Top NASCAR stories of 2014: No. 16 — Kyle Larson, super-rookie

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MotorSportsTalk will be counting down the top 20 stories of the 2014 NASCAR season over the month of December.

Here’s what we’ve done so far:

Today, we hit No. 16 – the rise of one of the most heralded Sprint Cup rookies in recent memory, Kyle Larson…

A lot of things in life are not necessarily worthy of the hype they receive.

But in his freshman Sprint Cup season, Kyle Larson proved that he was indeed worthy. The dirt-track phenom entered NASCAR’s top level in 2014 and quickly set himself apart from his fellow rookies.

Revitalizing what had become a so-so No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing team, Larson put up three runner-up finishes, eight Top-5s, and 17 Top-10 finishes. He stayed in Chase contention until the final stages of the regular season and was the no-brainer choice for Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year honors.

Additionally, Larson had a solid year in the NASCAR XFINITY Series with two wins, 14 Top-5s, and 21 Top-10s in 28 starts there.

One of those two XFINITY wins came at Auto Club Speedway in the spring, and one day after that win, he effectively announced himself as a future Cup star on the same two-mile California oval.

Larson took the last restart of the Auto Club 400 in ninth position but quickly shot through the front-runners to challenge Kyle Busch on the final lap.

“Rowdy” was able to hold off the charging Larson, but it was still one of many impressive moments in 2014 for the 21-year-old. His other two runner-up performances came during the Chase at New Hampshire and Kansas, elevating him to a sort of co-starring status along with the championship contenders.

And as Larson continued to rattle off one strong result after another, the sport’s veterans started to become effusive with praise. Perhaps the biggest instance of this came from four-time Cup champ Jeff Gordon, who said Larson was “going to be a star in this series for a long time” after they battled up front during the Chase opener at Chicagoland.

2014 was also a special year for Larson off the track, as he and his girlfriend announced in mid-season that they would be welcoming their first child. The baby, which is a boy that has already been named Owen, is due to arrive toward the end of this month.

After all of that, one can’t help but wonder what awaits Larson in 2015.

After eating just one chip, NHRA drag racer says: ‘I seriously thought I was going to die’

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Editor’s note: Due to rain, Sunday’s final eliminations of the NHRA Carolina Nationals have been postponed to Monday morning at 10 a.m. ET. In the meantime, check out this rather unusual tale:

Remember the old Lays Potato Chips commercial from back in the 1980s that bragged “No one can eat just one”?

Well, ask NHRA Pro Stock driver Alex Laughlin and a few members of his team, and they’ll tell you they learned a very valuable lesson that there indeed IS a chip that you can only eat one of.

According to NHRA’s National Dragster, Laughlin and Elite Motorsports crew members Chase Freeman, Kelly Murphy and Brian Cunningham took part Friday night in the Paqui One Chip Challenge.

If you haven’t heard of the Challenge, Paqui Chips has produced a tortilla chip that the company boldly claims is the hottest chip ever made anywhere in the world. The secret is the “Carolina Reaper” pepper, considered the hottest chili pepper in the world, with a rating of 1.9 million Scoville units, according to PuckerButt Pepper Company.

How hot is 1.9 million Scoville units? Let’s put it this way: the Devil might even have a hard time taking this kind of heat. By comparison, a Jalapeno pepper only reaches 10,000 units on the Scoville rating. 

So while they were enjoying some downtime Friday night after the first two rounds of qualifying for the NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, North Carolina (suburban Charlotte), Laughlin and Co. paid $30 for one chip – you read that right, $30 for one chip, it’s THAT hot – and thought they could take the heat.

They thought wrong.

“This is the hottest chip in the world,” Laughlin said on an Instagram post that documented the entire experience, adding a warning, “What to expect: Mouth on fire, short-term loss of speech, impaired vision from tears, extreme profanity — or death.”

View this post on Instagram

Never. Ever. Again.

A post shared by Alex Laughlin (@alexlaughlin40) on


Laughlin’s post also includes several reader comments that Laughlin and his crew should have had milk on hand instead of water to try and cool things down because milk has a natural antidote to cool your mouth down after eating hot food.

Sunday morning, with his mouth and throat still a bit sore, Laughlin recalled the red-hot episode to National Dragster’s Kevin McKenna:

Never again. Never. Ever. Ever,” Laughlin told McKenna. “It was definitely not the smartest thing I’ve ever done.

One of our guys showed me a You Tube video and it looked like it wasn’t going to be too bad. I like spicy food and it’s usually never a problem. I’ve been to those places with hot wings where you have to sign a waiver before you eat them and that’s never been a problem.

But this? This is on a whole different level. I thought it might last ten minutes. Fourteen hours later, I was still in bad shape. I woke up at 3 a.m. and Googled “internal bleeding.” I seriously thought I was going to die. We all did.”

So if the heat from the chip was off the hotness Richter scale, where did the stunt rank on Laughlin’s own personal Richter scale?

I’ve done some dumb things, but this is right up there.

Well, I really didn’t think it would be that bad,” Laughlin told McKenna with a shrug. “I mean, it’s just one tortilla chip. Like I said, I can usually eat stuff that other people won’t eat, but I had no idea what I was in for.

“I’ve done some dumb things, but this is right up there.”

If you’re up for another challenge in the future that involves eating hot food, Alex, here’s a suggestion: Even though it’s a few years old now, maybe you should try the Ice Bucket Challenge (but fill it with milk) to cool down quick. Just a thought.

Follow @JerryBonkowski