collected Keselowski as well, which would have all but assured Johnson of a sixth title. If NASCAR truly wanted to make a statement, deduct 50 points at least and apply the loss to the start of the 2013 season at the Daytona 500. That would make any driver think twice about doing something like Gordon did Sunday.
The thing I noticed while watching numerous replays of the incident in question was that Gordon looked to crash himself. The initial contact with Bowyer was minimal, something that you see just about every lap somewhere on the track. When Gordon crashed though was when he was trying to clip Bowyer’s right rear quarter panel and failed which resulted in him getting sideways and into the wall.
Although I’ve never been a huge fan of Gordon’s, I always respected his ability. Now though, I hold him only slightly above Kurt Busch on my list of NASCAR drivers. As for NASCAR, although publicly they are saying and doing all the politically correct things, it’s a safe bet that the brass is pinching themselves behind closed doors realizing that chances are pretty good that television ratings will definitely go up for this Sunday’s final race of the season.
Brett Bowman may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the sports department.