Transcript: Kyle Larson at Championship 4 Media Day – Phoenix


Q. No other racing this week. Usually you’re —

KYLE LARSON: Antsy? No, it’s a short week. Yeah, I mean, it was really short. Monday was normal. Tuesday we had Halloween. Flew out here early yesterday morning.

No, not antsy at all. There’s weeks that I go throughout the year where I don’t race, so… Yeah, nothing out of the ordinary.

Q. You’ve been in championship pressure situations before. Is this normal? Anything different about this time?

KYLE LARSON: I don’t know. I don’t remember feeling like overly anticipated the last time I was in the Final 4. I feel pretty calm, neutral. I feel like I typically am about most things. Right now I’m calm and all that.

I think as you get closer to the race, I remember that’s when the nerves kind of pick up. Driver intros, stuff around that, I think that’s when I remember the nerves kind of kicking in.

I imagine it will probably be the same this weekend. 

Q. With Hendrick, is it championship or bust? Is it get to here or bust?

KYLE LARSON: I’m not sure. I think a company like Hendrick Motorsports, Hendrick Automotive Group, I think Rick wants to win at everything he does. I think all the people in place, too, have the same goals in mind of dominating whatever they’re in.

Yeah, I think every team in the garage area strives to win the championship. I’m not sure if it’s this or bust. You just try to put in the work to get yourself in this opportunity. Hopefully you prepared yourself well enough to try and win the championship.

Q. When you talk about the nerves, where do you feel the nerves?

KYLE LARSON: I wouldn’t say nervous, but nerves. I just remember the atmosphere being, like, incredible. Too, I think me being a West Coast guy, I just felt like the crowd was really behind me before the race two years ago. I just thought it was a really cool atmosphere. 

I just remember getting kind of butterflies and getting almost like emotional knowing the size of the race that was upcoming, what it would mean to my career and all that.

Yeah, I think feeling that atmosphere again on Sunday will probably be fun. Then once you strap in, though, once you strap in the car and roll off, you kind of get at peace with everything again.

Q. Other athletes would look at what you guys do and think Super Bowl quarterback is not meeting with sponsors or people on pit road 10 minutes before they go out on the field. You’re doing it going out to the car. What is that like in such a big moment? Is it good to be distracted in a way?

KYLE LARSON: No, I mean, I would love to not have to do anything on race day, honestly. But I think you know, at least with our sport, you understand that with being in the Final 4, there’s more obligations that come with it.

My Sunday will be the busiest Sunday I have all year. Definitely the earliest morning with most appearances. Like I said, I wish I didn’t have to do any of that, but it just worked out that way.

I think, like you said, we do it throughout the year so you kind of know how to stay focused within all that. I remember a couple years ago I had a lot to do, as well. It will be fine. We’ll be focused when it comes race time.

Q. As you go between different things, are you thinking about the race, or you’re getting whipped around?

KYLE LARSON: I guess the upside to having so many obligations on race day is it does keep your mind off of the race, what could go good, what could go bad, what is my car like. I think all the things that can creep into your mind…

I think what I remember from 2021 when I had a lot of stuff to do, you’re doing all this stuff, then, boom, you have to get dressed to do driver intros. I like that because the morning goes by quicker where you’re not just sitting around thinking about things, overthinking things. 

Q. Daylight savings being different out here.

KYLE LARSON: But the time doesn’t change in Arizona. 

Q. Instead of three hours off, you’re two hours off all of a sudden.

KYLE LARSON: The time doesn’t change here. I’m glad that we’re here because then you don’t have to reset alarms and stuff like that. You can actually get better sleep I feel like. I feel when you’re in North Carolina or anywhere else besides Arizona, you have something to do the next day, you don’t sleep very good the night before because you don’t know if you’re going to sleep through your alarm or whatever.

Yeah, it’s fine. 

Q. You have experience. Some of these guys don’t have as much experience. How much is mental toughness?

KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, although a couple of ’em haven’t been in the Final 4 before, it’s no big deal really. I mean, we’ve all been a part of this race our whole careers, even though we may not have been in the Final 4, we’ve been a part of the event. You kind of get a sense for what the style of race is for those four guys. You see them doing their championship Media Day stuff.

At least from I remember in 2021, nothing was, like, surprising or anything like that. I don’t think it matters if you’ve been in zero times or every year. It doesn’t matter to me. I don’t think it matters. I mean, I think we’re all pretty similar people. I don’t think it matters to any of us. 

Q. You’re good at not flipping out.

KYLE LARSON: Yeah, but like I said, I think we all are, so… Yeah, I don’t know if that answers your question, but I don’t think it’s a big deal that some of them have never been in it.

Q. It is a lot, but you have dealt with it your whole career, a lot of attention. You just race Phoenix like you’re pretty much used to racing Phoenix.

KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I mean, that’s the plan, at least for me. Yeah, I’m just excited. I think we’re all excited to get on the racetrack, get practice tomorrow, kind of get a glimpse of how the weekend might go.

