KYLE LARSON, NO. 5 NATIONSGUARD CAMARO ZL1 1LE, Daytona 500 Media Availability Transcript

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YOU’RE WITH A NEW TEAM AND A NEW CREW CHIEF IN 2021. TELL US ABOUT THE ADJUSTMENT TO HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS. “I don’t know – I guess there hasn’t been much of an adjustment, just because I’ve been out of a NASCAR Cup car for so long. I guess the biggest adjustment is getting the cockpit right. Even though we have the measurements and stuff from when I was in the No. 42 car, now things don’t maybe feel the same because I’ve been out of a car so long and my body has kind of gotten accustomed to sitting upright in a sprint car or midget. So, getting in the cockpit and trying to remember – OK the shifter feels normal there; my pedal distance feels right or it doesn’t; the throttle and brake geometry and stuff like that I think has probably been the toughest part to remember if that’s comfortable or not.”
KYLE, THIS COUNTRY IS BUILT ON SECOND CHANCES AND GIVING PEOPLE A SECOND CHANCE AND I’M GLAD YOU’RE GETTING YOURS. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT SECOND CHANCE AS YOU’RE ON THE EVE OF STARTING THE SEASON?“I feel extremely grateful. I never really thought I would get another chance to race in NASCAR and I kind of accepted that throughout the middle of last year and I tried to shift my focus towards what’s ahead in my new life of racing a bunch, driving up and down the road and stuff like that. I was trying to figure out how that would be with my family, my kids, once they start school. So, yeah like I said, I’m grateful for the opportunity that Mr. H has given me. It’s pretty unbelievable and I’m very thankful. I hope to do a good job for everybody at Hendrick Motorsports and all my sponsors – just do a good job on and off the track to really take advantage of this second chance that I may not have deserved.”
YOU OBVIOUSLY DON’T HAVE ANYTHING TO PROVE IN A LOT OF WAYS BECAUSE OF THE PERFORMANCE YOU’VE HAD ON THE RACE TRACK, BUT DO YOU FEEL AT ALL LIKE YOU HAVE SOMETHING TO PROVE EITHER ON OR OFF THE TRACK OR ANYTHING GOING INTO THIS SEASON?“I don’t know – I think with the success I had in the dirt stuff last year, winning 46 times, I’d like to be able to come back to NASCAR, being with an amazing organization that just won the championship, go out there and be strong and win a lot of races, too. I had a 50 percent win percentage last year. Obviously, I know that’s probably impossible to ever happen in NASCAR. But I’d like to be competitive each week, win a lot of races and hopefully contend for the championship.”
“Also, I think I do have a lot to prove off the race track, showing people who I really am and showing people the good person that I know am. Yeah, I think there is definitely a lot I need to prove on and off the race track, and I’m looking forward to getting that started here in a few days.”
HOW DO YOU FEEL GETTING READY TO GET TO DAYTONA TOMORROW? IS IT LIKE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL? ARE YOU NERVOUS AT ALL? ARE YOU AT EASE?“I think I’m just really excited. I feel like time has flown by for me up until these last two or three weeks. It’s felt like forever to get down to Daytona. I drove my bus down yesterday and was just excited to get to that day – get to Sunday to get to drive it because I felt like once I got down here, things will start moving a little bit quicker again. Just ready to go. It’s been so long since I’ve been in a Cup car. Now that I’m with a great team, there’s just a lot that I’m excited about. I’m excited to get on track, get racing and competing, and getting to work with a bunch of new guys. When I was at Ganassi, our team changed a little bit – there were a few different people once Chad Johnston came on. But, for the most part, that was the same group of people that I worked with since 2014. So, just excited about a fresh take on things, get competing and hopefully do a good job.”
YOU AND BUBBA (WALLACE) ARE BOTH IN THE SPOTLIGHT THIS YEAR – FOR TWO DIFFERENT REASONS, BUT BOTH ABOUT RACE. HOW ARE THINGS WITH YOU AND BUBBA? WHAT DO YOU THINK THAT WILL BE LIKE THIS YEAR?“Yeah, Bubba (Wallace) and I are good. It’s funny you ask that, just before I walked in here, I was texting with him asking him about what gaming console to get – whether to get an Xbox or a PlayStation for my bus. He was texting us about golf last night. So, yeah everything is fine with Bubba and I. I’m excited to get on track with him. We’re each in really good equipment and I’m sure we’ll be battling each other a lot. I think the two of us look forward to leading NASCAR in this transformation.”
