Kyle Larson’s return to his home state of California brought the Hendrick Motorsports driver his third win of the 2021 season when he took his No. 5 HendrickCars.com Camaro ZL1 1LE to victory lane in the Toyota Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway. In back-to-back races, the 28-year-old driver swept both Stage wins and led a race-high 57 laps to capture his first road course victory and ninth-career victory in 239 starts in NASCAR’s premier series.
The triumph is the fourth-consecutive victory for Chevrolet Racing and Hendrick Motorsports, continuing to lead all manufacturers in the overall win count with seven thus far in the 2021 season. The victory, Chevrolet’s 12th win at the 2.52-mile/12-turn road California road course, brings the winningest manufacturer in motorsports its 802nd all-time NASCAR Cup Series win. Hendrick Motorsports now sits at an all-time record of 22 race wins on road course circuits, more than any other organization in NASCAR Cup Series history.
Hendrick Motorsports has been no stranger to dominance on road courses. Larson’s victory brings the organization its sixth win in the last seven road course events. Chase Elliott, who finished in the runner-up position, gave Hendrick Motorsports its fourth consecutive 1-2 finish, tying a NASCAR record set in 1956 by Carl Kiekhafer Racing. Chip Ganassi Racing teammates posted strong top-10 finishes, with Kurt Busch, No. 1 Monster Energy Camaro ZL1 1LE, finishing sixth; and Ross Chastain, No. 42 Clover Camaro ZL1 1LE, taking the checkered flag in seventh. Alex Bowman drove his No. 48 Ally Camaro ZL1 1LE to a ninth-place finish, giving Chevrolet five of the top-10 positions in the final running order.
Martin Truex Jr. (Toyota) was third, Joey Logano (Ford) was fourth and Kyle Busch (Toyota) rounded out the top-five finishers of the race.
The NASCAR Cup Series season continues next weekend at Texas Motor Speedway for the NASCAR All-Star Race on Sunday, June 13, at 8 p.m. ET. Live coverage can be found on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90.
KYLE LARSON, NO. 5 HENDRICKCARS.COM CAMARO ZL1 1LE, PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT: THE MODERATOR: We are joined by our race winner today, Kyle Larson. Congratulations on another victory. Last week and again today. An exciting week to be a part of Hendrick Motorsports. Talk to us a little bit about that run today.
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, thank you. It was an awesome race car. I was a little bit nervous to start the race just having Chase Elliott, who is probably the best road racer right now, lined up next to me. When I was able to kind of stretch out from him, then kind of slow myself down, I was able to learn some things about the track, kind of get into a rhythm. From then on, we were really good. Even passing cars was easier than I’ve ever had here before. Just really shows how good my race car was today. Worked out great to win both stages and the race. Just an unbelievable race car, which it has been all year long. We just now finally have been able to get some wins to show for it.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll start with questions. Q.There’s so many restarts late there, so many chances for the field to take a shot at you. What’s the key in those situations to not make a mistake?KYLE LARSON: Yeah, on a few of the earlier restarts, they were able to kind of stay on my right side longer, then it had me out to the left through two, so I was hoping to get a better launch to where I’d be a little bit clear of them by the time I got to turn two to get down. Each of those last restarts, I got good launches, was able to do that. On each of them I felt like I lost a little bit of front grip on each of them. Kind of went through there and pushed a little bit too much, couldn’t get on the gas as soon as I needed to. Same with three, three A and four. Chase was actually able to stay closer to me than I wanted him to by the time we got to seven. He’s really good at out-braking people. I didn’t want to go in there and make a mistake. I can get good drive off to kind of stretch out from him. Just had to make sure I hit my marks and didn’t enter into the fast corners too fast, slide out and lose speed. My car was really good. I didn’t really have to run 100%. I could run 95%, just limit my mistakes a little bit better.
Q.You’ve always been fast here, but you haven’t had the best races. What was the difference today?KYLE LARSON: I think Hendrick Motorsports and just the cars that they bring to every racetrack right now, but today I think our car was better than Hendrick Motorsports has been here in the past. I think that helps my job out a lot. Then also, I mean, there was definitely — I put work into it this week by looking at a lot of S and T, things like that. Josh Wise and I work out, not just work out, I do a lot of stuff with him, and he’s hired on Scott Speed to kind of work side-by-side with him. Scott is one of the best American road racers we’ve ever seen. Getting to pick his brain a lot, look at areas where I’ve probably struggled in the past. Scott really helped me this week of, like, I had my mindset how I thought you needed to out-brake people, which was opposite of what you really needed to do. So talking to him, I felt like I got a lot better out-braking people. I was able to pass people really easily. I think having him was a huge benefit to me, as well as Ross Chastain, Reddick, Bowman who ran pretty good today until he had his crash. Yeah, I think we have a really cool thing going throughout the week and it definitely helped prepare all of us drivers who work out with him, Josh and Scott, to be good for the weekends.