Q. You didn’t win the spring race but led a lot of laps. Does that matter now?

KYLE LARSON: Well, I mean, sure, it always matters. I’d rather come in here leading the most laps in the spring than leading no laps in the spring. I think that gives some confidence.

But at the same point, the sport evolves, teams evolve, setups evolve. It could be a different race. I think we have a different tire this time around.

Yeah, it’s hard to say. I think our team has done — out of the Chevy camp, our team has done the best on short tracks this year. I think we have a little bit more confidence than we would have had we been in the Final 4 last year.

But, yeah, it’s tough. It’s all four of us are really good, drive for really good teams, have great individual teams. It’s hard to predict who could do the best.

Q. With the new tire, how predictable is…

KYLE LARSON: Well, New Hampshire is nothing like this place. I just remember not feeling like I had very much grip at all in New Hampshire. All of us kind of struggled. I don’t even remember who won. Truex maybe. He was really, really good, yeah.

But yeah, I don’t know. I think, like I said, we’re probably all excited to get on track on Friday and get an idea how our weekend will be.

Q. Confidence, maybe it’s confidence. One thing that I see, it’s really probably right, is that you’re not underestimating any of the competitors. It’s clear you’re not doing that.

KYLE LARSON: No, no. I mean, I think all four of us, there’s definitely a number of guys that didn’t make the Final 4 that are deserving of being in this position. Yeah, I think you can make a case for any of us four to win the championship.

Yeah, I think we all respect each other on the racetrack. We all respect each other’s abilities, teams’ abilities. Yeah, it should be a fun race. Obviously I would love to come out on top, but I also understand it will be tough. Everybody’s going to have a shot. 

Q. (No microphone.)

KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I mean, I think it could continue for sure. I mean, stats say it should. But I think in the Next Gen era, it’s a little bit more open I think to win. Like Blaney could have won, should have won last year probably. He did a good job kind of protecting his teammate. 

I think at least from what I remember from the other years with the previous cars, the best cars wins the race, and that guy’s the champion.

The Next Gen stuff, there’s so much parity within the cars and teams that more people have a shot to win on Sunday.

Q. Do you think the success you’ve had the last couple years that people expect you to win this championship?

KYLE LARSON: I don’t know. You’d have to ask those people, so… I’m not really sure.

Q. I look at the odds.


Q. You’re the favorite.

KYLE LARSON: I haven’t seen the odds. I heard that the odds were close.

I don’t know. 

Q. Does it matter?

KYLE LARSON: I don’t think it matters, no, no. I definitely don’t think it matters. I mean, sure, yeah, we’ve done a great job the last few seasons, but when it comes down to one race, it’s hard to close that out sometimes.

I’m confident in our race team that we can. I’m not overly confident, though, because I understand how tough all these teams are.

Q. Do you think the four that are in, it’s four equals? You don’t have an outlier that snuck in?

KYLE LARSON: No. I mean, I think you can make a case for all of us on why each of us could or should be the champion. I mean, obviously you look at, like, recent speed and stuff, Blaney probably to me stands out to be the best.

If I was setting odds, I would put him as the favorite potentially. Again, not by much. I think we’re all four pretty equal. It should be a really good race. I think whoever wins on Sunday is a very deserving champion.

Q. Do you treat this the night before any differently than any other race? Do you go about the preparation differently?

KYLE LARSON: No, not really. I mean, it’s a little bit more chaotic, honestly, this week, I think probably for all of us. Maybe we’ll all treat Saturday differently.

I’ve got a lot of friends coming in, family. We’re cooking out at the house after practice tomorrow. Then Saturday we’ll get dinner and probably just lay a little bit more low then. That will be normal, I guess.

Cooper was up at, like, 4:50 this morning local. I would love for Katelyn to take him to a different room maybe on Saturday night or Sunday morning (smiling). I’m nervous about that conversation, so…

But, no, yeah, I think you can’t, at least the way I approach it, you don’t want to treat this week much different than a typical week to get your flow of things off.

Q. How old is Cooper now?

KYLE LARSON: Ten months. 

Q. Is there any advantage that you bring into it as a former champion that these other guys don’t have?

KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I don’t view us having a leg up on the others because we have a championship at all. It was a couple years ago. It’s a totally different race car. Pit stops are different. The race is different. It’s all different.

Yeah, like I’ve been saying, I think all of us have a fairly equal shot. I came into the Championship 4 a couple years ago with no experience in the Round of 4. Really had only been in the Round of 8 one other time before then.

It does not make a difference. I think if your team executes right, any of us can win.

Q. What needs to go right for you on Sunday to win the championship?

KYLE LARSON: I think full first stop, you need to have speed in your race car. I think a lot like we did in 2021, obviously I would love to have the fastest car and just dominate, but I think you just got to keep yourself in contention.

If things aren’t going perfectly or you’re not leading the race with 40 or 50 to go, don’t lose hope. I think just continue to plug away and something may change the race. Just be in contention to let your team kind of pick you guys up. Like I said, a like lot what happened in 2021. We were running fourth. I was losing hope. We had a caution, had a chance for a pit stop, and the rest is history.