HOW IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH CLIFF DANIELS DEVELOPING? HOW ARE YOU WORKING ON YOUR CHEMISTRY AND HAVE YOU GUYS DONE ANYTHING OUTSIDE OF JUST TYPICAL STUFF AT THE SHOP?“Yeah, it’s been great to work with him. He’s super, super driven, a perfectionist and holds everybody to high standards. It’s been great to with work with him and seeing how on top of everything he is. I’ve never really been around Chad Knaus as a crew chief, but I always heard that Cliff (Daniels) is kind of like a mini-Chad. I think we all know the success that Chad’s had in NASCAR, so I hope Cliff and I can build a resume like that. I’m confident that we can. Jimmie (Johnson) had really fast race cars last year, so we should be good.”
“Our chemistry is great, so far. He’s been to a handful of my dirt races throughout the off season. We did some team building stuff last week or two weeks ago with the team – the pit crew and everybody. It’s good to get to know everybody and finally get to see everyone on my team without their masks on, socially distanced in a big conference center over close to the race shop. It was good and I look forward to building an even better friendship with everybody on the team.”
IS HE MORE OF A TASK MASTER THAN YOU’VE BEEN ACCUSTOMED TO AS A CREW CHIEF?“I don’t know. I think if you’re a Cup crew chief, you have to be a task master. Maybe he takes it to another level, but Chris Heroy and Chad Johnston, they were both two amazing crew chiefs. But every crew chief is different. Cliff kind of a brings a different attitude and personality that I’ve probably never worked with as a crew chief, so that’s something I’m excited about – to work with somebody that’s totally different and kind of broaden my abilities as a driver and learn a lot from him.”
WHAT’S YOUR APPROACH GOING TO BE TO SOCIAL MEDIA? ARE YOU GOING TO BE ACTIVE ON IT? ARE YOU GOING TO READ STUFF – DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU NEED TO READ STUFF ON THERE? “I don’t know – I guess see how things are going. I’ve kind of, not stepped away from social media, but a little more silent I guess on it for the last 10 months or so. And I actually like that. I get to spend more time doing other things, more important things than burying my face in my phone. I don’t know – even in dirt stuff this year, I was winning a lot, so yeah, I want to read all the good things. But if I had a bad race, crashed or something, then I would stay off because I know that’s when people come out and say things. I feel like over the years, not just this past year, but over the years; I’ve gotten good, I’m not sure good is the right word, but I’ve learned to just stay away from reading things when stuff’s not going good. I guess I don’t plan on reading a whole lot, but I’ll probably try to slowly get more into it and show the fans my personality again.”
DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’LL NEED TO START SPEAKING UP ON SOCIAL ISSUES AND THAT TYPE OF THING? “I’m sure when those things present themselves, yeah I could put my voice out there. You don’t really know until that day comes.”
IS THERE MORE PRESSURE FOR QUALIFYING? “Yeah, I think that puts a little more pressure on it. You want to be perfect if you know there’s a small window of being the few other guys that probably have a shot at the pole. So, you want to hit your shifts perfect, you just want to do everything right. When you leave pit road, you want to be perfect. Yeah, I think it puts a little more pressure on you, as a driver, just to not screw anything up to put yourself on the front row. If you put yourself on the front row, you can kind of relax throughout the Duels. You’ll learn some things early in it and then if you fall back, you can kind of be careful to save the race car. I want to do a good job and do my job to get the pole.”
