HAMPTON, Ga. — Ready or not, Kyle Larson is joining the Sprint Cup series next season.
And as far as the 21-year-old upstart is concerned, he’s very ready.
“I’d like to prove the people that don’t think I’m ready for it wrong. The guys that think I am ready, let them pump their chest out a little bit,” said Larson, who is driving full time in the Nationwide Series this season for Turner Scott Motorsports.
“As long as I’m running top 15, I’m happy with that,” he said. “I don’t know if the fans and media people think that’s good enough. I think that’s about where I’ll set my goals for next year.”
Larson was introduced Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway as next season’s driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet fielded by Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. The Observer first reported the move Tuesday.
Larson has yet to complete a full season of NASCAR competition in its three national series, but he did win the 2012 K&N Pro Series East championship. He has yet to win in Nationwide but is eighth in the series standings and has finished second twice this season.
A native of Elk Grove, Calif., Larson earned his first Truck series victory earlier this season at Rockingham, and as a teenager, he raced open-wheel cars, including USAC midget, Silver Crown and sprint cars. He also raced World of Outlaws sprint cars.
He has drawn the admiration and praise of many of NASCAR’s top stars, including former champions Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart.
“I’ve never let the pressure get to me of running well or doing whatever; just always kind of sat back and raced, tried to do the best I could,” Larson said. “I think that’s paid off for me in all the years I’ve been racing.
“I was always young. Starting off racing sprint cars, I was the youngest to start off in California at 14 years old, did well, proved people wrong. I’m hoping I can do the same next year in the Cup Series and go from there.”
Team co-owner Chip Ganassi certainly has no doubts about Larson’s talent, though he admits there likely will be a learning curve.
“Kyle was our first choice. We did not offer any deals to any other drivers,” Ganassi said. “We are thrilled to have Kyle. Nothing he has done makes us feel he cannot move to the Sprint Cup Series.
“We do feel that we need to continue Kyle Larson’s growth, and putting him in a Cup car was the very next step. We’re sure there will be some growing pains, but we’re sure he’s ready.”
To help alleviate some of those growing pains, Ganassi said he hopes to run Larson in a handful of Cup races this season, perhaps with Phoenix Racing and its No. 51 Chevrolet. Ganassi also expects Larson to run most, if not all, of the Nationwide schedule in 2014 in addition to his Cup schedule.
“Certainly we think Kyle is the future of this sport,” Ganassi said. “He’s a unique talent. This was a racing decision. We feel Kyle is the best short- and longer-term choice.”
Larson has been under a driver development contract with EGR for several years and a former participant in NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program.
The No. 42 became available when the team chose not to renew the contract of its current driver, Juan Pablo Montoya. A former CART series champion and Indianapolis 500 winner, Montoya has won two races in his Cup career – both on road courses.