KYLE LARSON, NO. 5 HENDRICKCARS.COM CAMARO ZL1 – Race Win Press Conference Transcript
THE MODERATOR: We're now joined by the race-winning driver of today's NOCO 400, Kyle Larson, driver of the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet. We will go right to questions for Kyle.
Q. You've had all three of your teammates win a clock, so was today kind of like a sigh of relief that you finally got one?
KYLE LARSON: I don't know if them winning added any pressure. If anything, them winning adds confidence when you come to a place like this that I have really struggled at.
So, yeah, it is pretty neat that the four of us now have all won here in the last, I guess, three years; right? I think, did Chase win in 2020 here?
So pretty cool and just shows that -- which, I mean, Hendrick has shown for a very long time that they've had great setups here and have a handle on things here.
But it wasn't easy. We didn't dominate the day at all. We really never even got into the top five there until the last run of the race. So just a great job by my team, great job on pit road all day long and great strategy calls and some good restarts there at the end.
Q. Do you know where it's going?
KYLE LARSON: I don't. I have no clue. I've been trying to imagine different rooms in my shop or in my house or whatever, and I don't have a clue.
Owen wants it in his room, so maybe we put it in there, but that's probably one of my most prized trophies. So I'm not sure if I want to put it in there and have him break it.
So we'll see. He will probably get annoyed with it too, you know, that thing going off every hour. So he is probably going to find out quick that he doesn't want it in his room.
Q. Kyle, you come off a ten-win season to three-win season last year. You've won two races early this year. Does it start to give a feel like another maybe potential double digit win season, winning two races early and knowing that the team is improving all the time?
KYLE LARSON: I mean, I don't know about double digits. That's pretty tough to do, and it's only happened a handful of times throughout the last couple of decades, I guess.
I've told a lot of people around me, you know, when I go to dirt races and stuff, because they don't follow it a whole lot, competitors and stuff, how is your stuff this year? I tell every one of them, man, I think we're honestly close to as good or just as good as we were in 2021.
I think in the races that we've finished and executed well, I think it's shown. We've been up front in every race. We've challenged for wins. We've shown that we've had winning speed at every single race. COTA maybe arguably is our only race this year where we haven't been a contender on speed at least for the win, but we were a top-five car that day I thought.
I've had a few DNFs, but outside of that we've been in the top two I think or top five, four. I guess with Phoenix we had a shot to win there and fell back to fourth.
Anyways, I do feel like we are close to what we were a couple of years ago, and we're winning at tracks I suck at, so that says a lot (laughing).
Q. Kyle, you mentioned the struggles that you have had here. Considering that, where does this win compare with other victories that you have had?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I think when you can accomplish something that you don't see possible, when you do accomplish it, it moves up the ladder pretty high.
So this is an extremely special win for me. I've worked very hard to get better here. I feel like every time there's a test available, I get put on that list to test here because I struggle. We want to get better.
I've got tons of laps around here, and not many top tens. Honestly probably more races where I have finished a lap down than on the lead lap. So it's been difficult.
And then, like I said, when you can win at a place like this, it is definitely up there. I was teared up the whole last lap. I heard Cliff was teared up too. So that feels really, really special because he is so strong and, like, emotionally strong. To hear that means a lot.
This win here today means a lot for everybody and, too, Hendrick Motorsports as well with everything that they've -- everything that this kind of racetrack and trip means to them.
Q. You said the trophy will be one of your most prized possessions. Does that go back to everything that you just said, the reason why? What makes this trophy other than, of course, hearing about it so much going to be so special to you?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I mean, I'm not into clocks or anything like that, so being that it's a clock doesn't add any significance to me. But I think every time you look at it and you look at, it will remind me of the ten years of struggling I've had here.
Then to accomplish the win that we now have and the work, I mean, this was probably the first weekend I've showed up here with, like, a positive attitude, honestly. I've left here just mad. I hated this place. I've wished it would flood (laughing). I've wished a lot of bad things on this place. It's not going anywhere.
I wish it was like that, maybe dirt. Yeah, I think just because it's such a tough track that that's why it means a lot.
Q. In general, how much does a driver like yourself even think about what trophies look like when you win races? It's all about winning and championship points and whatnot? Do you even think about most of the time what a trophy is going to look like?
KYLE LARSON: Oh, yeah, definitely. For sure, yeah. Typically they have the trophies somewhere throughout the weekend, so you get to see it before you race.
The majority of NASCAR trophies are really cool. You know that when you win you're going to get something cool, but even sprint car races, you know, rarely are there trophies that look cool, but when there is, you -- I think not that you put any more pressure on yourself to win, but when you do win, you're, like, all right, that's pretty cool and I get to take that home.
