Kyle Larson (Tom Macht Photo)
Kyle Larson (Tom Macht Photo)

LEMASTERS: Hoping For More Of The Same

CONCORD, N.C. — What I hope to see in 2022 is more of the same.

Good, hard racing, a lot of new winners, surprise winners … and maybe a few more post-race “discussions.”

With the season he had in 2021, it will be difficult to unseat Kyle Larson in the Cup Series. Larson is one of those generational talents along the lines of a Foyt, Unser or Andretti, I think, judging by the variety of cars he drives and wins with. There are precious few drivers these days who can do that kind of ride-swapping and win at all of them. Tony Stewart was probably the last one I’ve seen be able to do it, so that’s heady company to be in for the newest champion.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the years trying to figure out why certain drivers are so good at one discipline or another, and only a handful can drive anything they strap into. There is no scientific process attached, but I have the feeling if they did something else, they’d be just as good at that.

A.J. Foyt was a driver who, in his prime, didn’t make mistakes. He was near perfect in the cockpit and if his equipment held up, he would be in the lead group every time. The fact that he maintained his own cars had something to do with it, I assume, but he was just that good. Winning four Indy 500s, a Daytona 500, the 24-hour sports car classics at Daytona and Le Mans and a lot of other races tells me I’m right.

Andretti (Mario in particular, but his brother Aldo as well) had the feel for racing like few others.

Mario was always fast and always competitive, but tended to have the worst luck in the world when it came to big races. Still, having an Indy 500, a World Driving Championship and a Daytona 500 victory in the same career cements him among the best in the world … ever. Mario, like A.J., started on the dirt and made the jump to Indy and beyond through merit and hard work.

The Unser clan (Bobby, Al and Al Jr.) all had that … thing … that premier racers do: speed. From Pikes Peak to Indianapolis, they were fast. I wonder if Jerry Unser, who died at Indianapolis in 1959, might have been the best of them all, but sadly, that storyline never got to play out. Nine Indy 500 victories do not lie, and that’s how many the Unsers have as a group. 

Dan Gurney was one of those who built his own cars and he had the same kind of … mojo, for lack of a better word. He never won Indy as a driver, but his cars did and he won in Formula 1, NASCAR and in Indy cars. I tend to think Gurney was a builder first and a driver second, but that’s my opinion.

Larson has aspects of each one of the above-mentioned drivers. He won a boatload of open-wheel races in addition to the title last year and that’s not something you just luck into. You have to earn those wins, 30 laps at a time. 

Having been cast out of NASCAR for a time, Larson kept the hunger and the faith. Rick Hendrick offered him the chance for redemption and he took it with both hands and a heavy right foot. In the championship race at Phoenix, Larson was magical during the closing laps — with a big dose of track position from his pit crew to boot — and just ran away to the victory and the title.

As I’ve said in previous columns, there is a difference in today’s racers from those that came before. There’s a ladder to climb and the kids who are tomorrow’s stars get on it early. Quarter midgets or go-karts lead to Bandoleros and Legend Cars, late models and ARCA if you’re of a NASCAR bent. Go-karts to F2000 to Trans-Am for road racers leads to the Road to Indy ladder. If you’re overseas, it’s a whole different ladder with a lot of different steps. The one constant is money and sponsorship.

Foyt and the Unsers and Andrettis came up the hard way. They won at the lower levels and just kept advancing, with far fewer steps on the ladder and a whole lot more in the way of danger.

Kyle Larson has made many steps — some up, some down — to this point, and the ladder toward multiple championships still has a few steps on it, but one less than it did at this time last year.

error: Content is protected !!