NASCAR: Sunday Press Conference from Kansas


  • Kyle Larson, Race Winner #5 Hendrick Chevy
  • Cliff Daniels, Winning Crew Chief
  • Jeff Andrews, Hendrick Motorsports Executive Vice President and General Manager

THE MODERATOR: Joining us is Cliff Daniels and Jeff Andrews of Hendrick Motorsports. And we’ll go ahead and open it up for questions from the media.

Safe to say life is very good for the 5 team right now. Your thoughts coming out of here? You kind of forced everybody else to compete and race. What does that mean to you guys?

CLIFF DANIELS: Yeah. It’s certainly a very fortunate day for our team. In the middle of the race I didn’t know that we were going to be standing here right now. But very proud of our team. Thankful to Mr. H and Miss Linda back at home. Thinking about them.

What this means for us moving forward, I said it last week, I’ll say it again, there is a cadence to how our whole team prepares. Everybody is bought in, everybody believes in it. If I went to them tomorrow and said we’re going to ignore Martinsville and focus on Phoenix, they’re just not going to listen to me.

We are going to stay focused on our path, what it is going to take to go to Martinsville. Of course, we have our eyes on Phoenix. We’re going to prepare like we should to go there but we’ve just got to keep going.

(No microphone.)

CLIFF DANIELS: Yeah. For sure. I think the — hopefully the team that can get a good benefit out of that is the 9 right now. If I’m not mistaken they’re 30 plus points to the good. Martinsville is an amazing track for them. So I would imagine they’re going to be the favorite to win Martinsville, and hopefully both teams can go into Phoenix with some good momentum

Jeff, it’s been 17 years, and I’m curious what do you try to — there’s a lot of people at Hendrick who never knew Ricky, never knew Randy. What do you try to tell them about the people you lost 17 years ago?

JEFF ANDREWS: I think, Bob, it’s the legacy, so many great pillars in our company. Randy was just one of the pioneers of Hendrick Motorsports and one of Mr. Hendrick’s very first employees. And so much of that company was built around him.

And then, you know, knowing Ricky and knowing where he was headed in our company, plans for what Mr. Hendrick and Mrs. Hendrick had planned for him in our company. Always hate we never get that opportunity to see that.

But on days like today, you just have to stop for a few minutes and kind of take it all in and realize what’s important. As Cliff said, we certainly have the Hendrick family in our thoughts.

Special win. Special obviously today getting that paint scheme to Victory Lane here in Kansas. Got to be a special day for them and really the families of all those that we lost 17 years ago today.

Cliff, it seemed like you guys were by far the best car on the long run, but it seemed like Chase and William were able to keep up with you on the short run. Was that kind of based on last year the end of the race? Was that kind of your focus?

CLIFF DANIELS: Yeah. We were actually hoping to be a little bit better on the short run than what we were. But the things we did not do well in the spring for long run handling and balance is really what we focused on to try to get that right and hopefully not sacrifice too much in the short run.

I give William and Rudy a lot of credit. Rudy because he called the race, had an amazing fast car. Almost got knocked out at the start of the race. So great job to their team.

I hate that it didn’t go well for them at the end. I think they still came home with a decent finish. They definitely had us beat on a short run.

If you get out front like we did, you can kind of control some of the lanes and the way guys move around. And then of course like you said as the run went on I think our balance was probably a little bit better than what they had.

First year working with Kyle Larson. Kyle today actually set the new record for most laps led by a driver in a 36 race single season in NASCAR. Jeff Gordon previously held the record. What’s it been like working with Kyle and just being the team to beat on a really regular basis throughout the season?

CLIFF DANIELS: Yeah. Working with him has been incredible. And we’ve always seen with him that he was going to have the potential to go do what he’s done. And then last year, not being in the Cup Series but running third, he won half the races that he entered last year. I think that tipped off the world to what he could become.

And then getting our team together, so thankful to Mr. H and this guy over here, Jeff Andrews, for getting our team together, bringing Kyle in. And we just started chipping away at the end of the year.

Having the laps led, you know, category is awesome. I think to be smart, though, I look back at a lot of the races that we led the laps and didn’t win the race because there’s a lot to be learned from that, about keeping us sharp and executing better. Still a really cool stat to have and we’ve got two more races to go. So now I need to look at the races we didn’t win and make sure we do the next two weeks.

