NASCAR: Texas Post-Race Press Conference

In his debut season with Hendrick Motorsports, Kyle Larson and the No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE team will be one of four drivers to compete for the title of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series (NCS) Champion. Starting from the pole, Larson captured the Stage Two win and led a field-high 256 laps in route to victory lane at Texas Motor Speedway in the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500, the first race of the NCS Playoffs Round of 8. The win marks Larson’s eighth win of the 2021 season and 14th-career win in 257 starts in NASCAR’s premier series.

Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Chevrolet, crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Cup Series Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on October 17, 2021 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Larson’s victory at the 1.5-mile Texas oval gives Chevrolet its 16th NASCAR Cup Series win thus far this season, the most of all manufacturers, and 811th all-time win in NCS history. With just three races left in the season, Chevrolet continues to sit atop of the Manufacturer Standings as the Bowtie brand battles for its 40th title.

THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by our race-winning driver, Kyle Larson, driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. Congratulations, Kyle. We’ll go ahead and open it up for questions.

I can’t jinx you now; you’re locked into the final Championship 4. What does that mean to you? What you were going around the track, what were you thinking?

KYLE LARSON: Yeah, it’s awesome. I mean, we had a good points lead or whatever from the cutoff going into it, but still, you know, Harvick had his issues last year and didn’t make the Final Four. That will always be on my mind.

We had a fast, fast car today, and we had a good couple stages, so even if I didn’t come out with the lead or the win or whatever, I wanted to play it smart and take what I could get. I got good shots from behind me every restart and allowed me to get clear into 1 every time and then do some blocking for a few laps. Fine on all those restarts and we had a great race car to allow me to be aggressive with the blocks, and fast, too, to stay out in front of William.

Want to get your thoughts on breaking the tie with Chase Elliott and Tim Richmond on the all-time wins list.

KYLE LARSON: Yeah, that’s cool. Hopefully, Chase and I are both going to get a lot of wins throughout our career and catch Jimmie or Jeff some day. Yeah, it’s been cool to be teammates with him this season. He’s definitely pushed me to be better, and it’s nice having him there to listen to how he communicates with everybody in the competition meetings and stuff and really getting a look at his data more. I feel like we’ve got a great bunch of drivers and teams and crew chiefs, and that allows all of us to go out there and make ourselves better.

I know this is kind of a weird stat because it’s like 36 races and everything and not like all of NASCAR history, but apparently you have a pretty good shot now to get the all-time laps led record since it went to a 36-race season. Do you care about that number? Do you care about that mark?

KYLE LARSON: I definitely care. I don’t know what the mark is or what the number is, but yeah, I’m probably 2,300 or so now, close to it. So yeah, that would be really, really cool. I led a lot more laps today than I thought I would, so yeah, it’s definitely a goal of mine. I think somewhere in the back of my mind like it’s a goal. It’s not like something I am upset about if I don’t lead any laps in a race or anything, but once I am leading, I want to stay in the lead to help catch that record or whatever.

But you have to have a fast race car to do that, and our race car has been really good all season long, especially today to have a dominating run like we did. Hopefully these next few weeks are a lot like today.

I was just curious about Phoenix in a couple of weeks; do you like the benefit of having practice and qualifying, or do you wish it was like it was last year?

KYLE LARSON: Well, I could kind of take it either way, really. We had practice at the 600 and Nashville, and we won those two. I can’t remember what all races we’ve had practice at. But as far as the ovals go for practice, I think we’ve won those.

It kind of doesn’t — like I said, it could go either way for me. I think yes, I’m probably — I like having practice to give yourself — it kind of helps your confidence out, whether it’s good or bad, leading into the race with practice. But it also gives — if your car is great or whatever, it gives other people an opportunity to make their car better.

But our team has done a really good job this year when we have had practice of not like getting crazy with trying different things. You kind of just get a head start on the race and your adjustments, what they may be.

Yeah, I haven’t really thought too much about the practice and qualifying or all that at Phoenix, but hopefully, it’ll go good for us.

Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Chevrolet, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on October 17, 2021 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Were you worried about the guys that were behind you that were on fresh tires because Christopher Bell on that last restart started third.

