Kyle Larson gets monkey off his back with win at Rockingham

“It finally feels good to get the monkey off my back. Hopefully, we can get some more wins shortly.”

For a 20 year old, it seems a shock to hear those words spoken after his first Camping World Truck Series in just his fifth series start. However, this isn’t any 20-year-old. This is Kyle Larson.

With a multitude of success in sprint cars and in the K&N East Series, Larson is a driver that many are saying is the next big star.

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The anticipation for his move to one of the top three divisions in NASCAR was huge.

So far, the young driver has lived up to that anticipation. He has one win, two top fives and four top 10s in five truck starts, well having two top 10s in six starts in the Nationwide Series. There have been three races – two truck, one Nationwide – that the young driver has come close to winning.

In just his third truck series start last year at Phoenix International Raceway, Larson led late in the race till getting passed on the final restart by Brian Scott. The following week at Homestead, Larson would wreck while running inside the top five with Ty Dillon.

This year in the Nationwide Series, Larson has come close to winning once – losing by inches to Kyle Busch at Bristol Motor Speedway.

In speaking of races like that, Larson says he enjoys racings the guys with lots of experience, like Busch.

“It’s only better for us young guys that are trying to gain experience and stuff like that,” Larson said. “We can learn a ton off racing with those guys.  It makes it better for our resume or our career or whatever when we go out there and beat them or race hard with them.  So I like racing with them.”

Larson added that he knew it’d be difficult racing the veterans, and knew that he wouldn’t be winning and getting top fives every week.

“I understand how tough it is,” he said. “Just trying to take it and learn as much as I can racing with those guys.  Hopefully, by the end of the year when I’ve learned a lot more I can be challenging for Top 5s and wins.  But right now I understand how tough it is.  Like I said, hopefully I’ll learn more and can get better.”

With a career of his nature already, the win at Rockingham in the truck series may seem like a relief to the young driver.

“It was cool to win at Rockingham with how much history it has,” Larson said. “How cool a racetrack it is too.  It’s a really fun racetrack.  The driver is really important there.  You can do a lot as a driver to make your car better.  It’s a lot of fun to drive there.

“It was really special too because we had Autism Speaks on the truck.  And my crew chief, Trent Owen’s son, his five-year-old son, Gray, has autism.  And I know it’s special for him, and it felt good for me to be able to win for Trent, and also give Turner Scott Motorsports their first win of the season.”

Larson also becomes the first graduate from NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program to win a race. The program is aimed at giving drivers from minorities an opportunity.

“It helped with getting me exposure in NASCAR in a series like the K&N East Series, and also being able to race on tracks that I’ll be running on this year,” Larson said. “We got to go to Iowa, New Hampshire, Richmond, Darlington — not Darlington, but Dover, and tracks like that.  It helps us gain experience.

“It was my first year racing stock cars too, so it helped all around with driving and introducing me to all the media that I’ll hopefully be having to do in my future.  So it was good for me.”

Larson gave the program a shot after seeing the success that MacKenna Bell was having with it. Larson used to race Bell in outlaw cars.

“I decided to sign up and tryout at their little combine they had in 2011 at the end of 2011 and did pretty well there,” Larson said. “So they gave me the opportunity to run the full K&N East schedule last year in 2012.”

When he is not behind of a Nationwide Series car or a Camping World Series truck this year, he has been continuing to race sprints.

“I’m going to try to race as much as I can,” he said. “A lot of people probably think I should focus on Nationwide or whatever, but I think the more you’re in a race car, the more you’re learning.  So that’s kind of how I’ve been the last couple years.

“I mean, you see Tony Stewart, and he’s off racing Sprint cars whenever he can.  He still runs good.  So, yeah, I learn something every time I’m in a race car.  So I just keep trying to learn as much as I can, and race as much as I can.”

So far, across the different divisions, he has eight wins. With all the wins, Larson’s says his approach to staying grounded with the success is staying humble and not getting carried away.

“I know these opportunities don’t come very often and you can lose them in the blink of an eye,” he said. “So just stay humble and just understand that it’s tough.  I don’t know.

“I’ve just always been pretty humble.  I don’t know.  My parents have taught me to stay grounded and stuff like that.  So I don’t know.  I think it’s been good for me and good for my career so far.”

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