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GREGORY COLUMN: Kyle Larson not one to feel pressure

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Kyle Larson will be aiming for a championship on Sunday at Phoenix Raceway.

NASCAR superstar Kyle Larson has heard the question countless times.

It’s the same boring softball that lazy reporters toss at drivers at this time of the season every year.

“Kyle, how will you handle the pressure of the championship format?”

Entering tonight’s Cup season finale at Phoenix Raceway, the 29-year-old Larson has navigated every test on and off the track without blinking.

Meanwhile, championship contenders Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. have been embroiled in various headline-grabbing crashes and cringe-worthy temper tantrums.

Since Larson appeared on the NASCAR main stage, media types have attempted to pigeonhole this 5-foot-6 native of Elk Grove, California.

Let’s play the game.

Larson possesses the versatility of IndyCar legend Mario Andretti, the racecraft of seven-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton, and the California-cool demeanor of NHRA drag racing great Don Prudhomme.

Basically, nothing seems to rattle Larson. As other drivers cuss at their rivals, fuss at their pit crew and rant on social media, Larson never shows emotion.

Larson returned from his well-documented 2020 suspension with more maturity, focus and hunger.

No matter the type of car or layout of a track, Larson has a way of mastering it.

Just consider his performance in the Super Late Model portion of the Bristol Dirt Nationals in March at Bristol Motor Speedway.

From those fire-breaking Supers to NASCAR trucks, sprint cars, midgets and Silver Crown cars, Larson has the adaptability skills of a chameleon.

Then there is the endurance factor. As media members, sponsors and team owners fretted over pressure and high stakes, Larson went for a Wednesday night joy ride on Oct. 20 at Volunteer Speedway in Bulls Gap, Tennessee.

With grassroots cheering in delight, Larson battled race-winner and three-time Super Late Model national champion Jonathan “Superman” Davenport to the finish in a $10,000-to-win feature. More importantly, Larson brought more exposure to dirt racing and the overall short track experience.

The Larson story is fascinating on many levels. His background does not include a famous racing relative, wealthy daddy or personal sponsor connection.

In the 2013 Xfinity season, Kyle Miyata Larson became the first Asian-American and Drive for Diversity participant to earn rookie of the year honors in a NASCAR national touring series.

Larson embodies many qualities that could elevate him to the level of Jeff Gordon in terms of crossover cultural appeal.

As NASCAR Cup teams enter a new era in 2022 with the introduction of Next Gen car, the sport and its sponsors could benefit from a new face at the top.

Just don’t expect this guy to be nervous or feel “pressure” before Sunday’s showdown in the Arizona desert.

agregory@bristolnews.com | Twitter: @Greg_BHCSports | (276) 645-2544

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