Monday, Sep 25


For the first time in his NASCAR Cup Series career, Kyle Larson recorded the win in the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway – becoming the first driver to claim a berth into the Playoffs Round of 12.


·       The win is Larson’s third points-paying NASCAR Cup Series win of the 2023 season; and the Hendrick Motorsports driver’s 22nd career victory in NASCAR’s premier series.


·       Larson delivered Chevrolet its 44th all-time NASCAR Cup Series win at Darlington Raceway, and the manufacturer’s 14th points-paying NCS win this season – both of which are manufacturer-leading feats.


·       The winningest manufacturer in NASCAR Cup Series history, Chevrolet now sits at 847 all-time wins in NASCAR’s premier series.


·       Larson’s win in NASCAR’s crown jewel event marked the Hendrick Motorsports engine shop’s 500th all-time NASCAR national series win.


·       Heading into race two of three in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs Round of 16 at Kansas Speedway, Team Chevy’s William Byron tops the driver points standings with a one-point lead over his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson.


·       Five drivers from three different Chevrolet teams posted top-10 finishes at Darlington Raceway. 



DARLINGTON, S.C. (September, 3, 2023) – Team Chevy’s Kyle Larson became the first driver to punch his ticket into the NASCAR Cup Series (NCS) Playoffs Round of 12 after picking up the victory in the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Larson’s first trip to victory lane in NASCAR’s premier series at the South Carolina oval came in his 12th career start at the track – a venue that saw the Team Chevy driver collect three runner-up finishes prior to the breakthrough victory. The 2021 NCS Champion now sits at 22 career wins in NASCAR’s premier series – tying Terry Labonte for 37th on the series’ all-time wins list. The crown jewel victory also marked a milestone feat for the Chevrolet organization – delivering the Hendrick Motorsports engine shop its 500th all-time NASCAR national series win, as well as team owner Rick Hendrick his 299th NCS win. 

“Just proud of the team,” said Larson. “Proud of Rick Hendrick, Jeff Gordon, Jeff Andrews, Chad Knaus, everybody at Hendrick Engine shop. 500 wins.. that's incredible, so congratulations to each and every one of you at the shop for all your hard work. What a great way to start the playoffs and hopefully we can keep it going.”


Chevrolet’s series-leading 14th NCS win of the season was celebrated by a strong showing at the top of the leaderboard with five drivers from three different Chevrolet teams earning top-10 finishes. Of those drivers included Larson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron, who drove his No. 24 Liberty University Camaro ZL1 to a fourth-place finish. Entering the playoffs as the top-seeded driver for the first time in his young career, the 25-year-old driver was able to maintain the top position in the driver’s points standings with a one-point lead over Larson in second.  


“Once we got the car tightened up in Stage One, we had really good pace in our No. 24 Liberty University Chevy,” said Byron. “I think this is a good stepping stone for Kansas (Speedway). It was good to get a solid finish in the first race of the playoffs.”


Also joining Larson and Byron in the top-10 included fellow Team Chevy playoff contender Ross Chastain (No. 1 Unishippers Camaro ZL1) in fifth, Chase Elliott (No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Camaro ZL1) in eighth and Erik Jones (No. 43 Allegiant Camaro ZL1) rounding out the top-10.


The NCS Playoffs Round of 16 continues at Kansas Speedway with the Hollywood Casino 400 on Sunday, September 10, at 3 p.m. ET. Live coverage can be found on the USA Network, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90.





THE MODERATOR: We're joined by our winning crew chief, Cliff Daniels. Cliff, 5 car tonight, historic win for Hendrick Motorsports, the 500th win with the engine program. How important was it for you to bring home that honor for Hendrick Motorsports?


CLIFF DANIELS: Yeah, that's a big honor for our whole company, and for us to bring it home at such a special race is really cool. Big thanks to everybody back at the shop, certainly engine shop. That is a huge milestone, a huge accomplishment for them, so yeah, many congrats.


Q. What was it that you told Kyle after he got stuck in neutral and hit the wall, because he made a point to mention how good you are for his mind.

