Kyle Larson’s title of the winningest NASCAR Cup Series (NCS) driver of the 2021 season continues on by driving his No. 5 HendrickCars.com Camaro ZL1 1LE to victory lane in the NASCAR Cup Series (NCS) return to Watkins Glen International in the Go Bowling at The Glen. Rolling off in the fourth starting position, Larson drove his Hendrick Motorsports’ Chevrolet to top-five finishes in both stages, leading 27 of the 90-lap, 220.5-mile race to capture the driver’s 11th NCS career-victory and fifth of the 2021 season.
The 29-year-old California native’s victory marks Chevrolet’s 12th win on the 2021 NCS season and its 807th all-time victory in NASCAR’s premier division. With just three races left in the regular season, Chevrolet continues to lead in the Manufacturer Points Standings in its quest for its 40th NASCAR Cup Series title. Larson’s victory brought the Chevrolet driver to the top of the Driver Standings, tying Denny Hamlin for the lead, in the battle for the Regular Season Championship.
The victory at the New York road course circuit is Hendrick Motorsports’ 24th road course win, extending its record as the NASCAR Cup Series all-time road course win leader. In 23 points-paying races in the NCS 2021 season, Hendrick Motorsports has made its way to victory lane 11 times, the most ever at this point of the year.
Larson lead a Hendrick Motorsports 1-2 finish after teammate, Chase Elliott, charged through the field after starting from the rear to give the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Camaro a runner-up finish and its 14th top-10 finish this season. William Byron took the checkered flag in sixth in his No. 24 Axalta Camaro ZL1 1LE. Tyler Reddick rounded out the Team Chevy top-10 in tenth in his No. 8 Chevrolet Accessories Camaro ZL1 1LE, giving the Camaro ZL1 1LE four of the top-10 finishers of the race.
Martin Truex Jr. (Toyota) finished third, Kyle Busch (Toyota) was fourth and Denny Hamlin (Toyota) rounded out the top-five.
KYLE LARSON, NO. 5 HENDRICKCARS.COM CAMARO ZL1 1LE – POST RACE WIN QUOTES:
Q: Kyle, what a great victory, but there in those closing laps, I have to ask, as you caught all those lap cars were you worried about losing the time there?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I was. Chase was already catching me pretty quick, even with me being in open track, so when I caught those, I think, four cars and got into the 38 right here, I thought I would look at my mirror and the 9 would be right on me, but thankfully had a comfortable enough gap to where I could make a mistake like that.
I want to say a big apology to Christopher Bell. I was inside but I wasn’t inside enough, and I didn’t — I needed to have the nose a few feet further ahead, and the angles just caught there in the middle and I ended up turning him. I hate that. I race with him a lot. He’s probably the one guy that I race with the most in all my racing, so hate to turn him like that. We’ve had incredible races together.
Anyways, hats off to Hendrickcars.com. Thanks for everything you guys do for me, everybody at Hendrick Motorsports, Rick Hendrick, Jeff Gordon, Cliff Daniels, this whole 5 bunch. Another amazing car. I could tell from about lap 3 after I stopped making a bunch of mistakes that we were going to have a car that could win today.
Q: This is your fifth win on the season, one of the most successful seasons of all time. What does it mean to come to Hendrick Motorsports and have this successful of a season?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, it’s awesome. I mean, it really just shows how good the organization is, all the people that they’ve assembled at their race shop, all the men and women. All four of us could not be getting these wins like we have been without them. Thanks to them, and thanks to everybody else I get to race for. Get to go to Iowa this week and chase another big win, so looking forward to that, and hopefully can just keep racking these wins up.
Q: What do you want to say to another massive crowd here at Watkins Glen?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, thanks all you guys for coming out. It’s been a while since we’ve been here, so hopefully we put on a good show for you. It was definitely a good show from my seat when the three of us were going at it for the lead in the first stage, then there in the second and third stage. Just a lot of fun today and hope you guys enjoyed it.
KYLE LARSON, NO. 5 HENDRICKCARS.COM CAMARO ZL1 1LE – PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by Kyle Larson, our race winner and driver of the No. 5 Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. You had a pretty strong day. Can you tell us a little bit about your run?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, it was a good day. In the beginning there I knew I had a fast car and was able to close in on Joey and Brad pretty quickly, and just couldn’t really do anything with them at that point because they were a little bit better than me in the areas where I needed to build a run. But I knew my car was good and had a lot of grip. Gave me confidence there, and once the strategies kind of worked out and I ended up mid-pack, I knew I needed to beat the 22 and the 11 to the front, and then I would have better tires than those guys in front of me, and the strategy would work out.
