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At just 30 years old entering the 2023 NASCAR season, Kyle Larson has arguably done enough to merit enshrinement in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. His victory at Richmond Raceway was the 20th of his Cup Series career, and Larson already owns a season championship.

He’s also embraced other forms of racing throughout his career, including partnering with Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, and Jamie McMurray to win the 2015 Rolex 24 at Daytona. His next big challenge outside of NASCAR will come in 2024 when the Elk Grove, California, native makes his first run at the Indianapolis 500.

Still, it’s NASCAR where he has made his biggest impression after coming through the Drive for Diversity program. Here are five key moments in his progression:

Kyle Larson was driving full-time in the Xfinity Series at 20 years old

Kyle Larson looks on in the garage during practice for the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, 2023.
Kyle Larson looks on in the garage during practice for the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, 2023. | Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Once he blazed through the 2012 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East competition with eight top-five finishes on his way to the title, Kyle Larson’s ascension through the ranks was quick and consistent. A year later, Larson, 20, went winless in the Xfinity Series but finished in the top 10 in 17 races to earn the Rookie of the Year Award.

His first NASCAR win came in the 2013 truck series with a dominating effort at Rockingham, followed by Xfinity victories at Fontana and Charlotte the next year.

Another season, another Rookie of the Year Award

Just two years removed from his K&N East title, Kyle Larson found himself driving the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevy full-time in the Cup Series. It was another winless season, but Larson finished 17th in points and earned the Rookie of the Year Award.

Though he drove on the winning Rolex 24 at Daytona team, 2015 was another winless Cup Series season for the new father, and Larson slipped to 19th in points.

That first victory would come late in the 2016 regular season at Michigan International Speedway by a convincing 1.478 seconds over future teammate Chase Elliott in Larson’s 99th Cup Series start. The victory was his ticket into the playoffs, and Larson made it to the second round.

The 2017 season established Kyle Larson as a star in the making

Kyle Larson won at Fontana in his home state and Richmond, as well as twice more at Michigan in the 2017 regular season, advancing him to the playoffs as the second seed behind Martin Truex Jr.

Larson sailed through the first round of the playoffs with three top-five finishes. However, 10th place the following week at Charlotte was his last finish inside the top 15 (he logged four DNFs) until third place in the finale at Homestead-Miami. He ended the year eighth in the standings.

The way the season on the track ended was a disappointment, but the driver signed a long-term extension with Chip Ganassi Racing and Credit One Bank in November.

NASCAR puts Kyle Larson’s career on hold

Future champion Kyle Larson won just once in 2018-19, but he totaled 36 top-10 finishes and made the playoffs both years. The 2020 season proved to be career-altering.

With NASCAR among the many sports locked down by COVID-19, Larson was caught uttering a racial slur during an iRacing event. In a matter of days, he was suspended by NASCAR and fired by Chip Ganassi Racing as sponsors fled.

NASCAR required him to complete sensitivity training as a condition of returning. Larson followed through and earned reinstatement for the 2021 season, but he still needed a team. With seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson having retired, Hendrick Motorsports brought him in to drive the No. 5 Chevy.

Kyle Larson’s 2021 season was spectacular

Kyle Larson poses for photos after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 7, 2021. | Sean Gardner/Getty Images
Kyle Larson poses for photos after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 7, 2021. | Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Kyle Larson’s first victory for Hendrick Motorsports came at Las Vegas four races into the 2021 season, and he never looked back on his way to the championship while locked in a close battle with Denny Hamlin throughout the year.

Larson won 10 points races as well as the All-Star Race while working with crew chief Cliff Daniels, and his 2,581 laps led broke the record for a 36-race season.

Along the way, he won three straight points races to match the feat most recently achieved by Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Brad Keselowski in 2018. His season culminated with a thrilling victory in the Championship 4 in Phoenix, where a flawless final pit stop catapulted the No. 5 Chevy past finalists Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, and Chase Elliott.

Got a question or observation about racing? Sportscasting’s John Moriello does a mailbag column each Friday. Write to him at [email protected].

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