TRUCKS: Larson Rising Star

Last week, Kiwis discovered what the American racing community already knows — Kyle Larson is a wheelman.

“Kyle Larson is a freak…” topped one of the message boards on the Macgors New Zealand Speedway website after the 20-year-old Elk Grove, Calif., native put on a show to close out 2012 and begin the new year.

Before Larson returned to the United States on Sunday, he went four for four in the International Midget World Series, which started on Dec. 29 at Western Springs Speedway. The Auckland track crowned him “King of the Springs” after he won the third feature — a 40-lap race on Jan. 1.

In 123 starts last year, Larson drove for 22 different owners in midgets, winged and non-winged sprints, trucks and stock cars. He won 30 times in seven different-style cars on 20 different tracks, including dirt and pavement. Larson finished fifth in USAC’s Midget division. He is also the defending champion in the K&N Pro Series East, in which he won two races and posted an average finish of 6.4.

Larson is one of 16 finalists from 13 series in the running for the Mario Andretti Trophy awarded to the Speed Performer of the Year on Jan. 27.

Although Larson’s 2013 NASCAR plans have not been finalized yet, last year the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing development driver campaigned in the Camping World Truck Series for the newly renamed Turner Scott Motorsports (which is rumored as the front-runner for his services). In four truck series starts, Larson posted a career-best finish of second in November at Phoenix Raceway, where he led 43 of 153 circuits. He qualified second for the season finale at Homestead Miami Speedway and led a race-high 48 of 140 laps before he was collected by Ty Dillon and finished 27th.

Larson’s whirlwind tour rolls on to Tulsa, Okla., for the 27th Annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals. Larson will look to defend his title in the 25-lap Warren CAT Qualifying feature on Tuesday that kicks off the prestigious event.

Whether Larson can knock off three-time Chili Bowl champ Kevin Swindell and a cast of superstars including Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Sammy Swindell and Cory Kruseman remains to be seen. But considering that he bested USAC Triple Crown winner Dave Darland, Kruseman and Bryan Clauson during the International Midget World Series in New Zealand, it will be fun to watch.