Kyle Larson said it all in a tweet following the final NASCAR race of the 2014 season: “If there was a book to describe my first two years of NASCAR racing, it would be ‘Almost’.”
But, his first year on NASCAR’s Sprint Cup circuit wasn’t an almost. He was selected the “Sunoco Rookie of the Year.” That award not only was based upon how he finished each race this season, his first year on NASCAR’s major league circuit, but also how he carried himself with race officials, the media and the fans.
Seventeen times this year he finished in the top ten. Three times he was second. However, he never took a checkered flag, thus the self-bestowed “Almost” title.
|NASCAR's Sprint Cup rookie-of-the-year, Kyle Larson
"The best feeling I had this year was probably when I finished fourth at Watkins Glen, (New York)," Larson told NASCAR’s Holly Cain. "I didn't grow up racing on road courses and I struggled really bad the whole practice and qualifying that weekend. So then to end up fourth, which was way, way better than I thought I was going to be -- I was super pumped up about that."
Writers and other drivers call him an up-and-coming star, one that will certainly cruise into the winners’ circle one day soon.
"Really to start the year everyone thought I was going to fail,'' Larson said. "At least three-quarters of the people sitting in the media center probably did. Then I think they realized after the first handful of races that our team was capable of running well and the bar got raised and raised more throughout the year.”
"My expectations going into the start of the season were top-15 every week would be great and that quickly turned into wanting top-10s every week and lately top-fives and wins are the goal."
He did win a couple Nationwide races driving for Turner Scott Motorsports, though. One of them came this past May in the History 300 in Charlotte. The other was at Auto Club Speedway in March. Most Nationwide races are held on Saturdays at the same track of the Sunday Sprint Cup events.
The 22-year-old grew up in Elk Grove, a graduate of Pleasant Grove High School (though he finished 11th and 12th grade via independent study so he can race professionally), is now Target’s top spokesman.
Larson officially works for Chip Ganassi Racing. One of that organization’s cars has the retail giant as its chief sponsor. Yet when he races, Larson is wearing a bright red outfit with the traditional Target logo plastered over his left chest.
The #42 Chevrolet stock car is similarly adorned. And, waiting its opportunity to have victory champagne splattered all over it.
"I feel we could win every week,'' Larson claimed. "I think (teammate) Jamie (McMurray) feels the same way, all our guys feel that way and Chip definitely feels that way, so his expectations are a lot higher.
With an owner like Ganassi and a crew chief in Chris Heroy, Larson knows he’s a weekly contender on the NASCAR stage.
“It's nice coming to the race track every week and knowing your car is going to be fast,” he said. “In years past, this team maybe hasn't felt like that every week, but now they're in a good spot and I'm definitely glad I got in here when I did."
|a 7-yr-old Kyle Larson poses in front of his sprint car in 1999.
Larson continued, "The best thing to happen to me is being with a really good team that's excited to have a new driver.”
When most drivers and their crews generally take the next couple months to regroup and rest, Larson has decided to stay active.
“Off-season calls for dirt racing and karaoke,” he tweeted this past weekend.
On Wednesday, he left his new North Carolina home to return to his roots, the dirt tracks of California, for the Turkey Night Grand Prix. Then he’ll fly back home to be with his girlfriend Katelyn Sweet, who is expecting the couple’s first child just about any day.
It’s a boy, named Owen Miyata Larson, flashing back to his Japanese heritage. The middle name is his mother Janet’s maiden name.
"As much as I've had a blast racing, I can't wait for the offseason for all the exciting things coming, the baby, the new house -- we just finally stayed in it one night this week,'' Larson said.
They’ve recently purchased a home in the Charlotte area, the home base for NASCAR.
"There's been a ton that's happened and it's all been great stuff,” Larson said. “I've had great years results-wise, but the baby, the house, first year in Cup probably never been a year as exciting as this.''