Yeah, thankfully NASCAR races have all pretty cool trophies.
Q. Did you feel like you had this place figured out today, or did you suck and just have track position and a good car?
KYLE LARSON: Thanks, Bob (laughing). Well, so I guess I'll just take you through my race. The first run of the race we started 19th and drove to 10th really easily. My car felt really good, and I was, like, all right, this is going to be a great day. This next run we're going to put tires on, and I'm going to drive right to the front. We're going to be battling up front the whole rest of the race.
Then the next run I was really bad. Next couple of runs I was really bad. Then I was, like, not really pouty. I was trying to stay positive, but I was, like, okay, it's just typical Martinsville. I'm tight in the center, loose off like always, and I suck, and it's probably me (laughing). The car is fine. It's just me.
Then they kept working on it and got us better and better. You know, never once did I really feel like we had the car to win, but we made the right strategy calls to stay out when there was that weird cycle, you know, restart on the front row with Briscoe.
Then on that run, I was finally able to settle in. I got kind of away from the 45 and could kind of get into a rhythm. I felt like I learned some things behind the wheel and helped my balance out.
So I used that and applied it to the next run, and thankfully we took two tires then. My car was really good on two tires there the last run.
So, yeah, then I was battling Joey for the lead and knew it was going to be tough. Knew he's very hard to pass at a place like this. Once you do get by him, he's not done. So I knew I was going to get a shot in the back from him.
Thankfully my car just had a lot more grip than his did at the time and got away and was hoping to lap cars. Or not lap cars, but the guys I was catching that looked like they were racing pretty hard were not going to wreck. Yeah, I was pretty positive, though, today, this weekend. Better than normal.
Q. Kind of piggybacking off the previous questions, you have said in years past that this has been your worst track. You know, you kind of count this race as a write-off. What was it about your car today that allowed you to overcome the aero problems here at the short tracks, get to Joey's bumper and just allow you to walk away at the end of the race?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I guess as far as the aero stuff, I didn't notice anything different with this package here compared to last year.
Yeah, it's just I think Phoenix I felt a little bit different. Richmond I felt a lot better with it. And here, if you would have told me that we had the same package, I would agree.
Yeah, it was just my car was good enough there at the end to drive to the 22 and kind of just work him over.
Q. Kyle, with your victory today, does it give you a better outlook on returning to Martinsville in October where the race could mean the difference between making the championship or not?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I mean, I think it definitely adds confidence. We finished second here in that race last year to Bell. Similar thing. I think we took two tires, and my car was okay.
But there's also a lot of room for me to get better here still. There was a run on that long run there, I was better than the 10, better than the 6. A lot better than the 6 once the 10 got by him. I just don't do a good job at passing. So just got to get better at my race craft still here.
The good short track racers, if their car is better than somebody, they can get to them and pass them pretty quickly, where I seem to just get stuck and waste time.
I think that's a lot to do with the line that I run, yeah. Still got to get better. For sure, I feel like the last three times here at least with the Next Gen car. Every time I've been here with the Next Gen car, I've been top ten. That's pleasing, but you always want to be better.
Q. A few minutes ago Josh Wise tweeted a thread of thoughts about you winning, and part of what he said is since 2017, I've watched him - you - push himself to learn at a track that he hasn't felt comfortable at, one of the few. The most notable part of that is that it's remained the track that he has put the most work into. Seeing K.L. win today is probably one of the coolest wins I've ever had a small piece in watching one of the greats push himself for years and finally get the reward that he has earned. I think a lot of times people look at what you have done across the spectrum in your career and just view it as talent and maybe don't see the work that goes on behind the scenes. Can you give us a sense of the work that you have had to put in the last few years that Josh is referencing to get to this point today where you can suck and still win?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah. A lot of it has to do with Josh for sure. I've worked around him now I guess since 2017, and he has done a really good job at pointing things out.
I think for so long when I came to Martinsville everybody was, like, oh, you have to back your entries up, get good exits and stuff like that, so you work that into your brain, and you try and drive that way.
Over time through data and seeing how the good guys get around here, I quickly realized that it's the opposite. You make your time on entry, and it's not about your good exits.
Since that, I've been able to kind of work harder at my driving style a little bit and trying to really -- I mean, competitors know. They look at my data and stuff, and they probably -- I have this perfect triangle break here at Martinsville. The good guys kind of can make time under the braking zones and then hold that little bit of pressure at the end to turn still and get pointed for exit.
That's I feel like the last hundred pounds of brake pressure has been something that I've worked really hard on and tried to be pretty conscious of throughout the race today and this weekend. I think that helped a lot.
