Speedway Digest Staff
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Much to the chagrin of the competition, the Inland Rigging Racing Team is sending three cars to this weekend’s Western World Championships at Arizona’s Cocopah Speedway. Two 410 sprint cars will be at the disposal of USAC/CRA point leader Brody Roa. In addition to the 410s, the team is bringing a 360 for Roa’s teammate Tommy Dunkel to contest the ASCS portion of the show. Both of the drivers will be competing each night on the lightning-quick Arizona oval.
Roa, who is in the midst of a dream season where he has won more than 50% (winning 8 of the first 15 races) of the USAC/CRA races, comes into the weekend with a commanding 127-point lead with only three races remaining in the 2023 campaign. After this weekend’s programs, the series will wrap up next Saturday, November 11th, at Perris Auto Speedway. A good performance at Cocopah will literally wrap up Roa’s second 410 sprint car championship. In 2019 he finished on top of the heap in the now defunct USAC Southwest Series standings. That was an 18-race series that saw all but five of the races staged in the “Grand Canyon State.”
For the second year in a row, Cocopah Speedway was the launch pad for the USAC/CRA Sprint Car season. On the last weekend in January, the stars of the series descended on the Southwest Arizona track. In his first two appearances driving for Tommy and Christy Dunkel’s Inland Rigging team, Garden Grove, California star Roa won both main events. That catapulted him into a lead that he has not relinquished for the past nine months.
Before the main event at this year’s Cocopah season opener, Roa qualified third fastest and placed fourth in his heat before capturing the main event. Twenty-four hours later, he was the eighth fastest qualifier and won his heat race before dramatically taking the lead on the next to last lap for his second win of the weekend.
Roa made five starts at Cocopah in 2022. The first three came in January when he placed fourth, fifth, and sixth in three nights of racing. On his second trip to the track near Yuma for the 2022 Western World, things did not go as well as planned for the “Pride of Garden Grove” when he placed 15th in each main event.
For Dunkel, who has excelled in his first full sprint car season, it will be his first time racing at Cocopah and his initial outing with the American Sprint Car Series. The friendly driver has contested a majority of his races this season in a 360. His three best outings came at the Ventura Raceway where he won the main event on April 8th. He then posted second-place finishes on the same beachside oval on July 8th and August 2nd.
When the series heads back to Cocopah in 2024, Dunkel will be in a 410 and running for the USAC/CRA Rookie of the Year award. Thus far in 2023, the Menifee, California businessman has started three USAC/CRA races. He finished 14th and 11th in the first two. His best finish was an eighth at Perris Auto Speedway on July 15th. He can start one more main event in the series this season and still be eligible for next year’s Rookie of the Year award. That will probably happen next week at the series finale at Perris Auto Speedway.
If you would like to see the Inland Rigging drivers and their immaculate sprint cars in action at this Friday and Saturday’s Western World Championships in person, gates at the Cocopah Speedway will open at 4:00 p.m. with racing at 6:00. Reserved seats are $35.00 and general admission is $25.00. Students 13-17 are $15.00. Kids 12 and under get in for free. The track is located at 3450 W County 15th Streets in Somerton, Arizona (85360). The track website is racecocopahspeedway.com and the office phone number is (602) 292-7607. For those who cannot make it to the Arizona speed plant, the race will be shown live on Speed Sport TV. Ordering or more information is available at https://speedsport.tv/videos/30446.
After next week’s race at Perris, the Inland Rigging drivers will conclude their 2023 season in the sprint car portion of the 82nd Annual Turkey Night Grand Prix at Jim Naylor’s Ventura Raceway on November 24th and 25th.
The team wants to thank the following sponsors for making the 2023 season possible. Inland Rigging, Dunkel Farms, United Asset Sales, Osborne Speed & Machine, “Biker” Bruce Fischer, ALR Virtual Services, Burris Racing, Caltrol, Jambo Barbeque Pits, Competition Suspension, K-1 Race Gear, Molecule, Rod End Supply, Driven Racing Oil, Baldwin Filters, and NGK Spark Plugs.
Inland Rigging PR
VIDEO: NBC Sports broadcast crew Dale Earnhardt Jr, Rick Allen, Jeff Burton Preview Cup Series Championship
Traditionally, major sports, for instance baskеtball and football havе bееn thе focal point for lucrativе sponsorship dеals, with athlеtеs rеaping substantial еarnings from еndorsеmеnts and advertising through social mеdia. In contrast, NASCAR competition has garnеrеd a dеdicatеd following, although haven’t rеcеivеd thе samе lеvеl of mainstrеam mеdia attеntion as othеr favored sporting events. To rеmеdy this, NASCAR is forging partnеrships with lеadеrs in thе gambling industry.
What factors led Bitcoin casinos to associate with NASCAR?
Whilе collaborating with an online crypto casino probably will not cause any consequences for thе sport directly, it offеrs thе advantagе of global еxposurе. For large gambling platforms, this collaboration еxtеnds bеyond еntеrtainmеnt, rеcognizing that thе reach of blockchain and crypto vеnturеs goеs wеll bеyond convеntion.
Such unconvеntional perspective prеsеnts a potеnt tool for development not only for NASCAR racеs, but for cryptocurrеncy casinos as well. Auto racing has a fеrvеnt intеrnational fan basе of people who seek excitement, a dеmographic that aligns with thе targеt audiеncе of casinos. Morеovеr, racing еnthusiasts oftеn possеss a morе affluеnt commercial position, which plays into thе hands of thе crypto coins industry. This convеrgеncе of two powerful markets opens the door to advanced possibilities for all involvеd partiеs.
Potential casino sponsors
Sponsorships from well-known online betting brands arе commonplacе across various sports, including soccer, Amеrican football, and cricket. NASCAR, howеvеr, has historically facеd challеngеs in sеcuring potеntial sponsorships. An еntrancе of Litеcoin sports bеtting into thе sponsorship arеna promisеs to altеr such a landscapе, having brand logos adorning racе cars and uniforms. Indееd, numеrous labels and cryptocurrency casinos havе alrеady chosen to bе official patrons of various sporting еvеnts.
As of now, nеws of this groundbrеaking partnеrship has еmеrgеd, but thе idеntity of thе benefactor-brand rеmains undisclosеd. Lеt's еxplorе a couple of potеntial contеndеrs capablе of backing up thе еxpansivе rеalm of auto racing.
The first contestant on our list is Conquеstador. Together with its formidablе advertising tеam, it stands out as a likеly candidatе duе to the brand’s increasing prеsеncе in multiplе markеts. Whilе it offеrs substantial promotional offers, various perks, and high quality gamеs, Conquеstador rеcognizеs how valuable is the collaborating with a burgеoning sports nichе that aligns with its bеtting cliеntеlе.
In addition to Conquеstador's potеntial support, NASCAR sееks rеputablе alliеs. Managеmеnt is committеd to avoiding any lеgal еntanglеmеnts with nasty or illеgitimatе betting platforms, making Conquеstador an attractivе candidatе duе to its lawfulness and proper gambling licence. Whilе this particular lable possеssеs thе nеcеssary assets and funds, official confirmation is pеnding.
Our next casino brand — iLucky — is sеt to take place among thе most rеnownеd gambling sites in multiplе territories with a loyal customеr basе while gеnеrating billions of dollars. iLucki is committеd to dеlivеring innovativе amusement options, and its growth stratеgiеs havе propеllеd it to nеw hеights. Teaming up with advеnturе sports dеmonstratеs its commitmеnt to supporting undеrapprеciatеd sports within various communitiеs.
Lucky Days, with a fortunatе track rеcord in rеcеnt yеars, is poisеd to sponsor national and intеrnational racing еvеnts. This partnеrship offers a chance for Lucky Days to substantially widen its client pole, еnhancе intеrnational visibility, and advocate rеsponsiblе gambling practicеs.
Sponsorship: Ups and Downs
Thеsе nеw collaborations offеr a plеthora of enjoyment, as well as gambling opportunitiеs, for еnthusiasts in both industriеs. Whilе past associations bеtwееn sports and betting may havе raisеd concеrns, thе incrеasing lеgalization of such websitеs in most countriеs is bolstеring people’s belief in sеcurе practicеs. Hеrе arе somе potеntial advantagеs and disadvantagеs that could affect both sides:
- Potential to attain nеw markets and audiеncеs.
- Bеnеficial influеncе on thе particular sport thanks to providing еssеntial support.
- Enhancеd company appearance and grеatеr lable rеcognition.
- A chancе of advertising rеsponsiblе decision making.
- Opportunity to associatе with an admired and thrilling sport.
Potential Negative Consequences:
- Possibility of a nеgativе еffеct on thе sport’s rеspectability and general image as a rеsult of its connеction with casinos.
- Possiblе advеrsе connеction to gambling and dеpеndеncy.
- Possiblе financial liabilitiеs if thе affiliation fails to producе thе dеsirеd ROI.
- Potеntial lеgal concеrns and rеgulations rеlatеd to thеsе sponsorship arrangеmеnts.
- Risk of a nеgativе rеaction from spеcific groups that arе against thеsе wеbsitеs.
Thе official branding for thеsе еvеnts is anticipatеd to bе announcеd shortly, as thе еxponеntial growth of cryptocurrеncy casinos has thrust iGaming into thе spotlight. As an incrеasing numbеr of playеrs bеcomе acquaintеd with crypto coins and their advantagеs, morе online casinos will likеly еmbracе and promotе it. As long as both partiеs maintain a commitmеnt to rеsponsiblе and еthical practicеs, thеsе collaborations arе poisеd to flourish and bеnеfit both industriеs.
For casino opеrators, NASCAR rеprеsеnts an idеal targеt markеt, with thе greater part of viеwеrs falling within thе mature and young adult dеmographics. This divеrsification of bеtting options for viеwеrs is sеt to transform thе way thеy еngagе with thеsе еvеnts.
No. 23 GMS Racing Silverado RST
The recipe for success on Thursday night at The Dirt Track at Charlotte was simple: take dirt, add Gravel, and enjoy.
