Kyle Larson Wins In Sin City

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 Kyle Larson scored his first win of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series (NCS) season in his No. 5 Camaro ZL1 1LE at the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The win not only secured him a spot in the NCS Playoffs for his chance to compete for the 2021 championship title, but it also marked his first at a 1.5-mile track, and seventh career win in the sport.
The victory also gave Chevrolet its second win of the 2021 season and ninth at the popular Nevada venue. It marked the 797th overall triumph in the sport for the Bowtie Brand.

Larson’s feat also celebrates the 265th triumph for car owner, Rick Hendrick, and Hendrick Motorsports, making the organization only three NCS wins away from tying Petty Enterprises as the winningest team in NASCAR history.

Rounding out the top five finishers: Brad Keselowski (Ford) was second, Kyle Busch (Toyota) finished third, Denny Hamlin (Toyota) was fourth, and Ryan Blaney (Ford) was fifth.

THE MODERATOR: We are joined by our race winning driver and the race winning crew chief from the 5 Chevrolet with Hendrick Motorsports.We are going to open it up to questions for these two. 

Q.Kyle, I’m hoping not so much to talk about the win, but a little bit with the charity that you’ve started and the foundation. I’m not sure if we’ve spoken with you since you opened that up.KYLE LARSON: Yeah, no, definitely it’s exciting stuff to start my own foundation, the Drive for 5 program. We’re still trying to kind of work through the small details now. But really looking forward to kind of getting out more into the community and continuing to do good things, like I had done all throughout last year.It’s been unique to kind of learn more about the foundation side and charity side. Still a lot to learn to go about it. Glad to get it started and get it in motion now. 

Q.What is the emotion for you for this win? How does it feel being back, being back in Victory Lane?KYLE LARSON: It feels good. I guess I didn’t know if I’d ever have an opportunity to win a NASCAR race again. To get this awesome opportunity with Hendrick Motorsports and Mr. H taking a massive chance on me, then going out there and being strong all year, it’s been great.I knew we were close to getting a win. Our pit crew done a really good job all season long. Cliff and everybody has been bringing really fast racecars to the track. For the most part I’ve been doing my job, too, on the racetrack.I knew if we could continue to do that, we would get a win. Today we put it all together, had a dominating race car to go along with it. Made my job behind the wheel a lot easier.Cool to get a win this early in the year, now focus ahead and try to win a lot more, rack up Playoff points, put ourselves in a good spot once the Playoffs start. 

Q.Kyle, I saw a photo of Bubba talking to you in Victory Lane. What did that moment mean to you? Can you share with us at all anything he said?KYLE LARSON: Yeah, it meant a lot to have Bubba come to Victory Lane. He always does a really good job of congratulating the winners. Yeah, I saw him waiting to say hi or whatever to me as I ran over there, and just had a quick moment with him. He said congrats. He’s always believed in me. So that was special.Just really cool to have him come by and take time out of his post race where he could be on his way to the airport to go home. For him to come over was really cool.I hope they can start getting some better luck with that race team, having some good runs like they deserve. 

Q.Does this win settle you down at all as far as having the confidence you can win in the Hendrick equipment?KYLE LARSON: Well, even before I ran a race, I had the confidence that I could win. I mean, obviously Chase Elliott won the championship last year. They were hitting as an organization, doing a great job at the right part of the year. With the rules not changing and stuff, I knew we were going to be competitive.I didn’t know kind of what the learning curve would be going into the new race team, being around new people, all of that. But with the resources that they have and all the great people that they have in that building, that in itself gives you a lot of confidence.I definitely have gotten more confident as each week has gone on. I think now winning a race just adds to that. In a way I guess it calms you down because it gives you — you know you can go out there and win and contend at a lot of different types of racetracks. 

Q.Along the lines of the question about the emotions that you felt, what were those final laps like? Was it any different than another win? Did you have extra emotion going through your head? When you crossed the finish line, was it any different than a normal win?KYLE LARSON: Oh, definitely a little different for sure. I definitely got a little choked up the — once I got to the white flag and knew I had a big lead, all that, I was getting choked up, all that.But once I got done with my donuts, celebration in the car, I had myself pretty contained for once I got out.When you’re getting down to the end of the race, you’re not really getting challenged by the guy behind you, those last, like, 20 laps felt like it took a long time. I was just praying that I wouldn’t see a caution, that we could get the win.I was definitely relieved when I got to the white, then just really cool to get the win and get Cliff his first win as well as a Cup Series crew chief is extra special to me also.

