Earnhardt Ganassi Racing has signed 19-year-old racing standout Kyle Larson to a developmental contract, putting him on the path to a potential future in the Sprint Cup Series.
The Elk Grove, Calif., native won a total of 22 major professional feature races last season, including victories in the World of Outlaws sprint car series and all three United States Auto Club national divisions. Last fall, he swept the 4-Crown Nationals at Eldora Speedway, winning in three different styles of race car — midgets, sprint cars and silver crown cars — in the same night.
Now Larson hopes to follow a similar path from open wheel racing to NASCAR, as drivers such as Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne did before him.
"We're comfortable running sideways," Larson said. "So when the car gets out of shape, we're not really uncomfortable."
Larson is Japanese-American and will compete in the NASCAR East Series next season as a participant in NASCAR's diversity program.
Larson is thankful for the opportunity to participate in the Drive for Diversity — he'll run at Bristol next month — but says he doesn't spend too much time thinking about how a person with his background fits into a sport that wants to become more diverse.
"I don't pay much attention to it," Larson said. "I just go out there and race."
For Larson, it's the next step in a journey that started when he was only a week old, and his parents brought him to his first race.
"I've been around it my whole life," said Larson, who first drove a go-kart when he was four and entered his first competitive kart race at age seven.
Larson was highly regarded by teams in both NASCAR and IndyCar. He said meeting team owner Chip Ganassi played a role in his decision to sign with the team.
"Just a great guy," Larson said. "I went to meet him once last year, and he was really outgoing."