David Gravel dominated his World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Cars competition, claiming a well-earned victory in the first of three World of Outlaws World Finals features. Gravel entered World Finals trailing Brad Sweet by 50 points in the chase for the championship, but Gravel’s 12th win of the season tightened the points gap to Sweet.
“We’ve just got to worry about winning races and having fun,” said Gravel, who scored his sixth Charlotte win. “Whatever happens, happens. I’m glad they did that prep to the track. It worked out for us – Brad found the bottom first, and then he kind of gave up on it. I don't know why anybody didn’t run low on exits. I had the exits to myself and I used that drive to get down the straightaway.”
Rico Abreu finished second with Carson Macedo third, Sweet fourth and Tyler Courtney fifth.
Sheldon Haudenschild, Abreu, Sweet and Gravel won heats.
Matt Sheppard reigned triumphant in Super DIRTcar Big-Block Modified competition on Thursday, with a scintillating drive to victory over Demetrios Drellos and Mat Williamson.
“It feels good to be back in Victory Lane here,” said Sheppard, who padded his championship points lead to 83 over Williamson. “We got those cautions at the end that kept giving us a clean race track. Man, this feels really good.”
Jimmy Phelps, Sheppard, Williamson and Alex Payne won heats.
Night No. 1 of World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Model racing saw Mike Marlar score his fourth win of the season over Chris Madden, Brandon Overton, Hudson O’Neal and Dale McDowell.
Marlar won his heat race in addition to the feature – capping off a perfect debut with Skyline Motorsports.
“When I got behind the lapped cars, I got in their dirty air and I was really loose,” Marlar said. “I was backing up on purpose to get away from them. It worked out, but I was sweating it there at the end. To win the first night out here is unbelievable.”
Madden, Cade Dillard, Overton, Daulton Wilson and McDowell won the remaining heats.
Race fans from 49 states and six foreign countries have descended on The Dirt Track at Charlotte for this weekend’s festivities, with clear skies expected for the remaining two days of action. Fans can lock in single-day two-day ticket packages, plus pit passes and camping, by shopping online at www.charlottemotorspeedway.com
WORLD OF OUTLAWS NOS ENERGY DRINK SPRINT CARS
Feature (25 Laps): 1. 2-David Gravel; 2. 24-Rico Abreu; 3. 41-Carson Macedo; 4. 49-Brad Sweet; 5. 7BC-Tyler Courtney; 6. 83-James McFadden; 7. 18-Giovanni Scelzi; 8. 1S-Logan Schuchart; 9. 19-Brent Marks; 10. 15-Donny Schatz; 11. 17-Sheldon Haudenschild; 12. 13-Justin Peck; 13. 14-Cole Macedo; 14. 69K-Justin Henderson; 15. 8-Cory Eliason; 16. 1A-Jacob Allen; 17. 39M-Anthony Macri; 18. 15H-Sam Hafertepe Jr; 19. 2MD-Cap Henry; 20. 21-Brian Brown; 21. 20G-Noah Gass; 22. 9-Kasey Kahne; 23. 42-Sye Lynch; 24. 1T-Tanner Holmes; 25. 5-Spencer Bayston; 26. 7S-Robbie Price; 27. 3Z-Brock Zearfoss.
SUPER DIRTCAR SERIES
Feature (30 Laps): 1. 9S-Matt Sheppard; 2. 111-Demetrios Drellos; 3. 88-Mat Williamson; 4. 8H-Max McLaughlin; 5. 4*-Anthony Perrego; 6. 98H-Jimmy Phelps; 7. 25-Erick Rudolph; 8. 19-Tim Fuller; 9. 4SL-Bob Hentschel; 10. 84Y-Alex Yankowski; 11. 99L-Larry Wight; 12. 21A-Peter Britten; 13. JS98-Rocky Warner; 14. ONE-David Hebert; 15. 35-Mike Mahaney; 16. 2A-Mike Gular; 17. 70A-Alex Payne; 18. 14-CG Morey; 19. 2-Jack Lehner; 20. 33-Louden Reimert; 21. 5H-Chris Hile; 22. 215-Adam Pierson; 23. 91-Felix Roy; 24. 12-Darren Smith; 25. 66-Corbin Millar; 26. 83X-Tim Sears Jr; 27. 54-Steve Bernard; 28. 91D-Billy Decker; 29. (DNF) 27J-Danny Johnson; 30. (DNF) 26-Ryan Godown.
WORLD OF OUTLAWS CASE CONSTRUCTION EQUIPMENT LATE MODELS
Feature (35 Laps): 1. 157-Mike Marlar; 2. 44-Chris Madden; 3. 76-Brandon Overton; 4. 1-Hudson O'Neal; 5. 17M-Dale McDowell; 6. 18D-Daulton Wilson; 7. 40B-Kyle Bronson; 8. 97-Cade Dillard; 9. 18-Chase Junghans; 10. 39-Tim McCreadie; 11. 20RT-Ricky Thornton Jr; 12. 57-Zack Mitchell; 13. 32-Bobby Pierce; 14. 19R-Ryan Gustin; 15. 25-Shane Clanton; 16. 49-Jonathan Davenport; 17. 9-Nick Hoffman; 18. 25Z-Mason Zeigler; 19. 10-Garrett Smith; 20. 174-Ethan Dotson; 21. B5-Brandon Sheppard; 22. 7W-Ricky Weiss; 23. 00-Carson Ferguson; 24. 55-Benji Hicks; 25. 8-Brian Shirley; 26. 79-Donald McIntosh; 27. 96V-Tanner English; 28. 7T-Drake Troutman.
WILLIAM BYRON: No, I was next to Mike Forde. It was a good trip. Yeah, I didn't want to jinx the whole Phoenix thing, so I had a late plan to come out. I wanted to catch the game last night. It was fun to get out here soon.
Q. How did you get a middle seat?
WILLIAM BYRON: That was all that was left (laughter). I hit the upgrade button, but nothing was available. I was, like, Row 29 with a middle seat. It was a long flight.
Q. You're in the Championship 4, nobody could give you a ride on their jet?
WILLIAM BYRON: No. Man, I'm soft-spoken. I don't like to ask. I should have asked somebody, but I just kind of wanted to come out low-key.
Q. TSA Pre?
WILLIAM BYRON: I think Larson and I fly commercial quite a bit. I just had TSA PreCheck. I get from my house to the airport in 10, 15 minutes in Charlotte. I got there 30 minutes before it took off. Middle seat. It was great.
Q. Anybody recognize you?
WILLIAM BYRON: I had one guy in first class, a couple, that wanted to talk my ear off, which is great. They were like, Oh, good luck, you're going to win. I was like, Okay, I got to keep moving here so I can get back to my seat back there. He was super nice about it.
Q. You really don't have hometown favorites. Some people have tried to turn this regional. You talk about going into Charlotte Airport. Do you feel like the weight of Charlotte behind you?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I do really. I mean, I feel like the hometown Charlotte kid. I get a lot of recognition when I go around to restaurants in town. It's really cool because people, it's very subtle, but words of encouragement. When I go get a coffee in town...
I'm pretty true to my roots, really. I grew up right around there, kind of stay there. It's nice.
Q. (Question about the Red Rocks.)
WILLIAM BYRON: The Red Rocks menu? I think I'm chicken saltimbocca, which is pretty good. I'm not trying to sell you. It's pretty solid. If you get it blackened, it's pretty good.
No, I grew up with the one in Strawberry Hill. I know both Ron and John, so they're cool.
Q. I want to ask you about Erin has the best odds of all the championship contenders, but what do you think Sunday is going to be like for her?
WILLIAM BYRON: I'm sure she'll be stressed. She doesn't lead it on. She's really good about just kind of hiding it.
I think she'll really be stressed during the race. It's going to be fun. I think she's excited. She's excited for me. She was really happy that I got in, so it will be cool.
Q. Bell and Larson actually have a rivalry. You and Blaney have this different dynamic. How does that work on track?
WILLIAM BYRON: I mean, I would say we race really hard. We've had our battles and had our kind of small run-ins, I would say. We race hard. We're competitors. At Homestead I think we were battling a lot for the lead.
Yeah, I think when we get on track, we're pretty comfortable, really comfortable around each other racing.
Q. We contend he races you harder because there's bragging rights at Thanksgiving dinner.
WILLIAM BYRON: I don't think he does. I think it's all what you guys see from the outside. I think we, all four of us, really, kind of race really well together. We've had a ton of battles with Larson, all the way back to the Truck Series with Bell, we were teammates. It's cool.
Q. What was your recovery like this week getting ready for this weekend?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I got an IV Monday night. I felt pretty good Monday night. It was tough, man. I don't know what we had going on with the helmet fan, but I could not get cool. I was way overheated.
Took a while for my skin to kind of get the redness out, kind of get back to normal body temp.
Q. Prepping for this week at all?
WILLIAM BYRON: I feel pretty good. I put a little more sunscreen on so I wouldn't get sunburned. I haven't had issues like that all year. We had that issue at Martinsville in the spring. We thought we made it better. We actually moved where our helmet fans mounted to get some fresher air, like the 5 has it in their car. Hopefully it's better.
Q. Do you feel like if you could get through Martinsville you can get through anything?
WILLIAM BYRON: Oh, yeah. I feel like the stress level, I listen to Denny's podcast. He's like we look nervous. We were, no doubt. We put together such a good year. To make it all the way to Martinsville and feel like your chances are slipping away was definitely kind of demoralizing, depressing.
Now we have a new life for our team. This is what our goal was, to make the Championship 4. I think any team would say that. Now we feel like, I mean, we have nothing to lose.
Q. Did you move your fans for this week to where the 5's are or was that last week?
WILLIAM BYRON: No, we moved it for this week. The way the helmet fan is mounted is a little bit different, so it hopefully catches some fresher air. I think it's mostly a Martinsville issue because of how hot it is, how slow the track is. Just with everything being kind of low, getting warm, I think that's what happened.
Q. Do you give up anything?
WILLIAM BYRON: No.
Q. Specific reason why you had them in that one place before?
WILLIAM BYRON: Every crew chief wants everything low in the car. Nothing new there. It is a little bit higher. It's not something that we feel like is any performance. Kyle has ran it that way all year.