My question is for Jeff on Kyle having a wonderful season comparing that to Jeff and the type of season he had 20 years ago which led to a championship. Is there any similarities or things that you see in Kyle that could be seen in Jeff when he had his season 20 years ago?

JEFF ANDREWS: Yeah, I think they’re very similar in their driving styles and their aggressiveness. You heard Kyle talking there midway ^ threw ^ through the race about really what he needed from his car. Just felt like he needed to be more aggressive on the restarts and get up there towards the front.

And that was Jeff’s style. Very similar there in the aggressiveness early on in the race. And then so many races during those times for Jeff that he dominated like that. And so, yeah, a lot of similarities that I see.

THE MODERATOR: Joining is a as well obviously winning driver Kyle Larson. Driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy. Kyle, unbelievable run you’re on right now. Can you talk about the stretch you’re on, three in a row.

JEFF ANDREWS: Yeah. It’s cool we were on a stretch like this during the summer. I think with four wins there with the All-Star ones. So just really cool to be on another streak like this. I feel like we’ve had to work a lot harder to be on this streak than the other one. So just says a lot about the perseverance in our team. The Roval and then today. Texas went as great as it could have. But these other two wins have been hard work.

So, yeah, just proud of my team. And I wasn’t expecting to be sitting up here. But just very happy. Significance of the day too makes it feel even more special.

Cliff, this is for you. Obviously if you guys get the next win either at Martinsville or Phoenix, you guys would have ten wins, which would put you in an elite company. The last driver and crew chief pairing to get 10 wins in a single season is Jimmie Johnson and back in 2007. What would it mean for you to join not only all the other crew chiefs that have come before you in a 10-win column in a single season?

CLIFF DANIELS: Even to be mentioned in that conversation is special as it is. I’ve been so fortunate to learn a great deal from Jimmie and from Chad being on that team with them for a handful of years.

Just the leaders that they are, guys like Alan Gustafson, Jeff Andrews, Jeff Gordon. We’ve had a lot of guys in our company that have done a great job helping me along the way and helping our team along the way. I know they do that for everybody in the company.

I think with the leadership Mr. Hendrick to believe in his people with the right people in place and give us a good team and all the right parts and pieces to get the job done just makes for a special environment, special combination. Hopefully we can get that stat. Pretty cool to be a part of.

(No microphone.)

KYLE LARSON: I wish NASCAR would count 10 wins because we have it already. No, as Cliff mentioned, it’s just really cool to be mentioned in the same category. I would love to join them in 10 official wins.

But, yeah, it’s pretty crazy. I didn’t know what to expect coming into this season. I knew I would have lots of opportunities to get wins. But never did I think I would win as often as we have. Proud of everybody’s hard work all season long

I think Cliff and his leadership really propels us to be as confident. Our execution has always been good. We continue to make that better throughout the year. And I think that stems from his leadership and as he mentioned the leadership that he learned from Jimmie and Chad.

Follow up on what you were saying about this three-race winning stretch being tougher than the first one. I get the Roval was tough. But you guys have been really good on the 550 tracks. Can you elaborate, what made this — is it the Playoff factor? What makes this race stretch tougher?

KYLE LARSON: Yeah. Trying to think of our win that’s we had earlier this year. I think it started the 600 and then we went to Sonoma, then Nashville. We dominated all those races. I think we ^ one ^ won every stage maybe in them. And won the races. So it’s kind of like we were out there in cruise control in a way and winning.

Where this, you know, the Roval we had our alternator issue, had to change a couple batteries change the alternator belt. Somehow won shockingly. And then Texas last week kind of felt like those wins that we had earlier this year.

And then today, you know, I wasn’t bad. I felt like William was way better than I was. And I thought Chase and I were pretty equal. And then we got off sequence on tires. I got into the wall. So we had to repair damage. And I think the fight that all the Playoff guys are doing, trying to get wins, makes the racing crazier too.

So those two races were definitely much tougher and took a lot more perseverance to win. So I think that makes this streak really special.

Denny was talking about what a game changer the wind was off of turn 2 and it made it treacherous running the wall. Did you sense that? Does it play into your hands when it gets harder for the guys to run the wall when that’s your strength?

KYLE LARSON: Yeah. So instantly after we had that delay early on, the wind picked up kind of a out of nowhere. I don’t know how much it picked up, but it was a lot. Canopies were blowing off their pit boxes and stuff. It was a huge crosswind for us.