Thankfully that’s what happened. Our pit crew did a great job on the green flag stop and got us out in front of the 19, and we were able to kind of maintain that gap for a little while and then eventually start to pull away, and thankfully the 9 was not close enough there at the end because he was really, really fast.
Q: When you want info on a faster car, I heard it on the radio with you and Cliff, how often do you want it?
KYLE LARSON: Well, I mean, under caution — obviously I knew the 9 car and his history on road courses, like he’s the guy to judge off of and how you’re going to be. You couldn’t really get a good judge because he had to start in the back. I felt like he made it up a good ways. I seen the big screen early, and he passed like 18 cars in the first run.
Then I was like, man, he was really fast. Then he was — I think the way the cycle worked out at the end of the stage he was not bad, so I was a little bit — I was definitely worried about him all day.
Then I didn’t see him, but he had his lock-up issue, and that kind of was able to give us the gap that all of us needed to hold off — well, I guess I was the only guy that could hold off Chase there at the end.
He was so fast. Yeah, I was wondering kind of how he was, and my team was doing a good job of keeping me aware of the gap and how it was shrinking, so I knew he was really fast, and just trying to judge the gap in my head and manage it and not make as many mistakes, and hopefully he wouldn’t be to my back bumper, but then we caught that thick traffic and I got held up a lot right there, but thankfully I had a big enough gap.
Q: You’re tied for the regular season points lead. What’s the mindset with three races to go? Hamlin said it’ll likely come down to the last lap at Daytona.
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, and he’s so good at Daytona, too, so it would be nice to get a couple good weeks and get that point lead because I know he’s going to go there, and anything can happen at Daytona but I know he’s going to go there and he’s going to get stage points and he’s going to challenge for the win.
I know he’s looking at me as the same. If he could go into Daytona being even or ahead, he’s going to feel like he’s got the advantage.
I’d like to have a good couple weeks before we get there and give us a little bit of wiggle room.
Q: Where did you feel like you were better than everybody else on the track like spot-wise, and when did you get the lead from the 19 there during the sequence of green flag pit stops?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I felt like — well, I felt really good up to the esses, but I would give up a lot into the esses but then I would motor up and gain that back if not a little bit more by the time we got to the Bus Stop, and through the Bus Stop I felt like I was pretty good, and then I felt like I could manage well through the Carousel, gain a little bit in 6 and then lose some through 7 and probably maintain or lose a little bit through 1.
I was happy with my car and felt like — I felt like I could pass okay. There was just some of the good — the few good cars that were just a little bit better than me through 7 where I couldn’t really get runs into 1 or they were a little bit better than me off of the Carousel and I couldn’t get to where I needed to be off their back bumper through 6.
We’ll work on that a little bit, but all in all I was really happy with my race car.
Q: On the Christopher Bell contact, his comment, he said he didn’t feel like you maybe had as much of a run off of 7 so he was kind of confused why you were there making that run at that point. Can you talk me through coming off 7 how you made that move because I know he was saying on pit road, he says, hey, he shouldn’t have been there. I’m sure two people see it two different ways.
KYLE LARSON: Well, I definitely made a mistake getting into him. But yeah, he would pull me off of 7 every time, and that time I maintained, and I was outbraking him in the other laps, so I thought I could outbrake him and get all the way to his inside, but I was only able to get my nose to his numbers. Maybe not even that far, but it was close. At that point I’m already committed and on the verge of wheel hopping and locking the fronts up and I was just hoping he would leave enough room.
Like I said, I just needed to be a few feet further up, and I think I would have had position on him, but I wasn’t able to get there, and yeah, he had to turn for the corner, and I was as low as I could get. Yeah, we made contact.
It was definitely my fault. Not intentional, obviously. But I made a mistake.
Q: Also, I can remember earlier in your career you would run well on road courses in qualifying and lamented about trying to put together full races, and here you’ve won multiple road courses, you’ve held off Chase Elliott, who’s been as strong as anybody here recently. How have you kind of evolved, and what’s helped you evolve to be the road course racer that you’ve become?
KYLE LARSON: Well, I think the biggest thing is just the race car, their setups. I could tell instantly that had had a different feel than I’m used to here. It had good grip. So I think that’s the most — that’s the biggest thing of why now I’m racing well. I’ve always been able to run fast laps, and I think it’s showed in the times that we’ve qualified on road courses. I’ve still been second, I think, in both of them.
