To surprise of no one, Kyle Larson earns Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year honors

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Kyle Larson will have to wait until his sophomore season of NASCAR Sprint Cup competition to get his first victory.

But Larson was still clearly a cut above the series’ other freshmen this season, and after finishing 13th in Sunday’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the 21-year-old was named 2014 Cup Rookie of the Year.

“We were really competitive all season long with the Target team, and came really, really close to winning a couple of them,” Larson said afterwards. “Starting off the year finishing second, really really early in the season at Fontana was great. There was a lot of room on the Kyle Larson bandwagon on to start the season.

“I think a lot of people chose Austin Dillon to win it, and I was pretty confident in myself and in my team that we could do it. I knew there would be some ups and downs, but I felt like we would be the top contender once we got halfway through the season, and we definitely were.

“[I’m] really proud of that, proud of the effort everybody has put in on these race cars. We’ve gotten better throughout the season, and it’s just a huge honor to win this title with all the other names that have won it.”

The 2014 campaign featured a class of eight rookies, but almost immediately, many observers expected RoY honors to go to either Larson or Dillon, who was coming off winning the 2013 Nationwide Series championship.

However, Larson quickly showed that he was the best of the lot.

Although he was unable to win and did not make the Chase, he still collected three runner-up finishes (the aforementioned Fontana, New Hampshire, and Kansas). Plus, he had more Top-5 finishes – eight – than two of the championship contenders, Denny Hamlin (seven) and Ryan Newman (five).

“I think just being competitive and challenging for Top-5s and Top-10s most every week has been really good,” Larson added on Sunday night. “There are a lot of moments that stand out, a lot of heartbreak moments as well.

“We will come back next season, peel the rookie stripes off, and try and go out there and win a race and get into the Chase and do what Kevin Harvick did tonight.”

Most importantly, with Larson behind the wheel, the previously moribund No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing team became a contender more often than not during the season.

Meanwhile, Dillon was able to avoid a single DNF in his rookie year in the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevy but could only muster one Top-5 run. He was also beaten by Larson on Top-10 finishes (Larson’s 17 to his four) and on average finish (Larson’s 14.2 to Dillon’s 17.5).

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.