But don't expect NASCAR's Sprint Cup veterans to lay down without a fight
Kyle Larson had his Sprint Cup coming out party at Charlotte Motor Speedway last October.
But given the reaction of a couple of established racers at Michigan International Speedway, it’s clear that the driver of the 42 Ganassi Racing Chevy has already arrived.
Although the NASCAR Welcome Wagon initially rolled out the red carpet for the phenom, young master Larson caught the ire of Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Sunday.
During the first round of green flag pit stops, Larson moved into the top 15 and raced in the top 10 by Lap 90.
Earnhardt remained comfortably in the top 10 throughout the entire race. But when Larson lined up sixth – ahead of the No. 88 during the sixth caution on Lap 114, the fabricator in Earnhardt couldn’t help but unleash.
Earnhardt couldn’t let it go.
"He could leave here and go run an American LeMans race,” Earnhardt added. "Holy shit, both sides.”
By the seventh caution, Larson and Stewart lined up fifth and sixth, respectively. Both teams elected to pit and returned on the fifth row for the Lap 127 restart. According to Stewart, Larson blocked him on the start and damaged the left-front of the No.14 Chevy causing it to drop through the field.
“We had a way better racecar today than we had all weekend here,” said Stewart, who settled for 11th. “We got the nose damage when the (No.) 42 got impatient there and blocked us, but we’re gaining on it every week, and I’m just very proud of the way things have been going the last few weeks.”
And while Stewart has moved from 22nd in the point standings to 16th over the last four races, Larson has moved from 13th to seventh in the last three events following consecutive top 10 results including eighth on Sunday. Larson didn’t deny that the lack of a bumper “was somewhat of an advantage from what my crew members said”. Still, the rookie believes that “Either way I think we would have had a really good car because we were good in practice, but it probably did help a little bit.”
“With the Tony issue, I was pretty tight on whoever was inside of me on the restart, and I was looking in my mirror and saw him juke to the right so I juked to the right and he hit me, and I don't know, he was just trying to teach me a lesson I'm guessing,” Larson said. “Oh, well, that's two weeks in a row.”
This wasn’t the first on track incident between Larson and Stewart. The pair had a run-in the previous weekend during practice at Pocono. Regardless of the recent dust-ups, it wasn’t that long ago that the IndyCar and three-time Cup champion described Larson on Wind Tunnel as “just absolutely phenomenal”.
Larson and the flood of NASCAR’s newest generation of drivers represent the latest changing of the guard in the sport – but don’t expect Stewart and or the rest of the old guard to withdraw without a fight.