Tony Stewart calls Kyle Larson one of his biggest professional regrets; Notes performance issues at Stewart-Haas Racing
Last year, Kyle Larson abruptly became a free-agent following his use of a racial slur during an online race. Sponsors dropped the driver and team owner Chip Ganassi was left few options but to let the driver go.
Within a few weeks, Larson was bouncing from dirt track to dirt track. More specifically, from victory lane to victory lane. He dominated the dirt track in all types of cars: including sprint cars, midgets and even winning in his first dirt late model weekend.
A star was blooming. Larson was suddenly the hottest thing in racing and he remained a free agent.
Tony Stewart attempted to snag Larson. The co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing is also a dirt track fanatic as he’s the owner of his own dirt race track, dirt series, video games as well as a World of Outlaws team.
It appeared obvious that Larson would likely land at Stewart-Haas Racing. Clint Bowyer was heading into retirement and Aric Almirola sat with an expiring contract.
However, in the weeks that followed, Almirola renewed with Stewart-Haas and Chase Briscoe signed with the team to drive the No. 14 for Stewart-Haas.
Why didn’t Larson sign with Stewart-Haas Racing?
Manufactures are the heartbeat of the sport. They provide endless support to the top teams including data, money and simulator time.
Ford didn’t want Larson. Stewart pleaded with them but they didn’t budge and Stewart was forced in a different direction for his 2021 driver lineup.
Now, Larson has more wins than any NASCAR Cup Series driver in 2021. He’s rolling through the Playoffs as the favorite and Tony Stewart has regrets.
Tony Stewart regrets not signing Kyle Larson
Damn it comes to mind…
“I said that the day that I found out I couldn’t get him. I said it that day – probably in words that I can’t use right now – But I said that a lot that day, and have said it every day since then,” Stewart told CBS Sports.
“That will be one of the biggest regrets of my professional career is not getting that kid and having an opportunity to race him in our cars.”
“He’s a once in a lifetime driver. I say he’s a unicorn.”
“He’s just literally one of those guys that – who knows – I’m sure in our lifetime we’re gonna see somebody else come along that’s gonna be like Kyle, but it’s probably gonna be a long time before we see another person step up and another driver step up and do what Kyle has been able to do in the last year and a half.”
Chase Briscoe was still part of the Stewart-Haas plan. However, the comment below suggests that Larson could have replaced Almirola while Briscoe remained in Xfinity.
“When it came to trying to figure out the Larson piece, we weren’t going to let Chase Briscoe go – We had plans for him as well.”
Stewart explained, “So it wasn’t that he got his opportunity because we lost Kyle. He was going to be in a Cup car in our system at some point anyway. But that got expedited by losing Larson and got him that shot earlier.”
Struggles at Stewart-Haas
The move likely worked out for Larson. Hendrick Motorsports has 11 wins with their four drivers in 2021, Stewart-Haas has 1.
“It’s just kind of been one of those seasons where he’s [Chase Briscoe] made the most of what we’ve been able to give him for the year. It’s not a typical year for SHR – this is not the standard that we’re used to, it’s not the performance that we’re used to.”
“The frustrating part for us as an organization is we can’t put our finger on exactly what is wrong. But if we do, that’s the first part of the solution is identifying the problem. So we’re all excited about eventually figuring this out, but we’re frustrated because we’re two-thirds of the way through the season and have not been able to identify exactly what the problem is.”
“But we’re all working as hard as we can in trying to identify the problem.”
Stewart concluded, “In the meantime, we’ve got four drivers, four crew chiefs, a ton of engineers and a ton of employees at Stewart-Haas Racing that are fighting their guts out every week to work with what we have and trying to make the most of it, but at the same time trying to figure out what the problem is as well.”