- Kyle Larson – Race Winner – #5 Hendrick Chevy
- Cliff Daniels – Winning Crew Chief
- Jeff Andrews – Hendrick Motorsports President
KYLE LARSON, NO. 5 HENDRICKCARS.COM CAMARO ZL1 –
THE MODERATOR: We’re now joined by the race-winning driver of today’s NOCO 400, Kyle Larson, driver of the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet. We will go right to questions for Kyle.
You’ve had all three of your teammates win a clock, so was today kind of like a sigh of relief that you finally got one?
KYLE LARSON: I don’t know if them winning added any pressure. If anything, them winning adds confidence when you come to a place like this that I have really struggled at.
So, yeah, it is pretty neat that the four of us now have all won here in the last, I guess, three years; right? I think, did Chase win in 2020 here?
So pretty cool and just shows that — which, I mean, Hendrick has shown for a very long time that they’ve had great setups here and have a handle on things here.
But it wasn’t easy. We didn’t dominate the day at all. We really never even got into the top five there until the last run of the race. So just a great job by my team, great job on pit road all day long and great strategy calls and some good restarts there at the end.
Do you know where it’s going?
KYLE LARSON: I don’t. I have no clue. I’ve been trying to imagine different rooms in my shop or in my house or whatever, and I don’t have a clue.
Owen wants it in his room, so maybe we put it in there, but that’s probably one of my most prized trophies. So I’m not sure if I want to put it in there and have him break it.
So we’ll see. He will probably get annoyed with it too, you know, that thing going off every hour. So he is probably going to find out quick that he doesn’t want it in his room.
Kyle, you come off a ten-win season to three-win season last year. You’ve won two races early this year. Does it start to give a feel like another maybe potential double digit win season, winning two races early and knowing that the team is improving all the time?
KYLE LARSON: I mean, I don’t know about double digits. That’s pretty tough to do, and it’s only happened a handful of times throughout the last couple of decades, I guess.
I’ve told a lot of people around me, you know, when I go to dirt races and stuff, because they don’t follow it a whole lot, competitors and stuff, how is your stuff this year? I tell every one of them, man, I think we’re honestly close to as good or just as good as we were in 2021.
I think in the races that we’ve finished and executed well, I think it’s shown. We’ve been up front in every race. We’ve challenged for wins. We’ve shown that we’ve had winning speed at every single race. COTA maybe arguably is our only race this year where we haven’t been a contender on speed at least for the win, but we were a top-five car that day I thought.
I’ve had a few DNFs, but outside of that we’ve been in the top two I think or top five, four. I guess with Phoenix we had a shot to win there and fell back to fourth.
Anyways, I do feel like we are close to what we were a couple of years ago, and we’re winning at tracks I suck at, so that says a lot (laughing).
Kyle, you mentioned the struggles that you have had here. Considering that, where does this win compare with other victories that you have had?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I think when you can accomplish something that you don’t see possible, when you do accomplish it, it moves up the ladder pretty high.
So this is an extremely special win for me. I’ve worked very hard to get better here. I feel like every time there’s a test available, I get put on that list to test here because I struggle. We want to get better.
I’ve got tons of laps around here, and not many top tens. Honestly probably more races where I have finished a lap down than on the lead lap. So it’s been difficult.
And then, like I said, when you can win at a place like this, it is definitely up there. I was teared up the whole last lap. I heard Cliff was teared up too. So that feels really, really special because he is so strong and, like, emotionally strong. To hear that means a lot.
This win here today means a lot for everybody and, too, Hendrick Motorsports as well with everything that they’ve — everything that this kind of racetrack and trip means to them.
You said the trophy will be one of your most prized possessions. Does that go back to everything that you just said, the reason why? What makes this trophy other than, of course, hearing about it so much going to be so special to you?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I mean, I’m not into clocks or anything like that, so being that it’s a clock doesn’t add any significance to me. But I think every time you look at it and you look at, it will remind me of the ten years of struggling I’ve had here.
