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Hyperbole is big in the world of sports. Best ever. Greatest or GOAT. These words are too often used when describing an athlete and his achievements. When it’s from fans, it’s one thing. When it’s from someone considered one of the best in that respective sport like Tony Stewart, that’s something altogether different. 

After Kyle Larson won at Phoenix for the 10th time this season — not including his All-Star race victory — and captured his first NASCAR Cup Series championship, many people offered congratulations for his historic year as a driver in NASCAR and the other racing disciplines in which he competed. However, it was Larson’s hero, Stewart, who posted on Twitter words that caught the new champ’s attention and left others questioning if he was accurate in his description. 

Kyle Larson wins 2021 NASCAR Cup Series championship

Before yesterday’s Championship 4 race at Phoenix, the history books would have shown Kyle Larson as unquestionably the most dominant NASCAR Cup Series driver of 2021 with nine victories (plus the All-Star race), and an astonishing 20 top-5 finishes in 36 races. Not surprisingly, he set the all-time record with 2,581 laps led for the most ever in a season since the Cup Series went to a 36-race schedule in 2001.

However, with NASCAR’s playoff system, Larson could have easily gone down as a driver who had an incredible regular season but had nothing more to show for it had he come up short in Phoenix. Kevin Harvick knows that feeling all too well. 

Larson didn’t come up short. Instead, he and his pit crew came up big when it mattered most and won the race and the championship to cap off the historic season.    

Tony Stewart says Kyle Larson is the best race car driver he’s ever seen

Following the race, Larson was showered with champagne and a lot of praise. One particular message, however, got his attention because of who said it. 

Tony Stewart is undeniably one of the greatest race car drivers of all-time, winning three Cup Series championships, along with an IndyCar title, IROC championship, and four USAC crowns, including the 1995 Triple Crown — Midget, Sprint, and Silver Crown. Stewart has spoken highly of Larson for years and publicly admitted that he tried to sign him to Stewart-Haas Racing before this season, but Ford opposed the move. 

“Congratulations to the best race car driver I’ve ever seen. @KyleLarsonRacin,” Stewart tweeted on Sunday evening after Larson’s victory. 

During his postrace media session, Larson was informed about Stewart’s tweet and responded. 

“Today has been really cool,” he said. “To now hear you say that. I did an interview with NBC before the race started. Mario Andretti. I got to hear him talk about his thoughts on me. And now Tony Stewart. If I had to pick, if I really had a true racing hero, I’d say it’s Tony Stewart, who I’ve always believed to be the best race car driver ever. That means a lot to me.” 

Tony Stewart isn’t the only legendary driver who thinks highly of Larson

While some fans pushed back on Tony Stewart’s declaration, suggesting it’s just one championship, others supported his claim and correctly pointed out the former driver’s comments weren’t based solely on Larson’s accomplishments in the Cup Series, but what he’s done in numerous other styles of racing — something with which Stewart is quite familiar.

This year, when not dominating in NASCAR, Larson won the Chili Bowl Nationals, the nation’s most prestigious midget car race. He also won the Knoxville Nationals, the premier sprint car race in the country and the Kings Royal, another top event. And he won the Prairie Dirt Classic dirt late model race, among the country’s top events for the World of Outlaws. 

Interestingly, Stewart isn’t the biggest name in motorsports to have been engrossed by Larson’s ability to win in any type of race car. Mario Andretti shared with NBC Sports before the NASCAR playoffs how impressed he was by Larson’s racing diversity. 

“That’s his life. That’s what he loves,” Andretti said. “I identify with that. That’s the reason I gravitated toward him in a sense of being particularly interested in what he’s doing. He’s not the only one that interests me, but he just captured me in a very special way because I see a lot of myself there.” 

Humbling words when you consider Andretti is the only driver to win a Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500, and Formula 1 championship. 

Kyle Larson may have just one NASCAR Cup Series title to his credit, but he’s got two legendary drivers who think he’s a rare talent with unlimited potential. If race fans are smart, they won’t argue about his greatness but enjoy it and appreciate that they are witnessing history every time he gets behind the wheel.

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