Q. You said you all race each other well. Can you race each other unwell on Sunday and be forgiven for it because of what's at stake?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I think we're all young, right? We're all kind of experiencing it for the first time besides Kyle and Bell last year.
I feel like we'll race with respect, but I feel like we'll all race really hard. If the carrot is out there to go get, you're going to try to do the best you can, do the best you can for your team.
Whatever's within limits. I kind of look back at my Xfinity days and how I raced Elliott there. We made some incidental contact and things like that. I would say it was fair.
But you're definitely going to race harder than you have all year probably.
Q. Dale Jarrett is the last North Carolina-born champion. The 24 has not won a championship in 22 years. You have a shot to knock both of those things out. What does that mean to you?
WILLIAM BYRON: I think it's awesome. The 24, I mean, we had some pretty rough days there. I remember a lot of people on YouTube questioned me driving the car: I don't know about this kid. He makes a lot of mistakes.
I read all that stuff. I heard all of it. It took a while for the 24 to kind of get back to prominence in the Cup Series.
It's back now, so we're winning six races a year hopefully next year and the years to come. Hopefully a lot more Final 4s.
Q. Does the North Carolina connection mean anything to you?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I think it's different than everybody else because I feel like I didn't have to move to be a part of the sport. I grew up really loving the sport and being a fan. I think that's different than all the other guys.
They can tell you that they watched NASCAR, but they were also watching other racing. For me, I'm true NASCAR fan. I think that gives a lot of hope to guys out there that are trying to get in.
Q. Is there secrecy in the shop between you and Larson? How does that play out?
WILLIAM BYRON: No, not at all. I mean, we share everything about the setups, between Cliff and Rudy, they work pretty close together. I feel like we all work really close. I think we'll go out there and battle. I don't feel like there's any secrecy at all.
Cliff and Kyle are some of the best teammates I've ever had.
Q. With the season you've had, any added pressure, expectations, to try to cap it off with a championship?
WILLIAM BYRON: I don't think at all. I mean, no. I feel like last week was the pressure, like trying to get to this spot. I feel like we were under a lot of pressure to get in the Championship 4 'cause everyone basically said, Hey, they're a lock to get there. I think since probably June, maybe, people were telling me, Hey, it looks like you're a lock to make it.
If we hadn't made it, I think it would have been a lot of disappointment. I think that's where the pressure came from. For us to win a championship would be just icing on the cake. You got a 1 in 4 chance.
Q. Rick doesn't think you'll be rattled at all.
WILLIAM BYRON: I don't feel nervous at all. I've been in these positions to win championships, albeit other divisions with Xfinity and Trucks, and before that K&N. I wasn't nervous. I was just excited.
I think these are opportunities you get that you look forward to. I'm 25 years old. I hope that I'll have a lot more Final 4s. But, man, I want to get a first championship. That would be awesome. I want to do that.
I'm looking at what I did in Xfinity when I raced in the Final 4, kind of dug deep and found something to win that one. I'll be excited.
Q. Do you feel like there's a changing of the guard? Larson is the oldest guy at 31. This is a new youth movement coming in, especially in the Championship 4.
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, it's kind of funny because when I came into the Cup Series it was the old versus new, and the old guys ruled with Harvick and Jimmie. Those guys were dominating races. And Truex. It was kind of a joke that -- the younger guys, it's kind of a joke that NASCAR promoted us so much. People were laughing at it.
We're here now. It's cool. It's all the guys I grew up racing against. I think all these guys are going to win multiple races a year for the next few years.
Q. When you talked yesterday about the difficulties last week, some of the guys that were on top of the Playoff seedings with you in maybe wins and seeding didn't make it this far, but you did. What does that say about either the format or how difficult it is to truly get here?
WILLIAM BYRON: I feel like all these guys got hot at the right time. That's what the Playoffs are about. I looked at a lot of stats with the Playoffs this year. The Final 4 that we have here are really the top four in all the stats. It's very interesting how that works out in the fact that you pretty much got the best four teams going at it.
Yeah, it's not the regular season guys that I kind of battled with necessarily. When the Playoffs started, these guys were the best.
Q. Does it kind of show you that it's important in the regular season, but at the end of the day what you do in the Playoffs is a big determiner?
WILLIAM BYRON: It's what counts, for sure. It really showed me this year the season we had throughout the regular season was great, but we had to really reset ourselves and go after it in the Playoffs.
It's definitely something to think about in the future years of how we approach the season, of just, Hey, look, we want to be good all year, but we definitely want to be good in the final 10.
Q. You said you were getting updates in the race last week. What about this week? Do you want to know? Do you want to hear what's going on?
WILLIAM BYRON: I'll know. I'll know. I'll see the yellow spoilers and I'll know.
It's different this race. There's no more counting points, none of that kind of BS out there. It's all about trying to beat all the guys straight up. I like that. I think it's going to be a lot of fun to battle straight up.
You just got to know that that final run is really what counts.
Q. How much of it is a mental game, not panicking? You started to, but you and your team did not panic. Talk about what it means mentally.
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, it's just staying cool, staying collected, trying to give the information that we need to be there at the very end. What do we need for the last final run of the race? That's what is key.
I'm going to talk about that with my crew chief, as we get further in the weekend, how do we position ourselves for that final stop, that final run. That's all that counts.
If you can lead the last lap, that's all that really matters. It's different than the few weeks in the past where there has been panic because you've been counting points and looking at stages. Stages mattered probably last week more than the end of the race did.
It's really an interesting format. I've been educated on it this year of just what really matters. But this race is all about the final run.
Q. Rudy said he made more changes during the race at Martinsville than he has done in 20 years in his career. What's that like for the driver when the crew chief is making more changes during the race? How unnerving is that for the driver?
WILLIAM BYRON: He was scrambling, for sure. That's why we have such a good relationship because I trust him. I trusted him to make the right decisions and improve the car, and he did.
I mean, I looked at some stats last week. As bad as we were, we were a top-seven car in the final run the race, and finished 13th from 22nd. I think we were a lot better at the end. That's what I rely on him, is trying to get the car better.
Q. (Question about relationship with Rudy.)
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, we talk about a lot of stuff. We BS a lot. We text a lot. I mean, it's funny, he's a funny texter. I'll send him a long paragraph of things. He'll say, 10-4.
He's the kind of guy that takes a lot of information in. We work well together. I can be a sounding board to him. He can learn from what I'm saying and trying to make the car better.
We spend a lot of time during the week just talking about the car, talking about what we need on the weekend.
Q. Who is winning now in Fantasy Football?
WILLIAM BYRON: I don't know. Let me look.
Q. It was very important to him.
WILLIAM BYRON: I think he's up in the standings. We're actually playing this week. That's actually hilarious. We're playing against each other, so...
Our league, it looks like I'm third and he's tied -- we're all tied for second. He's 5-3, I'm 5-3. There you have it.
Q. Will a championship rectify whether or not you win in Fantasy?
WILLIAM BYRON: No, I mean, if there's one week that we probably don't give a hoot about Fantasy is this week. It's funny we're playing each other. I'll have to mess with him about that.
Q. You said your friends did not understand your interest in racing in high school. Have you heard from any of them?
WILLIAM BYRON: My close friends are all coming out to this race. We got an Airbnb in Phoenix. I have three of my best friends coming. I'm excited for that. It's going to be fun to have them here.
They've been to races here and there. I would say the most recent was Charlotte that they came to. It's going to be cool to have them here. It's great. I got a lot of support coming for the race. I'd say it's awesome to have all the people I love and care about.
Q. Did they ever say, We didn't understand then but we do now and we're proud?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, they've definitely gotten educated on the sport. It took a long time. I get questions about the points system, questions about fuel strategy, tire strategy, all those things, just driving the car.
It's cool. They're pretty educated now.
Q. (No microphone.)
WILLIAM BYRON: Why? I think the culmination of a lot of hard work. I feel like the odds were stacked against us and me. The odds are stacked against me, kind of the iRacing kid that comes in, doesn't know how to drive real cars, hasn't ever raced till he was 15. I feel like the odds were against me to have this kind of success when I came in the sport. I got a lot of criticism because of how I kind of came in.
I think it will be kind of a prove-it moment to all those critics.
Q. You've been a trailblazer in that respect anyway. Now winning the championship kind of solidifies that. What do you think that's going to do, if you win the championship, for that genre?
WILLIAM BYRON: I think it will inspire kids to go after what they want to do, what they want to achieve.
When I was 11, 12 years old, I told people at my school that I wanted to be a race car driver, they thought I was ridiculous for saying that. Then when I started racing online, people didn't think I was the best, the best driver. I just kept working at it, kept getting better and better. I felt like I had a natural ability to drive.
When I got into real cars, it showed. At the same time when I kind of worked through the ranks, people in the late model ranks were telling me, He's not earned it, he's not done it the way we've done it, working in the shop, all those things.
I just kept putting my head down, working, trying to get to this level.
Q. When you won the Xfinity title in 2017, you were the one to win the championship without winning the race in that series. Do you feel it's going to take a win once again?
WILLIAM BYRON: I think honestly it will take winning the race. It has every year. I don't expect anything different. It will probably be a very long race. We'll have to work through a lot of challenges.
I assume that all four of us will be up there with that final run going to the checkered. Last year was different, for sure. I think the first year with the Next Gen, there were a lot of unknowns. You didn't really have the Final 4 running up front all the time. I think this race you will.
Q. Larson and Bell have had time to prepare with their wins. You didn't get in until Martinsville. Were you able to do any Phoenix prep prior to that?
WILLIAM BYRON: A little bit. I think we always kind of had an eye on Phoenix based on what we did in the spring. We just tried to continue to perfect what we've done. Honestly, the spring we had a really fast car. We just tried to perfect it.
Q. Do you think the lack of application of resin for this race is going to make a difference in the way the track races?
WILLIAM BYRON: Not really. I think the groove will still have some of that resin that was left up top. I think there's still going to be some grip to go chase up there.
I think you'll have the bottom be dominant at the start of the race, for sure, then it will kind of migrate up. It will probably be both lanes at the end.