 Q.On the backstretch, you did a burnout also. Was there any significance to that?KYLE LARSON: Some of my friends had a motorhome in the backstretch. Actually, my best friend Colby’s birthday yesterday. He was here for the race. That’s why I did some burnouts there. 

Q.It’s been a long time coming. Take me through the miscue on coming to pit road. What was going through your mind as far as coming back and just kind of regaining what you lost there?KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I made a mistake there. I got called to pit road, kind of in an awkward spot because I was catching, I can’t remember who it was, but it was a lap car who had been off the pace. I could tell by my run I had down the backstretch when they told me to pit, it was going to be really close if I could get around him, get down, get to pit road.I was trying to wave when I was outside, but I was trying to judge off my little mirror. I didn’t want to pull down in front of him, get to the brakes, get ran into from behind. So I wish I would have just bailed on trying to make that attempt, just ran another lap like I did. The 2 would have never even been close to me.That’s just an area where I need to get better in making a quicker decision like that. Most of the time you’re not in that type of position. It definitely cost me and it could have cost me the win, for sure.That was one of the only mistakes I feel like I made all race. It was almost a costly one. 

Q.Cliff, can you take us through what it feels like to get this win? You were put in an almost impossible kind of situation being with a seven-time champion, trying to make his exit as smooth as it possibly could be, but now you’re starting a whole new chapter.CLIFF DANIELS: Yeah, for sure. First, I got to say, God, it’s so good. It’s been quite a journey for this team, even for Kyle, for us all to be here at this point together. I am so grateful to Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus for believing in me, to give me an opportunity at crew chief when they did. Of course, to Mr. H, Jeff Gordon, everyone at Hendrick Motorsports, Jeff Andrews, Marshall.Now here today, we knew we had a fast car. Kyle coming onboard has just been a nice spark for this team because it was tough to see Jimmie retire. We wanted to win with him so bad, and we had some great runs last year that just never materialized for one reason or another.So, yeah, I mean, it was tough on our team to learn those lessons and fight those battles and to have Jimmie go retire. A lot of us had won not just one race but a lot of races or even championships with Jimmie. To end without getting win, to see him kind of move on was so bittersweet.Quickly we were able to turn the page. Just so encouraging having Kyle come in. We knew from the year he had last year and everything that he went through last year, the way he positioned himself really well to go win a lot of races, just with the talent that he shows every week, we were hopeful. I would say a small amount of confidence that when he got in our cars that we would be right up front.That showed all the way starting even Daytona Speedway. Yes, speedway races are tough. But to be there at the end I think Kyle did a great job. We put ourselves in contention to win at the road course. Homestead we were off a little bit, most of the day we weren’t quite where we needed to be to win. So to be here today and have the car as prepared as well as it was, to see the moves that Kyle made on the racetrack to pass those guys and just absolutely nail the restarts, getting himself in a good position the way he did, was so cool to see.So thankful to Mr. H,, everyone at Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet, just really cool. 

THE MODERATOR: We also want to welcome Rick Hendrick into the room joining us via phone.We’ll go back to questions for all three. Q.Cliff, when we talked in January, you spoke a lot about the importance of building a foundation early. You mentioned it there. Now you have a win. Is that foundation off to a good start? Are you surprised a win came this quick?CLIFF DANIELS: Surprised maybe a little, but we knew when Kyle and I first connected over the winter, we knew there was going to be a path to get us here. We knew we had to make sure our cars were well-prepared. Just with the schedule, race format, there’s no practice, there’s no qualifying. We don’t have a big opportunity to go build our notebook together.You have to be right when you unload for the race. We knew it was going to take a lot of prep work to get here. We’ve done that every week. Kyle is in the shop three days a week just poring through notes with us, looking at video, looking at data. Our guys have done a nice job to help get him prepared, and likewise he’s done a nice job of just giving us sensations he needs to feel, things he’s felt in the past and how he would like to car to respond in certain situations.Again, we were a little bit off in Homestead. That was a great data point to kind of build our notebook at a mile-and-a-half track where we needed a bit more, and we did make some changes to our package because of Homestead when we came here just to try to suit what he needed. Obviously it worked out today. Doesn’t always work out like that. But it worked out today.Just so thankful for our team, everyone at Hendrick Motorsports, for Mr. H for believing in us. What a cool day. 