Q.The celebration in Victory Lane, where you spit the wine out, was there something behind that? Looked strange.KYLE LARSON: I won a K&N race here in 2014. Apparently it wasn’t windy that day because it shot out perfect, was a cool picture. I was like, Man, I’m going to do that again today. But totally blew it. It was way windy. I feel super bad. I got it all over Jill Gregory. That was my bad (smiling). I messed that up.I wasn’t spitting the wine out because it was bad or anything. I was doing it for a cool photo like it was in 2014.
Q.Can you remind me, when did you first start going to Sonoma? What are your earliest memories?KYLE LARSON: I didn’t honestly come here a whole bunch. My parents brought me here, I don’t know what year it was, I would have had to have been probably five or six maybe, because it was before I started racing. We came to like a Happy Hour, the Saturday practice day for NASCAR. I’ve came to a lot more, like, NHRA qualifying days than NASCAR. I came to one NASCAR race here when Juan Pablo won, with me and my best friend who actually was one of our spotters today, we came here and watched Juan win.
Like I said, I was always racing on weekends. By the time we were done with our race for the weekend, we were pretty burnt out, didn’t make it up here. I came to an INDYCAR race actually once or twice. Yeah, not a bunch of times here.
Q.The picture of you on the hillside in the DuPont year, when would that have been?KYLE LARSON: That would have been during that practice day when I was probably five or six years old. Q.To win here, is it a big deal to you?KYLE LARSON: Yeah, for sure. Even though I didn’t grow up coming here a bunch, it’s still my home track. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Napa Valley when Rico and I used to hang out a bunch. Actually got to have lunch with David Abreu and his winemaker Brad Grimes yesterday, he cooked for a lot of my friends, we got to have some of his awesome wine. Napa Valley, it’s obviously not my hometown, Oak Grove is my hometown. Throughout, I don’t know, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 or so, I spent a bunch of time here. Yeah, so Napa Valley is close to me for sure.
Q.Just watching you take off in turn one, you just really seemed to get a launch that would separate you from the competition. Is there something you worked on specifically on the restarts to try to get an advantage?KYLE LARSON: Not really. I mean, I’m trying to get away from them in every corner and stretch out. The last two restarts I was surprised. We had a lot of laps on our tires. I honestly had probably better traction then, at least equal or better, on the launch as I did on sticker tires. I don’t know why that was. It kind of allowed me to get a little bit nosed ahead of the 9 through one, then kind of get my momentum built up like I needed to through two to get clear of him. Where like the 19 and 22 on a couple of the restarts early in the race, they were able to stay on my right side for a couple corners. I didn’t want that to happen. I just needed to nail my launch, then my few couple corners.
Q.We have several more road courses coming up. How much confidence finally getting that first road course win is it going to help you in future road courses?KYLE LARSON: It definitely, definitely helps my confidence. I mean, I think everybody knows, like, I’ve always qualified really well on the road courses, but I haven’t been the best racer. Then today starting from the pole, I was like, Man, I just hope it’s not like it always is. It wasn’t. I knew we had a car capable of winning after that first competition caution. Yeah, so to get a win and know that I can race, I feel like I learned a lot here this week about how to kind of pass people on road courses. I think that’s really going to benefit me going forward. We were able to beat the two best road course racers of the last six years or longer it seems today. Definitely means a lot. For sure helps our confidence on this 5 car.
Q.In recent weeks you’ve been on this run. Have you given much consideration to winning the regular-season points championship?KYLE LARSON: Definitely. I think there for a few weeks, I was probably over a hundred-and-something points behind Denny Hamlin. I was like, He’s kind of got it locked up. I kind have thought, Well, I mean, I’ve had a couple really bad finishes, and he hasn’t had any. If he just has one bad race, we’ll be right back in it, which he still hasn’t had any bad races, DNF’s or anything like that. We’ve had a few really good weeks where we’ve won stages, won the race these last couple weeks. We’ve taken huge chunks out of it.
It’s definitely a goal of mine to get those I think 15 bonus Playoff points if you can win it. Yeah, we just got to keep finishing the races, gaining a lot of stage points, and finishing up front, not making things bad, just trying to be smooth and finish the best we can.