Q. This is the youngest Championship 4. What do you make of that? Will Sunday be a time when the next generation of NASCAR is put on display?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I think it kind of has been that way. I think all these guys have won multiple races for the last couple of years. We've all been really competitive. I feel like it's definitely been that way for a little bit. I've been racing these guys for a while. It's nothing new to be racing them at the front.
Q. Do you feel like a veteran among these guys?
WILLIAM BYRON: I mean, no, not at all. I'm the youngest, so I'm the least experienced.
Q. You've been doing it for a long time.
WILLIAM BYRON: I've been doing it for a long time. I think definitely, besides Bell, I've been in the Cup Series the least amount.
Q. You talked to Ryan quite a bit following his win. You're close off the track. What does he bring to the table as a competitor?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I think he's really fast. He does a good job managing his car, managing his race. They've done a good job through the Playoffs.
I'd say in the summertime it didn't look like Penske had a lot of speed. Didn't look like their team had a lot of speed. Once the Playoffs started, they've been on kill. It's been pretty impressive how fast they were in the last round.
Q. How important is this full practice session coming up this weekend with the new tire, qualifying playing a big role in the race?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I mean, it's big. It's big every weekend. Anytime we can get track time is going to help us. I'm confident our team is one of the best when it comes to practicing, getting a good balance in our car.
I look forward to it a lot, being able to sit in the car, describe it to Rudy, him make the right changes. I think we're good at that.
Q. In the postmortem, did you figure out why the car was so far off at Martinsville?
WILLIAM BYRON: I think we had a really imbalanced car. We were really loose in, really tight center, didn't have a lot of drive-off. Not a good recipe for success at Martinsville. I think we just missed it, honestly.
Q. (No microphone.)
WILLIAM BYRON: Honestly, I'd say like Tuesday afternoon I started to feel myself again. Monday I felt the adrenaline rush of kind of making the Championship 4, so I was, like, excited for that. I think Monday night I got an IV, then I was feeling good after that. I got a good night's sleep. My body temp started to come back down.
Q. Any diagnosis as to why?
WILLIAM BYRON: The way we had our helmet fan mounted in the car for Martinsville just seemed like it wasn't good for the heat exposure. Just not enough air movement inside the car. We weren't really getting clean air into that helmet fan.
Q. As a driver, what kind of X factor do you bring this weekend compared to the other three?
WILLIAM BYRON: I don't know. I mean, I feel like I'm aggressive when I need to be. I feel like I'm patient when I need to be. I kind of match whatever my car and situation needs.
I don't know. I mean, we've won the most races this year, so we know how to close the deal. I feel like that's a good thing to have on your side.
Q. You led a lot of laps in the spring. Obviously you won here. How much can you apply from that weekend into this?
WILLIAM BYRON: We had a really good car. We were really good in the beginning of the race, really good, then we just kind of adjusted ourselves into a spot that wasn't as good. I feel like just what we had at the start of the race was the best. We kind of got back to that by the end of the race, then we won.
Q. What was the teamwork with the 5 this week?
WILLIAM BYRON: I mean, we honestly communicate the same. We all work really well together. We share notes.
Q. Your relationship with Ryan, it's unique, a dynamic that a lot of other drivers have to think about. What are the conversations like even with Erin this week? She has a 50% chance of celebrating on Sunday.
WILLIAM BYRON: She has a great chance of celebrating.
We race hard. We talk about it. We discuss things in the past. I feel like we've gotten to a really good spot where we race each other hard and fair.
We're both going to be going for it on Sunday trying to win. Nothing changes there. But, yeah, when we get off the track, we spend time together and hang out. I'd say it's like two different dynamics.
At the same time that off-the-track relationship allows us to race with good respect, good trust and race hard.
Q. You won the Xfinity Series championship in this sort of a format. You've been through that experience. Different from then to now, but how has this experience differed? How valuable is the past experience?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I think it's really valuable. Obviously Kyle has won a championship in Cup. I don't know if the other guys have won an Xfinity or whatnot.
It helped me a lot to win that championship, know what the experience was like there at the end. Obviously a different track. Running against the fence there, that's what I had to do to win.
Here is much different. It's a different technique, more of that short track technique. It will be interesting to see how it plays out at the end. Just hopefully we can be in that top two, have a shot.
Q. Other athletes look at what you have to do before the race, photos, meet-and-greet. How do you do that and focus on what you've got to do? What will that be like on Sunday?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I mean, it's different, right? I was telling my PR rep that it's a lot different that we have to go into the race and do all these meet-and-greets, appearances before the race.
I mean, it's just part of the nature of our sport. It's what makes it unique. Honestly, once I put the helmet on, I'm a different person altogether. It's just trying to get in that mindset when I get to the grid, talk to my crew chief and get ready.
Q. What are the nerves like for a typical race and what do you anticipate it might be like on Sunday?
WILLIAM BYRON: I told somebody I feel like the nerves for us in the Round of 8 were way worse than they are now. For us to try to get to the championship race was the goal all year. I feel like now we've got a one-in-four chance to win it.
No more counting points, thinking about scenarios. It's just go out and be the best we can be. I feel a lot of comfort in that. I feel like it kind of brings me back to, like I said, my Xfinity days when I won a championship, how that felt in the Final 4.
Q. A lot of people make a big deal about you and Erin. When you first started dating, was there ever an awkwardness? How did you get over that with Ryan?
WILLIAM BYRON: I think when we started dating, we talked about it. I mean, we got comfortable with it. Ryan and I have raced for years. It really didn't change how we race each other. I feel like we've always raced each other well. We've had little run-ins here and there, honestly. We've gotten through it, came out better for it.
I feel like we race really well together. We'll be going for it on Sunday, as all of us will be. I trust kind of how we race each other.
Q. She wears a lot of 24 gear. Is she going to wear loyalty to one or the other?
WILLIAM BYRON: No, she'll stay out of the mix. She doesn't want to be the spotlight. She'll be cheering us on.
Q. (No microphone.)
WILLIAM BYRON: What's that, sorry?
Q. Whose brains have you been able to pick coming into this week?
WILLIAM BYRON: Just picking Jeff Gordon's brain. Talking to my crew chief. Honestly, the people I talk to the most all the time. Nothing really changes for this weekend. I've been preparing the same way I always do. I'm excited. It's going to be fun.
Q. If your championship comes down to a critical pit stop, what do you think is so special about your over-the-wall guys that gives you confidence?
WILLIAM BYRON: That's a great question. They're some of the best on pit road. They're the best, in my opinion. They've done a great job this year. They work really well under pressure. They're ready for this moment.
It will be a lot of fun.
Q. What is so special about your over-the-wall guys that gives you the confidence they can pull through and make it happen?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, my pit crew has done really good. The crew, the team, the people that I have on this 20 car right now, they're on the 54 car through the regular season. I don't know if they still have the record, but at one point they set the record for the fastest pit stop. Yeah, we've got a good group right now.
Q. How has this week been for you?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Much more relaxed than last year, for sure. Just having that extra time to prepare has been really good. Last week, I don't know, I feel like last week we did a lot of our homework, then this week was just kind of relaxing and preparing, relaxing and taking it easy.
Q. What were you able to do this time that you weren't able to do last year?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: I don't think we didn't get to accomplish anything last year in our short preparation time, but everything just felt crammed and rushed, where now winning at Homestead allowed us to just be a little bit more methodical.
I'm sure it helps Adam and my engineers make more educated decisions on what we're going to put inside this Phoenix car as far as the setup.
Yeah, just had a lot more time and not the hectic, like, Man, we just won at Martinsville, now we need to hurry up and think about what we're going to do in Phoenix. That type of deal.
Q. You've been in the Championship 4 in all of the three series. How have you noticed or have you noticed a difference in the way the Championship 4 are raced in those series?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: That's a great question.
I don't really know that I've noticed a difference. I don't know. You have me a little bit stumped. I guess that means nothing stands out between the three series.
Q. The Championship 4 drivers, is there anything courtesy...
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Certainly I think you get breaks. I'm trying to think if it was different through the Truck and Xfinity Series than what I experienced last year. I really don't think it was.
The biggest thing was last year in the Cup Series, having three teammates that are really, really competitive, and they probably cut me more breaks than the rest of the field.
I remember in the Truck Series, whenever I made the Final 4, Gragson was my teammate and he raced me really respectful, too.
I don't think anything stands out or anything is much different between the three series.
Q. The interesting thing is in Cup, since the Championship 4 was instituted in 2016, from there through 2022 you've had two situations in Cup where the top four finishes 1-2-3-4, but you've never had that in Xfinity and Truck.
CHRISTOPHER BELL: That is strange. Well, certainly whenever I won my championship in '17, I didn't win the race. Then, yeah, I don't know. I don't know why that is. I don't know why that is.
Q. (Question about experience in the Championship 4.)
CHRISTOPHER BELL: No, I don't think so. I think last year I was in the same mindset as I was this year. Certainly having more experience probably helps keep the nerves down a little bit more. I think they're going to be just fine.
Q. Adam Stevens, you guys have worked together, has it changed at all since you first started?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, I think it has, just from getting together in 2021. I was so unproven in the Cup Series that I think it probably took a couple good runs and myself proving to him what I'm capable of.
I think our relationship now is as strong as it ever has been. It's just a matter of having trust in each other. I think that we've just gotten more and more trust in each other as we've gotten better and proven to each other that if he gives me a good car, I can drive it good. Yeah, same back to him.
Q. I wanted to ask you about Jason Ratcliff. Coming up on his last crew chief start in the Xfinity Series. He was part of your career coming along. What was your relationship like with him? What did he mean to your career?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, Jason was amazing. Even to this day, I feel so bad for Jason and the hand he was dealt going into 2020 with everything that happened. Fortunately I got a mulligan year. I was able to get a second opportunity at Joe Gibbs Racing and he didn't.
He was an amazing crew chief and helped build me to where I am. He did not get a fair hand whenever we went Cup racing in 2020.
Q. What about having him staying with the company? Sounds like he's going to be a mentor to the other series.
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, he's one of the best to ever do it. Having him around is going to be very critical. Anyone who is young and in the crew chief role would be wise to speak to him.
