Kevin Rutherford · Tuesday July 2, 2013
Kyle Larson: talented young gun, potential future NASCAR star and… the Nationwide Series’ best driver as of late?
Though he’s been relatively quiet in becoming such, it’s true. He’s only sixth in points, but seriously, it’s true.
Larson has finished in the top 10 in each of the last five races, something no one else in the series has replicated. During that stretch, he’s appeared in the top five twice (which has been bested, but is still a solid number), with a best showing of second at Michigan last month. His average finish of 6.2 is over three positions better than anyone else who’s run all five races in that period. He’s scored the most points at 189, nine more than his closest competitor, Austin Dillon.
But it doesn’t stop there; in fact, this trend actually started a bit earlier. Moving the tally to the last six races, Larson remains the only driver with top-10 finishes in each race, while no one else even has five. His average finish jumps to 5.8. He’s scored 18 more points than Dillon, Trevor Bayne and Justin Allgaier, 229 to 211.
Once more, with feeling. In the past seven races, Larson has, once again, finished in the top 10 every time. The distinction of second-most points scored in that period goes to Allgaier, who’s earned 245. The leader? At 267 points, 22 more than Allgaier, Kyle Larson.
Can I have the floor for an apology? It’ll be just a moment.
A little over two months ago, in a Nuts for Nationwide post, my headline read, “Larson Who? Alex Bowman Early Surprise in Rookie Battle.”
“…Bowman is showing that he might just be the top rookie in the series in 2013,” I wrote. “Move over, Kyle Larson.”
Granted, at that point in time, Larson wasn’t even in the top 10 in standings, while Bowman was. He’d had a solid start to the season, but it was nothing spectacular.
Turns out, one side may have been overachieving, while the other was underachieving. Or, you know, maybe Larson was googling himself, saw my story, thought, “Aw, hell no!” and kicked it into gear. I’m going to assume it was the former.
Still, it may be time to look at Kyle Larson as more of a bona fide competitor in the series, perhaps even someone who can contend for the championship. Those numbers are hard to argue against, after all. Seven straight top-10 finishes? If he keeps this up, call him the new Mr. Consistent.
It’s not totally far-fetched to call him a title contender, either — even though he’s a rookie. Larson sits sixth in points entering Daytona, but is a mere 44 points out of first. Sam Hornish Jr. and Regan Smith have been tough to beat this season, but they’ve also shared major lapses — Smith more recently — during which they’re mired in bad luck and poor results. If Larson can continue his consistency, that 44-point deficit might be even smaller in a few races.
Plus, the Nationwide Series is starting to revisit tracks at which it’s already raced in 2013, beginning with this weekend’s event at Daytona. Through the end of the season, the series will visit nine already-familiar speedways, meaning that Larson will have already visited them, rather than racing on them for the first time in Nationwide competition. That has to be beneficial.
That, combined with his recent trend of solid finishes, enters him into the championship talk, a conversation he wasn’t nearly as much a part of a few months ago.
Of course, he does need one thing to really propel him into the stratosphere: a win. He finally scored a major NASCAR victory with a Truck win earlier this year, and with two runner-up finishes already this year, it seems like his time is soon.
He’ll also need continued good tidings from Turner Scott Motorsports as a whole. As documented earlier, Justin Allgaier, Larson’s teammate, has been one of the better drivers in the past few races in terms of points scored. As long as the organization can keep up its eye-opening pace, heck, you could see a Turner Scott battle for the championship by season’s end, especially if Smith never gets out of his slump and Hornish goes into another one.
He’s flown under the radar a bit lately, but start keeping an eye on Kyle Larson from here on out. He’s quietly living up to the hype.
Let’s hope he can keep the car on the ground this time at Daytona. If there’s any track type that has been a crutch this year, it’s the restrictor plate speedways. If he can master it at last, that top 10 streak just might continue another week.
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