Yeah, it caught me off guard at first. I went off turn 2 and somebody shoved my car and pushed me a half a group up. And I made a quick mental note of that and how the balance was into 3. Kind of adjusted.

I felt like it must have calmed down a little bit towards the end of the race because I didn’t quite have that feel off of 2 that I had for a while.

So, yeah, I don’t know. Kansas for whatever reason is typically like the only track I feel like that affects the balance of the race car with the wind. A lot of times it will be a tailwind off of 2 into 3 and you’ll be really loose into 3. But the crosswind today was odd.

And we had the headwind off of 4. So I really felt like that kind of opened up some lanes over there. Had the opposite effect off of 2. But off of 4 I felt like I could run the bottom there before I got into the wall, got damage. I felt like I could run the bottom really well in 3 and 4.

Still faster up top but I could make ground up on the bottom and catch those guys at the end of the second stage and not be bad down there in the third stage also.

I remember back in May around we were talking about how wide open the season was about 12 different winners in the first 13 or 14 or so races. Now all of a sudden you were sitting here with nine wins your second three-win streak on the season. What’s changed for you guys?

KYLE LARSON: I don’t think anything has really changed for us. We were winning back then. That was right before we went on our first streak. And I had run second I think three times in a row then. So nothing really changed much other than we’ve been capitalizing more to get those wins now lately.

I feel like our race car has been just as good kind of all year long. We got off for two or three weeks after Pocono. And since then, we’ve been back hitting just as hard if not harder than we were early this year.

We mentioned that one more win would put you at 10 first time since ’07. Second three-race win streak of the season. I think that’s the first time since Dale. What does it mean to put yourself in company like that with drivers that great?

KYLE LARSON: Yeah, it’s neat. I just hope we can — I don’t know if. It’s like hard for me to think if people will really remember if you don’t win the championship now at this point.

Not that it adds pressure but you can read into it adding pressure that I want to win the championship even more to cap off what’s been a great season.

So that’s my goal. And I hope we can finish it off with being mentioned in one of the top five greatest seasons ever.

You didn’t go and play in the dirt Friday night. Was that by design? When do you get to drive your Sprint car does it translate to make you better in the stock car?

KYLE LARSON: I didn’t really hear the second part of that question. Yeah. I was not at Lakeside. Yeah, we didn’t have plans to run it. Paul my crew chief, he was racing out in California with his Buddy, and they were able to win that. Yeah. No, I hadn’t planned on running Lakeside all year long.

Are you able to translate driving your Sprint car and take that into the stock car? I know they’re completely different, but you seem to be able to have that touch.

KYLE LARSON: Well, I do it more than anybody. It didn’t come that naturally maybe in the beginning. But as often as I do it, it does end up becoming natural.

Yeah, I mean, I think I learn things in every race that I can put forward to any race in any race car that I run. So for sure the dirt stuff helps pavement stuff, pavement stuff helps dirt stuff. To me it’s just another race car

I think I heard you say you want to have one of the top five seasons…

KYLE LARSON: Yeah. Don’t quote — like I don’t know if it’s top five but —

My question was going to be like what are some seasons that stand out to you?

KYLE LARSON: Well, I mean, I think obviously Jimmie and Jeff’s…

The year they went back and forth?

KYLE LARSON: Any of Dale Sr.’s seasons. I don’t really know off of the top of my head. I know he’s had seven championships so somewhere in there I’m sure he’s won a ton of races also had great finishes each and every weekend.

I guess maybe that would be a question for the statisticians out there in this room. The Bob Pockrasses in the back there to rank it.

But, yeah, I just really want to win a championship and see where it stacks up.

So at this stage, how do you feel if you don’t win a championship this year?

KYLE LARSON: I don’t know. I try not to think about it. And I think the more wins you get, hopefully we’re winning the championship in Phoenix, but I feel like the more wins we’ve gotten will make that feeling if I happen to not win, make it easier to swallow I think just because it has been a great year.

It comes down to one race there in Phoenix. It’s a different style track than we’ve been winning on. But I don’t know. Like I said I try not to think about it. We’ll see how the feeling is. Hopefully we’re celebrating after Phoenix and I don’t have to accept the fact that we didn’t win a championship.

