Kyle Larson is doing a lot of leading these days. He's grabbed two wins and five runner-up finishes in the opening 15 Monster Energy Cup Series races. He's led over 700 laps already and following his trip to victory lane at Michigan for the second straight time Larson is back on top of the regular season point standings, where he's been the majority of the year.

The most important thing he's "leading", though, is NASCAR into an uncertain and uncharted future. While the sanctioning body frets over the impending retirement of its biggest star, the 24-year-old California native is poised to lead a new transition. 

"Even with Dale Jr. retiring this year, I think it's a huge opportunity for our sport," Larson said. "Dale Jr. has probably threequarters of our fan base.  You might lose a few thousand of his fans that might disappear.  The rest of them are going to pick new drivers.  I think new rivalries are going to be built.  It's going to bring some excitement back to the racetrack."

He also declared, "I'm happy that I seem to be head of that youth movement right now.  With Ryan Blaney getting the win last week, you look at Chase Elliott finishing second, Joey Logano is a veteran, but he's only a couple years older than I am, then Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, so many drivers in great equipment right now that are running up front.  I think everybody is kind of nervous about where it's going to be, but I think a lot of us, our fan bases are going to grow as well as NASCAR's fan base."

While that's a great group of young drivers, all well-spoken and talented, there are those in NASCAR who remain uneasy and wonder if these guys can help bring back the sport's glory days. When other Hall of Famers aged out, they always left it in better shape for the new kids coming in.  This is the first time that won't be the case.

The one missing link is something Larson alluded to when he talked about new rivalries being built.  It's easier said than done, but it HAS to happen. We need to give the casual fans and potential new ones a compelling reason to tune in. All the tweaking of the way the races are run or the playoff system can't replace two drivers going after each other the way the late Dale Earnhardt and Geoff Bodine did…or Bobbie Allison and Richard Petty…or Darrell Waltrip and the Intimidator….or Earnhardt and Bill Elliott. 

Larson is a hard racer, but maybe too much of a nice guy to play the bully or shove when it comes time to push.  What we can hope for in that case is for Larson to keep gaining fans, making it unpopular and water cooler talk, when someone willing to wear a black hat tries to knock off the white he's wearing.  Saying the only friends he has at the track are the ones he brings, perhaps Erik Jones is prepared to act the role of villain.

Larson is no longer a future star. He's arrived, preparing to stay up front and be up front in pushing NASCAR back into the limelight. He says he's ready for the challenge and hopefully the likeable Larson is right.   


After his encumbered win at Richmond, in the next five races the average finish for JOEY LOGANO was 27th, making his 3rd place finish at Michigan his first top-5 since April.

CHASE ELLIOTT has now finished second at Michigan three times in a row, which is the closest he's come to winning on the Monster Energy Cup Series in 56 races.

With KYLE LARSON winning the Firekeepers Casino 400, it was only the fourth time in 15 Monster Energy Cup races this season that the driver leading the most laps went on to victory lane.