CLIFF DANIELS: I don't remember exactly what I would have told him then, other than at that point of the race, there was really going to be no -- I don't know, there was going to be no retreating from what that was going to do to our car and the balance of our car being a little bit off from there, so it was one of those things you just had to accept it and move forward and keep making adjustments around that. He did a good job to refocus his mind and not get discouraged, and obviously did a great job the last 30 or 40 laps.


Q. Can you talk a little bit about the role that you play just kind of as that calm presence.

CLIFF DANIELS: Yeah, he and I, our relationship has grown a lot over the last handful of years, as it should. The way our year has gone, it's been easy to get discouraged at times, and I've tried to be there to help -- kind of twofold, keep him accountable when we need to, and be his biggest supporter and biggest cheerleader because we all know he has the talent, and when he gets out front and he executes a good restart and does all the things that we know he can do, he's dynamite, so he was awesome.


Q. Cliff, you and Kyle had a really emotional win at Martinsville earlier this year, another racetrack where you have kind of been beating your head against the wall and you finally come up and win. How does tonight compare to that one?

CLIFF DANIELS: Tonight was huge for both of us. I've been with Jimmie and Chad here before where we've had great cars and been close to getting it done. I wasn't on the 2012 winning Jimmie and Chad team. I came on shortly after that.


We've had a lot of heartbreak here in my times past. Had some heartbreak here when I was Jimmie's crew chief; Kyle when he was in the 42 had a lot of heartbreak here. Plus really the way the last two or three years have gone for Kyle and I together on the 5 team, this track, this race has been circled on our calendar for a long time.


It's a very special race for the sport. Obviously it's a crown jewel. It's a milestone race if you can get it done.


It made it very, very special for us tonight. I don't really know how to rank it, but knowing the emotion that's kind of led us to this moment, definitely special.


Q. This isn't a "gotcha" question, so don't take it that way, but Kyle said during media day that when they first paired you two together, he didn't think he wanted a crew chief like you, and now he said he wouldn't want anybody else. What did you have to do to get him to buy into what you were selling?

CLIFF DANIELS: Yeah, he and I have had conversations about that, and I would say -- I don't know, I think at the time he probably didn't think I had a ton of experience, and by the time he and I were paired together, I think I had been a crew chief for a year or two and he had been in the sport for seven or eight years.


I think he probably thought it was probably an unlikely pairing, which is totally fair to say, and we had to build our relationship and build our trust, and trust is obviously the foundation for any relationship.

There's nobody else that I would trust more than him behind the wheel of our car, and he's learned to trust me and the way that our team operates, the way we communicate and work together.


That's definitely a special relationship that we have and really that our whole team has.


Q. Are you surprised at the problems that other of the top drivers had tonight, and how does that help you guys in your planning for races now that you're kind of into the next round?

CLIFF DANIELS: I don't know that any one really watching tonight would be surprised by the issues, and we certainly could have fallen victim to that at any point. You're really playing on the ragged edge on pit stops of a tire being on right and not, and we know how critical the time on pit road is, especially when it's so hard to pass on the racetrack.


So proud of our pit crew tonight for the way they executed. We didn't start the race super strong on pit road and knew the guys had it in them, and they were really strong at the end.


Then as far as what you're asking for planning moving forward, the way we see it as a team is we're still behind on playoff points. We got five tonight, but when they reset to the next round, we're still going to be a little bit behind in the reset, so we've got some catching up to do. We're certainly grateful to have this win and going to take this momentum and build on it, but we've still got a bit of a deficit that we created with our season that we've got to overcome, and that's the way we see it. There's more points and wins out there to go get, and that's on us to go do it.


Q. You've now had the good fortune of winning the Coke 600, Cup championship race, now a Southern 500. We often talk about drivers winning these marquee races. Do you categorize your own success on top of the pit box in that way and winning these marquee events?

CLIFF DANIELS: I don't have a good answer because I don't know that I have time to think about it that way, and I think it's a totally fair question.


I think the way that I operate with our team and the way he and I operate together, we always want to win the next one. Knowing how long it took us both to get this win, it makes this win very special, and obviously all the other points that you just made there, so I don't want to understate it at all.


But while we're in the position that we're in, we can go compete and compete at a high level. We've just got to go keep knocking them down.


I certainly hope to be able to look back and rank them and enjoy them one day.


