LONG POND, Pa. — It’s understandable the insecurity Kyle Larson might have with sharing his opinion on the Sprint Cup Driver’s Council.
Five of the nine members — Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski — are former series champions. Then, there’s former Daytona 500 winners Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
He’s never won a Sprint Cup race in 95 starts. He’s also the youngest driver among that group. Larson was on the Council last year because he was the reigning Rookie of the Year. He kept the position when last year’s top rookie, Brett Moffitt, didn’t have a full-time ride for this season.
So in a room that features 12 Sprint Cup championships and 285 series victories (an average of 35.6 for the other eight members), is Larson.
Of course, it was hard to tell Larson was there. He said little in those meetings with NASCAR.
“Last year was only my second year in Cup anyway, so I still didn’t really have an understanding or never even thought of stuff to make the sport better,’’ he said.
Stewart, though, offered some frank advice to Larson earlier this year about those meetings.
“If you don’t say anything, why are you on this?’’ Stewart said. “You have an opinion, speak up.’’
Stewart has seen a change.
“He’s probably been the one guy in the last three months I have heard speak up more,’’ Stewart said. “He’s still not leading the conversations by any means, but he’s putting his two cents worth in. No matter how much or how little his experience, his opinion matters. That’s been fun to watch.’’
It has been fun to watch Larson on the track, most notably at Dover in May when he battled rookie Chase Elliott for second and then dueled Matt Kenseth for the win. Kenseth won and Larson finished second, not wanting to move Kenseth out of the way for the win.
So the search continues for Larson’s first series win.
With it is the question of when will the results more closely match the expectations for Larson?
He turns 24 today and will attempt to become the fourth driver in series history to win on their birthday (Cale Yarborough did it twice and Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch have done it once each).
Larson enters today’s race after finishing fifth last weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“I’m hoping to be competitive again this week,’’ he said.
He has been at Pocono before. Larson has finished between fifth and 12th in each of his five appearances at this track. He led eight laps before placing 11th at Pocono in June.
He’ll need another strong run to enhance his hopes of making the playoffs. Six races remain — including today’s Pennsylvania 400 — until the Chase begin — Larson enters today in the last transfer spot for the playoffs.
As Stewart would say, it’s time to be heard.