Q.Cliff, as you kind of savor your first Cup win, what are some of the most valuable lessons you learned from your days in the 48 that help you now?CLIFF DANIELS: There’s a lot of valuable lessons. One I would say is towards the end of the race we were very fortunate to have the lead that we had. Guys did a great job on pit road. Kyle did a nice job with a little issue off of four, getting himself collected and putting himself in position to have a good clean pit in, pit out. Everyone did a nice job on pit road.Once we started getting towards the later part of the race, 20 to go, 15, 10, five, some valuable lessons I learned from Jimmie and Chad was to always be thinking ahead. We know with this 550 package the late-race restarts can get crazy. You’re going to have mixed strategies, guys that are going to throw a Hail Mary, stay out on old tires, some guys will take two, some four. We worked up two different contingency plans if we needed them. If the caution came out at any point, we already knew what our call was going to be, we knew which way we were going to go. That may sound a little bit idealistic, but we had to be thinking ahead in case we had been in that situation.Kyle had been doing a good job on restarts all day when we were on offense. We wanted to make sure to put him in that situation if we needed it. Lessons like that are valuable. Our team did a great job today. Kyle was phenomenal on the racetrack. Cool to watch. 

Q.Cliff, being the first win like this, what was it like? How much were you playing cheerleader and how much were you having to keep Kyle calm out there? It’s been a while since he’s seen Victory Lane. To do it this quickly, did that surprise you? What was working so well today overall?CLIFF DANIELS: Yeah, I mean, honestly what’s worked well with him, I’ve seen it, I was fortunate to be able to go to a few dirt races with him back in the fall, then over the winter in seeing the way he drove the Chili Bowl race, just his whole demeanor. I kind of was queuing off of what I’ve seen from him, his posture in the car, his demeanor in and out of the car, the way he handles himself.He really doesn’t need a cheerleader. He just needs to know kind of what his gap is to guys around him. Myself or Tyler, we’re trying to let him know that regularly to help him position himself around lap cars, to not have any mistakes or feel too pressured when we had a decent lead.Then on the other side, kind of behind the scenes, I wanted to make sure we had a good plan on pit road if a caution came out just to give him the confidence that if we needed to make a call, we were going to make the right call and still be able to have a winning race, given a different circumstance.Kyle is so good and so confident in himself that he doesn’t need a lot of cheerleading. We’re just trying to make sure we have all the pieces around him set up the right way so he can go get the job done. He was on it today. 

Q.Mr. H, you believed in Kyle. You believed that he could get it done. I’m wondering how this feels today now that you’ve been proved right, now that they’ve got this win out of the way, if you think he’s going to just explode.RICK HENDRICK: Kyle is so talented, to get in a car that he’s never been in before, tracks he’s seen but not in our stuff, I’ve just watched him over the years, and I know how talented he is. Cliff has a really good team.I didn’t really expect for it to come this quick because I just thought it would take more time to gel. But our cars are fast. He’s a champion really. I’m so lucky to have him. Cliff is just a great young man. To win in the fourth race, especially when you don’t have any practice, you just show up and race, it’s really been awesome.I think they’re going to have a lot of success together this year. If you look back at the road course, he had a shot to win that. If you show up and you run well, that’s half the battle. Nobody doubts Kyle’s ability. 

Q.Kyle, I’m assuming you believed you could win in Hendrick cars. I’m wondering what you think your potential is now.KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I mean, I definitely believed that I could win. I guess in a way, yeah, I mean, I’m surprised that we started the year off this good. I not thought that we would have some struggle moments, maybe we still will, but I definitely didn’t think we would come out and be as good as we have been. I’d hoped that we would be going like this, but I just didn’t know, especially with not having practice, things like that. You don’t know. They’re not used to maybe my driving style being different than what they’re used to and things like that. A lot of unknowns really going into a new team, with the way the schedule is.But, no, it’s been great. I knew from the very first lap of this race that we were going to have a fast car. We just kept up with the racetrack. The pit crew did an awesome job all day like they have done all year. That’s what put us in position to win. 

