Yes, Kyle Larson has arrived

2,226 views

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.

Start: Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet leads
Start: Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet leads

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

Larson, 21, wiped out on his own seven laps into the Quicken Loans 400. After repairs, Larson was on a mission slicing his way through the field. So was his mentor Stewart, who qualified 26th due to a tight handling car in qualifying but skillfully navigated traffic over the first 23 laps to move into the top 10.

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.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

“Can I get my bumper cut off so I can gain like 20 counts of down force?” Earnhardt joked over the radio. “He’s got to love the way that thing drives now that the bumper is gone.”

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.

Kyle Larson, Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
Kyle Larson, Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

While the No. 14 team was able to mend the nose during the eighth and final caution, Larson was busted for speeding on that same round of pit stops. Stewart and Larson both restarted at the tail end of the field with 48 laps remaining in the race.

“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.”

Kyle Larson, Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
Kyle Larson, Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

When Larson was asked about Stewart’s reaction following the race, he offered the standard reply, “That’s just Tony being Tony.”

“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”.

Kyle Larson and Tony Stewart
Kyle Larson and Tony Stewart

Photo by: General Motors

But that was before Larson began outrunning his mentor and it’s unlikely that’s lost on Stewart. And although Larson would still top the list for the driver’s hand-picked successor of the No. 14 when that day comes, Stewart’s memory is long. If he were to exact revenge, Stewart would have the perfect opportunity this weekend at Sonoma Raceway, where he’s won twice and Larson has yet to race.
Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

Still, this could be the start of a beautiful rivalry by two of the most talented drivers the sport has ever seen. Think Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon during the Wonder Boy years. Earnhardt had – and still has – a loyal fan following while Gordon was the outsider from the West Coast that challenged the status quo.

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.

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series NASCAR-CUP
Article type Commentary
Tags charlotte motor speedway, dale earnhardt, dale earnhardt jr., ganassi racing, jeff gordon, kyle larson, michigan international speedway, sonoma raceway, tony stewart