Start 'N' Park Blog

Too Fast, Too Soon?

Kyle_Larson_13_Feature

Kyle_Larson_13_Feature

During the offseason Joey Logano looked back at his career and admitted what some people were thinking. Maybe going into Sprint Cup racing at age 19 was not the best decision, but it was not one he regrets. While I was unable to talk to Joey specifically about his comments, I was able to catch up with David Ragan, Blake Koch, and Kyle Larson to get their opinion on their experience rising through the ranks.

David Ragan was relatively unknown, running a handful of NASCAR Camping World and Nationwide Series races. Then at age 21, he was named the driver of the #6 Ford for Roush Racing. If that was not intimidating enough, add in that he was replacing a legend in that ride, Mark Martin.

Was it too fast of an ascension for him?

“I was definitely not ready for a full-time Cup series ride. The previous series I ran full-time in before was legends car series in 2002,” says Ragan. “I was fast enough to go fast, but not mature enough to finish these 500/600 mile races and to race for points over the course of a year.”  The greatest factor maturity plays in racing is the ability to race for points, because, like we all know, it is the points that crown you champion of the series at the end of the season. So where it is important to drive fast to win a race, it is equally important to have consistency to win race after race, which is where mature focus comes in.

There are a couple of ways to reach that level of maturity before racing Sprint Cup fulltime. Ragan states, “Looking back I would definitely change things: run Trucks for a couple of years, Nationwide for a year and learn how to points race; learn how to race at these tracks.” He brings up a good point that having more experience working as a team and racing on the same tracks is what allows a driver to gain confidence while maintaining a stable and mature nature on the track. As each track differs from the next, it is important to understand the ins and outs of each for successful preparation that allows the team to gain points, not just win.

When we were young, we were asked what we wanted to be when we grew up. As adults, some of us adjusted our dreams to be realistic, but for a select few their dreams came true. Now despite your age, would you ever turn down the opportunity to live your dream? Majority vote is no. “In this day and age when you’re given an opportunity, you can’t look back; you have to make the best of it. It was tough for a couple of years,” comments Ragan.

Lately in NASCAR, there have been less and less of those opportunities for new, young drivers, teams, and manufacturers to enter the scene. Ragan explains, “With the current structure of the Sprint Cup Series and the economy the way it is, it isn’t really acceptable to new teams, drivers, and owners. You see a lot of drivers staying for 10-15 years, and there’s only a couple of rides open each year. If you don’t cut the grade soon, you’re usually left behind.” With this small window of opportunity, it makes sense why young drivers would not decline an offer even if they feel they are not ready.

Blake Koch took a different path to NASCAR. He started out racing motocross, but after some injuries decided that it was not for him. “I stopped and went to college. My step-dad bought me a car for a local track. I tried it out and fell in love with it.” In 2008 he placed a series of calls to different teams about getting on their developmental programs. One team listened: Richard Childress Racing.

Koch went through a handful of starts before getting a full-time Nationwide Series ride in 2011. Then part-way through 2012, he lost ride. That put Koch in a precarious position of what he wanted to do. He could continue to chase his dream, or give up for a regular job away from racing. He decided to plug on. “I had the opportunity to do a start and park car, and I said ‘no, I don’t want to do it. It is too early in my career, I don’t want to be labeled as a start and park driver.’ Then two weeks later when my mortgage was due, I realized it was something I might have to do.”

That was not all he was doing those weekends, “sometimes I was driving Trevor Bayne’s motorhome, starting and parking a truck, and doing some spotting on the Cup side,” stated Koch. That perseverance has paid off with a full-time ride with SR2 Motorsports this year.

Previous experience with former development drivers might be working into the fortunes of Kyle Larson. He is a developmental driver for Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, has spent 2013 driving for Turner-Scott Motorsports in the Nationwide Series. ”You can’t turn down opportunities like that (driving for EGR/TSM), but Chip Ganassi (team owner) won’t move me up if I’m not ready. I’m just going to try to do the best I can and learn as much as I can to try and be prepared if he throws me in a Cup car,” said Larson.

That call came Friday when Ganassi announced Larson as the new driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet. Both Ganassi and Larson sounded ok with dealing with the growing pains that will come. “I think Kyle is the kind of driver, when he sees an opportunity in front of him, he takes it.  If that means it’s a win, hey, great.  There’s no pressure for him to win his first year out,” said Ganassi Friday.

Larson even had a little bit of time to reflect on going from K&N East Series champion to Sprint Cup Series regular in under two years. “It’s definitely been quite a whirlwind.  I was walking over here saying a year ago today I was making my second Truck start.  It’s been a really quick road.  But I feel like I’ve done okay with it and learned quite a bit. As far as next year goes, I know I’ll have to focus more on the Sprint Cup stuff.  I understand it’s probably going to be the toughest step in my whole career.  I’m going to have to dedicate a lot of time to it and grow as a driver, do a great job for Target, for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and make everybody there happy.”

Hindsight is 20/20, but as David Ragan said, “given an opportunity you can’t look back, you have to make the best of it, and it makes you stronger in the long run.” No matter the path a driver takes to NASCAR, they have to be willing to take chances on and off the track. If it is getting into a series before they’re ready, then they will do that.

Hindsight is 20/20, but as David Ragan said, “given an opportunity you can’t look back, you have to make the best of it, and it makes you stronger in the long run.” No matter the path a driver takes to NASCAR, they have to be willing to take chances on and off the track. If it is getting into a series before they’re ready, then they will do that.