By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
*Editor’s note: Motorsports Tribune will be previewing the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Season for 24 drivers. We will release one driver preview per day over a 24-day stretch.
Years in Cup: 3
Career Wins: 1
Biggest Accomplishment: Cup win at Michigan (2016)
Expectations are a hard thing to live up to sometimes. That was the case for Kyle Larson over the first two years of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career.
Although the California native showed flashes of living up to the hype he had received moving up the NASCAR ranks through his first 71 starts, Larson finally began his emergence as a championship contender in 2016.Larson had several chances at winning races early last year, including the spring race at Dover where he lost out in an epic duel with Matt Kenseth. A week later, Larson won the Sprint Showdown which secured him a spot in the All-Star Race. In the All-Star Race Larson elevated his game by competing for the win before suffering a blown tire late.
However, even after the disappointment of losing the All-Star race, Larson had momentum, and more importantly confidence. The swagger gained by Larson over this two week stretch fueled an incredible second half of the year, which saw him finally capture that elusive first win in NASCAR’s premier series at Michigan in August.
Larson looked like he would advance to the second round of the Chase, but mechanical issues at Dover did him in. What could have been? We can’t definitively answer that question, but Larson didn’t spend much time this offseason thinking about his early playoff exit. Instead he opted to race on the dirt in Australia and in the Chili Bowl at Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Expect Larson to be one of the fiercest competitors at Michigan and Auto Club Speedway, where he always seems to be in the top-five, but he also showed incredible speed at just about every type of track this past year.
He racked up top-five finishes at short tracks, one-milers, intermediate ovals, over 2-mile speedways this year and he also recorded three finishes of seventh-or-better at restrictor plate tracks as well. The driver also continues to gel with his crew chief Chad Johnston, who joined the team last offseason.
Expect this 24-year old driver to continue working toward being a superstar in this sport in 2017.