Q. There are four drivers in this championship, but one of them is Larson. You and he have raced against each other for a number of important races and championships. Is this sort of the culmination of an expectation that either we or you might have had?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Well, I hope we're able to do this for many years into the future.
Yeah, I guess I hope that we're able to do this many more times. It certainly is not the first.
Q. How would you evaluate the group of the four of you overall? Seems like the four of you race pretty well together. Not too much bad blood.
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, we definitely have a good, respectful group that I guess doesn't have any history of having wrecks or anything like that. So that's good.
But I honestly think it's a great Final 4. It's definitely Next Gen. Probably the Final 4 that you wouldn't have seen five years ago.
Q. In terms of Next Gen, I don't think Toyota has led a lap at Phoenix since the new car.
CHRISTOPHER BELL: That's not a good stat (smiling).
It's funny because my statistics have sucked at Phoenix since I've gotten into the Cup Series. Before I got into the Cup Series, I would have said it's one of if not my best racetrack through Trucks and Xfinity.
The Cup stuff, it took a little bit to get going. 2020, I mentioned Ratcliff, it wasn't fair because we didn't have -- I guess we did have practice. I don't know if we did in the fall of 2020. But anyway, the Next Gen car was certainly a reset for everybody.
The spring race of 2022, we were absolutely terrible. Then the fall race in 2022, we were better, not great, but better. In the spring of 2023, we were pretty competitive. We didn't lead a lap, I guess, but I remember myself and Denny were inside the top five the majority of the day.
We've made gains on it every single time. I have no reason to think that we wouldn't be better yet this time.
Q. How significant do you think it's going to be without the treatment they've had here in the past few years?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: I think it's going to be similar to what we had in the spring, except they did treat turns three and four, which made it get a little bit wider there. Maybe the top doesn't come into play as much in three and four, but I think it still will in one and two. But it's not going to be dominant.
I think they've had a really good track preparation plan going into place here by not touching it. I think it will race really good.
Q. Will the weather help? Predicted to be 89 on race day.
CHRISTOPHER BELL: I don't know that it will change much. Normally it's at least in the 80s or upper 70s. I don't think the weather's going to come into play.
Q. In terms of preparing, how important is having that breather to prep and get ready for this one at Martinsville?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Martinsville really turned into practice for myself and my pit crew to make sure that we can execute. They're going to have a big, big role in the race outcome on Sunday.
Q. Not a lot of Championship 4 history in this group. You got to the Final 4 last year. You have the most experience overall between all the different series among these guys. Does all that experience in the Championship 4 bode well for you?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: I think it helps. I don't think it's a big advantage, but I do think it helps. I think it helps manage emotions and nerves going into Sunday.
I have been really fortunate. I think six of my eight years I made the Final 4 in my NASCAR full-time career. So that's really cool. But everyone's going to be competitive.
Maybe I have a slight advantage of managing nerves, but maybe I don't.
Q. (Question about the Monday meeting.)
CHRISTOPHER BELL: It was unique.
Q. What type of vibe did you get coming out of the meeting? We're ready for the championship or we need a couple more days to get through what we went through at Martinsville?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, it was strange. Obviously the 20 group, this goes back to Homestead, too, because it stemmed at Homestead. The 20 group is all smiles and cheers, hoorahs. The other teams are not obviously (smiling).
So, yeah, the last two Mondays have been just very mixed emotion in the room. I just need to win. Need to win and bring a championship back.
Q. Do you think having somebody like Adam Stevens, who has the respect of everybody in that room, helps feel like we got to get behind...
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, I mean, I think that he has the respect from everyone in the company, and probably everyone in the industry. I don't know. He doesn't speak much in our competition meetings. He lays low, and I respect that of him. He certainly goes about it his own way. I don't know. I think we're ready, though.
Q. Is it hard to be happy for you?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: It's not hard for me to be happy. But Joe, I'm sure Joe is probably I'm sure disappointed. He had three opportunities to win the championship. I'm sure that he thought, especially starting the Round of 8, he had two of 'em above the cut line, and I was the one below the cut line.
I think that he probably expected to have more in the Final 4 than just one. Whenever Homestead happened and we had two mechanical problems, I think that was a really big downer for him.
I think on Sunday he's going to be all in on the 20 car trying to win the race and a championship.
Q. Versus how you sit here today having won two weeks ago to get in, how is the confidence going into this one than last year?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Just much more relaxed. I feel more prepared just because of the time that we've had to get ready for this moment compared to last year being so far beneath the cut line, being in a must-win going into Martinsville. We didn't even talk about Phoenix until we left Martinsville. Now we've had two solid weeks to game plan what we're going to do in practice, how we're going to execute qualifying.
Just feel much more prepared.
Q. In any other professional sport, championship game, they're not having to deal with sponsors or people on pit road right before they get in the car. You're used to it. Just of the idea of being so close to the start of an event, then having other people around, not being able to be in a locker room like a football team.
CHRISTOPHER BELL: It's just about routine. Thankfully you have a lot of stuff going on throughout the week. My race routine will stay pretty similar.
While we do have sponsor obligations in the morning, pictures by the car right before the race, I do have a period of time before I go out to driver intros where it is just me getting myself in the right mindset to compete in the race.
It's just part of the job, having to be engaging with people right before the big moment. It's something that has become normal and part of the routine. It will be the same on Sunday.
Q. How do you do it? When you put yourself in the right frame of mind, about 45 minutes before the engines crank, but you have to do the photos. You have to turn it on and on and off.
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, it definitely was tough at first, but now it's just part of the game. Once you get in the car, I'll be nervous as can be whenever we get out there pre-race, even taking pictures, I'm always nervous, whether it's the Daytona 500 or the Bristol dirt race or Loudon or the Phoenix championship race. Once you get in the car and you flip the switch, you crank the engine, I don't know, it's always all gone away for me.
For me it's about routine.
Q. When you say 'nervous', what do you mean?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Just, I mean, nerves. I don't know how to explain it other than that. Just butterflies in your stomach, nervous. You want to do good. My number one fear is doing bad in the race car. I just want it really bad. I want to do good really bad.
Q. (No microphone.)
CHRISTOPHER BELL: It just always has been ever since I was a kid. Whenever I started in this sport, I just never wanted to let my dad down whenever we first started or let my mom down, let my uncle Will down. You start moving up, it's car owners and sponsors. Now I got a company of 600-plus employees, multi-million dollar sponsors that are all counting on me to do my job, and I don't want to let them down.
My number one fear is doing bad. Got to do good in this sport (smiling).
Q. Does it heighten your expectations?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Does it heighten my expectations? No, because I expected to win last year and we didn't win, we came up short. My expectations are the same coming into this year, as well.
Q. Do you feel like people race you differently in this race?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Outside of the Final 4, you do get raced a little bit differently. I think the four of us all race really hard every single week. I wouldn't expect the four of us to race any differently.
Q. Do you approach this race any differently than last year? What did you learn last year that you can bring into battle this year?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: I learned a lot last year. One thing was we weren't super competitive last year. We didn't qualify well. We didn't practice well. But whenever it came down to the end of the race, we still had an opportunity at it.
I feel like most people, they didn't see that. At the end of the race the last green-flag pit stop, me and Joey are within a second, I think. I followed him down pit road for the money stop in the championship event with 30 laps to go, however long it was.
With that being said, we weren't as competitive as we wanted to be, and we were still in the thick of it. This year we will be more competitive. You're not out of it until the checkered flag falls.
Q. How much of it is mental, a mental game, where you can't panic? Last year you're wiser because of it.
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, I mean, your mental outlook is a very big part of racing success. That's a big piece of the puzzle, for sure. So you got to have the right mindset. You got to have the right confidence. You have to know that you can do it.
Q. Without counting points, it will be easier this week or will the pressure of the championship increase more?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: It's nice that the stages don't matter. It literally is just all about positioning yourself for the end of the race. I enjoy that aspect of it.
Q. Are we witnessing a changing of the guard?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, I think so. A couple minutes ago I said this is Next Gen. We got Next Gen cars and apparently we got Next Gen drivers, too, so...
It's a new group.
Q. Byron said that he looks at this group as the guys that are going to go out and dominate for the next decade.
CHRISTOPHER BELL: I hope he's right.
Q. Any special satisfaction in being the guy representing JGR this week?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, it means a lot to me that I am representing Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing. It's a spot that I've wanted to be in for a long time.
I hope that this is year number two of very many in the future. It is special to have a shot to win a championship for Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing.
Q. Talked a lot about last year's Championship 4 weekend. As far as earlier this year, you raced here, is that applicable?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: It certainly is, yeah. That's the most real data that we have. Since they introduced the Next Gen car, you can't throw out 2022, but at the beginning, the spring race, we were bad. I think I was in the teens. Then the fall race, I was about 10th on average ranking. In the spring, I think I was fifth or maybe a little bit better. So we've gotten better and better and better.
We're going to take another step this week. I don't think any one of us four are going to go out there and just dominate the race. We're going to be all four very competitive. I think the Final 4 should be more competitive than what it was last year.
Q. Jason announced that he's retiring after this weekend. You had a lot of success with him. How would you sum up your time with him?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Jason was amazing. I feel so bad for Jason because he's a great crew chief. He did not get a fair shake whenever we went Cup racing in 2020. Fortunately I got another opportunity, but he didn't.
Jason is one of the best crew chiefs that I've ever gotten to drive for. I wish him nothing but the best.
Q. Had a ton of success at the Xfinity level.
CHRISTOPHER BELL: We did. We would have had a ton of success at the Cup level if we continued our run together.
Q. You've been to Arizona quite a few times now. Anything you like to do here?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Eat In-N-Out.
Q. (No microphone.)
CHRISTOPHER BELL: I actually have not yet this weekend. I've been trying to eat really clean coming into this week. I don't know, probably helps this much. I'm saving my In-N-Out trip for Sunday or Monday, depending on how Sunday goes.
Q. (No microphone.)
CHRISTOPHER BELL: That's a great question. Whataburger doesn't have the wrap that In-N-Out does, though, so... I like 'em both, though. They're both good.
