The 2013 Sprint Cup Series ended Nov. 17, and with a ninth-place finish at the Ford EcoBoost400, the season finale, Jimmie Johnson earned the Series Championship. For the 38-year-old, it was his sixth series title and 272nd top-ten finish.
Six spots behind Johnson was Kyle Larson. Not an official member of the series, Larson earned zero points for 15th place.
But NASCAR fans were reminded of the future. Larson will be a Sprint Cup Series rookie in 2014.
And the 21-year-old is revved up to be the next big thing.
Larson started racing go-carts when he was 7 and joined the midget circuit in his teens. In 2012, he was NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Champion and Rookie of the Year.
In 2013, his one full NASCAR Nationwide Series season to date, Larson finished eighth and earned a Rookie of the Year award.
After only two years of stock car racing, Larson will be part of the most elite stock car series in the world in 2014.
He only got his driver's license five years ago.
"It's been a really fast route," the racer says.
In 2011, Brant James of Sports Illustrated called Larson the "Next One." He's been called a prodigy and a superstar, as well.
Larson has only been able to drink alcohol for five months, yet he will race with the best week-in, week-out, come 2014.
For the Sacramento, Calif., native, talk of career expectations is present on a daily basis. With his zoom to the big time, noise of his potential continues to buzz.
"I try not to pay attention to it a whole lot. I don't want to put added pressure to myself," he says. "I just try and have fun with it. Do the best you can. Don't worry about what people think because you don't want it to get to your head."
Larson opened his inaugural Nationwide Series season with two 13th-place finishes and a 32nd-place finish. His coming-out party happened in his fourth race, the Jeff Foxworthy's Grit Chips 300.
Driving at the esteemed Bristol Motor Speedway, Larson came in second to NASCAR veteran Kyle Busch.
"Everyone kind of heard about me, but hadn't really seen me race a lot," Larson said. "In that race, everybody saw that I can compete and be the best."
The Bristol race proved to be a springboard for the remainder of the season. Larson finished 2013 with three second-place finishes, nine top-five finishes and 17 top-ten finishes on the Nationwide Series. After the series' final race on Nov. 16, Larson's eighth-place in points was highest among rookies.
Outside of the Nationwide Series, in 2013, he had a first and second place finish in the Camping World Truck Series and two top-25 finishes in his four Sprint Cup Series races.
"I try to race inside the top 10 at every race. I'd say it was a pretty good year for a rookie," he says.
Larson is lenient on the overall grade of his year for reasons that would make Ricky Bobby cringe. Despite his three runner-up finishes, Larson did not record a stock car race victory in 2013.
He says he needs to run a perfect race and catch some breaks to earn a stock car victory. Larson says that was not the case in 2013, but he is OK with it.
"I think second-place finishes are fine."
When Larson enters the Sprint Cup Series next year, he will race with drivers who have seen him on both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series. Some have gray hair, wives and children. Larson is just old enough to gamble when the circuit goes to Las Vegas.
But he is ready to stare down the best in the world.
"I wouldn't say I'm intimidated. I'm competitive and can get top tens and stuff like that," he says. "I'm really excited for it next year. I got to do a handful of races this year and I feel like I've been somewhat competitive in the races I ran.
"I think I have a lot of their respect already."
Although he has a competitive edge, Larson's demeanor is in line with some of the "Cali boy" stereotypes. Along with his satisfaction in second place, Larson tries to have a good time on the track. He treats stock car racing as more of a hobby than a job.
He doesn't expect the big lights and the big bucks of the Sprint Cup Series to get in his way.
"I'd like to finish in the top 15 every race. If you can do that, you can be in it at the end of the year. I want to stay out of trouble and have fun. Don't get stressed out if things aren't going right. Just keep working hard and try to get better."
Off the track, Larson tries to make his humble persona evident to fans and the NASCAR community. Larson, who is half-Japanese, was part of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity lineup in 2012. The program was established by NASCAR in 2004 to attract drivers of minority to the elite levels of the sport.
While competing in the program, he gained experience in stock cars on Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series tracks and also advocated for diversity.
"I think it'd be cool to help get Japanese people into the sport," Larson said. "I don't know if there are even a lot of them that know there is one racing in NASCAR. If they find out, it'll probably get them excited."
Larson is also giving back to the community as a philanthropist. On Nov. 7, two days before racing in the ServiceMaster 200 at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz., Larson read a book to students at Palm Lane Elementary in Phoenix.
In conjunction with Target and the Heart of American Foundation, Larson was on hand to unveil a new library makeover at the school. The renovation added 2,000 books and technological upgrades to the building.
"Education is really important to everyone, especially reading. A lot of those kids, they don't have books at home. With them to be able to go home with new books, you know they're going to be able to read those books," Larson said.
Many of those children may have found a new hero in the youthful Larson. In a few months, the kid who stopped by their library will be a man on the premier stock car racing series in the world.
The prodigy has been in the fast lane, but still has a long road ahead of him. A driver of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, Larson has high expectations from his inner circle. Former driver Chip Ganassi, a team owner, is throwing his support behind Larson.
"Hopefully some day I can get Chip a championship and add that to his résumé," Larson says.
Larson will have years upon decades to achieve that goal. In 2014, he will be a 21-year-old trying to compete with the most elite drivers in the world.
He understands this. For now, Larson has a Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed attitude.
"[I] want to finish all the laps," he says.
For a 21-year-old rookie, that is not a bad goal.
For a Cali kid, that sounds like a totally awesome, fun season.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.