Then to accomplish the win that we now have and the work, I mean, this was probably the first weekend I’ve showed up here with, like, a positive attitude, honestly. I’ve left here just mad. I hated this place. I’ve wished it would flood (laughing). I’ve wished a lot of bad things on this place. It’s not going anywhere.
I wish it was like that, maybe dirt. Yeah, I think just because it’s such a tough track that that’s why it means a lot.
In general, how much does a driver like yourself even think about what trophies look like when you win races? It’s all about winning and championship points and whatnot? Do you even think about most of the time what a trophy is going to look like?
KYLE LARSON: Oh, yeah, definitely. For sure, yeah. Typically they have the trophies somewhere throughout the weekend, so you get to see it before you race.
The majority of NASCAR trophies are really cool. You know that when you win you’re going to get something cool, but even sprint car races, you know, rarely are there trophies that look cool, but when there is, you — I think not that you put any more pressure on yourself to win, but when you do win, you’re, like, all right, that’s pretty cool and I get to take that home.
Yeah, thankfully NASCAR races have all pretty cool trophies.
Did you feel like you had this place figured out today, or did you suck and just have track position and a good car?
KYLE LARSON: Thanks, Bob (laughing). Well, so I guess I’ll just take you through my race. The first run of the race we started 19th and drove to 10th really easily. My car felt really good, and I was, like, all right, this is going to be a great day. This next run we’re going to put tires on, and I’m going to drive right to the front. We’re going to be battling up front the whole rest of the race.
Then the next run I was really bad. Next couple of runs I was really bad. Then I was, like, not really pouty. I was trying to stay positive, but I was, like, okay, it’s just typical Martinsville. I’m tight in the center, loose off like always, and I suck, and it’s probably me (laughing). The car is fine. It’s just me.
Then they kept working on it and got us better and better. You know, never once did I really feel like we had the car to win, but we made the right strategy calls to stay out when there was that weird cycle, you know, restart on the front row with Briscoe.
Then on that run, I was finally able to settle in. I got kind of away from the 45 and could kind of get into a rhythm. I felt like I learned some things behind the wheel and helped my balance out.
So I used that and applied it to the next run, and thankfully we took two tires then. My car was really good on two tires there the last run.
So, yeah, then I was battling Joey for the lead and knew it was going to be tough. Knew he’s very hard to pass at a place like this. Once you do get by him, he’s not done. So I knew I was going to get a shot in the back from him.
Thankfully my car just had a lot more grip than his did at the time and got away and was hoping to lap cars. Or not lap cars, but the guys I was catching that looked like they were racing pretty hard were not going to wreck. Yeah, I was pretty positive, though, today, this weekend. Better than normal.
Kind of piggybacking off the previous questions, you have said in years past that this has been your worst track. You know, you kind of count this race as a write-off. What was it about your car today that allowed you to overcome the aero problems here at the short tracks, get to Joey’s bumper and just allow you to walk away at the end of the race?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I guess as far as the aero stuff, I didn’t notice anything different with this package here compared to last year.
Yeah, it’s just I think Phoenix I felt a little bit different. Richmond I felt a lot better with it. And here, if you would have told me that we had the same package, I would agree.
Yeah, it was just my car was good enough there at the end to drive to the 22 and kind of just work him over.
Kyle, with your victory today, does it give you a better outlook on returning to Martinsville in October where the race could mean the difference between making the championship or not?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I mean, I think it definitely adds confidence. We finished second here in that race last year to Bell. Similar thing. I think we took two tires, and my car was okay.
But there’s also a lot of room for me to get better here still. There was a run on that long run there, I was better than the 10, better than the 6. A lot better than the 6 once the 10 got by him. I just don’t do a good job at passing. So just got to get better at my race craft still here.
The good short track racers, if their car is better than somebody, they can get to them and pass them pretty quickly, where I seem to just get stuck and waste time.
I think that’s a lot to do with the line that I run, yeah. Still got to get better. For sure, I feel like the last three times here at least with the Next Gen car. Every time I’ve been here with the Next Gen car, I’ve been top ten. That’s pleasing, but you always want to be better.
