CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Following another NASCAR Cup Series victory Sunday at Nashville Superspeedway, Kyle Larson got on a plane and traveled west.
Larson, the hottest driver in NASCAR thanks to four consecutive victories at the Cup Series level, was traveling to Huset’s Speedway in Brandon, S.D., where he plans to race Paul Silva’s No. 57 sprint car against the top stars of the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series for the next two days.
The odds are high that Larson, who won more than 40 races on dirt last year, will be in contention to win at least one of those races at the third-mile dirt track where he earned a $20,000 World of Outlaws victory on Sept. 6.
It’s what sets him apart from the rest of the top NASCAR drivers, his passion, his need if you will, to race as often as possible. It’s also what has turned him into one of NASCAR’s most popular stars.
“I think fans can appreciate me because I do it in all different types of forms of racing, not just NASCAR,” Larson said Sunday at Nashville Superspeedway. “You don’t know what car I’m going to be in on what day of the week. I could be in a sprint car like I will be tomorrow (Monday), in a late model middle of the week some other day, then a Cup car on Sunday.
“I think fans, because I’m a little bit different than your normal race car driver, I think that’s why fans so far seem to still cheer me on and like to see me winning.”
It’s about more than popularity for Larson. The 28-year-old native of Elk Grove, Calif., believes the more he races, the better he gets. He proved that last year following his suspension from NASCAR for the use of a racial slur, which led to him returning to his dirt-track roots.
He won in everything he raced, including a midget, sprint car, Silver Crown car and even a dirt late model — a style of racing he’d never attempted prior to last season.
When he signed with Hendrick Motorsports, there was concern that team owner Rick Hendrick would not allow him to continue racing on dirt in his free time. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.
“When I was getting ready to start talking with Mr. H (Rick Hendrick) and Jeff (Gordon) about racing their Cup cars, I was a little bit nervous and bummed that I probably wouldn’t be able to race as much dirt,” Larson said. “I didn’t think that they would cut me fully. I also didn’t expect them to kind of let me do whatever I wanted either.
“It’s worked out really great for me. Cliff (Daniels, crew chief) I think understands that when I race, I get better. I just kind of go through with him on what races I want to run. He’s been cool to let me race as long as, yeah, it’s not interfering with anything I’ve got going on with the NASCAR team because that’s always been my No. 1 priority, even in the past.”
Most racers believe seat time is the most valuable asset a young racer can have, regardless of the discipline. It’s no surprise that Larson agrees, and he believes all his seat time, between the NASCAR races and his races on dirt, has and will continue to make him better.
“I think all the racing helps for everything. I win a Cup race, it helps me for dirt racing,” Larson said. “I think, too, even though it’s different race cars, looking at the driver telemetry data and stuff helps when I go race a sprint car as well, even though they’re different cars. I can kind of imagine a line in my head of what I’m doing in the sprint car. I think that helps me.
“Then, too, I think just racing a lot. I’m in racing situations more than anybody else in the world really, but especially in Cup,” Larson added. “I think that helps me stay sharp, it helps me be aggressive, it helps me understand what things are doing, tracks changing, stuff like that.
“I think you’re just getting into a rhythm and staying in a rhythm, where none of these guys are going to get back in a car until Saturday. I think it’s a big advantage for me to be in a car multiple times throughout the week.”
As if Larson needs an advantage.