If you aren’t betting that Kyle Larson will win a race in the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, you are in the minority.
Fact is, if Larson had won just one race last year and made it into the Chase for the Sprint Cup, he would have been a serious challenger for the championship.
That’s because he may have raced at his best during the Chase, with five consecutive finishes in the top five. That would have made him tough to beat.
As it is, the guys in the Chase were probably relieved Larson was not among them.
Tapped by Earnhardt Ganassi Racing to replace Juan Pablo Montoya in 2014, Larson put together a solid inaugural season. He had eight finishes among the top five and 17 among the top 10 and captured Rookie of the Year honors.
The 22-year-old Larson was particularly effective during the last half of the season when he raced on tracks for a second time.
And, as said, he was spectacular in the Chase. In the first five races of the 10-race “playoff” Larson finished third, second, sixth, second and sixth.
He nearly won at Chicago, the first Chase race.
After leading over 30 laps, with 18 laps to go he engaged in a battle with Kevin Harvick, allowing Brad Keselowski to catch up and pass Larson for the lead and ultimately the win.
After two more cautions, Larson finished third after battling Jeff Gordon – who admitted he was a Larson fan.
In a post-race media conference Gordon called Larson “The real deal” and Larson said, “It’s touching when you hear a champion say that about you. It’s a huge deal.”
Betcha Gordon thinks Larson is going to win this year.
Larson is a Japanese American, also of Native American heritage, who hails from Elk Grove, Calif. His Japanese American mother’s parents spent time in an internment camp.
He came up through the racing ranks. He is a Drive for Diversity graduate who signed with EGR and promptly won his first stock car race.
He won the 2012 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship and the Rookie of the Year title driving for Rev Racing. It was the first title for the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program.
Larson then finished first and second in his two initial NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts with Turner Scott Motorsports in conjunction with EGR.
In 2013 Larson won the Xfinity Series Rookie of the Year Award – he has a thing for rookie titles, doesn’t he? – after he finished eighth in the final standings with nine top-five and 17 top-10 finishes. He made four Sprint Cup starts that season before entering competition full-time last year.
Larson has shown a penchant for adapting to every NASCAR circuit on which he has raced. Fact is he has more than adapted – he has excelled.
Given that he now has one full Sprint Cup season under his belt he should be better prepared and more experienced. It stands to reason that will serve him well in 2015.
But there are no guarantees. Until we get into the season we’re not certain what effect the 2015 rules changes will have. Some teams may get their arms around them pretty quickly but others may struggle.
Last year, you remember, Matt Kenseth struggled and failed to win a race after winning seven times in 2013.
Other drivers who have had notable past seasons, like Jimmie Johnson, seemed to be playing catch-up in 2014.
My personal belief is that I’m not certain the 2015 rules will make much difference at all.
And I also join many others, including nearly everyone in the garage area, who think it’s just a matter of time – and it may be a short time – before Larson becomes a winner.