If Kyle Larson has learned how to close, it could be trouble for the field in the Monster Energy Nascar Cup Series this year – and for many years to come.
After six second-place finishes and one win so far in 2017, Larson had maybe his best-ever finish to a race by dominating consecutive restarts down the stretch on his way to a win in the FireKeeper Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway Sunday.
Other cars had proven to be faster on the long runs than Larson throughout the day, but no one was better on restarts than the 24-year-old. Martin Truex, Jr. and Kyle Busch both had strong Toyotas that seemed in position to win at different points. Truex even won Stage 1 and 2 of the race. But when it mattered most, the Cars 3 themed Chevy with Larson behind the wheel proved too strong.
What’s scary for the competition is not only Larson’s success at a young age, but the fact that he is doing this in what many would consider a mid-level car. Chip Ganassi Racing certainly doesn’t have the name recognition of Hendrick, Gibbs or Penske, but if you look at the point standings, all year the 42 has been at or next to the top.
Larson is one of the rare talents that makes his outlaw dirt driving skills transfer onto the larger and, some would argue, more mundane, Nascar stage. In Sprints, restarts and momentum are everything on the dirt. You could see the skills yesterday on the restarts as Larson pulled away each and every time it mattered. And considering the competition learns your style and adjusts each time, the more restarts there are, the less your chances of holding your lead typically are.
Even Jeff Gordon, who climbed the ranks racing in many series since a young age, was the first to admit that he wasn’t a good restarter. Larson appears to be mastering this skill that’s become even more important in the era of the fantom debris cautions, clean air and stage racing.
But on Sunday, Larson was not going to have a late-race collapse get him another second. He closed the deal. And if this is a sign of things to come, we could be on the verge of crowning the next big thing in Nascar.