And then yeah, I definitely did some studying this week and looked at how Chase kind of gets through the Bus Stop. I feel like he’s got his own kind of unique style through there, so I looked at that a lot, and I felt like I was pretty good through the Bus Stop. I haven’t looked at data yet, but I’d be curious to see how I was relative to the 9 car, but I felt like to everybody else I was faster and quite a bit faster through the Bus Stop.
But yeah, I don’t know. Like I said earlier, I feel like I’m good — I’ve been good at road courses, but I just didn’t know. I was always like a seventh- to a tenth-place guy when it came to the race, but now I think that I’m in a great race car I’m able to run that aggressive pace the whole time, and my car stays with me.
Q: Denny said he’s going to race you pretty hard over the final three races. Is it normal for you, or how do you race with Denny?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I mean, I don’t know, whatever. I want everybody to race me hard.
He ran me really hard at Road America and put me in a couple bad spots to where I almost ended up in the grass or if I didn’t lift I was going to send him spinning. So then I knew points was on his mind and trying to hold me back is definitely on his mind.
Yeah, it’s fun racing him, and I look forward to the next few weeks and really even into the playoffs. There’s still a lot of racing left, and yeah, it’s going to be fun.
I’m glad there’s a fun little regular season point battle, and I feel like in years past it’s kind of been a blowout come the last race of the points. But yeah, to be tied with three races left is pretty cool.
Q: Denny said he’s really enjoying the battle because he feels like it’s keeping him fresh and he feels like every race for the last few months has been like a playoff race in terms of the intensity and trying to gain the points. Do you feel that same way?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, no doubt. I think probably for him and I both. Say he still had an 80-point lead or something. You could get lazy and not care as much and make mistakes, whether it be make a dumb move on restart or speed on pit road, which we’ve both done a few weeks ago. But now it’s like every point matters to get those five extra bonus points.
Yeah, I think keeping your mind strong and sharp through the regular season is important to where you don’t have to just flip a switch now when it comes playoff time and who knows if you’re mentally there. But I think for him and I both, we’ve been mentally there for a while now.
Yeah, so I think come the playoffs time, we’ll just keep on doing what we’ve been doing, and hopefully we’ll find ourselves in the Final Four.
Q: I think he said he was originally going to be your ride home but he said he was leaving you.
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I figured. I won at Sonoma, too, and he left me. But it’s fine. I’ll get to fly home with the team now, and that’ll be cool, and I’ll get to — I don’t really think I’ve ever — Nashville would be the only other time I think I won when I got to fly home with the team.
It’ll be cool to get to fly home with them and celebrate a little bit.
Q: Is there anything that you can take from this race in the road course to next week’s race at the road course, as well? Is there anything that translates over?
KYLE LARSON: I don’t know, I haven’t made a single lap there on a simulator or anything, and I’m not going to get to chance to do that this week. I don’t know, I’m going to watch as much Xfinity video as I can and what other video I can just to figure out brake markers and things like that. I don’t even — I honestly don’t even have the corners memorized yet.
I don’t think — as of right now there’s nothing that I can take to there, but once I get laps and in practice maybe there’s some corners that will be similar, but we’ll just have to wait and see.
Q: Probably sounds a little silly talking about snapping a five-race winless streak, but during the five races you didn’t lead very many laps, which you had been doing quite a bit, particularly when you won three in a row. Was it good to just simply get back into that rhythm that you guys seemed to have gotten yourself into when you did win three in a row?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, definitely. We haven’t won a stage in a while, and we hadn’t won or led many laps. Aside from Pocono when we blew that tire, we haven’t really contended much.
Cool to be here and contend I felt like all race long. I felt like if I did some things right in the first stage I could have got another playoff point, but I think we’ve got to get another week in to see if this is some new momentum or anything like that.
Yeah, it was definitely fun today, and anytime you can win, which I’ve been doing a lot of, even in the dirt stuff, it goes a long way.
Q: When it comes to the playoffs, have you even started thinking about the playoffs or do you worry about the playoffs after Daytona? What’s the mindset of the 5 team right now?
KYLE LARSON: I mean, I’ve been worried about the playoffs all season long. Every stage I’m thinking about it, every race win I’m thinking about it. I want to just keep racking up those points because I think it was Harvick last year, he had a bunch of points, playoff points, bonus points, and he still missed the Final Four.
You still have to execute, but if you can gain points, it’ll make your life a little bit easier. Great to get another five points today, and hopefully we can keep winning and keep stacking them up.
