Okay, I’ll start off by saying that I’m willing to be the first to admit that I was wrong about that decision by Chip Ganassi to move Kyle Larson up to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for 2014 to replace the departed Juan Pablo Montoya in the No. 42 Chevrolet. Soon after the announcement was made last fall, I proclaimed that it was two early and that, perhaps, Larson would suffer the same adjustment problems suffered by Joey Logano early on in his Sprint Cup career. Logano has said publicly that he made the jump too early. Admittedly, I thought Larson was making the same mistake.
Boy, was I wrong. Larson made the move after just one full season of Nationwide Series competition. And, quite frankly, at least on paper, Larson was okay but, in my opinion, not all that overly impressive in that first full season. At least he didn’t impress me enough to make me think he was ready for Sprint Cup. And in my defense, I sure wasn’t the only one saying that he wasn’t ready.
If we’re being truly honest, here, Chip Ganassi has made several personnel decisions in regards to his NASCAR program that have left me somewhat scratching my ahead. Early on, the Larson decision was one of them. Apparently, though, Ganassi saw something that a lot of us didn’t.
But despite Larson’s impressiveness, is he being overshadowed by another young driver? Chase Elliott, perhaps?
Larson, while still racing full-time in the Nationwide Series, is a Sprint Cup Series driver first and foremost, now. So he had somewhat of a head start on Elliott, who is in his first season of Nationwide Series competition.
Larson, in his second full year of Nationwide competition, posted a victory earlier this year. As far as Sprint Cup competition goes, he has four top-10 finishes in the first eight races. Top-10s in half the races is pretty darn good for a rookie. And one of those top-10s is a runner-up showing at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
Now, lets take a look at Elliott. In his first season of Nationwide competition, Elliott has two wins. That’s two wins in only seven-career starts. The only other Nationwide championship eligible driver with any wins at all is Elliott’s JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith, who has a single win.
I know; comparing Nationwide stats to Sprint Cup stats is, like they say, comparing apples to oranges. Also worth noting — some drivers who flourish at the Nationwide level struggle in Sprint Cup, and vice versa, for that matter.
But still, it’s hard to not make the comparison. Which of these drivers is the future of the sport? My answer to that question is both. Why can’t both be the future of the sport? But which one will be better once they’ve both been in the Sprint Cup level for a few years. And I’m pretty certain that Elliott will be joining Larson at the Cup level sooner rather than later.
If you just go by Nationwide Series stats, since that’s the one series in which they’ve both raced, the edge would go to Elliott. After all, Elliott has two-career wins to Larson’s one, with Elliott’s coming in far fewer races. But, again, comparing Nationwide to Cup is like comparing apples to oranges.
Still, though, I’m thinking Elliott may be a little bit better. Of course, I think they both have successful careers ahead of them, but still, I think Elliott may be a little bit better. And I think the same will hold true once they’re going head-to-head in Sprint Cup competition.
While there will be room for both, I’m sure, it’ll be interesting to see which will fare better because of their roads to get there. Yest both have either gone through or are going through the Nationwide Series and raced some in the Camping World Truck Series before that, but prior to NASCAR, they took different roads. Elliott, perhaps following in his father’s footsteps took the old-school route through lower level stock car racing. Meanwhile, Larson took the newer-school sprint car route, a la the likes of Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart.
My pick is Elliott, but I’ve been wrong about Larson before. It’s going to be a fun rivalry to watch, and I’m sure we’ll be witness to it pretty soon.
Who’s your pick? Vote online, here.
Weigh in on Elliott vs. Larson, or any other racing topic for that matter, on Twitter @AutoRacingDaily or Facebook (Facebook.com/autorcngdaily). Amanda’s also on Twitter @NASCARexaminer and has a fan/like page on Facebook: NASCAR Examiner.