A few minutes ago Josh Wise tweeted a thread of thoughts about you winning, and part of what he said is since 2017, I’ve watched him – you – push himself to learn at a track that he hasn’t felt comfortable at, one of the few. The most notable part of that is that it’s remained the track that he has put the most work into. Seeing K.L. win today is probably one of the coolest wins I’ve ever had a small piece in watching one of the greats push himself for years and finally get the reward that he has earned. I think a lot of times people look at what you have done across the spectrum in your career and just view it as talent and maybe don’t see the work that goes on behind the scenes. Can you give us a sense of the work that you have had to put in the last few years that Josh is referencing to get to this point today where you can suck and still win?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah. A lot of it has to do with Josh for sure. I’ve worked around him now I guess since 2017, and he has done a really good job at pointing things out.
I think for so long when I came to Martinsville everybody was, like, oh, you have to back your entries up, get good exits and stuff like that, so you work that into your brain, and you try and drive that way.
Over time through data and seeing how the good guys get around here, I quickly realized that it’s the opposite. You make your time on entry, and it’s not about your good exits.
Since that, I’ve been able to kind of work harder at my driving style a little bit and trying to really — I mean, competitors know. They look at my data and stuff, and they probably — I have this perfect triangle break here at Martinsville. The good guys kind of can make time under the braking zones and then hold that little bit of pressure at the end to turn still and get pointed for exit.
That’s I feel like the last hundred pounds of brake pressure has been something that I’ve worked really hard on and tried to be pretty conscious of throughout the race today and this weekend. I think that helped a lot.
It’s because of guys like Josh and Cliff and Adam and Cal and Becker at our shop that find those things and point them out, and then we really kind of hone in on them and try to work to figure out a way to not copy because it’s hard to copy anybody’s driving style, but to take little bits and pieces of things that you notice and try and apply them to yourself.
So, yes, I think there’s a lot of things that I have done throughout my career that talent has got me to accomplish, but then, yes, there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes.
I’ve worked a lot harder the last, yeah, I mean, I guess seven-ish years than I probably ever did before, but you have the data now to look at and to study and then apply to yourself.
So I understand every win is special, but comparing a win that you won based off of your talent versus a win like today where it was work day after day, is this any more significant, or what does this mean on a personal level to you compared to other races that you have won because of the talent of Kyle Larson?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I think that’s… I don’t know. Maybe I haven’t done a good job of wording it right, but yeah, I think that’s the reason why this win is probably my top seven or so or shorter list than that of wins because I’ve worked really hard for it.
Even with the work, I still didn’t think that I would ever win here because there were so many times that I would put in hours of work and running on my iRacing simulator, and I have data on there too so I can run and then go and look at my brake trace and try and see if what I was doing with my foot matched up to what guys like Chase and Denny do here. I mean, I would run hundreds of laps and then still come here and be 20th or worse.
So, yeah, putting in the work and continuing to put in the work and not giving up on it and then winning, it makes it feel really special.
But with all that, you still have to have a great team and a great car. So that’s also kind of what makes this win special, is that my team was able to produce a setup that can work for my style.
Kyle, you touched on how special of a win this is, but this is the first win for the No. 5 since that first win in 1984 with Hendrick. Does that add anything to the specialness of this win?
KYLE LARSON: At Martinsville?
KYLE LARSON: No, I mean, because I didn’t know that. But I think any time you can win in the 5 car, it’s got special meaning.
Winning at Richmond on Ricky’s birthday was special. Then any Hendrick Motorsports win across any of the cars at Martinsville is always special for the reasons there. Yeah, it’s just a place that means a lot to the organization and feels great to win and then get to hear from Rick and hear how excited he was.
I know Chase wasn’t really a factor today, but just as another driver, how good was it to really just have him back out here and how valuable obviously is he to the tour in general?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, it was nice having him back. Just having him a part of the debrief after practice and qualifying again was nice. He always brings something a little different to the comments between all four of us.
You know, I think he challenges himself, but he challenges us all drivers and crew chiefs and engineers to think more, I don’t know, differently or more whatever is the right word, but asking questions, talking about his car. He does a very good job of explaining what he feels. Even between changes, they’ll pit, make an adjustment in practice, and then he can read that adjustment pretty quickly and tell if it’s better or worse.