LAST YEAR, YOU VOLUNTEERED IN MINNEAPOLIS AND WORKED WITH THE URBAN YOUTH RACING SCHOOL AND YOU FUNDRAISED ON SOCIAL MEDIA THIS WINTER. DO YOU PLAN TO CONTINUE THAT WORK AND EDUCATION ABOUT RACE-RELATED ISSUES DURING THIS NASCAR SEASON? HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT ENCOURAGING YOUR TEAMMATES OR TEAM AT LARGE TO JOIN IN WITH YOU?“Yeah, definitely. I had a good time and learned a lot with everything that I did last year, but getting to meet great people like Tony Sanneh, Jackie Joyner-Kersee; all the people I’ve met throughout the year. And getting to continue to work with the Urban Youth Racing School was great and building a deeper friendship with Anthony, Michelle and the kids there. So, yeah, I plan on continuing to do that this year. Right now, I’m working on starting a foundation and trying to work out the specifics and details of that. There’s a lot of things I’m excited about that I’m going to continue to do.”“And for sure – I think the team members, Mr. Hendrick especially, are all on board with anything that I’m going to do. It’s great to have people that support me, have my back and join together with me.”
YOU’RE STILL WORKING ON THE SPECIFICS OF THE FOUNDATION, BUT DO YOU HAVE A FOCUS OR DO YOU HAVE THAT LAID OUT YET?“Like I said, still trying to work out all of the exact details. I want it to be something that’s personal to me and obviously everything I went through last year is very personal to me. It’s going to be a lot of fun to do that – I’ve never had my own foundation. I’ve been to a lot of other events and things like that throughout my career in NASCAR. I’ll take bits and pieces from every one that I’ve been through and try to make an impact.”
WONDERING IF YOU’RE STILL WORKING WITH JOSH WISE, AS FAR AS WITH YOUR WORKOUT ROUTINE?“Yeah, I still work with Josh (Wise). He’s amazing. It’s weird – I still go to work every day at Ganassi every morning because that’s where his gym is. So, that’s a little bit weird, but it’s cool. Josh’s company has grown so much in the last year and he’s doing an amazing job with all the drivers he works with. It’s fun to kind of be competitive with everybody there and push yourself to be better.”
WHEN NASCAR ANNOUNCED THEY WERE GOING TO PUT THE DIRT ON BRISTOL, DID YOU CIRCLE IT ON YOUR CALENDAR FOR NOT JUST NASCAR, BUT FOR THE WORLD OF OUTLAWS BECAUSE THERE DOESN’T SEEM TO BE A CONFLICT WITH TALLADEGA. “It’s definitely a race I look forward to running just because of really the uniqueness of it. There will be a lot of eyes on that event and you want to be the first to win the NASCAR race there. I’m also excited to race other forms of race cars there. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do the World of Outlaw race there yet – I’d like to. I’m definitely going to do the late model race the week before the Cup race, so I’m excited about that. It’s cool that Bristol is doing it and bringing grassroots racing also to the race track. I think there’s over like a thousand cars entered or something between however many classes of cars they have – like four or five divisions. It’s cool they’re doing it and I hope I can win something there.”
DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA OF WHAT THE CHALLENGES MIGHT BE? “I don’t know. I think it’s all really unknown until we all get there. Obviously, a Cup car is 2,000 more pounds than the race cars I’m used to running and have 200 less horsepower. Yes, (Christopher) Bell and I have a lot of dirt experience, but I don’t really believe it to be that beneficial to us in a stock car because it’s so different.” 
“We’ve all been to Bristol that time of year and it rains all the time, so I have no clue how the track is going to be. It could be hard and slick or hard, rubbered down and one lane. Or it could rain and it could be heavy and rough, and we’re ripping the noses off the car. Honestly, I hope it does get a little bit rough because I think that will add some characteristics to the track, open up some different things like that. I don’t know what to expect though. I can’t wait for that event and I guess the week before – get some laps and get an idea of how the surface is and then I can go talk to our team.”
IN THE TIME THIS SUMMER WHEN YOU DIDN’T KNOW WHAT YOUR FUTURE WAS GOING TO BE WITH NASCAR, HOW HARD WAS THAT AND HOW WAS RACING YOUR DIRT CAR HELP YOU GET THROUGH THAT TIME PERIOD?“Yeah, there were a lot of thoughts on, like I said, my life going forward throughout the summer. But I was kind of at peace with that. Dirt racing has always been something I can go back to whenever I’ve had a rough stretch of things in NASCAR and kind of turn my confidence around and get my attitude going in the right direction. That’s kind of what this past year of getting back to racing sprint cars and midgets, and even the late model stuff, kind of helped me do. And I’ve had my best season ever in a race car, so whenever you’re winning, that’s always helping things.”
