Larson setting sensible goals for Sprint Cup debut

CONCORD, N.C. (AP) - Kyle Larson can’t be goaded into setting an unreasonable expectation for his Sprint Cup debut.

He knows what Jamie McMurray did in 2002, when he grabbed an improbable victory for Chip Ganassi Racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway in his second career Cup start. But as Larson heads into Saturday night’s race at Charlotte for his Cup debut, he’s not expecting a trip to Victory Lane.

“Yeah, Jamie won in his second race,” Larson said. “But this is only my first.

Smart kid.

“I just want to learn a lot and to finish in the top 20. To run 15th to 20th would be good for my first start,” Larson said. “I read a quote from Kurt Busch that he ran 18th in his first Cup race. I’d say that would be a good start.”

There’s been plenty of hype around the 21-year-old wunderkind even though he has yet to complete a full season in stock cars. His background is in sprint cars, and Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon have been raving about Larson for years.

It’s not unlike Joey Logano, who was lauded by NASCAR heavyweights long before he had the minimum age to compete at the national level. As Joe Gibbs Racing counted down the days to Logano’s 18th birthday, it became impossible for Logano to ever live up to the expectations.

After five seasons, Logano left Gibbs and moved to Penske Racing. Now 23 and in his first season with his new team, he finally qualified for his first Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

Larson hears the comparisons, but believes he’s in a better position than Logano.

“I feel less pressure because Joey was 18,” Logano said. “But I want to prove the doubters wrong. It makes me mad when they say they don’t want me to end up like Joey Logano. Well, Joey’s in the Chase. He won a race this year. He’s won a few Cup races. I think Joey’s done fine.”

Larson gets his chance to prove the doubters wrong with Chip Ganassi, who gave him a developmental deal. Since Ganassi competes in NASCAR, IndyCar and sports cars, Larson might have had a chance to pick which path to take and with open wheel roots, IndyCar might have been the popular choice.

Instead, Larson chose NASCAR.

“I just think there are more opportunities in NASCAR,” he said. “The fan base is bigger, there is more money to be made. I think the Indy 500 would be awesome to run, but it’s harder to progress in IndyCar. There’s just a lot more opportunity over here.”

Progress he has done.

Ganassi got Larson in a full-time Nationwide Series ride this year with Turner Scott Motorsports, and Larson entered Friday night’s with 15 top-10 finishes and ranked ninth in the series standings. His development has moved along fast enough that Ganassi felt comfortable not renewing the contract for Juan Pablo Montoya at the end of the season and moving Larson up to Cup in the flagship No. 42 Target Chevrolet.

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