Ganassi cautious about Larson hype

Team owner Chip Ganassi said Sprint Cup veterans such as Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon might better serve Kyle Larson by not lavishing so much praise on his 20-year-old developmental system prodigy.

A product of NASCAR's diversity program and "Next 9" prospects roster who won a K&N Pro Series East championship in 2012, Larson has established himself as a breakout performer in the second-tier Nationwide Series by finishing second to Kyle Busch by .023 seconds at Bristol Motor Speedway two weeks ago, to this point validating the predictions of the former Sprint Cup champions that Larson will soon be a star at NASCAR's highest level.

Larson, who had just four starts in a NASCAR national series before this season -- compiling three top-10s and a runner-up finish in the Camping World Truck Series last year -- is currently seventh in points through five Nationwide races for Turner Scott Motorsports.

Despite the high-profile performance, Ganassi would prefer a low-key assessment, at least publically.

"For those of us who have been around racing for longer than five years, we've heard all these things before about certain drivers," Ganassi said. "I am careful. If these guys like Stewart and Gordon and [Kasey] Kahne wanted to do him a favor, they'd be a friend to the guy and not be blurting all this stuff in the media and putting more pressure on him. Let the kid be a kid."

Larson, who calls the compliments "flattering, for sure," has projected an image of understatement about his accomplishments and has seemed most concerned with public perception after an early-season wrecking of then-leader C.E. Falk on the last lap of the All-American series event at the season-opening UNOH Battle at the Beach Late Models event in Daytona, Fla.

Further plaudits from former Sprint Cup champion Darrell Waltrip at Bristol and his deportment in the final lap against Busch have apparently gone far in rehabilitating his image.

"I definitely read it," Larson said of praise from Cup veterans. "I just don't let it get to my head or let me be more confident or anything like that because I don't want to be cocky or anything like that.

"I've always been pretty humble, so I want to stay that way."

Larson's background in sprint cars is similar to that of Stewart, Gordon and Kahne, making their opinions seemingly well-grounded. Larson rode in Stewart's private plane from Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., last week to enter -- and win -- a World of Outlaws STP Sprint Car Series race in Stockton.

"He seems to accept everything that you put in front of him," Ganassi said. "Let's see the guy go through. I think the guy, he's a great kid. He comes from a nice family. We'll give him everything it takes to keep his career rolling."

Ganassi, who fields Sprint Cup programs for Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray through Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and owns a three-car IndyCar team of Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon and Charlie Kimball, said no decisions have been made about Larson's future. Larson said in February he is interested in eventually attempting the Indianapolis 500 and Rolex 24 Grand Am event at Daytona, and likes the fact that Ganassi is involved in both series.

"I am not sure that would be prudent to have that kind of plan in place," Ganassi said of mapping Larson's career long-term. "It wouldn't be prudent for his career, it wouldn't be prudent for my team, it wouldn't be prudent for a lot of things and a lot of reasons. But we do have a long-term contract, and if those opportunities come along we would certainly take a look at them. We still are a race team that could put out equipment as good as anybody from time to time … "

Both Montoya and McMurray are in the final year of their contracts and again pedestrian through five races. Ganassi insisted "we're not giving up [on Montoya] by any stretch" but admitted surprise in Montoya's inability to establish himself in the upper echelon of Sprint Cup after doing so in both Champ Car and Formula One.

Montoya, 37, has finished in the top 10 in points just once -- worse every season since that eighth-place finish in 2009 -- and is currently 30th.

"We continue to work with him, try to get the most out of him," Ganassi said of Montoya, who has won two Sprint Cup races since joining the series full-time in 2007 and qualified for the Chase for the Championship in 2009. "If I thought there was a quick fix, or if I thought there was something we're doing or … we've put people around him, put other people around him and put other people around him."

McMurray, 36, and in his second stint with Ganassi, has six wins in 11 seasons as a full-time driver -- three in 2010 when he won the Daytona 500 -- and has never qualified for the Chase. Speculation over a possible promotion for Larson will be inevitable if he continues to progress and Montoya or McMurray continue to stagnate.

Ganassi said his contract with Larson would not allow for his departure if another team offered an opportunity Ganassi could not match, similarly to when Kahne left Ford's developmental system for a full-time Cup ride with Evernham Motorsports in 2004.

"He's my guy," Ganassi said.

And for the time being, he wishes everyone would stop talking about him so much.