Larson has been under contract with Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing for approximately a year now. He’s won a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race (at Rockingham in 2013) and a championship in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. However, he still has limited experience in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and has now been announced as a driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing has announced that Larson will replace Juan Pablo Montoya in the No. 42 Chevrolet starting in the 2014 season. The team announced roughly two weeks ago that Montoya won’t be returning after the season is completed. Since then, there were rumors that either Ryan Newman or Kurt Busch would land the ride that currently sits outside of the top-20 in driver/owner points.
Larson’s 2013 season has consisted of a few Camping World Truck Series races along with a full slate in the NASCAR Nationwide Series with Turner-Scott Motorsports. He hasn’t done anything too spectacular, but it’s clear that he does have talent. However, he doesn’t have a win, which concerns several people within the sport. The team wants Larson to run in the Nationwide Series at least for the majority of the schedule in 2014 with TSM, but it may be too much for him to cope with.
The team is looking for any way they can to give him an opportunity to run some Sprint Cup Series races before the season ends. Chip Ganassi stated during a press conference on Friday afternoon that Larson may be running for Phoenix Racing for a few races. Phoenix Racing was purchased by TSM’s co-owner, Harry Scott Jr., this week and is running Justin Allgaier (the team’s veteran Nationwide Series driver) for at least three races this season.
Though it’s great to see Larson moving up to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2014, it takes away the fan base that Montoya brought to the sport. He brought thousands of Colombian fans with him once he announced that he’ll be running to NASCAR several years ago. Heck, I even met a guy in college that only knew NASCAR existed because of Montoya’s presence in Colombia. Hopefully, Montoya will find a ride so the sport can continue to have his international fan base even though Nelson Piquet Jr. and German Quiorga are running well in the lower series.
Besides putting Larson into the No. 42 car, Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing also re-signed Jamie McMurray to a contract extension. This should give the organization some stability considering they’ve been going through a rebuilding process over the past two seasons.
However, Ganassi has a tendency to rush drivers up to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He did the same thing to Casey Mears in 2003 when he only had two top-10 finishes in the Nationwide Series in the year prior to going to the Cup Series. Mears ended his rookie season 35th in points and had just six-seven respectable runs throughout the entire season. Though Mears did struggle, he ended up rebounding for the next two seasons in the car.
Does Earnhardt-Ganassi have faith in Larson, or are they just putting him in the seat simply because they don’t want to hire a driver outside of the organization? Either way, they must be careful with Larson and make sure they give him the best equipment they have. They can’t let Larson be another Casey Atwood.
Joseph Wolkin can be followed on Twitter at @JosephNASCAR.