With Kyle Larson, the future is now


Last August, I thought owner Chip Ganassi was heavy on hyperbole when he uttered these words upon confirming he would move Kyle Larson up to Cup in 2014: "Certainly we believe Kyle is the future of the sport."

The future? That seemed a bit much. Now I wonder. Now we all should, after this weekend at Fontana, when Larson came out of nowhere twice, to win on Saturday and narrowly lose on Sunday.

Now I look again at NASCAR's 2014 Sprint Cup media guide, issued before the season started, and behold the eeriness. On the opening page of the section marked "Drivers," where you find their biographies and records, there is a picture of a single driver, without comment, without naming him.

It's Kyle Larson.

Not Jimmie Johnson nor Kyle Busch nor Brad Keselowski nor Dale Earnhardt Jr. nor Matt Kenseth nor Jeff Gordon nor Danica Patrick.

Kyle Larson. Age 21. Rookie. With a so-so team. A portrait ... of the future.

That's prescience, proved already, as Larson hurtles into NASCAR Nation's awareness.

In that photo, he sits in a car with the steering wheel removed -- all the more prescient, considering that he did his victory doughnuts after winning the Nationwide race Saturday with his steering wheel detached, waving it out the window while spinning back and forth using only the throttle to steer the car.

Years ago, riding with Dale Earnhardt in passenger cars and pickups, I sometimes saw him control them just a little bit with the throttle more than the wheel. But not like Larson does it.

Larson comes off dirt, out of sprint cars, the best preparation there is for drivers on oval tracks. You learn to be comfortable sideways. Even when you look out of control, you're in control. Gordon and Tony Stewart prepped that way. But Larson brings an uncanny level of car control that Gordon and Stewart haven't displayed in NASCAR.

I used to write that Earnhardt in his prime could make a 3,400-pound car behave like a part of him, like an arm or a leg, make it move like a ballerina, stalk like a panther, strike like a water moccasin.

But you always knew where Earnhardt was. Larson does these things out of nowhere. And that is reminiscent of the best NASCAR driver there has ever been: David Pearson.

Pearson lurked, to the point you almost forgot he was in a race, then struck when he sensed it was time to go. He won 105 races, rarely running a full schedule.

Eerily, beautifully, Larson doesn't even know how he emerges from nowhere. How did he go from ninth to second in barely more than a lap Sunday, and fall just short of Kyle Busch for the win?

"I don't know. It's on TV somewhere," he told reporters at the track, meaning he and they would have to look at the video to figure it out.

His moves are so fast, so reflexive, that his memory can't record them.

On Saturday, "I was surprised we got the lead," he said after taking it from Kevin Harvick on the final restart, then holding off dive after dive from Harvick and Kyle Busch, riding his sprint car instincts, up high, letting his momentum carry him to retake the lead and retake it again.

"He's great," Busch said after the Saturday race. "That's why he's here ... that's why he's in Cup."

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