Now, don’t go looking at me like that, all wounded and insulted. It is a fair question, considering how fans have treated some of the most successful competitors in our fine sport of gear shifting, rear-end drifting, and hardly ever lifting. When I first got into the sport in 1989, it was Dale Earnhardt. Senior was rackin’ up the wins, but also the “boos.” I remember Doug, a close friend of my father’s, and mine too now, had flags and shirts on them that said “I Love NASCAR; It’s Earnhardt I Hate.” But my father was a Wallace and Martin guy, and Doug was an Elliott and Allison man, so, when one guy is taking away wins from your favorite drivers, you tend to discover a dislike where you may not have thought one existed before.
Of course we know Earnhardt’s legacy. Seven Championship, dozens of wins, and now the claim of fandom of some of those who spat upon his name before. Is Kyle Larson yet to the level of stardom that Ol’ No. 3 achieved? In fact, if you ran a time line for each in a parallel fashion, you’d see Kyle Larson is a bit behind and has some catching up to do.
Larson only has two wins so far, and how can you hate a guy after he only has two wins?
Step back into the time machine with me to the year 1994. Ray Evernham takes a chance and bolts only two tires on his driver’s car in the late stages of the Coca Cola 600 at Charlotte. Rusty Wallace on four tires was unable to run him down, and Jeff Gordon grabbed his first career win. So where am I going with this? If you can’t dislike Larson after two wins, how can you hate Jeff Gordon after one? Simple. Gordon did something in Victory Lane that you just really didn’t do back then. He showed emotion. Gordon’s face was swollen with pride and tears, and some fans immediately turned to calling him a baby, or a crier, or a whiner.
That just goes to show you that you can be too successful too quickly in a sport where the fans will find any reason possible not to like you if you continue to beat their driver!
Now while I have highlighted the fact that this past weekend was only Kyle Larson’s second victory, let’s go back to those previous finishes that the TV folk seem so intent on highlighting themselves.
At the end of 2016, Larson finished Phoenix and Homestead, respectively, with a third and second place finish. Then came this year’s Daytona 500. Larson had the lead multiple times during the day, and was there when the white flag fell. Unfortunately, the gas tank was a little small, and Larson ended up in the 12th position. Then there was Atlanta, where he finished in second place. Then there was Las Vegas, where he finished in second place. Then there was Phoenix, where he finished in second place. And then there was a win.
In the last 7 races, Kyle Larson has finished no worse than 12th place, and that was on a plate track where he ran out of fuel on the final lap. Folks, I guarantee you, if you turn three of those “twos” into “ones”, there are sounds on sport news channels, and radio stations, and social media, all about this youthful breath of fresh air who is fast, and fun to watch, and successful already, and is good to the fans, and great for the sport, and races so smoothly, and some people are already tired of seeing him win.
Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it, they say. So, does Larson eventually get into the ranks of Earnhardt, Gordon, and Jimmie Johnson? Who knows? But really, don’t we have more than enough hate in the world already? Why rain it down on the head of Kyle Larson should he be lucky enough, and talented enough, to become not the next Dale Earnhardt, not the next Jeff Gordon, not the next Jimmie Johnson, but instead, the first Kyle Larson?