The 2016 NASCAR season will be here soon, and Athlon Sports is helping you prep for the season with a scouting report and fantasy preview for each of the top 16 drivers. The Athlon Sports 2016 Racing Preview, available on newsstands now, includes previews and stats for every driver and every track.
Kyle Larson checks in at No. 15 in our countdown. Here’s what his season could look like on the track and on your fantasy team:
“I think all teams go through ups and downs,” says one former driver who doesn’t think the fact that Larson failed to win a race last season was all on Larson. “Even (team co-owner) Felix Sabates said it himself, that the Ganassi cars themselves need some work. So I think as tough as it is when it’s going on, you’ve got to be patient. When Kyle was running sprint cars and midgets, he could search around that dirt track and look for grip. In NASCAR, it’s very hard. The car has got to go.” …
“There’s no doubt after watching him win the XFINITY race at Homestead and watching him at the end of the Cup race there (to close the 2015 season), that’s his style of track,” a former crew chief says. “We’ve seen him run well at these tracks where he can chase grooves, like (Auto Club) Speedway. Give him a track with multiple grooves, where he can make the car work, and Kyle is going to stand out. But if you put Kyle Larson in a box, where you go to Indianapolis Motor Speedway and you can only run in this one groove, and it’s off. You’ve got to have the car.
“To sum it all up, Kyle Larson can use his talent on a racetrack where he can move the car around. But when you take him to the track where the car has to handle in one groove, the car’s got to go right. And right now, he’s just a victim, waiting for the engineering and stuff to catch up on that team. They’re a little behind.”
Sophomore Slump: A mythical curse surrounding a driver’s second season proved true in Larson’s case. He suffered drops in average finish, top 5s, top 10s and lead-lap finishes while watching his DNFs rise from four to six. The good news? Larson may be a cheap buy in salary leagues, and drivers with upward potential tend to rebound in their third seasons.
Which is which? Two of Larson’s career top-5 finishes came at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2014. But last season he struggled, posting results of 31st and 17th. Such will be the problem for fantasy owners in 2016 — figuring out whether to expect “rookie Larson” or the guy who struggled in 2015.
Starting strong: Larson did improve his average start last season (13.3, 14th best). But he couldn’t hold his ground. He was dead last of 75 drivers measured in NASCAR’s “Closer” statistic (positions gained or lost over the last 10 percent of the race).