Q. Second year here now. What do you do to decompress coming into a weekend like this?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, I mean, I don't know. I think it's impossible to be loose coming into such a big event. It's the nerves that make it that much more special. It's a big deal. I'm thankful to be a part of it. I would much rather be sitting here being nervous than I would be not being a part of it.
Q. Back up 365 days, how is Christopher Bell different as a driver and person?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Certainly I'm more experienced. That's a big part of the equation. But the big difference is our cars. I think our cars are tremendously better sitting here November 2023 than they were in November 2022.
Q. Does Joe sit down with each of you or with the team to calm your nerves, give you that coaching?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Joe has his own way of doing it. We were in the competition meeting on Monday. It was very weird because two teams had just failed to qualify for the Final 4, then the 20 team made it.
I don't know. I'm sure that there will be a speech on Saturday or Sunday. I look forward to it.
Q. You mentioned your car feels a lot better this year. What specifically is better in it? What has made the difference?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: I think it's just more research and development with the Next Gen car. I'm sure if you ask all of the three guys sitting to my right, they're going to say the same thing.
Whenever we came to the championship race a year ago, we had one race at Phoenix for notes. Now we have three races for Phoenix notes of just trying to get the setup better, obviously the aerodynamics are better.
Yeah, it's an improvement that I feel inside the car. I'm sure everyone's going to say the same thing, but I feel really good about what we have.
Q. You've raced against Kyle a majority of your life. What does he bring as a contender for this championship, what you've learned racing him?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, so Kyle, his strength is his raw talent, his ability to drive the car. His 100% -- or the better way to say it is his 90% is everyone else's 100%. He's able to run the car at the ragged edge a lot easier than what the other people can. That's his strength.
Q. (Question about winning the championship.)
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Perseverance. If we win the championship on Sunday, it's because of perseverance.
Q. What do you mean by that?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: There were many times when we were down and out. Going back to 2022, even the beginning of 2023, at one point we were leading the points. It completely was starting to crumble in the middle part of the regular season. We lost that chance at a regular-season title. We persevered and put together a great run in the Playoffs to get here.
I'm sure that the Sunday race, nobody is going to go out here and lead 300 laps, 312 laps. It's going to be a race, a dogfight. Pit road is going to be really important.
The team that executes the best. All four of us are going to make mistakes, and it's just going to be about who doesn't do the big mistake or who makes the least amount of mistakes is who is going to win the championship.
Q. You stalk about perseverance, that's easier said than done. How have you been able to accomplish that?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: I certainly think Adam Stevens, the leader, is kind of the head of the group. But it's the experience around him, too. Myself being put in those positions. Adam has been put in those positions. Our pit crew, we have a very experienced pit crew that's going over the wall for us.
Having experience in these moments is what's going to be key.
Q. Do you feel this is as wide open as it's been in the Championship 4?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: It certainly feels like we have a very competitive Final 4. Last year was very unique because it was the first championship race with the Next Gen car. We've seen before last year the majority of the time the Final 4 are running 1-2-3-4, just kind of leaps and bounds ahead of the field. It didn't really happen last year.
I would expect it to be more like that, where these four cars are running in the top four positions, certainly in the top five. I think it's going to be a really good race.
Q. You finished a career-best sixth year in the spring. What have you hit on for Phoenix?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Phoenix has always been one of my best tracks before I got into the Cup series. My Cup stats have not been good. I admit that.
Since the Next Gen car, we've improved on it. That first race at Phoenix was not good at all. The fall Phoenix race last year was a little bit better. The spring race was actually pretty good. I know we finished sixth, but the yellow flag came out late. We were certainly going to do better than that.
I have all the confidence that we're going to make another step.
Q. You said last year's Phoenix championship was unique. This year is also unique, the youngest Championship 4 in Playoff history. What do you make of that? Is Sunday going to be a pedestal for the youngest talent in NASCAR to shine?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, I mean, I think the young guys are now getting enough experience to showcase their talents. I love the sport because you have guys like Ty Gibbs, I think he just turned 21, and he's young, and you have guys like Kevin Harvick, who is in his 40s, that are competing against each other. Each of them have their own strengths and weaknesses. That's fascinating to me. What other sport is that possible in?
What the veterans have is the experience, the ability to know how to put together a Cup race. What the young guy has is typically they're really fast, they try really hard, they push hard. Their downfall is they crash.
Now that you have young guys with a couple years of experience underneath our belts, you're seeing that kind of mix, and that's why we're here today.
Q. What sort of X factor do you bring to the table that these other three don't have?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Hopefully mental capability in the race. I've always felt like that was my strength, is being able to be smart, know when to push, know when to be smart with the race.
Larson has really good car control and ability to produce lap time. That's his strength. But I think that my strength is my noggin.
Q. (No microphone.)
CHRISTOPHER BELL: I don't know. I'm pretty close right now. Well, actually, no, Blaney is older than me.
Q. Larson, too.
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Larson.
Q. Two consecutive Championship 4s, at what point are you going to start feeling like...
CHRISTOPHER BELL: I'm getting there. I'm getting there. Certainly Ty coming in. When I came into the sport, I was older than Chase and older than Byron, I'm sure a handful of other ones. I'm getting there. Now we got Ty in there. You had Carson Hocevar is coming up, Zane Smith. The tide is turning.
Q. Anything about Sunday's race that you're concerned about, if you don't win the championship it's probably because of...
CHRISTOPHER BELL: No. I don't have anything on the top of my head right now.
Q. What is the mindset for Sunday?
CHRISTOPHER BELL: The mindset is just excited. Excited about the opportunity. Try to persevere. Go out there. All four of us are going to be really competitive. I don't think there's going to be a runaway champion. I think it's going to be a war and you're going to have to execute on all fronts to win this thing.
Q. No other racing this week. Usually you're --
KYLE LARSON: Antsy? No, it's a short week. Yeah, I mean, it was really short. Monday was normal. Tuesday we had Halloween. Flew out here early yesterday morning.
No, not antsy at all. There's weeks that I go throughout the year where I don't race, so... Yeah, nothing out of the ordinary.
Q. You've been in championship pressure situations before. Is this normal? Anything different about this time?
KYLE LARSON: I don't know. I don't remember feeling like overly anticipated the last time I was in the Final 4. I feel pretty calm, neutral. I feel like I typically am about most things. Right now I'm calm and all that.
I think as you get closer to the race, I remember that's when the nerves kind of pick up. Driver intros, stuff around that, I think that's when I remember the nerves kind of kicking in.
I imagine it will probably be the same this weekend.
Q. With Hendrick, is it championship or bust? Is it get to here or bust?
KYLE LARSON: I'm not sure. I think a company like Hendrick Motorsports, Hendrick Automotive Group, I think Rick wants to win at everything he does. I think all the people in place, too, have the same goals in mind of dominating whatever they're in.
Yeah, I think every team in the garage area strives to win the championship. I'm not sure if it's this or bust. You just try to put in the work to get yourself in this opportunity. Hopefully you prepared yourself well enough to try and win the championship.
Q. When you talk about the nerves, where do you feel the nerves?
KYLE LARSON: I wouldn't say nervous, but nerves. I just remember the atmosphere being, like, incredible. Too, I think me being a West Coast guy, I just felt like the crowd was really behind me before the race two years ago. I just thought it was a really cool atmosphere.
I just remember getting kind of butterflies and getting almost like emotional knowing the size of the race that was upcoming, what it would mean to my career and all that.
Yeah, I think feeling that atmosphere again on Sunday will probably be fun. Then once you strap in, though, once you strap in the car and roll off, you kind of get at peace with everything again.
Q. Other athletes would look at what you guys do and think Super Bowl quarterback is not meeting with sponsors or people on pit road 10 minutes before they go out on the field. You're doing it going out to the car. What is that like in such a big moment? Is it good to be distracted in a way?
KYLE LARSON: No, I mean, I would love to not have to do anything on race day, honestly. But I think you know, at least with our sport, you understand that with being in the Final 4, there's more obligations that come with it.
My Sunday will be the busiest Sunday I have all year. Definitely the earliest morning with most appearances. Like I said, I wish I didn't have to do any of that, but it just worked out that way.
I think, like you said, we do it throughout the year so you kind of know how to stay focused within all that. I remember a couple years ago I had a lot to do, as well. It will be fine. We'll be focused when it comes race time.
Q. As you go between different things, are you thinking about the race, or you're getting whipped around?
KYLE LARSON: I guess the upside to having so many obligations on race day is it does keep your mind off of the race, what could go good, what could go bad, what is my car like. I think all the things that can creep into your mind...
I think what I remember from 2021 when I had a lot of stuff to do, you're doing all this stuff, then, boom, you have to get dressed to do driver intros. I like that because the morning goes by quicker where you're not just sitting around thinking about things, overthinking things.
Q. Daylight savings being different out here.
KYLE LARSON: But the time doesn't change in Arizona.
Q. Instead of three hours off, you're two hours off all of a sudden.
KYLE LARSON: The time doesn't change here. I'm glad that we're here because then you don't have to reset alarms and stuff like that. You can actually get better sleep I feel like. I feel when you're in North Carolina or anywhere else besides Arizona, you have something to do the next day, you don't sleep very good the night before because you don't know if you're going to sleep through your alarm or whatever.
Yeah, it's fine.
Q. You have experience. Some of these guys don't have as much experience. How much is mental toughness?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I don't know. I mean, although a couple of 'em haven't been in the Final 4 before, it's no big deal really. I mean, we've all been a part of this race our whole careers, even though we may not have been in the Final 4, we've been a part of the event. You kind of get a sense for what the style of race is for those four guys. You see them doing their championship Media Day stuff.
At least from I remember in 2021, nothing was, like, surprising or anything like that. I don't think it matters if you've been in zero times or every year. It doesn't matter to me. I don't think it matters. I mean, I think we're all pretty similar people. I don't think it matters to any of us.
Q. You're good at not flipping out.
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, but like I said, I think we all are, so... Yeah, I don't know if that answers your question, but I don't think it's a big deal that some of them have never been in it.
