Kyle Larson may be the future of NASCAR but this isn’t quite his time.
There is little doubt in my mind that Larson will someday become a Sprint Cup Series superstar but I also agree with the sentiment that says he’s too young and equally inexperienced to immediately enjoy the success that has been expected of him.
That doesn’t mean his promotion to the No. 42 Sprint Cup team is premature. It just indicates that Earnhardt Ganassi Racing is going to have to take special care with Larson as he studies on the job next season.
When he starts the Daytona 500 in February, it will be just his 44th National Touring Series start after spending most of his career in open-wheel sprint cars and midgets. Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch are common comparisons and the potential is certainly there.
Gordon made his first Cup start at Atlanta in 1992 at 20-years-old after 62 Nationwide Series starts and Busch made his full-time debut in 2005 at 20 years-old after 47. So there’s certainly precedence for sending a driver this talented to Cup even if he’s not entirely prepared for it.
The key to making this experiment work will be patience.
Even if Larson somehow makes it to victory lane next season, it won’t be a sign that he’s is ready to handle the rigors and pressures of the Sprint Cup pressure cooker. Expectations must be kept in check and Ganassi seems to realize it too, ordering Larson another full Nationwide campaign next season.
Larson certainly has the confidence to handle the potential roadblocks. Even while taking questions from the media about his readiness, Larson was cool and unwavering, eager to prove that Ganassi made the right decision.
“I guess there’s a point when someone is not ready,” Larson said on Friday. “But I feel like I am ready. I feel like I can go out there and contend. I raced with some Cup guys in the Nationwide Series this year and learned a lot from them — beat some of them.
“I think I can do it. I think Chip obviously thinks I can do it, so that’s all that really matters.”
The confidence is important because Larson will have to maintain it over the course of his first full season in Sprint Cup. History has proven that the first season will always be a challenge. He’s going to have to learn some lessons and the key for Ganassi is keeping his young prospect focused and confident.
The No. 42 team provided the ideal scenario for Larson’s graduation because the team and sponsor have a 20-year relationship working alongside each other. If both parties establish realistic expectations and give Larson room to make mistakes and learn from them, the combination could be very dangerous in a short amount of time.
The Gordon example is again fitting.
The four-time champion struggled in 1993 and earned a reputation for abusing his equipment but started to center on his potential in 1994, where he won twice and cemented his place as a future mainstay.
The grace extended by Hendrick Motorsports allowed to him to break through in 1995 and saw the tandem win seven races, capturing their first championship together. While Larson isn’t expected to break through as quickly, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing could be headed to the promised land just like Hendrick was when Gordon championed their ascension.