Q.Would you say at this point in time, is this the most confident you’ve ever felt in a Cup car in your career?KYLE LARSON: In a Cup car, yeah, probably. I’ve talked about 2017 being a really good year for me. I would say this is better, for sure. Now we’ve got three wins at this point in the season. A lot of other seconds and top fives. Right now I feel like we could go to any racetrack and be good. There were still times I think in 2017 where, yeah, we won a lot, ran up front a lot, but there were still races where we were just average. Seems like this year we’ve been strong at every racetrack. I feel like I’m confident as a driver in what I’ve been learning, getting better at. I definitely feel like I’m a better driver than I was in 2017. But our team is also extremely good right now. For sure I think all of us on the 5 car and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports for that matter is confident right now.
Q.Two years ago they added the carrousel back to Sonoma. What has been the biggest difference in tackling that?KYLE LARSON: I don’t know. I like the carrousel. Even two different than a couple years ago, there’s a strip of new pavement there that you can kind of use, position your car on to get good grip, angle yourself for the exit. Some of the curbs were different than they were from what I remember in 2019, like up through one and two. Those curbs were different. It was fun. You kind of had to learn it really quickly. Yeah, some of the braking markers were different than normal. Without having practice, it was fun to try to learn it all on the fly.
Q.With the stage wins, do you think this is the best stretch you’ve had in your NASCAR career?KYLE LARSON: What was that?
Q.Do you think your current stretch is the best in the career?KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I couldn’t understand. Everything is going better than it has for me in the Cup Series. It’s just been a lot of fun. I just hope we can keep it going. I think it’s great to be on a hot streak, but this series is so tough that you could easily get knocked back and be struggling and don’t know why you are. We just got to continue to work hard. Pit crew has been doing a great job. Cliff, everybody at the shop, on all the cars, have been doing great. I feel like I’m putting in a lot of work on my end and results are showing. We got to keep working hard to stay this good.
Q.It’s been two years since you have been to Sonoma because of the pandemic and all that. How reliable are the notes when you come back after two years, all the rule changes, the tire compound changes?KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I was honestly nervous going into this race because, I mean, I feel like I looked at a lot of stuff, S and T, all that, watched a lot of in-car and things. I haven’t been here forever. None of us have. A new team, all that. My week was really busy. I didn’t really have enough time I felt like to get on iRacing to kind of get familiar with things. I was honestly a little bit nervous, especially being the first car to turn one today. But I think all that stuff, video and S and T that I watched, really helped, obviously paid off.
Q.How did today make you a better racer, especially knowing you had Chase chasing you, your teammate because of the conditions and your tire falloff? How did all of that come together to help you get this win?KYLE LARSON: I don’t know. I think just preparation and work by everybody. Obviously it helped us today. Like I said, Chase and Martin are two of the best road racers. They are the two best road racers that have been around now for the last few seasons. Throughout the race when I passed the 19, ran the 9 down and passed him, like it definitely helped my confidence out a lot throughout the race. I think going forward it will, too. Just a cool day, for sure. Any time you win in the Cup Series, it’s not easy, so you know you did something good as a team to get it done.
Q.Did the late cautions get you over the hump where you could run with cooler tires?KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I didn’t notice much with the tires. I think my car was really good. Honestly, my forward drive, the grip in my tires stayed better than what I’m used to. I don’t know how other people — how like the 19 felt compared to normal, if he felt like he fell off more or the lap times showed that.For me, my car was good. I fell off, but I didn’t fall off nearly as bad as I feel like I typically do here.
Q.I saw on social media this week that you raised $62,000 through your Drive for 5 program. What does it mean to have a program like that alongside your stellar season?KYLE LARSON: It’s cool. With each lap completed, the wins and stuff, the money gets bigger. It definitely in the back of my mind adds a little bit more pressure to want to go out there and complete every lap and win these races. Cool that I’m able to raise that money, work together with some great organizations, too, through it. Definitely need to keep stacking that money up there. We have a goal of getting to $500,000. Hopefully we can raise some more money throughout the year with running up front, doing good, but also fans can donate as well.
Q.What were your emotions like returning home after all that happened last year? What was it like exiting the car in front of the home crowd?KYLE LARSON: It was cool to be here today with I guess the largest crowd that California has seen at a sporting event since the pandemic started. I think it was just cool for all those people. I got to come hang out with a lot of my friends before the race. They cooked some tacos before the race, so that was cool. Did some wine tours throughout this week, went to Guy Fieri’s house the other night, have a good time, drink a little bit too much (smiling). It’s good to come out West. I think all of us enjoy staying at a nice resort with our families. We’re just relaxed, enjoying some awesome weather. To cap it off with a win at my home track, it’s really cool.