KYLE LARSON: Yeah, so obviously Brad had taken the top on the other restarts behind William, and Brad is a really good pusher. I was nervous about that. Honestly, like when they told you there was one to go, I was like, please, Brad, take the bottom, take the bottom, take the bottom. He took the bottom because I was worried — I’m sure you guys will write a story about this, but I was worried about Bell being behind me because just — I felt like — not that he would wreck me or anything, but maybe he wouldn’t give me the push that I needed to get clear out to the lead, so I really wanted Brad behind me.

I felt like if Brad was behind me, I could — I could anticipate it better because I knew I was going to get a good push, but I was ready for him to try and pull out and try and take me three wide or anything because he’s trying to race his way into the playoffs and lock in. I was at least ready for that.

I wasn’t sure what to be ready for if Bell was behind me, so yeah, I was glad when Brad chose the bottom and gave me a great push like I knew he would. I protected a little bit and was able to get clear of the lead.

You had said from the start of the playoffs that Harvick last year was on your mind, and even this morning, 47 points over the cushion is not enough. It seemed like you were sort of anticipating, like hey, I might have to race my way in on points. Is it sort of an odd feeling to be sitting here like oh, I’m in, I don’t have to worry about that for the next two weeks, that part of it’s gone?

KYLE LARSON: A little bit. Not really. I had such a good day today in stage points and stuff, and I was positioned well to where if I finished in the top four or five, I was still going to probably gain a lot, I would think on the cut line. I wasn’t too worried about it. Still, yes, it probably still would have been on my mind going to Kansas, but as long as I went to Kansas and ran up front in the stages and stuff, too, I would have felt really good about it.

I just was more worried about like if you get in the wall or something like Denny or Truex or get caught up in a wreck, stuff like that, which now we don’t have to worry about. So that’s good.

But yeah, I mean, I’m not going to plan on racing any differently these next two weeks. I still want to win stages, win some races and keep this momentum going into Phoenix.

You’ve kind of alluded to this, but for a large part of this race it seemed to be on kind of an auto control, and then the last 60 laps happened. During that course of time you saw various playoff guys disappear, you had to hold off restarts I think six times in the last 60-some laps. What were you thinking? Were you just focusing on what you were doing, or were you paying attention to the scenarios that were kind of developing behind you?

KYLE LARSON: Well, I was more just thinking about William and how I’m going to beat him because I felt like he was the only guy that really had a car capable of passing us in the lead. I mean, even all race long on all the other restarts and throughout those 50-, 60-lap runs, I was just trying to make notes in my mind of what he was doing behind me, how he was trying to figure out how to make runs and stuff. I felt like I was doing a good job of maintaining the runs that he was getting behind me.

I was making notes of all that, and then obviously things are going to get more aggressive there at the end, so trying to make plans for if he’s behind me, if he’s side by side with me. Finally, stayed side-by-side with me on the restarts, what to do, how aggressive I needed to be, stuff like that. You’re always trying to plan ahead and think ahead, so you’re not really in autopilot ever throughout a race, even if it’s 500 miles. You’re just trying to plan and be prepared for any moment that might come up.

THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Kyle. Congratulations.


THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by members of our race-winning team. We have crew chief Cliff Daniels and executive vice president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, Jeff Andrews. Congratulations, guys. We’ll open it up for questions.

Cliff, it seemed like before the race you were saying, hey, look, we can play this conservatively, like we don’t have to go out and hit a home run today, and then your car is so fast you don’t even have to worry about it. Can you talk about how that changes things for you guys now?

CLIFF DANIELS: Yeah, it does for sure, and obviously coming into the day, it’s nice to have the point gap, but I think the last round taught us that nobody is ever safe, and certainly with the point gap we knew we weren’t safe. So, it’s tough to certainly just tell yourself you want to call a race conservative, and then when we knew we had a fast car — I wanted to make sure to keep tires on it. We never did lefts or rights, we were either four tires or I think we did fuel only the one time.

So wanted to make sure we weren’t really exposed, had a big tire deficit or were going to be short on fuel at any point, trying to be smart about how we called that.