I feel like a lot of times, especially with me – I don’t know about the other guys – but I don’t like pitting in practice and making adjustments because then I just feel like I’m making an uneducated guess on the change and how it worked.
But like I said, he is very good at feeling his car, and I feel like he is pretty confident and usually the majority of the time right about the changes. I think when he can explain his car and say, hey, this was better for us, the crew chiefs on the other teams can really look at that change and look at how it might work on our cars and apply it to it.
So he is definitely an asset for sure. He is one of the best drivers in the sport, so it’s been nice to have him back.
Kyle, I can’t recall a one-on-one battle between you and Joey for the lead like that. Catching him, racing him, what was going through your mind through that battle?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, so he wasn’t really a factor all day. I was never around him at all throughout the race, but he’s a very good short track racer. His team as a whole always does a great job at executing and putting themselves in position and finishing way better on their off days than they should. So I knew he was going to fight really hard.
Honestly, compared to him than I thought I was going to be as far as grip and all that went, so I could tell the areas where I was better than him as I was catching him. Then he got really protective of his exit. I was just kind of scared to move him out of the way too hard because that kind of opens the door for him to do the same to you, and usually he is going to do it four or five times worse.
I wanted to be as respectful getting by him. I knew that I was going to have to use the bumper at some point to get by him, and I tried a couple of times when I was behind him, and he did a really good job of just checking up and not getting shoved out of the way.
Then I got a good run. I was able to dive in three and four and get a good run on him and kind of out-brake him and get to his inside. I felt like I could eventually work him over that way, and it worked out.
Then once I got by him, I was expecting a shove from behind, so I ran in the corner deeper than I had been and tried to roll through the center faster than normal just to try and keep the bump from behind a little softer. Was able to get the bump, receive the bump, but still exit the corner better than him.
Then my car was really good at that point and drove off and just tried to take care of it from there. It was fun. It was a lot of fun racing him. For the two laps we were side-by-side, I could see the crowd on their feet and waving their towels and stuff and cheering.
It was fun. It was fun from my seat.
CLIFF DANIELS, CREW CHIEF, NO. 5 HENDRICKCARS.COM CAMARO ZL1, and JEFF ANDREWS, PRESIDENT AND GENERAL MANAGER, HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS –
THE MODERATOR: We’re going to get started with our post-race media ability for today’s NOCO 400 at Martinsville Speedway. We are joined by members of the race-winning team, the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet. We have crew chief Cliff Daniels, and Hendrick President and General Manager, Jeff Andrews.
Cliff, were you surprised that those two in no tires held up against all those fours?
CLIFF DANIELS: Yeah, for sure. Especially the SHR cars were really fast all day long. To be honest, earlier in the race when a couple of guys stayed out on older tires and survived for 20 to 30 laps, which was 20 to 30 laps longer than I thought they would have, that was a tell sign.
A couple of data points last year of guys on higher lap tires still maintaining track position. So still a little bit of a gamble, but we knew there were some data points where it had worked. So that’s the way we went.
One for each. Cliff, based off of what you were talking about and what we saw today, as a crew chief, are you having to think a little bit differently because of track position and it’s more about you helping your driver pass as opposed to your driver in many cases being able to gain position?
CLIFF DANIELS: I would say a healthy combination of both. I’ll be the first to admit for 200 laps we weren’t a winning car. Our car just wasn’t great.
Some of that was what was in our car, and some of that was kind of the track conditions. So then at the same time we got a couple of good changes in our car. The track did cool off a little bit, and I think all that kind of came our way.
So then to your exact question, yes, I think being able to be more aggressive on the strategy side, get some spots on pit road or spots on what your strategy is, certainly that’s helpful. And every time we did it, we were able to kind of maintain.
But you still saw some cars that were really good cars that could pass up through the field, and we weren’t one of those cars for 200 laps. It wasn’t until later in the race that we got our car better. So both kind of worked out at the end.