Q.What was it like going to Guy Fieri’s house?KYLE LARSON: He’s good friends with Clint Bowyer. This is kind of towards the end of the FOX broadcast. The other night they had like a little party to say thank you to them. We happened to be staying with Clint this week, so we got to go. Yeah, I don’t really remember it, but I made I guess a deal with Guy that if I won this weekend, I would give him the trophy. I got to figure out how I’m going to get it to him. But, no, it was cool that he let us come over and have a good time. Look forward to coming back out again next year.
Q.Knowing the past couple weeks it’s been you and your teammates racing each other closely and hard, how do you balance racing a teammate but also going out there yourself going for the win?KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I don’t know. I feel like you do have to race each other a little bit differently. You don’t want to run into each other and damage their car or damage yours, take out two opportunities for our organization to get a win. At the same time we got to run hard because we’re battling up front for these wins with each other. It’s been cool to get to race really hard with Chase especially. William and Alex have been doing a great job this year, to have us all getting wins, battling up front all throughout the race, it’s awesome.I think, too, we all want to see each other do good. We work really well together. I think we all learn something off of each other each week.
Q.A lot of people with the success that you’re having have pointed to you as the championship favorite. What does it mean to you to hear that? Do you feel that is the case?KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I mean, it’s still a lot of racing left. I think if you were to point right now at a favorite, I think for sure you’d have to look at us, with us running up front, leading lots of laps, getting the stage wins, things like that, and now getting a couple race wins these last two weeks. Like I said, it’s still a long ways left to go. Teams are going to get better. Teams are going to fade. I just hope we’re a team that continues to get better, keeps getting these wins, hopefully be battling my teammates for a championship in Phoenix later this year.
Q.This is five consecutive finishes for you in the top two. What have you learned about yourself?KYLE LARSON: I don’t know. I’m not really sure. We could have won some more races, I think. I got to race a lot last year. Gosh, I ran 90-something races. I think I was in the top two for 70-something of ’em. I think last year kind of taught me a lot, helped keep my heart rate down. These late-race restarts and things, I feel a lot less pressure I think when I’m out there nowadays than I did maybe before.Yeah, I think just the experience of that really helps now more than anything.
Q.Mr. H was talking after last week’s win about the camaraderie and how proud he was that you and Cliff Daniels have built the relationship. Talk about that relationship, how beneficial it’s been.KYLE LARSON: Yeah, all these wins are team wins. Yeah, my relationship with Cliff and everybody on the 5 car is great. Cliff is a very intense guy. He’s a perfectionist really. That’s what you want out of a crew chief. Outside of that, it’s cool to me that obviously dirt racing is important to me, all that, but he watches more dirt racing than I do throughout the week. I think that’s really cool. He’ll talk to me, Hey, man, did you see this or that? This guy did great, did you see that slide job? I think that’s awesome. It definitely helps us build a closer connection. He’s only a few years older than me. I hope we’re together for a very long time. I hope this 5 team is together for a very long time. They’ve already been together for a while with Jimmie and stuff. I hope with me plugged in, we can be together forever.
Q.How did today kind of reflect with you being with Hendrick now? Chase being the so-called road course ace, whatever, what is the competition like between you guys all under one roof? They have the Penske commercials where they have the competitive nature. Are you guys kind of like that, butting heads, pushing each other?KYLE LARSON: I mean, so I wasn’t around before. Every week we go into the competition meetings, Marshall and Chad, even Rick, Jeff Gordon, guys like that, will talk about how the teams have never been working better together than they are right now. That includes us drivers, too. Like I mentioned earlier, I think we’re all competitive with each other, but we all want to see our organization do well. We definitely work well together. We race hard together. I’m sure throughout the years we’ll have run-ins over whatever on track. I think if we can be man enough just to have talks to get through them, be good teammates, it would be hard to stop us. I think all of us are very unselfish too. Like I said, we all want to see each other do good. I’m an open book if any of them have questions for me, I answer it 100% honestly of what I may be doing in the car with my hands or my feet, whatever lines I look for, past trends and stuff. I feel like I can ask any of them the same thing and I’ll get an honest response back. Like I said, we all want to see each other do good. I think that’s how you build great teammates.
THE MODERATOR: Kyle, thank you for your time tonight. Congratulations on the victory. KYLE LARSON: Yep, thank you.
Inside Track Communications PR