Monday, February 19, 2018
Sports

Much-hyped Larson eager for Sprint Cup debut

CONCORD, N.C. — Kyle Larson can't be goaded into setting an unreasonable expectation for his Sprint Cup debut tonight.

He knows what Jamie McMurray did in 2002, winning for Chip Ganassi Racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway in his second career Cup start. But as Larson heads into the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte, he's not expecting a trip to Victory Lane.

"Yeah, Jamie won in his second race," Larson said. "But this is only my first.

Smart kid.

"I just want to learn a lot and to finish in the top 20. To run 15th to 20th would be good for my first start," Larson said. "I read a quote from Kurt Busch that he ran 18th in his first Cup race. I'd say that would be a good start."

There's been plenty of hype around Larson, 21, who has yet to complete a full season in stock cars. His background is in sprints — just like Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon, who all have been raving about Larson for years.

It's not unlike the tale of Joey Logano, who was lauded by NASCAR heavyweights long before he reached the minimum age to compete at the national level. As Joe Gibbs Racing counted down the days to Logano's 18th birthday, it became impossible for him to live up to the expectations.

After five seasons, Logano left Gibbs and moved to Penske Racing. Now 23 and in his first season with his new team, he finally made his first Chase for the Championship this year.

Larson hears the comparisons, but believes he's in a better position than Logano.

"I feel less pressure because Joey was 18," Logano said. "But I want to prove the doubters wrong. It makes me mad when they say they don't want me to end up like Joey Logano. Well, Joey's in the Chase. He won a race this year. He's won a few Cup races. I think Joey's done fine."

Larson will run Sprint Cup full-time next year — with Chip Ganassi, no less, who gave Larson a developmental deal. Ganassi got Larson in a full-time Nationwide series ride this year with Turner Scott Motorsports.

For 2014 Larson replaces Juan Montoya, who is moving to IndyCar at the end of this season. To get Larson ready he'll race at Charlotte and Martinsville later this month in the No. 51 Chevrolet for Phoenix Racing in a car prepared by the Ganassi team and sponsored by Target.

When Larson finally gets into the No. 42 he'll be paired with crew chief Chris "Shine" Heroy, who spent the past two seasons with Montoya.

"I see him being one of those guys who takes the first half of the race figuring out what he's got, and the second half of the race going to the front," Heroy said, comparing Larson to Kevin Harvick. "It's our job to mold him and help him, but let him do his thing. I'll never tell him how to drive."

Larson, racing close to 80 events in various series, just wants to run as much as he can.

"I just want to get out there and see how it goes, see if I'm slow or I'm fast," Larson said.

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