And for Jeff, with your extensive experience and knowledge of engines, the discussion comes up again after the race, hey, more horsepower is needed for these cars in a different tire. That sounds like a simple solution. Just give it more horsepower. From an engine perspective, I’m not an engine guy, so how difficult is that? How prohibitive is the cost of that? I mean, is that something that if enough people wanted to get done that that’s something that realistically could be done, or is this trying to climb Everest and getting back to the level of horsepower it used to be?
JEFF ANDREWS: Yes, Dustin, I think multi answers to that question. First, yeah, it’s always achievable. It takes quite a bit of work to get back there.
We are, I would say, five to six months out on parts, orders, and deliveries. Really when you get to this part of the season, you start to consume a lot of sealed engines that you have run earlier in the season.
So it gets complicated just to try to change a package over or change a power level over because these engines are built and tuned and all the analysis and everything that’s run on them is for the current power level.
So when you start to make changes to that, it requires changes to a lot of parts and pieces. And some of those would be as much as a year to possibly 18 months lead time to get that work done and get parts ordered.
So it’s a complicated question. I personally do not disagree with you that more power would be something to take a look at someday. It’s a long-term decision for the engine companies to do that.
So to follow up, it sounds like even if people wanted to do it for 2024, it’s almost too late?
JEFF ANDREWS: That decision needs to be made now. Yeah, very soon. Because depending on the parts and pieces, some things, as I said, are easily six months to a year out from a planning perspective.
One thing that you need to realize is that all these engine companies have ordered parts and pieces for really the remainder of 2023, and to start to change that architecture around, it gets very, very complicated very quickly. That’s a long-term decision for sure.
Jeff, 295 wins for Hendrick Motorsports. Pretty big number. You guys are closing in on 300. Any thought on that? Any whispering about that might be an attainable number this year?
JEFF ANDREWS: I think it was more than a whisper at our season kickoff luncheon for Mr. Hendrick. It was an ask of his, and he lit that fire underneath of everybody very early on in January, and we’re certainly marching forward towards that.
So, obviously, a goal we want to achieve. In addition to that, keep going right on past that. We need to focus on long-term on late summer and early fall and having performance in our cars like we do now at that point of the season. Certainly I know as a company we’re very pleased with how this package has performed for us. Phoenix, Richmond, now here.
Certainly as Cliff said, we weren’t in the best shape, and we still have some work to do here as a company to have some more consistency across all our cars.
But certainly a good start for us for 2023. Yes, 300 is something we’re at for Mr. Hendrick, first and foremost, but that championship in Phoenix at the end of the year is another big one we’ve got our sights set on.
If both of you can answer this question: What struck you most about Kyle’s performance today?
CLIFF DANIELS: I think just the fact that all the conversations he and I have had here, he has had so much doubt in himself, but we’ve continued to stay true to our process, how we prepare, the data we look at, everything that we study.
He has been very open to any adjustments he has needed to make on his end, and it’s kind of a two-way conversation from what can he do better and different and what can we do better and different with the car that really I would say the work behind the scenes, the work in preparation to get here today is what I’m most proud of because you saw at the end of the race when our car was good and he knew he had a shot, he did a great job to go through some of those guys, get to Joey, have a clean, for the most part, race for the win and laid down some really good laps to finish out the day.
JEFF ANDREWS: Yeah, certainly echo Cliff’s comments there. I think the thing for me is just how Cliff and Kyle really put the whole day together. Certainly various phases of that race and track change with clouds and sun and then an untimely caution there certainly threw a twist in everyone’s strategy.
Really just from start to finish how they work together on the radio and continue to make the car better really all day long. Various things for various teams, including our own, that came and went during the day.
It was certainly key to keep track position as you saw with a lot of cars that kind of went from the front to the back and back to the front. So I just commend them, both of them, on how they kept their head in the game all day long and raced the track the entire day and stayed in it all day long.
The No. 5 car hasn’t won here since ’84 when Geoff Bodine went to victory lane. The significance of that number to get that car back in Martinsville victory lane, what does that mean to Hendrick Motorsports?
JEFF ANDREWS: That certainly is a great milestone. I’m not sure that I realized that.
