Larson Is Learning The Ropes

Kyle Larson ran up front and came home with a solid 10th place at the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. (HHP/Christa L Thomas)
Kyle Larson ran up front and came home with a solid 10th place at the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. (HHP/Christa L Thomas)
Kyle Larson ran up front and came home with a solid 10th place at the Food City 500 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. (HHP/Christa L Thomas)

FONTANA, Calif. — California native Kyle Larson is heading home.

The Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will be making his first start in the series in his home state in Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway.

Larson finished a career best in the most recent event at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.

“It’s definitely a good feeling going into the California, my home state, with a good finish at Bristol,” said the driver of Chip Ganassi’s No. 42. “We’ve had really fast cars all year long. We just haven’t really caught the right breaks to get those top 10s. I feel at Phoenix and Vegas both we had top-10 cars. I got stuck a lap down there from mistakes.

“I think with the good finish at Bristol, it’s really going to hopefully turn things around, hopefully bring a lot of consistency.”

With one full season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series behind him, Larson has found a lot to adjust to in the Sprint Cup Series.

“There are a lot of adjustments. Maybe the one that stands out is trying to get your feedback right to your crew chief from happy hour (practice) to the race,” Larson explained. “That’s something we’ve struggled with at Phoenix and Vegas both, making the right adjustments on the car to start out the race good. We got behind a little bit in the beginning of both races and it’s hard to come back from those.

“Communicating well with your crew chief, even though I ran those Cup races last year, these really are the first four races I’ve got to work with Chris Heroy,” Larson continued. “I did some testing with him last year, but it’s totally different than putting yourself in situations in races and stuff. The communication part has been a big adjustment.”

Larson is continuing to race in the Nationwide Series this year and he says the extra track time is helping his performance.

“I think it helps a little bit just knowing how the track might change throughout a race,” he explained. “I really think it helps for my Nationwide race running the Cup stuff. Now when I get in the Nationwide car, it feels slow. Things happen slower. I have more confidence in that. That’s why I’ve been running really well in that car so far, too. I think it helps the Cup Series a little bit, but I think it helps the Nationwide Series a whole bunch.”

The open-wheel racing graduate acknowledges he needs the extra track time.

“Chip Ganassi really wanted me to do double duty,” Larson said. “I think I read a stat somewhere before the year, I’ve only ran 40 something stock car races in my career. I’m getting double the amount of experience in stock cars this year running both. I think it’s a good thing. I think it’s good for Turner Scott Motorsports to have me still over there racing.”

Larson says Sprint Cup racing is more aggressive than he anticipated.

“The whole field is really aggressive in the Cup Series. The pace throughout the field is a lot quicker. It’s more aggressive,” he explained. “Nationwide, you get up to the top three or four, that’s really when the pace quickens. But in Cup, everybody is so even, it’s tough to get an edge on somebody. It’s just extremely tough.”

Larson is battling Austin Dillon for rookie-of-the-year honors.

“I had a lot of fun racing at the end of the Bristol race on Sunday,” Larson said. “He (Dillon) was quite a bit faster than I was. I was driving as hard as I could, as hard as I did the whole race, to try to stay in front of him. We ran clean and hard.

“I’m sure we’re going to have a lot of good races this year with Austin. I hope it’s a nice, tight battle to the end,” Larson added. “It would mean a lot if I could win that rookie-of-the-year award. Like I said, I only had 40 something stock car races in my career before I got to the Cup Series. I think it would mean a lot if I could beat guys that have a lot more experience in stock cars.

“Austin has won Nationwide rookie of the year, Truck yookie of the year and championships in both series. So if I could stop him this year and win that rookie of the year, it would be really special.”

Larson is confident in the talent racing in the Sprint Cup Series.

“I think the biggest change between everything versus Cup is just the competition level. You’ve grown up racing winged sprint cars, I used to think the best drivers in the world were in the World of Outlaws Series,” he said. “I still think they are very good, but the depth of the really good drivers in the Cup Series is really amazing. “That’s what makes it really tough is there are 25 to 30 drivers out there each week that are extremely good and fast. You go to the World of Outlaws race, there might be seven or eight guys you have to beat.”