Q: Not losing sleep over it yet, are you?
KYLE LARSON: I race way too much to really worry about the playoffs yet, but no, I don’t lose sleep over anything really, other than just my kids waking up too early or something like that.
Q: They put a nice picture out on Twitter after you won.
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, Owen is racing at Mountain Creek tonight. Bummer that I’m not there, but hopefully he can get a win.
CLIFF DANIELS, CREW CHIEF, NO. 5 HENDRICKCARS.COM CAMARO ZL1 1LE – PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT
Q: Cliff, that pit stop really won the race when you guys jumped Truex. How good were they the entire day?
CLIFF DANIELS: Yeah, they were great. Honestly our first pit stop we just felt a little bit off to our standards, and the guys were hard on themselves, but credit to them, all the coaches back at Hendrick Motorsports; they knew how to be clutch when it was needed. That was the money stop of the race, and they did it.
Q: Kyle was talking about all the information that you were feeding to him. Is that conversation that you had with him pre-race in terms of how much information he wants, how much information you want to give him, or were you just kind of feeding whatever you wanted to?
CLIFF DANIELS: Yeah, we’ve kind of adjusted that over the course of the season. He is so intellectual about what he does. So we all know Kyle Larson, right, as the amazing talent and he hits the “go” button and goes really fast. But he’s also really aware of the race around him. Over the course of the season we’ve just kind of developed our communication, and I know that he is in a more comfortable spot behind the wheel the more information that he has.
The timing worked out where I could talk to him right down the front straightaway, kind of fill him in on what was going on around him, and then coach him not to over-drive it and certainly pace himself.
I think that’s just kind of developed throughout the year, honestly.
Q: The regular season points battle is tied right now with three races left. Kyle and Denny both said that they’re kind of enjoying it because it feels like a playoff race almost every weekend. How important is that to you as a crew chief and do you feel that way on the pit box, as well?
CLIFF DANIELS: Yeah, I would say so, and honestly I think if I was in your position I would ask the same question, but in my position you’ll understand that we’ve kind of had a thing that we’ve done all year on how we call races and how we prepare for a race, so I don’t plan to change that.
There’s a level of competitiveness that we strive for every week, and there’s things that our team tries to accomplish every week. That hasn’t changed. So the way we call the race really hasn’t changed. Our strategy from the start of the day is the strategy that we held to.
I will say that Denny and Chris Gabehart definitely are pros, and it’s going to be fun to race those guys. They’re tough, they’re going to be tough every week. Yeah, it’s going to be fun to race them, but I certainly don’t want to get distracted by that at the expense of calling a good race, if that makes sense.
Q: I don’t think a lot of us expected Kyle to be so good at road courses this year. He’s been decent at them in the past but really has excelled this year, now getting two wins here. What have you seen from him on these road courses that has allowed this kind of success?
CLIFF DANIELS: Yeah, he’s naturally good anywhere. One of the things that he challenges himself with during the summer months, and we’ve seen him do it years in a row, especially last year and then again this year, when he gets in a different type of dirt car at a different track, they don’t give much track time, right, so the driver has to adapt really quick, got to give the right feedback to make the right changes to a car.
That format that we have now in the Cup Series where we don’t have practice and qualifying, you don’t have three practice sessions before the race to dial yourself in or out; it’s just load and go. That suits him really well.
The timing of that, A; and B, I’ll give credit where credit is due. We’re kind of spoiled that we have the best road course team in-house, and that’s the 9 team. I think all things being equal today, it was going to be a really tough race to beat those guys if they didn’t have their issue middle of the race, and that’s no bigger compliment that I could give to the 9 team. Chase and Alan are pros.
To have their notes, to have the conversations and just the teamwork that we have with those guys, as cliche as it sounds, is so valuable.
I think a lot of things factor into what you’re seeing this year, and I know I’m getting a little long-winded here, but having good cars at the shop, good teammates, plus this format and Kyle’s all-in-the-gas nature kind of works out.
Q: I asked Kyle this question, and he said it was difficult to judge off one race whether he would have any kind of momentum. When you look at the last five races where you guys had not led very many laps, do you look at today as sort of a turnaround or at least looking back more like the team that we saw when you were winning three in a row?
CLIFF DANIELS: I think that’s a really fair question to ask, and our view out the windshield really hasn’t changed a lot. We’re trying to see everything out the windshield and make sure even looking in the rear view mirror that we evaluate ourselves every week, and if we — I mean, look, let’s be honest, at Loudon we were probably a ninth-place car. We were a seventh-place car; by the time the 18 and 19 wrecked, when you take them out of the field, we were a seventh-place car. I’m well aware of that. We weren’t at the level that we needed to be.
