After Kyle Larson was suspended by NASCAR early on in the 2020 season, the Elk Grove, California native went on an amazing tear through the dirt racing world that saw him collect trophies from Sprint Car, Midget, and Late Model events across the country. Essentially, not having any Cup Series entanglements freed him up to do other things and he did those other things remarkably well.
But at the beginning of 2021, Larson was reinstated by that sanctioning body and was then signed by powerful Hendrick Motorsports to drive their No. 5 Chevrolet machine. Once that took place, some began to question whether or not the 29-year-old driver would be able to continue racing on dirt or any other form of motorsports outside the commitment to his new team at stock car racing’s top level. The 36-race NASCAR Cup Series schedule can be both physically and mentally demanding in and of itself on anyone who partakes in that lifestyle so adding even more racing duties could prove detrimental.
Many NASCAR drivers do not take on any other driving responsibilities outside of the occasional start in a NASCAR Xfinity Series or NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at the same track on the same weekend as their planned Cup Series event. Perhaps there is the concern that doing so would be distracting or would take too much of a physical toll which would then impact their ability to perform at a high level in the car that serves as their primary responsibility.
With no NASCAR practice or qualifying because of the precautions put in place due to the coronavirus pandemic, drivers in that form of racing did in fact have more time at their disposal. Larson chose to use that time racing Sprint Cars and Late Models while others may have tended to business or sponsor related functions, spend more time on family matters, focus on the upcoming Cup race by spending more time in a simulator, or simply use the extra time to relax.
And not only did Larson compete in other forms of racing, he won at an amazing rate. He took Sprint Car crown jewels in the King’s Royal at Eldora Speedway and the Knoxville Nationals at the Knoxville Raceway. He won the highly prized Dirt Late Model race known as the Prairie Dirt Classic at the Fairbury American Legion Speedway. He also emerged victorious from the Chili Bowl Nationals for Midget machines. And there were numerous other events in those forms of racing that fell to the driver nicknamed ‘Yung Money’.
But still, the questions going into the NASCAR season was whether or not Larson could maintain mental focus on his Cup Series duties while sitting in the driver’s seat of so many other types of race cars. And, would all of those additional laps on potentially rough and bumpy dirt tracks along with the travel required to get from one place to another wear him down physically?
Well, the final result of Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series finale at the Phoenix Raceway resoundingly answered any questions there might have been regarding the hectic schedule Larson took on during 2021. Along with those victories mentioned above, the driver who has over the past year has acquired legendary status within the annals of racing history scored ten Cup Series wins along with the season championship in that form of motorsports.
About his extracurricular racing and any harm it might do to his ability to perform on the NASCAR side of things, there can now be no doubt. As a matter of fact, it may be a better question to ask whether or not all of the racing he does outside of the Cup car might actually improve his skills in that ride.
Whether he ever wins another race in any form of motorsports or not, Kyle Larson’s 2021 season will go down in history as perhaps the greatest ever turned in by a racing driver across all forms of the sport. We may never see anything like it again. With NASCAR set to return to its normal routine of practice and qualifying in 2022, there simply may not be enough time in during the days and weeks for anything like this to occur again.
But those of us who appreciate amazing feats in racing will have the memories of witnessing true greatness.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
Respond to this piece on Twitter –> @RichardAllenIDR
or on Facebook –> InsideCircleTrack/Facebook