On April 13, 2013, I watched Kyle Larson stink up my show.
At the time, I was the public relations director at Rockingham Speedway and this 20-year old kid from California led 187 of 205 laps in what would turn out to be, to date, the last race at the one-mile track. It was his first NASCAR national touring series victory after winning four races in the K&N Pro Series East in 2012.
A few months later, it was announced that Larson would be replacing Juan Pablo Montoya in Chip Ganassi’s No. 42 Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series. Fast forward to last Sunday and Larson picked up his first Cup win at Michigan by outdueling fellow youngster Chase Elliott. The win has been a long time coming for the third-year driver, which has been much different than his other stops in racing. To this point Larson’s career had been marked by a whole lot of almost-won and heartbreaking circumstances that have kept him out of victory lane.
“This feels different because it’s taken me a lot longer than it took me in any of the other stuff to get a win,” Larson said. “Took me a couple months to win my first sprint car race, four days after my 15th birthday. Took me a few months to win when I got into USAC.
“This, after the way my rookie season started, coming close a few times, not getting it done, you can visualize the win that early in your career. It’s going to happen. It’s going to happen. But it just never happened.”
Until now. And it couldn’t have been a better time for Larson and his Ganassi Racing team. The win secures him a spot in this year’s Chase for this first time in his career.
“He hung in there with our team,” team owner Chip Ganassi said. “We’ve been building over the years. He came in here and the team rallied around him. I can’t say enough about the kid and the job he’s done over the last few years. It’s been a nice gradual coming through the pack. I couldn’t be happier with Kyle right now.
“That was a big one (to break the winless streak). I hate to put the onus on somebody else but I’m so glad. To go winless for so long, it’s really, really difficult. Only one person wins in this sport. It’s like golf. We’re just so glad to be here.”
There are few things I like about this win:
1. It wasn’t a win for Joe Gibbs or Penske or Hendrick or Stewart-Haas who have won 21 of 23 races in 2016. Not that Chip Ganassi is a little guy, but they have gone a while without a win.
2. I am happy to see the young guys establishing themselves in Cup. And it’s not just Larson. Elliott finished second and had a legitimate shot at winning. Ryan Blaney finished fourth driving for the Wood Brothers.
3. The third thing isn’t just about Larson. For the first time in history, NASCAR had three first-time series winners in its national touring series this past weekend. Brett Moffitt won in the trucks, Michael McDowell in Xfinity and Larson. For Moffitt and McDowell, it was their first national touring series wins. Again, this bodes well for the future of the sport.
So that’s enough about the future. I want to talk about the past. Sort of.
After last year, I am so looking forward to throwback weekend at Darlington this Saturday and Sunday. Last year, the retro, 1960’s cars, driving suits and TV effects were awesome. This year it’s 70s and 80s and there are some ballin’ paint schemes I remember from my childhood. There were many times I said, “that is the best one yet,” only to have to repeat myself at the next unveil. I am digging on the No. 88 Buddy Baker “Gray Ghost” tribute, Clint Bowyer’s Benny Parsons 1973 championship throwback, Greg Biffle’s Alan Kulwicki Hooters car, Brad Keselowski’s Miller Lite ride and Austin Dillon’s Ricky Rudd Piedmont Airlines Chevy.
I applaud NASCAR for what they have done at Darlington. The race becomes an event and pays homage to bygone era that NASCAR fans long for.
Andy Cagle writes a weekly column during the NASCAR season. He can be reached by email at [email protected]