NASCAR

Kyle Larson: Restraint paves way for respect

The Charlotte ObserverMarch 21, 2013 

NASCAR Daytona Nationwide Auto Racing

Driver Kyle Larson

PHELAN M. EBENHACK — AP

— This was the kind of headline much more to Kyle Larson’s liking.

Larson came up short last weekend at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway in his side-by-side battle with Kyle Busch, the NASCAR Nationwide Series’ all-time race winner.

The 20-year-old development driver for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing drew rave reviews for his performance — something that had been missing in the first few weeks of the 2013 season.

“A young kid like that, he’s got a lot of talent and he’s going to make a name — obviously, he already has made a name for himself, but I think that he’s got a lot going for him,” Busch said of Larson after his win.

Larson, who won last season’s K&N Pro Series East championship, got off to a dicey start to the new season as he was widely criticized for wrecking a fellow competitor to win the Whelen All-American series feature race at the preseason Battle at the Beach in Daytona.

Later that week, Larson’s 2013 Nationwide debut came under difficult circumstances as his was the car sent airborne into the catchfence in the series opener at Daytona as part of a multi-car wreck on the final lap.

The front end of Larson’s car was sheared off, with one of its wheels and other debris careering into the grandstands. At least 28 spectators were injured.

Larson had a generally incident-free 13th place finish at Phoenix but was involved in another hard wreck the following week at Las Vegas and ended up 32nd.

The runner-up finish at Bristol was a welcome change in circumstances.

“We got really good there in the midway point of the race. We kept inching our way forward,” Larson said. “I got to third and ran down Kyle and Kevin (Harvick) and wasn’t quite sure what to do when I got to them, so I just tucked in behind them.”

Larson’s patient work in the final laps drew a much more positive response from onlookers.

“I was wondering what he was going to do, because he had a faster car and at that point he had a reputation — short-lived — but he had a reputation for being pretty aggressive to win a race,” Hall of Fame driver Darrell Waltrip said.

“I think he gained back a lot of respect from people like myself that thought he was a kid that needed to learn to be a little bit more respectful. He showed a lot of restraint; did a great job; and there’s no question he has a great amount of talent and is a star of the future.”

Busch echoed Waltrip’s sentiments.

“I think that a lot of people have been looking at him to try to see if he’s going to be a wrecker or a checker and, even though he didn’t get the checkers, that’s how you get them. That will come back,” Busch said.

“You drive in the corner and drive in the back of me or something like that — I’m going to be here for a while, and if he keeps coming up through the ranks then he’s not going to have fun dealing with me every week.

“Right now, I’m going to race him as hard as he raced me, but just as clean as he raced me because he didn’t put a fender on me all day.”

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