But either way, yes, it’s been a good season but I want to cap it off with what we all want.

(No microphone.)

KYLE LARSON: Not necessarily, no. I don’t, I don’t, no. I don’t. This package, it allows other people to be faster there. I was really good there. If we were there with the low downforce and more horsepower, for sure I would want to be at Homestead. I feel like we could crush them there.

I don’t think I can do that in this package at Homestead. And I feel like at Phoenix I’ve got a better shot at Homestead in this package.

Couple of the drivers, different manufacturers talking about you’re just on a roll. And it’s like they were saying they would do the same thing if you had — if they had the cars, the talent and everything. They know that they’re racing at the same level as you but you’re like unstoppable right now. When your competitors are saying that that you’re unstoppable, what does that do for your confidence level?

KYLE LARSON: Well, I think for our team, it raises our confidence, not just myself. But this is a tough series and it goes in swings. And I’m thankful that we’ve only got two races left. Last time we were on a streak like this, we fell off for about a month.

I’m glad that we’re peaking again at a good point in the season. But like I said, it’s a tough series. And there was — I don’t feel like I had the best car today, and we won.

I just think it’s a team support. And our team is performing at a very high level. And I think the confidence that we gain each and every week is a big factor.

Do you wish Phoenix was next week? Like are you getting anxious? Are you like, Man, let’s get this and let’s see if I can do it?

KYLE LARSON: I mean, yes and no. I mean, knowing that we’re — knowing that I have a shot to race for a championship, like the anticipation definitely rises each day. So in a way, yes, I wish we could go to Phoenix tomorrow and get it done and get racing.

But I am excited to get to Martinsville. I’m always excited to get to Martinsville until I start turning laps and I realize that I’ve not learned anything from the times before.

But, yeah, we ran good there earlier this year. Ran fifth. Finished fifth. So now we’ve got the number one pit stall I would imagine and start for the pole and hopefully we can stay up front and try to get a win in my toughest racetrack.

(No microphone.)

KYLE LARSON: I don’t know. To me, I haven’t lived it yet. We’re not into the week of Phoenix yet. But I feel like Chili Bowl — I always run early in the week. I’ve won however many prelim nights now and then I sit all week and watch all these other racers go out there. I like psych myself out every year like, Man, they look better than I do. They’re fast. It’s going to be hard to beat them and this and that.

But I think with Phoenix and how this is like we just show up and — well, we get to practice and stuff, but we get to race and all that. I don’t know. I think there’s less time for me to psych myself out because I’m not sitting in the stands watching these guys race.

I’m still out there racing in these weeks and winning and gaining confidence and all that. So I don’t know if that answers it but I feel like, yeah, I feel like I psych myself out every year at Chili Bowl and I don’t think I’ll do that in this deal.

Kyle, you got your first Cup win in your 100th start. It was for such a long time, When is Kyle going to win? And I know there were a lot of circumstances. As you’re having this season that very few have had and winning as much as you have, the struggles earlier in your career, does that give you a better appreciation of what — or what kind of appreciation does it give you of what you’re able to accomplish at this point?

KYLE LARSON: Yeah. I think it makes me appreciate those wins that I had back then even more because we’ve been able to click them off at a good rate this year. I went winless forever, and then finally got a win. And then 2017 had a great year. Then the next two years I didn’t really have amazing seasons.

So just makes me appreciate those moments even more because it’s so hard to win a Cup race. And it makes me realize too like how much we accomplished in the 42 is something to be very proud of, seeing the I guess lack of resources in a way compared to what we have at Hendrick Motorsports.

So, yes, now getting to see both sides of it, it’s amazing we ^ one ^ won as much as we did and ran as well as we did.

So, yeah, I think it makes me proud of those years even more.

To follow up, you talked earlier today and you talked here about times almost kind of psyching yourself out or thinking about too much or even with what your success and talent. So when you were having those struggles earlier as you just talked about in Cup even with the resource differences, did you ever question what you were doing or if it was — if you were going to meet the expectations? And did that become a burden at any point?

KYLE LARSON: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I feel like for a long time I could have been viewed as the most overly hyped driver in the Cup Series I think, you know, because I think everybody saw the potential and I could sometimes — or I thought the potential was there to have seasons like I’ve had now this year. But you just don’t know if you’re lacking on equipment and stuff like that or if it’s just you.

