Kyle Larson is enjoying a breakout season at NASCAR's highest level, 17 years in the making.
Larson began racing go-karts at age 7, and worked his way up from racing open-wheel cars on local tracks to stock cars in NASCAR. You may even see him in the Indy 500 someday. He still races every chance he gets no matter the car or surface, much like Tony Stewart would have done before retiring from NASCAR last season.
“I think NASCAR fans understand grassroots racing," Larson told reporters Friday. "There are other drivers at the Cup level that go on their off-weekends and run other types of racing and stuff. They don’t race nearly as much as I do outside of NASCAR.
"I would race a lot more if I was allowed to. That’s why I feel like I’m the last true racer. I would love to race any type of vehicle, whether it’s in a circle or a straight line or a road course, I don’t care. I just feel like I think like [Mario] Andretti and [A.J.] Foyt and Tony Stewart, like I feel like I’m in the same category as them. They would race anything every day of the week. Like I said, there’s a couple that will race here and there, but I would race every day of the week if I could. So, that’s why I feel like I’m the last true racer left.”
Larson's racing accomplishments outside of the Cup Series are vast and impressive. He became the second driver to ever sweep the prestigious 4-Crown Nationals, winning in Silver Crown, Sprint Cars and Midgets at Eldora Speedway in 2011. The next year, he ran 123 races while winning his first NASCAR title in the K&N Pro Series. He moved to the Xfinity Series in 2013 and into a Cup Series car in 2014.
Larson is only allowed to drive in 25-dirt races a year, a limit set by team owner Chip Ganassi. While Larson may be one of the more versatile drivers in NASCAR, there were a number of NASCAR drivers participating in this year's Chili Bowl Midget Nationals in Tulsa, Okla., including Ricky Stenhouse Jr., J.J. Yeley, Christopher Bell, Justin Allgaier and Chase Briscoe.
With Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s announcement that he is retiring at the end of the season, NASCAR is at a crossroads it hoped to avoid: its third icon is retiring in as many seasons. Who will the sport turn to in Junior's wake? Larson is happy to be considered a part of the solution.
"I feel like we’re in a good spot to have some new stars step-up," Larson said. "I know a lot of people have been pointing at myself and Chase (Elliott) and (Ryan) Blaney, just to name three.
“That’s pretty cool to be in that category and hopefully we all have a lot of Junior’s fans kind of dispersed to cheer for us and don’t just leave the sport totally. So, it’s going to be interesting to see, with him retiring, how it changes the sport, popularity-wise. It could be good. It could be bad. Who knows? I think all of us young guys are ready to kind of fill in his shoes a little bit.”
Larson enters Sunday's race at Richmond with a 27-point advantage over Elliott in the standings on the strength of one win, five top fives and six top 10s.
The 24-year-old Larson will try to extend his points lead at the 0.75-mile track where he has posted one top-10 finish — a runner-up showing last fall after never finishing worse than 16th.