Again, I would just say how tough it is to get a race like this one or the Coke 600 or whatever. That certainly does make them special, to your point.


Q. You mentioned the points deficit that you guys had created. How did you guys either lose momentum, gain it back? Is it the inherent randomness of this car? Can you take this win, and does it mean anything moving forward?

CLIFF DANIELS: It's hilarious, if you plot the finishing -- just the five-car finish from all the races this year, it's a perfect heartbeat.


We had zero momentum all throughout the year. At any point we would win, finish 30th, run second, finish 30th, wreck from the lead, finish 30th. It was just like that all year long.


I guess what I'm getting at is from a team-building perspective, we had to really focus in on ourselves and learning the lessons in the moment that we needed to learn from some adversity that we created or just overcoming some of the challenges that were thrown our way, and really set ourselves up to just have that resilience within the team and kind of have that steady mind within the team so that if we ever had the good fortune to have a top-5 day going in and we could close it out that we're ready to do that.


We've been knocked around a bit this season, but we're battle tested, and we're going to keep marching forward.


THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by the winning driver of the 74th Cook Out Southern 500, Kyle Larson.


Q. Cliff, there's two ways to look at your regular season. You say you had all the DNFs and the inconsistencies, et cetera, or you led the series in top 5 finishes. I'm curious what do you pull from that? Do you try to look at the glass half full, glass half empty? What does that mean for the playoffs and how you plan going forward?

CLIFF DANIELS: I think we had to look at it very realistically, and here's what I mean by that. Even when we had the DNFs or the 30th place finishes, typically that came from running in the top 5. So it gets very discouraging by the time you're on your second or your third wave or cycle of the up and the down, and so we've had to very much call it like it is.


I certainly made a few mistakes calling races this year; he's made mistakes behind the wheel; our pit crew has made mistakes on pit road, on and on and on. We've had to find the right ownership in that of how to hold each other accountable and still build and learn from that and kind of group ourselves together tighter through that.


Again, now, going into the playoffs, there's still so many different things that can happen, especially with the Next-Gen car, so many different variables, the way these races play out than what it was a few years ago.


Our mission is to take all the lessons that we learned from the good and the bad, and every week we've just got to put our best foot forward.


Q. Kyle, you've led over 700 laps at this track without a win going into it. Does this feel sweeter than other wins, given how close you guys were, especially starting from 18th, the lowest at Darlington since 2011?

KYLE LARSON: I don't know. I mean, it feels really good, honestly, just to get a win and finally win at this track. Like you said, we've led lots of laps here, so to lead lots of laps here, you have to be good at a number of different races through the different years.


Yeah, this is just a track that I really enjoy, suits my style, and just haven't won yet here.


It was good to do it today. I knew we were going to have a good car. We just didn't qualify as good as we had hoped.


Honestly drove through the field way better than I thought that I would, and today did a really good job on the pit sequences to cycle us in front of people, and from then on you try and manage a race. Denny was really good, too. He was going to be hard to beat without his mishap, but once whatever happened to them happened, it kind of opened the door for a few more guys to possibly win, and we kept ourselves in the game enough to get it done.


I got in the wall at some point in the third stage and then kind of had to nurse it to the next pit stop and then things just worked out. The team executed when we needed to.


Q. This is now win No. 299 for Hendrick; 300 is up next. How important would it be for you guys to be the ones to get that milestone?

KYLE LARSON: Honestly, sure, I think all four of us would want to be the one to do it, but really, I think 300 is just a super big number. For me, I'm going to be just as happy to see William, Chase or Alex win No. 300 for Rick as I would be for myself to win.


I think when you -- which Rick has already stamped himself in this support as the greatest car owner of all time, to reach another milestone like 300, that takes a whole time throughout decades and decades.

No. 300 as a whole means more than me winning it or any individual person.


I hope one of us four can do it next week, and I guess that means Rick will be at the track every week now until we win. We'll look forward to having him there.


CLIFF DANIELS: Well said by him. I would just add that when you think about the Hendrick 300 wins, you think about the 90 however many from Jeff and the 80 something from Jimmie and all the people that with Rick built our company and the history that it is. I agree with him. Yes, we would love to have it just for the little bit of bragging rights in the moment, but next there will be 350 and 400 and all those things for Mr. H.


