Spotlight turns to NASCAR's other champions

Thursday, Dec. 06, 2012

NASCAR hasn’t finished celebrating just yet.

While its three national series champions have been honored, NASCAR has another round of awards shows this weekend in Charlotte for its weekly and touring series.

The Whelen All-American Series Awards are scheduled Friday night and Night of Champions Touring Awards are on for Saturday night, both at the Charlotte Convention Center.

While most race fans are very familiar with Brad Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and James Buescher – the respective champions of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Truck series – this weekend’s honorees are likely far less well-known.

They are no less talented, however.

One of most successful drivers to be recognized this weekend is also one of the youngest – 20-year-old Kyle Larson, who won the K&N Pro Series East championship this season as a rookie.

Larson earned a pair of wins and finished with 12 top-10 finishes in 14 races. He also ran four races in the Truck series and finished 10th, sixth, second and was involved in a wreck in the season finale at Homestead, Fla.

Oh, one other thing, the native of Elk Grove, Calif., had not driven a stock car prior to the start of the 2012 season.

Not even one.

“This is my first year in stock cars, so I’ve learned a lot,” said Larson, who has a driver development contract with Chip Ganassi Racing.

“I’ve really learned how to race side-by-side with guys for a few laps before you can actually get by them because with the Sprint car, you just blow right past them and don’t waste any time passing them.

“I’ve really learned patience, I think, this year. I don’t think I'm the best at saving tires at all, but I think I’ve gotten a lot better as a driver at saving tires this year.”

Larson’s learned a lot, but it’s not surprising because he’s raced a lot in a short period of time.

His Japanese-American ancestry opened the door to participating in NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program and Rev Racing – the team for which Larson drove in the K&N series this season. Larson’s championship is the first for the organization and Drive for Diversity program.

Success in open-wheel racing helped put the spotlight on the up-and-comer.

In 2011, Larson captured 22 feature victories in the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series, all three USAC National Divisions and in the American Sprint Car Series.

He gained national attention for his talent, not just from motorsports media but from some of racing’s most successful drivers, including Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon.

“It’s definitely cool to have Jeff and Tony talk about me in interviews and stuff like that. It means a lot to me,” Larson said. “It’s cool that they pay attention like they do.”

Where will Larson be when the 2013 season gets under way?

He doesn’t know – yet.

“I don’t really have anything set up for next year yet. I know these guys at Ganassi Racing are working on some different things for me and, hopefully, will have an answer here shortly,” he said.

“Hopefully, I’ll be racing anything, whether it's moving up into Trucks or Nationwide and, hopefully, I'll still be able to race Sprint cars and Midgets. As long as I’m racing, I’ll be having fun.”

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