It's because of guys like Josh and Cliff and Adam and Cal and Becker at our shop that find those things and point them out, and then we really kind of hone in on them and try to work to figure out a way to not copy because it's hard to copy anybody's driving style, but to take little bits and pieces of things that you notice and try and apply them to yourself.
So, yes, I think there's a lot of things that I have done throughout my career that talent has got me to accomplish, but then, yes, there's a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes.
I've worked a lot harder the last, yeah, I mean, I guess seven-ish years than I probably ever did before, but you have the data now to look at and to study and then apply to yourself.
Q. So I understand every win is special, but comparing a win that you won based off of your talent versus a win like today where it was work day after day, is this any more significant, or what does this mean on a personal level to you compared to other races that you have won because of the talent of Kyle Larson?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I think that's... I don't know. Maybe I haven't done a good job of wording it right, but yeah, I think that's the reason why this win is probably my top seven or so or shorter list than that of wins because I've worked really hard for it.
Even with the work, I still didn't think that I would ever win here because there were so many times that I would put in hours of work and running on my iRacing simulator, and I have data on there too so I can run and then go and look at my brake trace and try and see if what I was doing with my foot matched up to what guys like Chase and Denny do here. I mean, I would run hundreds of laps and then still come here and be 20th or worse.
So, yeah, putting in the work and continuing to put in the work and not giving up on it and then winning, it makes it feel really special.
But with all that, you still have to have a great team and a great car. So that's also kind of what makes this win special, is that my team was able to produce a setup that can work for my style.
Q. Kyle, you touched on how special of a win this is, but this is the first win for the No. 5 since that first win in 1984 with Hendrick. Does that add anything to the specialness of this win?
KYLE LARSON: At Martinsville?
KYLE LARSON: No, I mean, because I didn't know that. But I think any time you can win in the 5 car, it's got special meaning.
Winning at Richmond on Ricky's birthday was special. Then any Hendrick Motorsports win across any of the cars at Martinsville is always special for the reasons there. Yeah, it's just a place that means a lot to the organization and feels great to win and then get to hear from Rick and hear how excited he was.
Q. I know Chase wasn't really a factor today, but just as another driver, how good was it to really just have him back out here and how valuable obviously is he to the tour in general?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, it was nice having him back. Just having him a part of the debrief after practice and qualifying again was nice. He always brings something a little different to the comments between all four of us.
You know, I think he challenges himself, but he challenges us all drivers and crew chiefs and engineers to think more, I don't know, differently or more whatever is the right word, but asking questions, talking about his car. He does a very good job of explaining what he feels. Even between changes, they'll pit, make an adjustment in practice, and then he can read that adjustment pretty quickly and tell if it's better or worse.
I feel like a lot of times, especially with me - I don't know about the other guys - but I don't like pitting in practice and making adjustments because then I just feel like I'm making an uneducated guess on the change and how it worked.
But like I said, he is very good at feeling his car, and I feel like he is pretty confident and usually the majority of the time right about the changes. I think when he can explain his car and say, hey, this was better for us, the crew chiefs on the other teams can really look at that change and look at how it might work on our cars and apply it to it.
So he is definitely an asset for sure. He is one of the best drivers in the sport, so it's been nice to have him back.
Q. Kyle, I can't recall a one-on-one battle between you and Joey for the lead like that. Catching him, racing him, what was going through your mind through that battle?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, so he wasn't really a factor all day. I was never around him at all throughout the race, but he's a very good short track racer. His team as a whole always does a great job at executing and putting themselves in position and finishing way better on their off days than they should. So I knew he was going to fight really hard.
Honestly, compared to him than I thought I was going to be as far as grip and all that went, so I could tell the areas where I was better than him as I was catching him. Then he got really protective of his exit. I was just kind of scared to move him out of the way too hard because that kind of opens the door for him to do the same to you, and usually he is going to do it four or five times worse.
I wanted to be as respectful getting by him. I knew that I was going to have to use the bumper at some point to get by him, and I tried a couple of times when I was behind him, and he did a really good job of just checking up and not getting shoved out of the way.
Then I got a good run. I was able to dive in three and four and get a good run on him and kind of out-brake him and get to his inside. I felt like I could eventually work him over that way, and it worked out.
Then once I got by him, I was expecting a shove from behind, so I ran in the corner deeper than I had been and tried to roll through the center faster than normal just to try and keep the bump from behind a little softer. Was able to get the bump, receive the bump, but still exit the corner better than him.
Then my car was really good at that point and drove off and just tried to take care of it from there. It was fun. It was a lot of fun racing him. For the two laps we were side-by-side, I could see the crowd on their feet and waving their towels and stuff and cheering.
It was fun. It was fun from my seat.