Larson adds to reputation as wheel man

Jeff Birchfield • Jan 9, 2018 at 2:17 PM

Kyle Larson does what he loves most during the NASCAR offseason. That is winning races.

When he isn’t racing his 3,400-pound stock car, the 25-year-old California native keeps adding to a reputation as one of the most talented drivers on the planet in the seat of an open-wheel dirt car. Larson won three of four midget-car exhibition races last week in New Zealand.

Last season, Larson won six straight sprint car races during a summer stretch. He won at such notable dirt tracks as Eagle Raceway in Nebraska, Sharon Speedway in Ohio and Lincoln Speedway in Pennsylvania.

It was easily his best year in NASCAR with four wins in the Monster Energy Cup Series and three wins in the Xfinity Series. Although he wound up eighth in the final point standings, he was easily a top-three driver last season.

With his experience in the shorter races, he beat eventual champion Martin Truex Jr. on restarts to steal away wins at Michigan and Richmond.

He has been compared to his boyhood hero, Jeff Gordon, for his ability to drive any kind of race car. Despite his experience on the dirt, Larson has yet to experience a dirt late model, which is the car he said he most wants to drive next.

There is also a strong desire to race for his car owner, Chip Ganassi, in the Indianapolis 500. Most inside the sport believe Larson would be a natural in an Indy car and a legitimate threat to win the race.

He has shown an ability to adapt to sports cars, already a winner in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona. Larson teamed with former Indianapolis 500 winners Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan, and his NASCAR teammate Jamie McMurray to win America’s most prestigious sports car race.

This week, Larson and other NASCAR drivers like Kasey Kahne, Justin Allgaier and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will race at the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Defending NASCAR Truck Series champion Christopher Bell will be back to defend his Chili Bowl title. Three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart is likely to be back on a tractor doing track prep for the race he won twice.

For Larson, it’s another chance to shine and another chance to win races more than a month before the NASCAR season starts.

Warming up

Preseason testing for NASCAR began Tuesday at Texas Motor Speedway with four teams.

Defending series champion Martin Truex Jr. in the No. 78 Toyota took to the 1 1/2-mile track, along with the Fords of Ryan Blaney and Aric Almirola, and the Chevy of Chase Elliott.

For Chevy, it marked the debut of the Camaro ZL1 as its Monster Energy Cup Series car. Another test is set for Jan. 31-Feb. 1 at Las Vegas with the season to begin on Feb. 11 with Daytona 500 qualifying and the Advance Auto Parts Clash to be held on the same day.

Weekly woes

Officials at Lonesome Pine Raceway in Coeburn, Va., are yet to decide on a 2018 weekly racing schedule.

There are fewer places for local asphalt short-track drivers to race these days.

While Kingsport Speedway has a strong weekly program mainly on Friday nights, other tracks like Newport Speedway, Tri-County Speedway in Hudson, N.C., and Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Va., are not running weekly programs on Saturday nights.

If Lonesome Pine doesn’t have a weekly program in 2018, the closest places for a local racer to compete for a track championship on Saturday nights would be Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway or Greenville-Pickens (S.C.) Speedway.

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