Rookie Kyle Larson outperforms many of NASCAR’s top veterans at Talladega

6 Comments

Rookies aren’t expected to do well in their first restrictor plate race at Talladega Superspeedway.

If they don’t wreck out early, a finish of 30th or worse is what most first-timers can realistically anticipate.

But Kyle Larson is not like most first-timers. The 21-year-old Northern California native drove Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 like a veteran – and even outdrove guys like Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart (who finished last, by the way), Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon.

And when the wrecking ended and the dust settled, Larson not only passed his first ‘Dega test, he aced it with an impressive ninth-place finish, the best of the entire rookie crop.

So how did the leading favorite for Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year react? To say his response was subdued is an understatement.

“Yeah, it was good,” Larson said.

And then, talking more like a veteran than a first-timer at ‘Dega, Larson expressed what he hoped he would finish vs. how he actually did.

“I was really hoping for a top 20 just to stay out of trouble, and to get a top 10 is really nice,” he said.

If Larson appeared somewhat passive in the assessment of his performance at ‘Dega, maybe he was still in a state of shock.

“I spent pretty much all day just trying not to make any spectacular moves to put myself in a bad spot to get in a wreck,” Larson said. “The 42 hasn’t had much luck on superspeedways with Juan (Pablo Montoya) and myself at Daytona (finished 38th in the season opener).

“I just wanted to stay out of trouble. We’ve been making up a lot of points throughout the year after Daytona, and to come back to another superspeedway, I was really nervous. I’m glad to get a good finish and stay up there in points.”

While Larson didn’t improve in the standings – he remains 13th – Sunday was his fifth top-10 finish in the first 10 races of the season.

That’s more top-10 finishes thus far in 2014 than race winner Denny Hamlin (3), runner-up Greg Biffle (4), third-place finisher Clint Bowyer (3), Ryan Newman (4), Brad Keselowski (4) and Stewart (4).

That’s quite a statement from NASCAR’s new budding king of the understatement.

“All in all, it was a pretty decent day,” Larson said.

Yep, he’s probably still in a state of shock – but given what he did, that’s a good thing, indeed.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry.

The idea of Hamilton attending the season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).