CLIFF DANIELS: I didn’t either. That’s pretty wild.
JEFF ANDREWS: That’s pretty awesome. Obviously being the site of the first win for Hendrick Motorsports back in 1984 and then to come here today and put No. 5 back in victory lane, that’s always a special number. It has been for Mr. Hendrick through the years. A lot of great milestones that go with that number and a lot of history and heritage there.
So for us as a company very proud of that and to bring that to Mr. Hendrick as well back here at Martinsville.
Jeff, I assume there wasn’t much doubt on whether Chase can win or come back and be strong. Did today send any sort of message you feel to him and the team?
JEFF ANDREWS: Yeah, I think if you saw him after the race just the fight that’s in Chase Elliott. Obviously, that was a tough race on him. Tough race on any driver to come here after being out for multiple weeks.
As I said earlier, we didn’t have the best race car today, and he and Alan fought all day long together. Chase stayed obviously with Alan and the team and worked hard all day long, and at the end there that thing came to life and seeing him battle his way back up there to a top ten.
It’s great to have him back. From that aspect, it’s the first weekend for us to kind of have our team or have the band, so to speak, put back together. We haven’t all been back together since Fontana for various reasons.
I think just a statement for the company and a compliment to the men and women behind the scenes at Hendrick Motorsports who have been building and working on these race cars through this time of adversity for us.
To come here today, not only Chase, but Cliff and Kyle, it’s a good day for us, and we’ll build on it. Certainly glad, back to your question, to have Chase back. He fought all day long and did a great job for us.
You’ve won almost half the races this year as an organization. Do you feel like you are the dominant team?
JEFF ANDREWS: I wouldn’t consider us dominant. I don’t think there’s anybody at Hendrick Motorsports right now that has that comfort level or that feeling. As I said a little bit earlier, we need to run and perform like this in the latter half of the summer, early part of the fall. That’s when it really starts to count.
Yes, stacking up the wins right now and the points and the playoff points, it’s very important to have those to go into the fall. We have a lot of work to do. We have to come back here. This is a very, very critical stop for us, as you all know in the fall on the way to Phoenix.
We have to certainly be a lot better than we were here today. We pulled it all together there at the end and had some competitive cars and were able to win the race, but we need to be better as an organization coming back here.
So we won’t take too much confidence out of here, and we’ll go on to Talladega next week and approach that and attack that for what it’s worth, but we certainly need to put some focus on Martinsville for the fall.
Q. One other thing is you guys have won all the key races. Phoenix you’ve won, host of the championship. You win at Martinsville, the next to last race. You win at Vegas, a key race in the last round. Was there an emphasis? I know at Hendrick it’s all about winning, but was there any additional emphasis on either of these tracks? And because there’s such a long gap between now and when you come back to these tracks, the challenge of maintaining that strength so you can take advantage of those opportunities later? For either of you.
CLIFF DANIELS: Yeah, certainly everyone in the whole cup field has Phoenix circled, obviously; right? And we as a company didn’t perform as well as we needed to in the fall. We certainly got beat by at least two organizations that I can think of just outright, forget strategy, forget anything else. They just had better and faster cars than we did.
So, yes, we did circle Phoenix specifically over the winter, and we kind of assembled a group back at the shop to help us attack some of these tracks in the specific areas that we knew we were deficient. So big shout out and credit to those guys back at the shop, those guys and gals.
Yeah, kind of the way you described it for each one of these races, we’ve had a similar approach. Vegas last fall all of our cars didn’t run great. Obviously I spoke on Phoenix.
Here it’s been hit-or-miss for us, and it was kind of that way today too. Kind of hit-or-miss from what you saw. So we have identified all those races, the keystones that they are, to your point, for the playoffs and tried to make an effort for what those are.
And then the things that can carry over between Phoenix and Richmond, you can carry a little bit of that to Nashville and Gateway and stuff like that in the summertime. No, it’s not the exact same, but the general concepts you can take and you can keep working on and building on.
That’s what’s gotten us to this point, but certainly a lot of work ahead of us.