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Kyle Larson's wild weekend could be career boost

| Monday, Aug. 14, 2017, 7:00 p.m.
Kyle Larson, driver of the No. 42 Target Chevrolet, celebrates winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 13, 2017.
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Kyle Larson, driver of the No. 42 Target Chevrolet, celebrates winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 13, 2017.

BROOKLYN, Mich. — Kyle Larson drove in a prestigious sprint car event in Iowa on Saturday, then made it back to Michigan in time to win Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series race.

So the question team owner Chip Ganassi faced in the news conference afterward wasn't all that outlandish: Could the Indianapolis 500 be a possibility in the future?

“See what you do to me?” Ganassi said to Larson.

Larson's plan for last weekend was a bold one, and it required some leeway from his owner, but the victory at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday was all the validation he needed. His weekend itinerary was the type of adventurous effort that can help a talented young driver build his fan base, and that's something Ganassi seemed to understand.

And when he won the most important race of the weekend, the 25-year-old Larson might have earned a little more latitude for the future.

“Indy 500 is definitely on my bucket list,” Larson said. “I don't know if it is right now at this moment, but for sure some day I'd like to, and Chip knows that.”

Larson has four career Cup victories, and his rise comes at a time when NASCAR could use as many popular, young drivers as possible. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is following Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart into retirement, and recent champions Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick are in their 40s.

Stewart had a reputation for extending himself well beyond the basic NASCAR Cup schedule. In 2001, he ran both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, completing all 1,100 miles at Indy and Charlotte.

Kurt Busch tried that “double” in 2014 and made it through more than 900 miles before engine failure ended his bid.

Ganassi seemed to realize what this past weekend's whirlwind could do for Larson's popularity, and he publicly urged sprint car fans to tune in for the NASCAR race Sunday. He said Sunday's manageable start time — around 3 p.m. in Michigan — played a role in his decision.

“I had concerns, and I was getting ready to take a lot of heat in the media for that if we didn't have a good day,” Ganassi said Sunday.

Larson didn't seem like a threat for much of the race, but he found himself close to the lead at the end, then came between cars to pass Martin Truex Jr. on an overtime restart .

“I wanted to make sure that my team and everybody knew that I was focused on the Cup weekend because I think a lot of times it's easy to see my passion for sprint car racing as me not being focused on Cup,” Larson said. “That's definitely not the case. Any time I strap into my car, I'm focused on that day and that race.”

Now that Larson has proven he can keep that focus, he can make a case for more weekends like this in the future — even if his owner maintains a bit of skepticism.

“I just don't want to do something that's going to slow him down, you know? I think you run the risk of that when you have a talent like that, that wants to go drive other kinds of cars and things,” Ganassi said. “I've never been a team owner to keep my drivers from driving other kinds of cars, and obviously, you know,you want to do the best you can for the guy all the time and do what you can do, and hopefully, we can continue to do it.

“I don't want to make any promises.”

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