And then, yeah, I think you asked about moving forward, too. Moving forward, we still want to be aggressive to get wins if our car is capable of it. I think as a company now we’ve got to put our focus on making sure we get the 9 to Phoenix, as well, but our job is still going to go win races every week if we can, and that’s our goal.

Cliff, a lot of times we hear people say, hey, the goal is to get to the Final Four because you just can’t bank on what happens in one race. I’d think seven wins would be a successful season, but now that you are there to the Final Four, do you feel like whatever happens over the next three weeks doesn’t define this year?

CLIFF DANIELS: Yes and no. The yes part is absolutely we’ve had a great year, and I think it’s really shown a lot of the strength of our team, of our organization, but to really see that through, right, to prove what we’ve hopefully earned, you want to walk away with a big prize at the end of the year.

We’re certainly going to be focused on that as everybody is who’s in contention. You know, I think changing anything from our perspective now would be a mistake. We’ve had a very common mindset every race throughout the year. It’s what’s got us to this point, so even though we’re locked in, I’m sure my team is going to get a little grumpy at me on Tuesday because I’m going to walk in and tell them we have to win Kansas. That’s just the mentality that we’ve had all year, so we’ll keep it going.

Cliff, now what? You say you go in on Tuesday, but do you focus on the next few weeks, or do you specifically focus on Phoenix?

CLIFF DANIELS: Well, we’re going to — first, I think part of what helps the Phoenix focus is just the timing of the schedule. Since it’s a Friday, Saturday, Sunday show, the truck is going to leave like Tuesday of that week, and the way these race formats go, our hauler didn’t leave until Friday morning this week, so you’re just going to have two fewer days that week.

So now we are very fortunate that we have a little bit more time just to really plan out the way the next three weeks can go with emphasis on Phoenix where if you’re not locked in right away, you’re kind of giving everything you can for that week, and to not be talking out of both sides of my mouth, we have really good cars in the system already coming for Kansas, already coming for Martinsville. I looked at them with a lot of our guys last week. Both cars look great, so we’re going to finish those out like they are already in process to be, and then when our Phoenix cars get in the system, make sure that they’re top-notch and ready to go.

Kyle said something, someone mentioned to him that the last time a driver had eight points wins at Hendrick was Jimmie in 2007. He said some of these guys were on that team. Are there a lot of guys who were with Jimmie back then who are with you now? And how does this run compare to that run 14 years ago?

CLIFF DANIELS: From what I know of that run because I wasn’t at Hendrick then, I would say anything like that is probably hard to compare. Obviously, the record that Chad and Jimmie have completely speaks for itself, and to even be mentioned in a conversation with them, first off, is a big blessing and pretty cool just to even have that.

I know that I think that there may be one guy on our team that was with Jimmie in exactly the year ’07, and then three of our pit crew guys I believe have been on this team since 2009. If it’s not 2009, it’s 2010, that at least three of those guys have been together.

Then there’s another handful of us that have been there, two guys since ’13, another two guys since ’14, and I’m on the group that was the end of ’14, beginning of the ’15 season.

So, certainly couldn’t be more fortunate to have learned from the champs of Jimmie and Chad for the years that all of us were with those guys, and we have some younger guys on our team that — I think the way we operate, the way we tried to go race every week has kind of resonated within our team. We have such a strong group, it’s just really special to be a part of.

I don’t know the exact number, but I believe that you guys are going to have a shot at the single season laps led record since it went to 36 races at least. Do you care about that, Mark?

CLIFF DANIELS: I know it’s a really big deal to Larson. I didn’t even realize we were going to be that close in contention to it. That’s pretty cool. I think the way races are nowadays, we’ve seen especially with some of the races that we’ve had this year where we’ve led a lot of laps, and we haven’t won, I would love to be leading a category of wins per year, but I’m sure that — what does the King have? The King has 20 something in a year, I think?

The King has got a lot, so that would be probably a pretty lofty goal to ever get to, but we’ll take laps led if we can get there at the end of the day. Taking our group of guys, taking our team and all the resources we have at Hendrick Motorsports and putting fast cars on track is so cool and so fun to be a part of that hopefully we keep it going, and whatever the numbers end up, we’ll be happy about.