Fan's View · S.D. Grady · Tuesday February 12, 2013
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Are there really only 12 days left until the drop of the green flag for the Daytona 500? Where did the winter go? Our Twitter feeds and favorite racing news sources are already abuzz with the anticipation that arrives with every new NASCAR season. We are about to go racing; it’s coming. Time to get the die-cast lined up on the shelves and our notebooks sorted!
Last season, this column followed Ms. Patrick through her Nationwide season and few attempts at the Cup Series. But instead of opinions, of which there continue to be countless ones for NASCAR’s most marketed female I gave you the stats, and just the stats, ma’am. I waited until the end of year to tell you just how I thought she did.
Well, we’re about to make the Sonya Stat a tradition. It’s returning this year and will follow somebody you may not have heard of yet, Kyle Larson. Larson was just signed to a full year deal in the Nationwide Series driving the Clorox No. 32 Chevrolet with Turner Scott Motorsports.
Why would I want to follow a nobody? One who hasn’t even had a start in the Nationwide Series yet? Well, it’s my hunch that this young man from Elk Grove, CA won’t remain just another rookie for long. I’m keeping my eyes focused on the K&N Pro Series East 2012 Champion because I think he’s about to bust out as only a few other drivers have upon their arrival in the upper echelons of NASCAR. I watch him muscling his car around the track and think of a young Jeff Gordon, the wild Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart and to a lesser extent, Jimmie Johnson. Change is coming to our sport — and it’s coming with this young man.
Now, you’re thinking, he’s got to be cute. Or maybe he makes great TV ads for some sponsor you might’ve been unaware of. Right? How else would he garner a fan club before even stepping one foot on the hallowed ground of Daytona International Speedway?
Well, he is one hell of a race car driver. And he can’t seem to do anything but pilot any kind of car, any chance he can get. Larson ran 123 races in 2012 and won 30 of them. If he wasn’t winning, he wasn’t far from it. USAC, WoO, K&N Pro Series East and even a couple Camping World Truck appearances comprised his worldwide tour of four-wheeled dominance. OK, that’s all well and good; but you’re thinking those 30 wins all came at some fly-by-night local track, right? Well, let’s take a look at what the headlines said in 2012:
In the K&N Pro Series East, he won the Slack Auto Parts 150 at East Gresham and G-Oil 100 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. In the World of Outlaws, he won the Gold Cup Race of Champions at Silver Dollar Speedway, finishing a mere six seconds ahead of Donny Schatz. Last February, he made sure his Super Late Model debut came paired with a trophy at New Smyrna. In the USAC Midgets, he took the Turkey Night Grand Prix. There’s another win listed at Wayne County Speedway, along with a picture of him in Victory Lane at U.S. 36 Raceway — that was apparently a repeat of his appearance in 2011. And the trucks? Well, out of four starts, he accrued three top 10s, nearly going four-for-four until a wreck in the closing laps of Homestead.
Even when second, Larson sparkles. If you’ve only heard that Kevin Swindell won the Chili Bowl Nationals, you missed out on this incredible closing laps battle between Larson and the Swindells.
Those headlines are only a small selection of his epic year. Yes, you will notice there’s an awful lot of open-wheel action crowding out Larson’s wild 2012. But also notice it didn’t include massive promotional campaigns for the 20-year-old sensation. He did what we like our NASCAR heroes to do: he just plain raced.
That’s not to say this youngster hasn’t been quietly building his career. He climbed into his first competitive vehicle at the age of seven, and just hasn’t turned back, moving forward with near perfection. In 2012, Earnhardt-Ganassi signed him on as a development driver, a teenager turned future talent in the making. He’s also the first in the Driver Development Program to win a championship in NASCAR. That’s all taking advantage of the opportunities available on the ladder up the racing career. However, we haven’t been subjected to an avalanche of silly ads, press conferences where he discussed his next appearance or even autograph sessions. He’s just done lots and lots and lots of turning left and hoisting trophies.
What about the upcoming year? Is Larson going to go down the “I’m a superhero!” path before he’s even done his first burnout? That’s doubtful. While pursuing a full season in the NNS car, he’s made it clear to his fans he’s looking for as many open wheel appearances as are humanly possible. He’ll be driving in the UNOH Battle at the Beach, on Daytona’s brand new short track carved out of the Superstretch. We’ll be able to catch that live next Monday and Tuesday.
Now, after all this enthusiastic jumping and down welcoming Kyle Larson into the NASCAR spotlight, what if something goes wrong and this change becomes a big disappointment? It’s happened before… Sliced Bread, anyone?
Well, that is really what the Sonya Stat is all about. I shall do my very best to keep my mouth shut for the duration of the season and just list the stats — even other open-wheel races. Come November, we’ll review Larson’s wins and losses, how he handled the media and NASCAR Nation, and what the rest of the garage seems to be thinking regarding his future. It’s then, after he’s had his chance to prove his mettle, that I’ll make a judgment.
We’ve got a long season in front of us. I, for one, am psyched beyond belief this year. There are so many opportunities for so much talent that I can’t decide which direction to focus on first…save for the new Kyle in town. That’s one I can be proud of for keeping an eye on.
Want to follow Kyle Larson yourself?
Website (under construction): http://kylelarsonracing.com/
Looking for a little history? Try: http://kylelarsonracing.net/
Connect with Sonya!
Contact S.D. Grady
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