Q. It is a lot, but you have dealt with it your whole career, a lot of attention. You just race Phoenix like you're pretty much used to racing Phoenix.
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I mean, that's the plan, at least for me. Yeah, I'm just excited. I think we're all excited to get on the racetrack, get practice tomorrow, kind of get a glimpse of how the weekend might go.
Q. You didn't win the spring race but led a lot of laps. Does that matter now?
KYLE LARSON: Well, I mean, sure, it always matters. I'd rather come in here leading the most laps in the spring than leading no laps in the spring. I think that gives some confidence.
But at the same point, the sport evolves, teams evolve, setups evolve. It could be a different race. I think we have a different tire this time around.
Yeah, it's hard to say. I think our team has done -- out of the Chevy camp, our team has done the best on short tracks this year. I think we have a little bit more confidence than we would have had we been in the Final 4 last year.
But, yeah, it's tough. It's all four of us are really good, drive for really good teams, have great individual teams. It's hard to predict who could do the best.
Q. With the new tire, how predictable is...
KYLE LARSON: Well, New Hampshire is nothing like this place. I just remember not feeling like I had very much grip at all in New Hampshire. All of us kind of struggled. I don't even remember who won. Truex maybe. He was really, really good, yeah.
But yeah, I don't know. I think, like I said, we're probably all excited to get on track on Friday and get an idea how our weekend will be.
Q. Confidence, maybe it's confidence. One thing that I see, it's really probably right, is that you're not underestimating any of the competitors. It's clear you're not doing that.
KYLE LARSON: No, no. I mean, I think all four of us, there's definitely a number of guys that didn't make the Final 4 that are deserving of being in this position. Yeah, I think you can make a case for any of us four to win the championship.
Yeah, I think we all respect each other on the racetrack. We all respect each other's abilities, teams' abilities. Yeah, it should be a fun race. Obviously I would love to come out on top, but I also understand it will be tough. Everybody's going to have a shot.
Q. (No microphone.)
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I mean, I think it could continue for sure. I mean, stats say it should. But I think in the Next Gen era, it's a little bit more open I think to win. Like Blaney could have won, should have won last year probably. He did a good job kind of protecting his teammate.
I think at least from what I remember from the other years with the previous cars, the best cars wins the race, and that guy's the champion.
The Next Gen stuff, there's so much parity within the cars and teams that more people have a shot to win on Sunday.
Q. Do you think the success you've had the last couple years that people expect you to win this championship?
KYLE LARSON: I don't know. You'd have to ask those people, so... I'm not really sure.
Q. I look at the odds.
KYLE LARSON: Really?
Q. You're the favorite.
KYLE LARSON: I haven't seen the odds. I heard that the odds were close.
I don't know.
Q. Does it matter?
KYLE LARSON: I don't think it matters, no, no. I definitely don't think it matters. I mean, sure, yeah, we've done a great job the last few seasons, but when it comes down to one race, it's hard to close that out sometimes.
I'm confident in our race team that we can. I'm not overly confident, though, because I understand how tough all these teams are.
Q. Do you think the four that are in, it's four equals? You don't have an outlier that snuck in?
KYLE LARSON: No. I mean, I think you can make a case for all of us on why each of us could or should be the champion. I mean, obviously you look at, like, recent speed and stuff, Blaney probably to me stands out to be the best.
If I was setting odds, I would put him as the favorite potentially. Again, not by much. I think we're all four pretty equal. It should be a really good race. I think whoever wins on Sunday is a very deserving champion.
Q. Do you treat this the night before any differently than any other race? Do you go about the preparation differently?
KYLE LARSON: No, not really. I mean, it's a little bit more chaotic, honestly, this week, I think probably for all of us. Maybe we'll all treat Saturday differently.
I've got a lot of friends coming in, family. We're cooking out at the house after practice tomorrow. Then Saturday we'll get dinner and probably just lay a little bit more low then. That will be normal, I guess.
Cooper was up at, like, 4:50 this morning local. I would love for Katelyn to take him to a different room maybe on Saturday night or Sunday morning (smiling). I'm nervous about that conversation, so...
But, no, yeah, I think you can't, at least the way I approach it, you don't want to treat this week much different than a typical week to get your flow of things off.
Q. How old is Cooper now?
KYLE LARSON: Ten months.
Q. Is there any advantage that you bring into it as a former champion that these other guys don't have?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I don't view us having a leg up on the others because we have a championship at all. It was a couple years ago. It's a totally different race car. Pit stops are different. The race is different. It's all different.
Yeah, like I've been saying, I think all of us have a fairly equal shot. I came into the Championship 4 a couple years ago with no experience in the Round of 4. Really had only been in the Round of 8 one other time before then.
It does not make a difference. I think if your team executes right, any of us can win.
Q. What needs to go right for you on Sunday to win the championship?
KYLE LARSON: I think full first stop, you need to have speed in your race car. I think a lot like we did in 2021, obviously I would love to have the fastest car and just dominate, but I think you just got to keep yourself in contention.
If things aren't going perfectly or you're not leading the race with 40 or 50 to go, don't lose hope. I think just continue to plug away and something may change the race. Just be in contention to let your team kind of pick you guys up. Like I said, a like lot what happened in 2021. We were running fourth. I was losing hope. We had a caution, had a chance for a pit stop, and the rest is history.
Yeah, I think just keeping yourself in contention, just doing the best job you can. Whatever results come, just be proud of that.
Q. (Question about qualifying.)
KYLE LARSON: I think qualifying is important for any race. Had I not qualified on pole in '21, got the first pit stall, maybe I would give you a different answer like, It doesn't really matter that much.
After being in that number one pit stall here in Phoenix, I understand how important that stall is. Yeah, we put a big emphasis on qualifying and would love to qualify good.
Q. (Question about racing Christopher.)
KYLE LARSON: I mean, Christopher is just a guy you can never count out. He's proven that in the NASCAR stuff of Homestead, for instance, like not even being anywhere in the picture, then here he comes out of nowhere and wins the race.
He's done a really good job, him and his team have, of being able to capitalize on things, executing the ends of the races really well and closing them out.
Yeah, he does a lot more than that really good, as well. It's cool to see another dirt guy run as good as him, have another dirt guy in the Final 4.
Q. What sort of X factor are you bringing this weekend that the others maybe don't have?
KYLE LARSON: X factor? I don't know. I mean, I think we're all pretty equal, so... I think you don't get to this point (temporary loss of audio on recording). I think on paper it would show our raw speed maybe, maybe our X factor.
For one race, I don't really know that that matters. I haven't looked at kind of how we rank on short tracks compared to other tracks. Our speed's been good at most of these places.
Q. Experience of a championship, you have that, right?
KYLE LARSON: I don't think that matters, no.
Q. How closely are you and William working? Is it just kind of business as usual at Hendrick, or are you two chatting a little bit more maybe than you would normally?
KYLE LARSON: I mean, for us, I think it's been pretty typical. Like, I don't know anything about my race car. I don't think he knows anything about his race car. We can't, like, chat about setup stuff or anything like that.
I think our teams, I would assume, work really well together, like they do every week. Our offices are right next to each other at the shop, all that.
I don't think anything changes on that side of things. We'll all practice tomorrow, have our debrief. Everything just goes as normal. Me being in this position now a couple times, from 2021 and all that, we all work together the same way then as we did all season long. Nothing has changed this time around, either.
Q. Byron said you were a really good teammate to work with, very open. Talk about the dynamic coming into this race.
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, no, I mean, I appreciate hearing that. I try hard to be a really good teammate. I feel like I don't have to try hard. I'm just pretty open with how I am as a person.
Yeah, I do think, though, William and I are a lot alike. I think we're both an open book to our teams in the debriefs and stuff. I think that's important to have that type of leadership maybe to just talk really in-depth about our race weekend and our cars and all that.
I think William and I have a very similar driving style. I think when I look at our data, I feel like we throttle, brake, steering, all that looks really similar. I don't know if our cars are very similar setup-wise or what. Driving style-wise we look a lot alike. I think that helps us talk about things and really latch onto what we're saying and learn from what we're telling each other.
Q. You're pretty relaxed. Are you amped up at all internally coming in here? How do you prep for this week?
KYLE LARSON: I'm not, like, overly amped. I'm obviously, like, super happy to be in this opportunity. This is just a really awesome opportunity to have a chance to race for another Cup Series championship. I look at it more that way. Win, lose or draw, this is a cool opportunity to be in. I hope to capitalize on it.
Yeah, I'm just excited for the moment and ready for the race this weekend. I know our team has prepped really hard. I have a lot of confidence in Cliff and his leadership. Everybody is going to be prepared for Sunday's race.
Yeah, I don't know, I don't feel any more excited than I did for Martinsville. It's another race that I want to win. It means more, but I think us and the 5 team, all of us, are just ready to hit the track.
Q. (Question about multiple championships.)
KYLE LARSON: I guess for active guys, I'd be. Yeah, that part of it is really cool, too. I think, like I've said before, I didn't really expect to win one. Winning one was amazing, a dream come true.
I didn't ever dream of winning, like, multiple championships. But, yes, I think now that I have this opportunity in front of me, yeah, for sure I want to win another one and get further up the history list, I guess, of accomplishments.
So, yeah, we'll just give it our best effort this weekend. If it's meant to be, it's meant to be.
Q. This season it's been evident that you go all out to try to finish the race.
KYLE LARSON: Ricky Bobby, like first or last (laughter).
Q. What is the mindset going into this championship Sunday? You have experience of being a champion. How do you find that happy medium of pushing it but not too hard to the point where you wreck your car?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, no, I mean, I think my mindset for this weekend is just to try -- obviously you want to be the fastest, lead every lap, dominate. You really just keep yourself in contention.
If things aren't going right, you just never know what's going to happen in these NASCAR races. You can get some late restarts and craziness happens.
Just keep yourself in contention, maybe you'll have a shot to capitalize on the chaos, if there is late restarts and stuff like that. Yeah, you do a little bit better job at kind of closing out and finishing the race, just leaving yourself an opportunity.