Q.I’m wondering if after one month in these cars that your goals have changed? Maybe you started out a month ago saying you’re just glad to be back, maybe you could win a race. Now that you’re having such a good start, maybe you are reaching much higher?KYLE LARSON: I mean, honestly I don’t know if it’s weird to say, but I don’t really ever, like, set goals. I just want to go out there and win as much as I can. I think if you set a goal of winning four races, that’s not enough. But I also don’t think it’s realistic to say I want to win 20 races either, which I would love to.So I don’t know. I never really had goals. I just want to go out there and win a lot, win at a high rate like I did last year. Ultimately, then win a championship. I think that’s everybody’s main goal. That’s not going to change.But yeah, I mean, I think starting the year off this good, I could see more wins now in our future. The beginning of this schedule really suits what I feel like I’m comfortable with, the tracks that suit my driving style. Going to Phoenix next week, I’ve had some really good runs there. I think Atlanta is the following week. Been close to winning there. That’s a track that suits me. Obviously the dirt race at Bristol. I don’t really know what’s after that.I’ve had my eyes really focused on the beginning of the year because I knew it was going to be tracks that I could go run well at. Hopefully we can keep capitalizing, clicking off more wins, getting a lot of Playoff points. 

Q.Rick, you’ve gotten to know Kyle really well over the last year or so. What have you seen of Kyle since he’s joined your organization? What has he brought to your organization?RICK HENDRICK: Well, I think a lot of excitement because when we announced that he was coming to drive for us, of course the whole company started watching him in Sprint cars. Everybody was tuned in to the Chili Bowl. We knew his talent. I’ve worked with Kyle when he was at Ganassi. I’ve always had a relationship with him.He’s just a heck of a talent. I think the energy that he has brought to our company, along with the energy to see all the cars run as good as they’re running, that has got the whole organization on their toes.Super excited. It just looks like at every race we’re in we’ve got cars in there that can win it. That’s what you want. You want an opportunity to win. Everybody’s working well together. The crew chiefs, Chad being the competition director, Jeff Andrews. We got a great team that are working really well together. Rudy, look at William and how he’s been running.I just feel like the chemistry is so good right now. I don’t know if I ever remember it being any better across the board with all four cars. Two cars sometimes, then one car winning them all. But now we’ve got a really good balance. Everybody’s excited. I’m excited. 

Q.Kyle, I was wondering if you could talk about your relationship with your spotter, Tyler. This was a huge win for him, first career win on the Cup side.KYLE LARSON: Yeah, the way things kind of worked out over the off-season, we ended up getting Tyler really late, before we headed to Daytona. It’s worked out great. I’ve really enjoyed listening to him on the radio. I haven’t had too many spotters in my career, but he’s definitely a really good spotter.I just like his voice, how calm he stays. I feel like we’ve gelled really, really easily. For me to get him his first win in the Cup Series is really cool. I know this is obviously an amazing opportunity for him. It’s special to me and Cliff as well to be able to give somebody like that their kind of first big break in NASCAR.So definitely awesome to get a win with Tyler. Like I said, he’s been doing really good up on the spotter’s stand. I enjoy listening to him. I think we’re only going to get used to each other even more, be better, better if those moments where we have to block and things like that.Like I said, I think for right now he’s done a great job and I’m very fortunate that we ended up with him.

 Q.Rick, two wins the first four races. You certainly had some success last year. To put it together like this this early, what do you feel has been a little bit more of an emphasis, I’m not going to say turnaround because it wasn’t like you were off things, but what are you seeing out of this early start out of your organization?RICK HENDRICK: Look at the end of the year, Chase won Martinsville, it just brought a lot of energy. Then the championship. Working that close together with all the teams. Our alliance with Richard Childress, we’ve been working hard together on bringing the best stuff to the track. There’s a lot of things.I don’t want to miss this opportunity. This win today in the 5 car with my son’s paint scheme on it was probably one of the most special races that I’ve ever watched. I just think everybody has just rolled up their sleeves. William had another year under his belt. When you put Rudy with him, they were so successful, the confidence in both of them. Being able to move Chad up, and giving Cliff another year to get a year under his belt.So when you look through the organization, Chase has had some tough luck. He dominated the road course race. Tough today with the problem they had with the jack.But I think you build momentum slowly in this sport. You can come on red hot, but if you get everybody kind of making a step. We still got work to do. We got work to do in the pits. You always want to improve. But we got good speed. The cars are handling well. All of these guys, from William to Alex, they’re all getting into another year. With their ages, they’re just going to get better. 

