When Earnhardt Ganassi Racing revealed last week that Juan Pablo Montoya would not return to No. 42 Chevrolet after the conclusion of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season, the team’s stock car protege Kyle Larson was immediately tipped as a likely replacement, and the team confirmed it at a news conference Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“We believe that Kyle is the future of this sport,” said Ganassi. “He’s a unique talent. Let me be very clear that this is a racing decision. We felt Kyle was the best short and long-term future for the team.”
Several drivers were linked to the EGR seat once news of Montoya’s exit broke, but Ganassi said Larson was the only option the team had seriously considered.
“We’re thrilled to have Kyle and nothing he’s done makes us feel he can’t handle the move to the Sprint Cup series,” Ganassi said. “For sure there are going to be growing pains, but we think he’s ready.”
EGR signed Larson to a development deal last season as he stepped up to the NASCAR Truck Series after compiling an impressive record in open-wheel oval track racing. The 21-year-old Asian-American phenom will be the youngest driver to run a full schedule in NASCAR’s top division next season. He is in his first full season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, driving for Turner Scott Motorsports, and currently ranks eighth in the standings with six top-five finishes in 23 starts.
Larson continues to run a diverse racing schedule. He also claimed the 2012 championship in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East as he worked up the stock car ranks. Larson scored his first national series victory last April, outrunning Joey Logano in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Rockingham Speedway.
Montoya, 37, will depart Earnhardt Ganassi after a seven-year tenure in the No. 42. The former Indy 500 and Formula 1 winner has two Sprint Cup victories with the team, one each on the road courses at Sonoma and Watkins Glen.
The Colombian driver ranks 22nd in Sprint Cup points, with four top-five finishes in 24 races this season.