CHARLOTTE, N.C. — NASCAR’s biggest stars have all moved on. Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are television analysts and Tony Stewart is racing sprint cars again. Danica Patrick traded her firesuit for athleisure-wear while Carl Edwards just kind of disappeared.

America’s top motorsports series is in need of a new face. The rapid wave of retirements brought in a crop of fresh-faced young drivers tasked with carrying NASCAR through a tough transition, but no clear star to fill empty seats and shape the next generation of racers.

It might be a job best suited for Kyle Larson, considered by many the best hope to bridge the gap between grassroots racing and NASCAR – and perhaps attract new fans to motorsports in a time of need.

His style appeals to hardcore fans and his promise piques the interest of casual observers. He is half-Japanese, the most successful graduate of NASCAR’s diversity program, and the only Asian-American full-time driver in NASCAR.

Larson has all the elements to be the next Gordon or Stewart.

“I think if I just continue doing what I am doing it takes care of itself. I don’t look at it like I have to work too hard to save motorsports,” Larson said. “I think if I just keep racing all the stuff that I do, it’s good for all of motorsports.”

Chip Ganassi hired him before the 2012 season and put him in a stock car for the first time even though Larson had been on a path toward IndyCar. He was 19 and on a fast track to a Cup ride just two years later.

He’s won five races in the five seasons since, but has probably lost a dozen more because he’s still learning to close out a victory.

“He’s been at the front, he just has to close out some of these things,” Ganassi said. “I think he treats people with a lot more respect than they treat him with, and that’s his attitude, and we’re OK with that. He’s approached NASCAR with his own pace.”

Rival team owner Rick Hendrick sees Larson as today’s Stewart, minus the notorious temper.

“He’s not quite as ornery as Tony and outspoken, but I think he’s a great little driver,” Hendrick said. “That’s what the fans like, somebody who just really can drive a car. He’s one of the most aggressive and has the least amount of baggage.

“He didn’t wreck anybody and he runs everybody clean, he doesn’t run over people. He’s fast and good, so I think we need him and I think we need him to win.”


Comments are not available on this story.