It's just amazing to be a part of a company like this and the leadership that Mr. Hendrick has to all of us and to the company is really special, so to get that for him would be pretty awesome.


Q. For both of you, another company question. It could have been a little disappointing around the shop when Chase and Alex don't get into the playoffs, but yet you guys come out here, you win, William finishes fourth, it's a strong start for wherever you guys are going to wind up in this Chase. That's got to say something about the resiliency and the direction of this program.

CLIFF DANIELS: Yeah, no doubt, and all four teams are working really well together right now. The one thing I would add, because we were in this position last year, the 9 team is still very well in the playoffs for the owner's championship, which is a huge deal to Mr. H. I know Chase and Alan are going to fight tooth and nail to make that happen, and I know they had a good day today.


There's a bit of excitement around that, having three cars in, and Alex was well on his way to a top 10 or maybe even a top-5 finish tonight. Alex had a great race going, and he and Blake have been working really hard this year.


The way we're all working together and the way Mr. H just keeps it on the rails and keeps us going, it's a lot of fun.


Q. Kind of going off what you said about working well together with everybody, you mentioned coming back from deep in the field to win this race, and William Byron also had a deep starting position and was able to come through the field and for great position, as well. How much information is actually shared between you guys as a team with this being the playoffs and you guys also wanting to win it for yourselves but you still have teammates doing it, as well?

CLIFF DANIELS: Yeah, we have so many meetings every week where the crew chiefs are together and we talk through setups and strategy. The drivers are together, they talk through car sensations and what expectations are for the next race of how to execute the race or whatever it may be.


It's really the culture that Mr. H wanted to create. He wanted to create a culture where we were very open and honest with each other, and we have some pretty private conversations as far as that goes, but it's the four teams together, the four drivers, four crew chiefs, everybody working together, and I truly believe without that strength of all of us being together and working together, we wouldn't be as competitive as what we are. It takes all of us to keep it going.


Yeah, it's cool to be a part of.


Q. Question for both of you on that. The situation with the last pit stop, and I want to ask Kyle, your perspective. What did you see with Reddick and then with Harvick going down pit road? And Cliff, how much was that a game changer, in essence eliminating Harvick, and then it's just between you and the 45 and who can win off pit road?

KYLE LARSON: For me -- was Harvick leading right then?


Q. Reddick was first and Harvick was second and Harvick was called to pit road and then Reddick was told to come down, and he said he missed it because of the late call because they were trying to react to Harvick.

KYLE LARSON: From my vantage point, I was fourth. Yeah, Harvick was really good that run and was close to Reddick, and then I saw -- we got the call. They called me in to pit, and I seen Harvick and William both pull down, so I was going to follow them. It looked like Reddick was just going to have to pit the next lap, got caught late.


Then as I was pulling down, I saw, I think, Newman spinning, so I was like, I think I need to stay out, so I stayed out. Thankfully it worked out. I guess William was able to get back out before committing to pit road, but I'm guessing Harvick being so close, he probably didn't have any time to react to it, and yeah, took him out. He would know more about what happened.


For me, yes, it was pivotal because I went from now fourth to second in line, and you have a good pit stop, come out in the lead, there's 40 something laps left, hopefully you can lead the rest of the race, and that's what happened, so it worked out for us.


CLIFF DANIELS: Yeah, pivotal, like he said. If we're being honest with ourselves, I think there was four or five cars that had they gotten the lead, it was going to be hard to pass. I think if we had gotten in front of Denny, it would have been really hard for him to pass us. Harvick gets the lead, I don't think anybody passes him. I think the top four or five were very, very equal together just in the way the track position was kind of staging itself.


So to your point, to have one less of those cars was nice. Obviously hate the misfortune for those guys. Always enjoy racing with the Rodney and Kevin, but that was a big deal because it set us up to be second coming down pit road, have a good pit stop, come out with the lead, and then there's still a couple of good cars behind us, just not quite as many.


Q. For either of you, is there anything that -- should the rule be tweaked, or is there anything that should -- it seemed like Harvick has the option to just drive down pit road without pitting, but I'm curious if there's anything else that should be done in that situation or you've got to have a line and there's got to be a rule and sometimes you're just going to get bit?