Q.Rick, about the paint scheme onboard, what went into the superstition to have Ricky’s scheme or kind of the scheme reminiscent of Ricky’s colors go on Kyle’s car? Did it bring back any memories when Larson took it to the front?RICK HENDRICK: Yeah. My wife and I were watching. It was emotional. It was joy. It was so many things. I love those colors. When we were going to be on the car, I mean, I wanted to run that paint scheme with that number. That meant a ton to me today and to my family just to honor our son.I love the paint scheme anyway. But Kyle made us proud today. 

Q.Kyle, back to a race last summer when you won in the sprint car at Grandview Speedway, you said after that race you really needed to win because it gave you a lot of confidence that maybe you had lost. You won 23 of your 36 dirt races after that point. Was that maybe a turning point in this journey for you that has now culminated with a win in Las Vegas?KYLE LARSON: I don’t remember, honestly. I mean, I kind of remember that time. I probably went only five or six races without a win to that point. It felt like a lot with as much as I was racing and winning to that point. Felt like we kind of had gotten off there for a quick minute.Yeah, I worked really hard for that win. Yeah, we really went on a big roll I think after that. I don’t know if that helped culminate into this win today. I definitely think, even though I was out of a stockcar all of last year, still being able to go race a lot and win a lot last year really helped me as a driver for this year.I felt like I was in positions to win races more so than any other race car driver in the world last year. You learn from all those moments. I feel like I’m a much stronger racer today mentally than I probably was early last year.I definitely think all the experience I got racing a lot last year, winning a lot, helped me kind of for moments like today, staying calm. Like making a mistake like I did, coming to pit road, being able to stay calm in that moment, just get back to work, kind of clear your mind. Where I don’t know if earlier last year or before that if I would be mentally strong enough to clear my mind and just go back out and start hitting the marks again and getting away from the 2 car. 

Q.Kyle, as you kind of look at this year, you mentioned that you don’t set goals, were there any personal expectations? Did you kind of see yourself getting into Victory Lane early in this season or did you think the gelling time with Cliff Daniels was going to take a little bit longer than what it did?KYLE LARSON: I’d hoped that we could start this strong this early in the year, but I just didn’t know. So, yeah, I did kind of think there would be a moment of taking time to gel with my team, or just having them understand my driving style and stuff like that.But yeah, you know, they’ve obviously done their homework on me throughout the year or throughout the off-season. Just in the short amount of time, I mean, you hard Cliff talk about it, us being off last weekend at Homestead was a good data point to learn from that, then put what they learned into the cars going forward.We’ve been able to gel quickly. Without practice I feel like I’ve been studying and working way harder than I ever have. I think it’s all paying off. I’ve been able to start each race really strong. I think that shows us as a team doing our homework, being prepared. It just shows in those first-half laps which we’ve been really long. The quicker you can get up to speed out there, the further ahead you are for the rest of the race.Definitely working hard has been paying off.

 Q.Mentioning momentum, I’m wondering how much you believe in the momentum, carrying this into Phoenix next week? Will that carry over much or do you feel there will be more challenges from that year off?KYLE LARSON: I don’t know. Hendrick has been really good at Phoenix. Chase dominated that race last year. I think Hendrick Motorsports as a whole is just really, really strong everywhere.I think us winning today helps the confidence a lot. Yeah, I mean, I got all week to do more homework and more studying and trying to learn how my teammates drove at Phoenix, kind of what these cars are like, prepare as much as we can. 

Q.Can you say what it meant to you to have Brad Keselowski come out to the frontstretch after that race and basically be the first person to congratulate you personally about your win? Maybe describe what your relationship has been with him up to this point in your career.KYLE LARSON: Yeah, that was really special to see Brad walking across the infield to come congratulate me, then waiting while I completed my interviews and things. So, yeah, that was special.He’s somebody that I really respect and look up to as a driver, a leader, all of that. I definitely feel like we built a friendship over the last really probably five or six years. Having children has really brought us together more so. We live in the same community, so we see each other throughout the week sometimes. Birthday parties and stuff they’ll come to for my children.I really like Brad. I’ve always respected him. Even before I ever raced in NASCAR, I was a Brad Keselowski fan. Yeah, to have him come out and congratulate me after finishing second, I believe

– THE MODERATOR: Thank you everyone for joining us. Mr. Hendrick, thank you for joining us. Congratulations on the win tonight. 

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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