To get up to speed with NASCAR driver Kyle Larson in time for Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350, here are five things you may not know about this local hotshot in the No. 42 Target Chevrolet:
1. Nobody’s faster than Kyle Larson at Sonoma
Larson set the raceway’s NASCAR qualifying record with a lap of 96.568 mph on June 27, 2015. That’s almost 13 mph faster than the race record, set by 2012 winner Clint Bowyer with an average speed of 83.624 mph.
2. The car Larson really wants in his driveway? It’s used
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Larson’s dream wheels belong to the No. 42 Chevrolet SS that he drove to his first Cup career victory at Michigan International Speedway in 2016. “(Chip Ganassi) is not the type of car owner to just give you a car,” said Larson, adding that he’s dropped several hints. “I would love to have it. Everybody at the race shop knows I really want it. Chip knows I want it. Maybe someday.”
Meanwhile, Larson drives a Chevy Tahoe when he’s not on the racetrack.
3. Larson part of racing’s Japanese connection
Larson, who is Japanese American, is the first NASCAR Drive for Diversity driver to make it to the Cup series full time. Before Larson, Japanese driver Hideo Fukuyama drove two Cup races each in 2002 and 2003.
Several Japanese drivers have had success in open-wheel racing. In May, Takuma Sato became the first Japanese driver to win the Indianapolis 500.
In the late 1990s, NASCAR made a concerted effort to woo Japanese fans with exhibition races at Japan’s Suzuka road course and Twin Ring Motegi superspeedway. The first time Dale Earnhardt and his son, Dale Jr., raced each other was in an 1998 exhibition race at Motegi. After swapping paint, Junior finished sixth, Dale Sr. eighth.
Japanese auto giant Toyota joined NASCAR as a car maker and race sponsor in 2007 including the Toyota/Save Mart 350.
4. Look out, Indy
Larson, who loves all kinds of auto racing, has the Indy 500 on his ultimate bucket list. He’s on the right team; Ganassi Racing has won that race four times. A total of 15 drivers have competed in both the Indy 500 and NASCAR’s top circuit.
“I would love to run the Indy 500 someday,” Larson said. “With Chip Ganassi, there’s always the chance I might have that opportunity. He understands my interest and he might make that happen some day.”
5. “Fun” means fast – or golf
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Larson is a car owner as well as racer. He’s co-owner of Larson Marks Racing with entrepreneur and racer Justin Marks. With veteran driver Shane Stewart, their sprint car team races in the World of Outlaws series.
Larson still drives sprint cars himself. This week, he won races Monday and Tuesday night in Ohio on his way to California, bringing his sprint car season total to 10 victories. Saturday after NASCAR qualifying, he plans to catch sprint car racing at Calistoga Speedway – as a fan.
When not racing or watching racing, Larson plays “a little bit of golf,” he said. “I’m not very good at it, but I enjoy doing it. I’m playing a few times a month. I wish I had more time for golf, but I’ve been really busy this year.”