CLIFF DANIELS: I mean, I think we've seen it play out so many times in just these really intense moments over time in Cup racing. I feel like I remember a couple of years ago, a handful of years ago Kyle Busch had something like that happen. I feel like it's happened to Carl Edwards before.


It's really, really tough, and we talked about it before the race. Talked about it a lot with my engineers, and it's one of those things that if you're committed, you're committed, and we know what the rule is, and unfortunately if you elect to pit, then it is a penalty. I don't have a great opinion other than we just know what it is.


Q. Kyle, what stands out more to you in this moment, the fact that you've knocked another kind of crown jewel off the Southern 500 or the fact that you know that you advance in the playoffs and you've got another chance to win a championship again?

KYLE LARSON: Well, had I not won anyways, I feel like we would have a chance to win the championship. But really, honestly, I'm happy to win a crown jewel, a place that we've been close to winning at, a place that we both have wanted to win at for a very long time.


Then just to start the playoffs off good, I would have been happy just to get a good solid race in, so to win, it feels obviously better, and I hope that we can just put multiple weeks together like we did today. Not necessarily win; I know we'll be capable of winning every race in the playoffs. But really I just want to put together solid races from start to finish, get stage points, get some stage wins would be great, and then get some good finishes at the end of it.


Yeah, we were able to do that today, and it's been a long time since we put a full, full race together.

Yeah, just want to build on that.


Q. On the crown jewel front, is this one that you're kind of aware of that has kind of eluded you that you circle and say, hey, I don't have Darlington or the 500 yet and I want that one?

KYLE LARSON: Definitely. This race -- all these crown jewels only come around once a year. There's been lots of times where I've left here bummed out and sad that I had a good shot to win and it just didn't work out, so I felt like I was going to have that feeling again today, but things were able to work out, and yeah, get a really big win. This is in the top three or four for the races -- crown jewel, prestigious races of our season.


I think the only two I don't have would be the 500 and maybe the Brickyard 400 if it comes back to the oval.


Yeah, you always want to win the big ones, but really just winning a race, it feels good.


Q. Cliff says you guys feel like y'all are behind a little bit on points, but we were talking on Thursday, and you wanted to focus on each race. Does this give you a little bit of a relief, though, to have the couple weeks to focus completely on points and not have to worry about advancing, so to speak?

KYLE LARSON: No. I mean, I don't really feel any differently as far as that goes, after winning.

In 2021 we were winning -- we won a race in each round, maybe not the first race of every round, but still, when you put together good races you know the points are going to take care of themselves and you're going to advance.


It doesn't take any pressure off, it doesn't take any focus away. To me anyway. It doesn't give me a different goal. I still just want to go and run a good race from start to finish for nine more weeks.

My mindset doesn't change at all. Sure, it's great to be locked in if you do have a mishap, but I don't plan on having a mishap.


Q. Also tonight, you got into the wall, a lot of people got into the wall. How hard was it to control the car? This track is known for that, but you bounced off of it pretty hard a couple of times.

KYLE LARSON: Yeah, the good thing with this car is that you can graze it some. Obviously when you slap the wall, that's when things bend. I probably grazed the wall at least 20 times tonight or more, all in 3 and 4. I got it a little bit into 1 once.


But really there was only two times where I thought that, ooh, maybe it did some damage there. The first time was there late in the -- middle of the third stage. I just didn't get a clean enough downshift, and it kind of hung into neutral between fourth and fifth and stayed there for quite a while, and then it finally dropped into fifth as I was closest there to the corner and went to fourth and then I was just lower off of the wall, and when you're lower -- I watch broadcasts all the time, and people are like, just give it some room, you don't have to run right next to -- well, you have a lot less grip when you don't run right next to the wall. So I was a little bit off the wall because I had made the mistake on entry, and by the time I got to fourth I was already sliding and then I slapped the wall, and that's when I lost a bunch of time.

I'm sure it's bent a little bit, but thankfully not broke, and we were able to finish and still get a win.


THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, congratulations on winning the 74th Cook Out Southern 500, and we'll see you next week in Kansas.





No right click

Please link the article.