Turn 2 Blog: Do Kyle Larson’s accomplishments on dirt make him a generational talent?

*Turn 2 Blog is a regular feature on InsideCircleTrack.com. Here, site operators Michael Moats and Richard Allen take turns offering their thoughts on the NASCAR and pavement short track racing topics of the day.

Richard: Kyle Larson just continues to impress and amaze. After winning more than 50 feature races last year in Sprint Cars, Midget Sprint Cars, and Late Models combined, he has continued those winning ways already in 2021. For the second year in a row he captured the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals at the River Spirit Expo Center in Tulsa, OK in a Midget then came to All-Tech Raceway in Lake City, FL and just decimated a very stout Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series field. There is no doubt this is an amazing wheel-man.

Some have gone so far as to label Larson as a ‘generational talent’ and compare him to the likes of Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt because of the fact that he can win in multiple types of race cars. However, I am going to offer a qualified disagreement with the label of ‘generational talent’, at least on what might prove to be a temporary basis.

While drivers such as Andretti and Foyt did win in multiple forms of racing, they were, for a time in their careers, the best in the field at their primary form of competition. For example, both of those legendary drivers won the Daytona 500 in a stock car, which was outside of their primary form of racing, at the same time they were having great success in their full-time arenas.

Andretti won a championship and 12 races in Formula 1 when he raced in that discipline on a full-time basis. He won a CART(IndyCar) championship and 19 races when he raced there full-time. He won a USAC Champ Car championship and 33 races in that form of the sport. And, he won the Indianapolis 500.

The point being, Andretti did win when he ventured outside of his primary form of racing, but mostly, he won where it counted most in terms of his career.

Foyt won the 24 Hours of LeMans, numerous features in various forms of dirt racing, and NASCAR races at the same time he was dominating the USAC Champ Car circuit by winning a total of 67 races and seven titles. And perhaps most importantly, he won the Indianapolis 500 four times.

Kyle Larson(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Again, Larson is clearly a great talent who has shown he can win in any type of race car. However, the NASCAR Cup Series is his primary form of competition now that he has been reinstated. Like Andretti and Foyt, he must win in the place where he is competes for championships.

Before comparisons can be made to those two legends, I believe he has to do more in the NASCAR Cup Series. To date, he only has six wins, with half of those coming on the same track(Michigan), with no championships and no Daytona 500 victories. That said, I believe he has an opportunity to compile race wins and championships with Hendrick Motorsports beginning this season, but he hasn’t done so yet.

Are you ready to label Larson as a ‘generational talent’ or are you still looking for more?

Michael: No, I’m not quite there yet. While he’s winning in everything he sits in, there has been a bit of an underwhelming performance when it comes to his Cup career. While he does have some wins in that series, they are few and far between.

One can make a case that it’s harder to win in Cup, and that is true. But when you see the number of wins drivers like Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch have earned in previous seasons, one has to wonder why Larson hasn’t done that.

One caveat to that argument is the team Larson was previously driving for. Chip Ganassi Racing isn’t on the top rung of the sport. Those results speak for themselves. Larson will now be driving for Hendrick Motorsports and now is the time to see if Larson can get more wins and be in contention for championships.

Please consider also reading “Kyle Larson demolishes Lucas Oil field at All-Tech Raceway

Richard: I think your use of the word “yet” is appropriate. Larson has given every indication over the past year that he has the talent to do what everyone thinks he can do. And I believe he will accomplish much more in the Cup Series in the No. 5 Chevrolet for HMS. Still, to join the likes of Andretti and Foyt there is still much to be done. That said, the Elk Grove, CA driver is only 28 years old so there is plenty of time to do it.

Although what he did to get himself suspended from NASCAR was a foolish mistake, I wonder if it did not actually mature him somewhat and prepare him for the high pressure he will be under while driving for a team that is expected to win regularly.

To change the topic just a bit while staying on Larson, there can be no doubt of his impact on the sport of dirt racing over the past 12 months. Whether it be Sprint Cars, Midgets, or Late Models, the guy draws a crowd and it seems as if those crowds love him. As you and I know, there is a definite disconnect between dirt racing and NASCAR as those who follow the action on clay surfaces tend to consider NASCAR to be too “clean and tidy” with a group of spoiled rich guys participating.

Even though he is from the world of NASCAR, dirt racing fans have very much gravitated to him and accepted him. He does seem to be bridging a gap, doesn’t he?

Michael: He certainly has. I am a bit surprised how much dirt racing fans have embraced him, especially for Dirt Late Model fans. There is a certain amount of divisiveness between Dirt Late Model fans and how they view NASCAR and its drivers.

One thing I’ll be curious to watch is when the NASCAR season cranks up in a few weeks, how many of those fans will be actually watching and cheering for him. Larson has indicated he may run as many 20 Dirt late Model races this year. That should bridge a bit of the gap this season.

Kyle Larson will revive the No. 5 for HMS previously made famous by Terry Labonte, Mark Martin and others

Richard: That’s an interesting point you make about the number of dirt fans who might be watching Larson this season in NASCAR. At the same time, I have to wonder how many fans might be drawn to dirt tracks by those who want to witness the amazing feats “Yung Money” is pulling off on clay.

I have had the feeling over the past few months that the divide between the two forms of racing has narrowed and Larson is definitely a major part of that along with the likes of Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, and the others from NASCAR who have involved themselves in dirt racing of one form or another.

While we said earlier that we would like to see more success in his primary form of racing before labelling him as a generational talent, there is no doubt that this racer is accomplishing great things. Perhaps greatest among those things is building a large fan base from both the dirt and pavement worlds.

I don’t think there can be any doubt that, despite his miscue of last year into an open microphone, Larson has done what many thought not to be possible.

Please consider also reading “Here’s why NASCAR needs Bubba Wallace to succeed

Michael: I feel like Larson will have a really good year in the Cup Series in 2021. He seems to be motivated and I think he feels like he will have something to prove after getting back into the NASCAR Cup Series. It’s going to fun to watch.

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