Q. Obviously past champion. What went right for you a couple years ago? Your pit crew helped you. What are some metrics that you hope to repeat?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, kind of a lot of what I just mentioned. The race then wasn't going perfectly for us. We were running fourth of the four guys with 40 laps left in the race, which isn't very long. Just don't lose hope I think in those moments. Know if a caution comes out or something happens, like I said, just keeping myself in contention to leave our team an opportunity to capitalize and give ourself as better shot to win.
Our team has proven that we can do a good job at the ends of the races. Like I said, just got to stay in contention and hopefully have a shot.
Q. What is your expectation of the rest of the field? How aware do you have to be of guys, last race of the year, last opportunity? How aware are you?
KYLE LARSON: I think having experience in the Final 4 and out of the Final 4, there's more respect given to the guys in the Final 4, for sure, without hurting your race majorly.
Yeah, everybody is out there racing for something. That's I think what we have to understand, as well. We're not the only four cars on the racetrack.
Points are tight, down to 30th. A guy in 30th might think he can get to 29th and it will make a big difference for their team. Yeah, I think there's more respect, for sure, I think for the field, for us four in the final race. But, yeah, there also is a checkered flag out there to be accomplished, a trophy out there to be taken home, a race trophy.
Yeah, teams are still going to be pushing for that. I mean, try not to make people mad throughout the year so you have a little more friends.
Q. You're only one of the four to have a championship. What extra edge does that give you?
KYLE LARSON: I don't think it really means anything. I think when I won the championship in '21, it was totally different race car, the style of race was different, pit stops were different, the way you executed the race was different. I don't really think it matters at all.
Yeah, I kind of view us all as equals. Even the guys who are in the Final 4 for the first time, I don't look at them any differently than myself or Bell who have been in the Final 4 twice. I think it's anybody's kind of race.
Q. The opportunity to be here, having a chance to win a championship. When you look at your season, you have been battle-tested this year, does it feel more satisfying to be back here compared to '21?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I mean, I think it's satisfying, for sure. I think I probably speak for our whole team that it's, yeah, great to have this opportunity to try to accomplish what we did a couple years ago.
I honestly look at last year. Last year was kind of eye-opening to me. Last year felt like a terrible year. Minus that mistake at Charlotte, we were still going to be in the Final 4. We were three points away from the Final 4 as a driver. Our team made it to the Final 4, and it felt like a terrible season.
That opened my eyes to, like, our team is so good and our cars are so fast, I think just clean it up a little bit, we can make it again. I think I just cleaned it up just a little bit, and we made it again. I think if we continue to do that, we should be a force each and every year.
Just excited for the opportunity. Kind of blessed to be racing for a championship at the highest form of American auto racing.
Q. You put a lot on yourself, you look internally, I'm not going to blame the team?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah. I rarely blame the team about anything. Most time it is me. It's easy to not blame anybody else but myself.
Yeah, I think I'm pretty -- I don't know if hard on myself is the right word. I just kind of hold myself to a higher standard than what I show sometimes on the racetrack.
Yeah, I just do a lot of self-reflecting and try to be better from it.
Q. Almost feels like it's a tale of two seasons. The speed was there, but the finishes were inconsistent. This season, you were right in form. You take out Homestead, you haven't stumbled.
KYLE LARSON: No, no, I don't think so. Yeah, no, we've been pretty much pretty good. So the first round was really good. The second round was probably our worst round for speed, but we were able to do a good enough job in the stages and stuff to kind of propel us through that round.
Yeah, Vegas we put together a really good race, executed really well with not having the best race car in the field. Homestead, I think had I not had that win, I probably would have played the race out differently. I think we still would have finished probably in the top two or three at that race, then had enough points at Martinsville to point ourselves in.
Yeah, no, we've done a good job for sure in the Playoffs. As Cliff said, we've been battle-tested throughout the regular year, so we're kind of ready for the Playoffs, whatever may arise and come at us.
It was a tough season to this point, and you would love to cap it off with a championship.
Q. You've been the best on pit road all season. What makes pit road so difficult? What has the preparation been like?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, no, pit road, there's a lot of opportunity on a pit road with a corner. Phoenix has a long corner, pit road. There's a lot of opportunities to maximize your speeds and stuff. The pit stalls are really slick. Hitting your signs consistently is important, all that.
Getting the number one pit stall would be very important and a key to winning I think on Sunday. Yeah, we'll put a lot of emphasis on qualifying. Like you said, my pit crew has been so good all year. I have a lot of confidence in them to put down a good stop when it matters most, and hopefully we can win.
Q. What would it mean to bring another championship for Rick and Jeff?
KYLE LARSON: I think it would be great. Obviously trying to get Rick his 15th championship in 39 years I think is pretty amazing. Leading into the 40th anniversary of Hendrick Motorsports next year would be great.
Yeah, no, it's just fortunate to be racing for an amazing race team with amazing people. Would love to do our best to try and make them proud.
Q. How are you feeling for this week?
KYLE LARSON: I feel fine. I don't feel overly confident. I think all of us kind of have an equal opportunity to win.
So, yeah, just going to be fun. I'm just looking forward to getting on track tomorrow and getting a better idea kind of how the weekend will play out.
Q. We're witnessing a change of the guard with you being the oldest among the four in the championship?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I don't know. It's odd. I'm the oldest at Hendrick Motorsports, the oldest in this Final 4. Maybe I am getting old. I don't feel old.
No, yeah, I don't know, the sport's gotten to a place where a lot of the guys who have been in it now for a couple decades, with Harvick retiring this weekend, Aric Almirola has been a part of the sport for a long time. I think there's a lot of young talent that I guess they're getting a little bit older now and gaining that experience, they're with really good race teams, can go perform.
Arizona sprint car fans are in for a treat this Friday and Saturday with the announcement that talented teenager Braden Chiaramonte is headed to the USAC/CRA Western World Championships at the Cocopah Speedway. The two-night affair will be the 16-year-old’s first appearance at the track that is located about 12 miles north of the USA/Mexico border and only his second time driving a 410 sprint car.
Three weeks ago, Chiaramonte shocked racing fans with a dazzling performance at the USAC/CRA race at Arizona’s Mohave Valley Raceway. It was his first night competing in a 410 sprint car. 410 sprint cars are considered to be the toughest cars to drive in all of sprint car racing. Taking to them like a duck takes to water, Chiaramonte was the fastest car in hot laps at Mohave. He really made the fans sit up and take notice when he posted the third-fastest qualifying time of the 26 cars on hand at the 1/3 mile banked clay oval.
When it was time for the heat races, Chiaramonte battled hard but ended up finishing sixth. That meant he had to contest the B main. Without a provisional at his disposal, he had to finish in the top 12 to get into the A main event or he was done for the night. He easily did that when he placed fourth.
In what turned out to be a great gift for the fans, the youngster had to start ninth in the 30-lapper. From there he thrilled the big crowd with an impressive run towards the front. Running on the edge at the top, he passed some of the West Coast’s top stars and the roar from the crowd when he momentarily went by the leader drowned out the noise of the engines. Unfortunately, seconds after he took the lead, a yellow flag came out and the field reverted back to the last completed lap and Chiaramonte had to go back to second. A slip-up on the last lap saw him finish fourth but his charge to the front is what will be remembered by the appreciative crowd.
This weekend’s races will be Chiaramonte’s fifth and sixth in Arizona in 2023. He made three visits to the Adobe Mountain Speedway in his 600cc outlaw micro in April. He won two of the three and finished sixth in the other. In July, he visited the Deuce of Clubs Thunder Raceway for the first time to contest a 360 wingless sprint car race. The high altitude track proved to be a challenge for the crew getting the engine tuned correctly. Starting fifth in the main, the talented driver set his sights on the front of the pack. He drove by the fourth-place car and was in the process of moving up to third when he slapped the wall with his right rear. The slam bent the Jacob’s ladder and flattened the right rear tire. Despite those handicaps, he stayed on the track and was fifth when the damage finally forced him out six laps later.
In addition to his sojourns to Arizona this year, he performed at a pair of races at Adobe Mountain in 2022. Included was a second-place finish at the Billy Shuman Tribute on November 11th.
Chiaramonte, who lives in El Cajon, California, will be making his 34th and 35th starts of the season at this weekend’s races in the “Grand Canyon State.” His prior 33 appearances this year have come on 17 different tracks in six different states and in seven different types of race cars. The personable young driver's latest showing came two weeks ago at the prestigious 5th Annual Keith Kunz Giveback Classic at Oklahoma’s Port City Raceway. 105 cars jammed the pit area of the popular track for the influential race. On his qualifying night, Chiaramonte finished sixth in the A main. At the finale 48 hours later, he was challenging for second in the B main when he was pinched into an infield tire and had to restart at the back. With limited laps remaining, he dazzled the fans by charging all the way back to ninth and only missing the final transfer to the A main by a half car length at the checkered flag.
After this week's races at Cocopah, Chiaramonte is expected to be at Perris Auto Speedway for the USAC/CRA season finale on November 11th. Beginning on November 14th, he will race the final seven USAC National Midget races of the year in one of Matt Streeter’s powerful cars. He will conclude his 2023 campaign in the 38th Annual Tulsa Shootout at the famous SageNet Center from December 26th through the 31st.
For fans who want to see this Friday and Saturday’s Western World Championships in person, gates at the Cocopah Speedway will open at 4:00 p.m. with racing at 6:00. Reserved seats are $35.00 and general admission is $25.00. Students 13-17 are $15.00. Kids 12 and under get in for free. The track is located at 3450 W County 15th Streets in Somerton, Arizona (85360). The track website is racecocopahspeedway.com and the office phone number is (602) 292-7607. For those who cannot make it to the Arizona speed plant, the race will be shown live on Speed Sport TV. Ordering or more information is available at https://speedsport.tv/videos/30446.
Chiaramonte would like to thank all his sponsors who have made his racing efforts possible. RTL Traffic Control, AM Ortega, Hyper Racing, Chop Design, Adams Motors, Hacienda Casa Blanca Fine Mexican Dining, Evil Plus Injection, King Racing Products, Tiner-Hirst Enterprises, and Keizer Wheels.
Braden Chiaramonte PR