For whatever reason it may be so -- whether it's a product of society's collective consciousness or biologically hard-wired as part of mankind's proclivity to follow the leader of a pack -- the sports-watching public loves a winner. Win at anything and win it often, and an athlete will see their personal and professional profiles quickly elevated to levels that raise both them and their sport alike to relevance beyond the niche of their field thanks to their dominance.
It's no wonder, then, that Kyle Larson has become one of the biggest stories in sports in 2021. A career-high five wins in the NASCAR Cup Series have highlighted what racers have long been known about the 29-year old from Elk Grove, California: That he is capable of dominating and winning in any race he competes in and in any car he steps behind the wheel of. Larson's NASCAR success is only a small part of his notoriety, as his season of racing has been a tour of some of races big and small at the professional and grassroots level alike.
This year alone, Larson has won the Chili Bowl Nationals for midget cars, five races in Cup cars -- a sixth if you count the All-Star race, and countless other races in sprint cars -- Most notably last weekend when he took home the famed Knoxville Nationals. And such success all ties back to the stated goal of Larson's career: In an interview with NBC Sports in June, Larson stated that he has "always wanted to be known as one of — if not the greatest — all-around race car drivers ever".
On Thursday, Larson stated that whether or not his 2021 season has gotten him closer to that goal is more of a question for others than for himself. But speaking one-on-one with CBS Sports, Larson acknowledged that his dominance is something that elevates much more than himself.
"I definitely think as much as I race and so many different types of cars that I run – and having success doing it too -- I think helps grow the sport of motorsports," Larson said. "It's not something I really have to work to do though. It just naturally kind of happens. And it's what I love to do – I love to race so much.
"I think fans appreciate seeing me race a lot. So I don't know. I just go out there and do what I love, and it just grows really without me having to try I guess, if that makes sense."
Larson's success has begun to gain him a level of mainstream notoriety that has been enjoyed in the past by other all-around drivers -- Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, and Tony Stewart are a few examples -- who could and would race anything and would win heaps of races doing it. While those outside of racing have taken notice of just how talented he is, his success across many different forms of racing has inspired the imagination of those in motorsports.
Legendary IndyCar reporter Robin Miller, for instance, penned a column this week imploring open wheel racing to find a way to get Larson to run next year's Indianapolis 500 -- An article which Larson said he read and appreciated, and a prospect that Larson would pursue if the right circumstances came about.
"I would love to run the Indy 500 someday. But I would only want to do it if the right opportunity was out there and I was in a car I felt like was capable of winning with a team and crew that has a history of winning here at the Speedway," Larson said. "Those cars, I've never driven them, but they're probably way different than anything I've ever driven. So it would take a lot of time and effort to get good and get comfortable at it.
"And I don't want to just show up and say that I competed in the Indy 500. I want to actually give myself a legitimate shot of winning. And with that comes a lot of work. But yeah, I would totally do it if the right opportunity was there."
The draw of a star like Larson is clear, as he is beginning to ascend to heights that few racers reach. In the aftermath of the Knoxville Nationals, Jeff Gluck of The Athletic articulated this by declaring Larson to be the best racecar driver in the United States -- And that he even "might be the best in the world."
Those superlatives -- particularly being called the best in the world -- might be flattering and make Larson feel proud of what he's accomplished, but likewise fall under the bracket of being something for others to say about him rather than something he'll say about himself.
"I think the definition of 'the greatest racecar driver' is different to everybody," Larson said. "I see a lot of people who think that Formula 1 is where the greatest drivers in the world race, so their race fans might think one driver is better than an American racer or whatever. I think either way, getting the compliments from peers and competitors and whoever it may be, it makes you feel good inside and keeps you wanting to make yourself even better."
This week alone is an illustration of just why Larson has become so notorious as a true racer: Wednesday and Thursday night, he'll compete in the BC39 for USAC dirt midget cars at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Dirt Track, and then go to Williams Grove Speedway on Friday for World of Outlaws dirt late model competition. Saturday takes him to Sharon Speedway in Hartford, Ohio, and from there he'll drive to Michigan International Speedway for Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series race.
Larson started off by winning Wednesday night's Stoops Pursuit, and he would ultimately like a weekend sweep across all events. But as much as winning more and more races would add to Larson's profile, there is an accomplishment that Larson has yet to achieve that would truly take his growing racing legend to the next level.
From his emergence onto the national scene onwards, Larson has never won a championship in a professional touring series -- his lone title came in regional competition when he won the 2012 NASCAR K&N Pro East Series Championship. With two races left in the regular season before the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, Larson is in position to win the regular season championship, which he leads by 22 points over Denny Hamlin.
Win the regular season championship, and Larson will receive an additional 15 playoff points, which would add to the series-leading 37 he has already earned to carry with him through on his path to a Cup Series title. And should Larson ultimately be crowned Cup Champion, a major barrier he hasn't eclipsed will have been crossed.
"I hear that a lot – 'Well, he's never won a championship.' – Whatever. But I haven't really competed in that many championships other than the Cup Series since I've been in Cup. That's the only championship I get to race for," Larson said. "When I was racing sprint cars and stuff like that, we don't ever commit to a series. We just try and hit all the big races and stuff.
"I haven't gotten the chance to race for points too much and stuff, but this year definitely is my best shot to win a championship. Our team is really good, we've been having great races, we've won a lot, we've racked up a lot of points. But those final 10 races of the season are tough. A lot of things have got to go your way, you've got to execute right each week and just not put yourself in any bad positions to lose out on points."
The distinction of being a Cup Series champion, surely, would go right to the top of Kyle Larson's racing resume. But the true significance of Larson's 2021 accomplishments lies in how he has elevated much more than NASCAR, and made him the hope and pride of the entire motorsports world -- Whether that's racing on the high banks of Daytona, the yard of bricks at Indianapolis, or the earth and dust of whatever local track Larson may pull into on a given weeknight.
Whatever the track and whatever the car, Kyle Larson races and wins. And as he keeps winning, more and more are sure to stand in awe of him and declare him to be the greatest at what he does. Because no matter the sport, people are drawn to and love a winner.