Looking at everything out front and what’s coming ahead, we’re going to prepare the same way using the same methodology that we’ve had all year. We’re going to have the same communication that we’ve had all year and just keep building.
To judge momentum at this point off of one race is hard to do, but certainly we’ll take it.
Q: As the playoffs approach, how do you feel about the 5 team now compared to maybe a month to month and a half ago?
KYLE LARSON: Honestly very much the same. When I look at Darlington, knowing that the pit road speed penalty put us back a little bit at Darlington and then we had to take a couple rounds of pit stops to get back up there and contend for the win. I know Darlington is going to be a good track for us.
Richmond we had a horrible race in the spring but our teammates, the 48, ran really well, so kind of confident that thankfully the 48 had a good race and a good datapoint that we can go look at.
Bristol, that has always been a special place for me and a special place for Larson. I think the dirt race kind of stung, the way it went for us this year, so Bristol is going to be a good race for us.
Going to the next round and go through those tracks and the next round and so on and so forth, I think there’s going to be a lot of opportunity for us, and we’re certainly eager to get there, but we’ve got to be really smart with the decisions that we make and how we execute.
The way we built our team to go into the summer months was to treat every race like it was kind of a do-or-die race, so we’ve had some training in that. Now the 11 is pushing us to stay on that path, right, and there’s no reason to let off the gas, so hopefully we’re keeping the arrow straight and true and headed for the target.
Q: Earlier in here Kyle talked about in terms of the points race and saying, hey, I want to try to get, build up a little bit of advantage the next couple weeks because Denny does so well at Daytona and he’s a little bit better. For what your driver has done this year, do you even want your driver to even think that somebody is better than him, even though maybe the numbers show it at that type of particular track? How do you, as you build up your driver, what you have to do, that he’s even thinking along those lines, you don’t care or do you want to get in his ear and say, let’s not be thinking that way?
CLIFF DANIELS: Yeah, I think it’s a fair question. We think a lot alike, and we both knowing if somebody beats us that we have that to shoot for and that we get to go study that much harder. If I think I’m good, I’m not very comfortable, and if he thinks he’s good, he’s not very comfortable. So he’s comfortable knowing that he needs to improve today to be better tomorrow. And I’m kind of the same personality.
I think that’s pretty healthy that he thinks that, and I think that of myself and our team, too. We’re going to look at today and be critical. I know my pit crew guys really well; they’re going to be critical of our first stop. You guys are all going to write about our second stop, but my guys at the shop on Monday are going to be beating themselves up over the first stop. Me and my engineer were already talking about things we could have done to make our car better to the 9 because the 9 was the best car at the end of the race. Like that’s a real thing.
Even leaving here as the winner, we already know two key areas that we can be better, and I think Kyle doing that, looking ahead at some of those races, is probably not a bad thing.
Q: He also talked kind of leading into that, that going into this race one of the things he took a close look at was how Chase got through the Bus Stop. He said he felt like that was a really key point and that’s something he really wanted to focus on going into this event. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to look at the data or if you’re looking as the race goes on; was Kyle any better in that area? Did he close the gap on Chase in that portion of the course?
CLIFF DANIELS: He did, absolutely. Two things, big credit to Kyle because to himself, I think he had a huge improvement today just in some of the data that we studied the weeks leading up to this to prepare. I did try to look at it as much as I could during the race.
And then the second thing is Chase Elliott is still really, really good here, so he was still phenomenal through the Bus Stop.
Q: Next week at Indianapolis, inaugural race on that road course, obviously Xfinity raced there last year. Is there anything from this season, different courses, different portions of tracks that help with that, or is it so different because it’s flat there’s no elevation, it’s a different type of course? How do you prepare for that?
CLIFF DANIELS: It’s kind of a blend. This will sound weird, but we’ve studied it a good bit. It’s kind of a blend of Sonoma, Road America and maybe even a little bit of COTA. That’s pulling a lot of different areas. Trust me, I understand.
But different areas of the track can kind of resemble other different areas of those other tracks that I just mentioned. We’re trying to be smart and thoughtful in how we prepare the car for that race. I’ve said we’ve got to be smart in practice, execute in qualifying. Who knows for strategy during the race. I think tires are going to matter more than they mattered today, so you may see some guys, if there’s a weird caution, they pit and get tires on the car and could shake things up.
We’ll study up hard.