Good things come to those who wait: What's next for Kyle Larson?

For Kyle Larson, it was just a matter of time.

Good things come to those who wait: What's next for Kyle Larson?
Race winner Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
Race winner Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
Chip Ganassi
Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
Race winner Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, Brad Keselowski, Team Penske Ford
Car of Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, during inspection
Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
Bryan Clauson, Dale Coyne Racing Honda
Tribute helmet to Bryan Clauson of Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
Bryan Clauson, Dale Coyne Racing Jonathan Byrd Racing
Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

On Sunday, all the right circumstances finally fell into place at Michigan International Speedway, with Larson earning his long-awaited first career Sprint Cup win. 

I think with two to go, I was starting to get choked up. We worked really, really hard to get a win

Kyle Larson

With all the build-up Larson received before taking over the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing ride in 2014, it’s hard to believe it took 99 races for the 24-year-old driver to break through.

But for Larson, the NASCAR win was well worth the wait. 

“This feels different, because it's taken me a lot longer than it took me in any of the other stuff to get a win,” Larson said. “Took me a couple months to win my first Sprint Car race, four days after my 15th birthday. Took me a few months to win when I got into USAC.  Took me a few years to win an Outlaw race.

“This, after the way my rookie season started, coming close a few times, not getting it done, you can visualize the win that early in your career. It's going to happen. It's going to happen. But it just never happened. This one's different just 'cause of how long we had to wait and how much harder I've had to work for it. Like I said, it's special because all the hard work's paid off.”

Larson was just 19 when Chip Ganassi recruited the open-wheel standout and launched his transition to stock cars. From his first days on the NASCAR scene in 2012, Larson showed speed. The comparisons to Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon began long before he won two K&N Pro Series races and the tour’s 2012 title.

Before Larson completed his first season in the Xfinity Series in 2013, he made his Cup debut at Charlotte. Competitors marveled at “Young Money,” as he worked the high line around the 1.5-mile track. In the three years since, Larson has displayed a talent for finding the fastest line around the track, even when it might not be the most prudent. But it never stopped him from staying the course. 

Larson’s determination served him well on Sunday — as did his short track experience. On the final pit stop, Chase Elliott’s team enabled the No. 24 to beat Larson out of the pits. Elliott gained two positions and a three-second lead over Larson after the field cycled out following pit stops. When Martin Truex Jr. pitted on Lap 170, Larson moved up to second. 

Larson, who led 41 circuits during the race, fought lapped traffic to remain in striking distance to Elliott. With 18 laps remaining, Elliott’s lead was 2.7-seconds over Larson. Four laps later, Michael Annett blew a right front tire, and NASCAR called the fourth and final caution. 

The critical restart

With a push from Brad Keselowski on the subsequent restart on Lap 192, Larson shot out in front of Elliott for the lead for the nine-lap shoot out.

“We needed that last restart,” said crew chief Chad Johnston. “Kyle did everything he needed to do to have the lead off of (Turn) 2. We knew whoever had the lead off of 2 was probably going to win the race.”

Larson was calm, initially, but could barely contain his emotions in the closing laps. After 99 starts in NASCAR’s top series, he knew victory would be his if the race stayed green.

“I started shaking, legs were a little number there for a couple of laps,” Larson said. “I think with two to go, I was starting to get choked up. We worked really, really hard to get a win and just haven’t done it. Finally, all the hard work by everybody, hundreds of people at our race shop, people who have got me through the Cup Series, it was all paying off.

“I couldn’t catch my breath there after I got out of the car because I spent two minutes screaming because I was so pumped up. It was pretty special and I’ll remember it forever.” 

For Bryan

Since losing his friend Bryan Clauson, who died at age 27 of injuries sustained during an accident in Belleville Midget Nationals on Aug. 6, Larson wanted the opportunity to “park it” in Victory Lane. While Clauson was more of a traditionalist when it came to celebrating, Larson didn’t think “B.C.” would mind if he enjoyed the moment.

“It's good to be able to park it in Victory Lane, like he would have said,” Larson said. “He didn't like people doing burnouts and stuff like that, 'cause he wanted you to act like you've been to Victory Lane before.  

“But I hadn't been to Victory Lane before so I was going to do some burnouts.”

Sunday’s victory was more than just Larson’s first win. It’s also his first chance to contend in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Larson is stoked for the opportunity given the selection of racetracks in the final 10 events — half which he considers some of his best. 

“Starting out in Chicago, that's a great one for me,” Larson said. “Loudon we've struggled a little bit. Dover, that's a good one. We almost won there earlier in the year. Texas, Charlotte, Kansas, then Homestead is awesome for me.  Martinsville has typically been a bad track for me, but we ran third there this year.  Hopefully we can go back and have another good run.

“Yeah, there's a lot of good tracks.  My rookie year, I didn't make the Chase obviously. Do the math, I made like the third or fourth most points in the Chase.  Had I been in the Chase, I think I would have finished like sixth in points or something…I think we're actually better than where we were then.  We've been working really hard.  This is about the time of year where we get better normally.

“The first couple rounds, you just got to be consistent, not have any bad luck, not lose any points.  I'm sure it will be stressful when we get to the Chase.  You race a little bit differently when you're in the Chase, I think, than when you're out of it and have nothing to lose.”

Larson is the future of CGR

Larson’s win provided Ganassi Racing with victories in six major racing series — Sprint Cup, Xfinity, IndyCar, IMSA, WEC and GRC. Team owner Chip Ganassi considers Larson the foundation for his NASCAR teams’ future. 

“No question the kid has talent, he can drive,” Ganassi said. “We had to put a weekend together, if you will. These weekends start off Friday morning. You're working on Friday morning every session. You got to get the most out of each day, out of each session. You have to have good pits. 

“Kyle, everybody knew it was a matter of just when. But you know that we've been second plenty of times. I can't tell you how much respect I have for the people on the team that do the work, that hung in there, kept me in the game as well. It's easy to change things in business.  People talk about ‘Change management’ all the time. 

“It's easy to change, Let's get somebody new and we'll change. I think it's a lot harder to have the fortitude as a team to say, ‘Hey, we have all the pieces, we have all the stuff, we're going to hang in there and keep massaging what we have and work with that.’”

Looking forward towards the Chase

Currently, Ganassi has two teams in the Chase. Jamie McMurray has not won this season, but he’s 16th in the Chase standings based on points. With Larson’s background, Ganassi believes the No. 42 team can persevere in the playoffs. 

“We have to dig deep,” Ganassi said. “We have to dig deep and work hard, like every other team's going to be doing. He thinks those are good tracks for him. We think they're good tracks.  He's shown before he knows his way around Miami. That's always good, to be good at the final track.

“He's a shootout kind of guy. A lot of those races turn into shootouts. You're not so much racing the entire field in those races a lot of times. 

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