Felix Sabates makes a guarantee that both Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray will make the Chase in 2015. Chip Ganassi also gives Jamie McMurray the "big-game hunter" moniker.
Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson talk about their recent win at the Rolex 24.
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This victory marks the first Rolex 24 win for Larson in just his second start
Larson , McMurray get more practice time for IMSA event
NASCAR stars spend day at MacDill Air Force Base, discuss 2015 outlook Photo courtesy of USO PHOTOS: See more from their visit as drivers get out on the Road to Daytona TAMPA, Fla. -- New father Kyle Larson smiled at what he says was a career first: an autograph request from a five-year-old girl for her bright pink "My Little Pony." Sitting alongside Larson at a USO event at MacDill Air Force Base on Tuesday, Tony Stewart joked with servicemen and charmed their wives as he signed his name on die-cast cars, T-shirts, photographs and car parts. Military families and troops stood in line for more than an hour to meet NASCAR's three-time champion Stewart, last year's Sunoco Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year Kyle Larson and Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III, who spent the the day touring a huge KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft, taking turns on plane simulators and watching a military working dog demonstration. At one point, when told the trio was running a little late for a portion of the itinerary, Air Force Sgt. Brandon Shapiro joked, "I guess Tony Stewart wasn't driving." It was difficult to tell who was more committed to this USO experience -- the fans who, like Shapiro, were so eager to meet their NASCAR heroes or these drivers equally as eager to properly thank America's heroes: these military members and their families. "We get to do a lot of neat things throughout the year but anytime you get to do something with the military it ranks high," Stewart said. "It's a group of people that don't get the appreciation they deserve for what they do and the sacrifices they make. It's a day out of our lives, but it's months and years they dedicate to making sure we're able to do what we love for a living." His living is something Stewart is particularly grateful for after a couple of emotional and difficult seasons when he has uncharacteristically not been a part of the championship mix as a driver, although his good friend and teammate Kevin Harvick delivered Stewart-Haas Racing its second championship in four years. RELATED: In midst of awful year, Stewart remains 'so grateful' Stewart said Tuesday that he feels well medically after offseason surgery on the leg he broke in 2013, and enjoyed some good time off the past two months. "It feels the best it's felt since I had the crash," Stewart says of his right leg, severely broken in a sprint car racing crash in August of 2013. "I had surgery December 1 and feel good. I get a year break now and go back and have it operated on again next December to get the rod out. And I'm looking forward to not having hardware in my leg anymore." And with NASCAR all but eliminating offseason testing, Stewart, Larson and their fellow drivers had more time on their hands. "I got to do everything I wanted to do," Stewart said with a smile. "I went to Yuma, Arizona and watched Kyle win a (sprint car) race out there right after New Year's, and I went to Tulsa (Oklahoma) for Chili Bowl last week. I had a different role than what I'm used to. Instead of driving (a car) I was driving a tractor and doing track prep. MORE: NASCAR drivers give flavor to Chili Bowl "I enjoyed my offseason. I got to go home and see my mother and father, niece and nephew and sister. I got to do the things I wanted to do. "It was very needed and I feel like we've had a good enough break now and it's time to get back to doing what we do." Stewart knows he'll need the reboot to handle challenges from the 22-year-old Chip Ganassi Racing driver Larson , who not only won 2014 rookie honors but also established himself a high-wattage star ready to step up and contend for a title. And while they both said they enjoyed the offseason -- Larson and his longtime girlfriend Katelyn Sweet welcomed their first baby, son Owen in December -- these drivers are also tangibly eager to start the 2015 season. Larson laughed, noting that he couldn't be more ready for a second chance in the Daytona 500 after brushing the wall on the very first lap of the 2014 race. "I remember Tony making a lot of fun of me during that six-hour rain delay we had," Larson said grinning. "The 500 couldn't go any worse so it's going to go better than it did last year. ... I'd love to get a good finish and put this trophy in my new house." Many -- including a large portion of Tuesday's crowd -- believe Larson will need lots of trophy shelving. One retired serviceman couldn't resist giving Larson one bit of advice, referring to Larson's headline-making last-lap door-to-door battle with Ryan Newman . "Next time, take him out," the gentleman urged loudly. Larson broke into a smile and shook his head. One fan after another offered encouragement and patted him on the back, welcoming NASCAR's next phenom. Larson knows he raised the bar on expectations last season and wouldn't have it any other way. "It's a good thing," he said. "Last year I feel like I exceeded a lot of people's expectations so this year I hope to do the same even though those expectations are a lot higher. "We were close to getting a couple wins last year and barely missed the Chase. Had we made the Chase, we would have run really well in the points. So basing off last season, I think we can race for a championship. I really do." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
2014 Sunoco Rookie of the Year honored by comparisons to Jeff Gordon
Tony Stewart and Kyle Larson tour MacDill Air Force Base and get a tutorial on what takes place on the base.