“I didn’t know if I’d have the opportunity to race in NASCAR, but I was trying to do everything I could on and off the race track throughout last year to try and get that opportunity. I’m thankful that Mr. Hendrick saw the work I was putting in and picked up the phone to get me hired on at their race team. It was a tough year, for sure, but I grew as a person, grew as a race car driver, and now I look forward to putting everything together this year and be a great person and a great race car driver.”
GOING INTO BRISTOL, YOU ARE THE FAVORITE ACCORDING TO ANYBODY THAT TALKS ON SOCIAL MEDIA OR EVEN THE VEGAS ODD-MAKERS. IS THERE ANY EXTRA PRESSURE FOR YOU OR ARE YOU LOOKING AT IT AS ANOTHER CHALLENGE?“I don’t know – I don’t really look at it one or the other. Honestly, I kind of just look at it as another race. I put a lot of emphasis into every race that’s upcoming and it will be no different at Bristol. As of right now, as we sit in February or whatever, I don’t put any extra pressure on myself going there. But I’m sure as we get within a week or two of that event, yeah maybe I’ll put more pressure on myself. But, like I said, I’m not going to prepare any differently.”
“Being a dirt racer, maybe I’m just trying to downplay it, but I don’t think myself, (Christopher) Bell, Ricky (Stenhouse Jr.) or whoever the other dirt guys are in the field, aren’t going to have a huge advantage over everybody. I really believe that, if the weather cooperates and things like that, it’s going to be smooth, rubber down, one lane, kind of like a pavement race. So, I don’t think the running order is going to look much different than a normal race weekend at any other race track or any other oval. But I also don’t know because we haven’t been there yet, so I could be totally wrong. And I hope I am – I hope I’m way wrong and I go out there and dominate every time we hit the track and I hope I have an advantage over everybody. But I don’t think it’s going to be that big.”
HOW DO YOU CONTINUE TO MARRY YOUR FAN BASES AND WHERE DO YOU TAKE THAT FROM HERE SINCE THERE SEEMS TO BE SUCH A DIVIDE BETWEEN NASCAR FANS AND DIRT FANS?“I don’t know – I don’t really think there’s a divide. I think some NASCAR fans are very passionate about NASCAR racing and that’s what they love to watch; that’s what they care about. I think I was able to bring some people to the dirt side of things last year and I think dirt fans are now excited to see me back in the seat on Sunday’s. I think being back in NASCAR builds the fan base back up in all forms that I compete in. I think me dabbling into the late model world, too, has built my fan base up a bunch and I think brought thousands of race fans back to watching NASCAR, if they hadn’t already. I get excited about that as a driver who feels like I’m doing something good for the sport of racing and not really having to do anything other than just race and win races to do it. I definitely think my fan base has grown a lot, just from me being able to win a lot last year and, like I said, dabble in new forms of racing. I hope all those fans that watch me on the dirt tracks will now watch me on their TV screens at home. Just build racing all around.”
HOW DID YOUR EXPERIENCES LAST YEAR CHANGE YOU IN YOUR FATHER ROLE AND THE WAY YOU PARENT YOUR CHILDREN?“Yeah, I think everything that I learned throughout last year I’ve been able to put into my parenting and really just being an overall good person. Whether it be as a parent, a friend, a husband, a son – I feel like I’m better all around. With my children, my daughter is really young, but Owen – you’re always trying to teach him respect and really taking it seriously, rather than just saying things. Really meaning it and things like that. They’re kids, they treat everybody equally – children do. But I think as they grow up, continuing to let them know that you need to treat everybody equally. I look forward to that as they get older. Like I said, they’re both really young and it’s hard to really teach them about what I did and said and went through to get better. Owen just turned six – I think he’s probably got a couple more years until he can really grasp everything that went on last year. And I look forward to that day of teaching them about it. Being a parent is a very rewarding thing and I think I’ll be rewarded as I see them grow up and learn from me and what I did.”

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