By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
With the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season looming, it’s time for a new star to be born and that star is Kyle Larson.
The timing just seems right.
The 2014 Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year is coming off of a strong performance in the season finale at Homestead last season. Larson was poised for his first win on NASCAR’s premier tour, but a late caution left the team’s strategy in shambles, losing the lead and falling to fifth at the finish.
Larson fell victim to the sophomore slump in 2015.,collecting two top fives and 10 top 10’s, a drop from 2014 when the California native captured eight top fives and 17 top 10’s, along with one pole.
Fast out of the gate in every series he has ever driven in, Larson has been humbled in his first 75 Sprint Cup Series starts. In selective appearances late in the season, the 23-year-old became a regular at the front of the field in the XFINITY Series, dominating at Texas before a left rear tire blew with less than 20 laps to go while in the lead, and then taking the win at the series finale in Homestead.
Larson has shown pace at every discipline of track NASCAR has to offer, from short tracks to superspeedways, but more than anywhere, the 2012 K&N Pro Series East champion has a knack for 1.5-mile ovals like Texas and Homestead.
Although his average start of 13.3 was impressive in 2015, the team failed to keep up with on track adjustments on a consistent basis. Leaving Larson marred with a 19.3 average finish.
Chip Ganassi Racing as an organization struggled last year overall, failing to match the pace set by front-runners such as Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske.
CGR now has a new partner in Rob Kauffman, former co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing. The addition of Kauffman greatly supports a team that has been battling to get over the hump since their Sprint Cup inception. In the short time that MWR existed, Kauffman helped build an organization that quickly established relevancy with championship contenders. With longtime partner Felix Sabates still dedicated to the CGR, adding Kauffman looks like an ideal matchup to help an organization take that next step.
The buzz surrounding Larson was huge when he entered the Sprint Cup Series, many comparing him to recently retired four-time champion Jeff Gordon. Although Larson’s potential to this point seems untapped, the reality is that he is only beginning to scratch the surface against arguably the toughest, most talented crop of drivers top to bottom in NASCAR history.
Factor a much improved organization with a talented, even more seasoned and hungry Larson, and you have the makings of a breakout star in 2016.
Image: Chris Trotman/Getty Images