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He just needs a crash course on Japanese: “All I say is, `Sayonara,’” he said, laughing.

But he’s serious about sparking interest in auto racing in new cultures.

“It’s the greatest sport in the world and a lot of people haven’t been here to experience it,” he said. “If I can get Japanese-Americans interested in the sport, I think it would be good for me and NASCAR.

“As long as I can keep running up front, I’ll catch their eye a little bit. They might come to watch the races and meet me and walk around the garage area.”

Larson, locked into a development contract with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, put the sport on notice in 2011 when he won races in three different series on the same night at Stewart-owned Eldora Speedway. He moved on to a ride with Rev Racing and was the first series champion out of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program.

Larson has talked at length of wanting to pattern his career after drivers like Stewart and Kahne, who started their careers on dirt tracks in open wheel cars.

Stewart turned down an offer by owner Roger Penske to return to his open wheel roots and run in this year’s Indianapolis 500. Larson said he’d love the chance to drive in IndyCar’s signature race some time down the road.

“I’d like to run the Indy 500 someday, for sure,” he said. “I think being with Chip Ganassi Racing, you have that chance. I’d also like to run the 24-hour race at Daytona. Being with Chip Ganassi, you get those options if you’re doing well and he likes you.”

What’s not to like?

Gordon went on TV last year and said, “he makes me look like nothing,” at his age. Gordon, the four-time Cup champion, is friends with Larson and texts him after every win. That’s a lot of texts.

“It’s definitely been beneficial for my career getting my name on Speed Channel and every Sunday on `Speed Report,’” Larson said. “It’s been really big with Jeff Gordon talking about me quite a bit. Hopefully, I can keep running up front and keep those guys talking about me.”

But NASCAR history is littered with “can’t miss” prospects who missed. Joey Logano was called “Sliced Bread,” as in, greatest thing since, when he was just a teen and replaced Stewart at Joe Gibbs Racing. Only 22 and with two Cup wins, Logano has already moved on to Penske Racing looking for a fresh start after failing to live up to the massive hype at JGR.

Larson understands there are no guarantees in auto racing. But he feels he’s ready.

“I haven’t felt any pressure yet,” he said. “But I can see how people would think I might feel pressure.”


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