So, yes, I think back then, it’s like, Man, maybe I’m not as good in a stock car as some people think that I might be or as good as I want to be.

But I think the stars aligned with me being here at Hendrick Motorsports and with Cliff Daniels. Yeah, the resources are there to now showcase what I hoped I could succeed with.

Kind of going off the last question in terms of trying not to psych yourself out. Do you and the team put more emphasis on preparing for Phoenix over the next couple of weeks? Or is it just more of a one-race-at-a-time approach and putting as much effort at trying to win at Martinsville?

KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I don’t know. I think they are already in motion on our Phoenix car which they would have been had I not won either of these two races just because we race Sunday at Martinsville and have to leave Tuesday for Phoenix. So that’s already been in motion.

So I don’t think now at this point anything changes. I think we prepare for Martinsville. We want to go there and run good and win. Like I said, things are already in motion on the Phoenix car.

So I think me sitting at home, yeah, I mean, like I’ve already looked at some Phoenix video from earlier this year and I’ll probably watch the Championship 4 from last year this week just to try — like I said earlier, the anticipation is already there. So trying to just study and get ready.

I’ll make this next one really short. In your mind, are you the championship favorite?

KYLE LARSON: I don’t know. I think looking at the drivers in the Round of 8, you can make a strong case for every single one of us, why we could win the championship at Phoenix.

So I don’t know. I don’t think you can pick a favorite. I think maybe, yes, you can look at me as being the favorite because of the momentum and stuff that we’re on and all that.

But I can make a case for any one of the other seven drivers, why they could beat me and beat any of us. Anybody can win I think in the Final 8 right now.

You’ve often said Martinsville is not one of your best tracks. Will you be okay if you do not dominate next week and just have a top 10 or average day?

KYLE LARSON: Yeah. I mean, I don’t — for how I’ve ran in Martinsville my career, I don’t expect to go there to dominate. So if I don’t dominate, I don’t think it’s going to affect my mind or anything like that.

I ran fifth there earlier this year and I was like so happy. Probably one of the happiest runs I’ve had this year just because it’s a place that’s been so tough on me. Just a hard place for me to get into a rhythm. It takes me like half the race to get into a rhythm there.

But I think having that, that was really like our first tiny track that we ran to that point in the season. And I think having that data point, our car will be even better going back. Hopefully we can lead some laps and maybe get a win.

How far have you come from that first race at Martinsville when you crashed and your cat vomited and everything went wrong?

KYLE LARSON: Well, I blew up I think my first time at Martinsville. I think I ran there in 2013. I don’t know. I feel like I would run around like 18th to 27th every time I went there.

And then getting there in Hendrick equipment I realized that setup is a lot better, the vibe there, HMS. Was able to see the leaders kind of the whole time earlier this year.

So, yeah, I don’t know. It’s still just a really tough place. I hope someday it will click for me there. I know my car is always going to be better there than me. But hopefully we can hit on some things.

I’ll do a lot of studying this week and look how Chase gets around there and Truex and Denny. Everybody’s got really different styles. It’s really hard to study and pick a style and know that it’s going to click with you.

But I do get excited to go to Martinsville every time because it’s going to be a challenge. And I look forward to becoming better there. So I get excited to go to Martinsville

Kyle, you’ve won back-to-back races. And that is an extreme accomplishment in NASCAR. However, it is even tougher to go four for five or even five for five. Are you a little bit concerned that you may have peaked just a little too soon going into the championship race two weeks from now?

KYLE LARSON: No. No. There’s only two races left, so I’m not.

Obviously taking out the title, what is the story of Kyle Larson this season in your own words?

KYLE LARSON: I don’t know. I think the last two years on the racetrack have been extremely successful. I think I’ve won 46 races last year. And I think I’m at 29 right now this year. So, yeah, just really, really cool. Still have like probably 12 or so more races left this year.

So I don’t know. It’s just been a successful year on the track I think. Off the track has been a lot of fun. Started my own foundation and doing stuff with that. Stuff with my family. You know, Owen’s playing baseball. And just doing normal dad stuff is cool. I didn’t really have much time to do that and our kids weren’t old enough to do fun things like that.

So, yeah, I think both on and off the track, I’m in a great spot personally. So, yeah, I don’t know. The year’s not over, so it’s hard for me to close the book on the story.