Yeah, I think just keeping yourself in contention, just doing the best job you can. Whatever results come, just be proud of that.

Q. (Question about qualifying.)

KYLE LARSON: I think qualifying is important for any race. Had I not qualified on pole in ’21, got the first pit stall, maybe I would give you a different answer like, It doesn’t really matter that much.

After being in that number one pit stall here in Phoenix, I understand how important that stall is. Yeah, we put a big emphasis on qualifying and would love to qualify good.

Q. (Question about racing Christopher.)

KYLE LARSON: I mean, Christopher is just a guy you can never count out. He’s proven that in the NASCAR stuff of Homestead, for instance, like not even being anywhere in the picture, then here he comes out of nowhere and wins the race.

He’s done a really good job, him and his team have, of being able to capitalize on things, executing the ends of the races really well and closing them out.

Yeah, he does a lot more than that really good, as well. It’s cool to see another dirt guy run as good as him, have another dirt guy in the Final 4.

Q. What sort of X factor are you bringing this weekend that the others maybe don’t have?

KYLE LARSON: X factor? I don’t know. I mean, I think we’re all pretty equal, so… I think you don’t get to this point (temporary loss of audio on recording). I think on paper it would show our raw speed maybe, maybe our X factor.

For one race, I don’t really know that that matters. I haven’t looked at kind of how we rank on short tracks compared to other tracks. Our speed’s been good at most of these places.

Q. Experience of a championship, you have that, right?

KYLE LARSON: I don’t think that matters, no. 

Q. How closely are you and William working? Is it just kind of business as usual at Hendrick, or are you two chatting a little bit more maybe than you would normally?

KYLE LARSON: I mean, for us, I think it’s been pretty typical. Like, I don’t know anything about my race car. I don’t think he knows anything about his race car. We can’t, like, chat about setup stuff or anything like that.

I think our teams, I would assume, work really well together, like they do every week. Our offices are right next to each other at the shop, all that.

I don’t think anything changes on that side of things. We’ll all practice tomorrow, have our debrief. Everything just goes as normal. Me being in this position now a couple times, from 2021 and all that, we all work together the same way then as we did all season long. Nothing has changed this time around, either. 

Q. Byron said you were a really good teammate to work with, very open. Talk about the dynamic coming into this race.

KYLE LARSON: Yeah, no, I mean, I appreciate hearing that. I try hard to be a really good teammate. I feel like I don’t have to try hard. I’m just pretty open with how I am as a person.

Yeah, I do think, though, William and I are a lot alike. I think we’re both an open book to our teams in the debriefs and stuff. I think that’s important to have that type of leadership maybe to just talk really in-depth about our race weekend and our cars and all that. 

I think William and I have a very similar driving style. I think when I look at our data, I feel like we throttle, brake, steering, all that looks really similar. I don’t know if our cars are very similar setup-wise or what. Driving style-wise we look a lot alike. I think that helps us talk about things and really latch onto what we’re saying and learn from what we’re telling each other.

Q. You’re pretty relaxed. Are you amped up at all internally coming in here? How do you prep for this week?

KYLE LARSON: I’m not, like, overly amped. I’m obviously, like, super happy to be in this opportunity. This is just a really awesome opportunity to have a chance to race for another Cup Series championship. I look at it more that way. Win, lose or draw, this is a cool opportunity to be in. I hope to capitalize on it. 

Yeah, I’m just excited for the moment and ready for the race this weekend. I know our team has prepped really hard. I have a lot of confidence in Cliff and his leadership. Everybody is going to be prepared for Sunday’s race.

Yeah, I don’t know, I don’t feel any more excited than I did for Martinsville. It’s another race that I want to win. It means more, but I think us and the 5 team, all of us, are just ready to hit the track.

Q. (Question about multiple championships.)

KYLE LARSON: I guess for active guys, I’d be. Yeah, that part of it is really cool, too. I think, like I’ve said before, I didn’t really expect to win one. Winning one was amazing, a dream come true.

I didn’t ever dream of winning, like, multiple championships. But, yes, I think now that I have this opportunity in front of me, yeah, for sure I want to win another one and get further up the history list, I guess, of accomplishments.

So, yeah, we’ll just give it our best effort this weekend. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.

Q. This season it’s been evident that you go all out to try to finish the race.

KYLE LARSON: Ricky Bobby, like first or last (laughter). 

Q. What is the mindset going into this championship Sunday? You have experience of being a champion. How do you find that happy medium of pushing it but not too hard to the point where you wreck your car?

KYLE LARSON: Yeah, no, I mean, I think my mindset for this weekend is just to try — obviously you want to be the fastest, lead every lap, dominate. You really just keep yourself in contention.

If things aren’t going right, you just never know what’s going to happen in these NASCAR races. You can get some late restarts and craziness happens.

Just keep yourself in contention, maybe you’ll have a shot to capitalize on the chaos, if there is late restarts and stuff like that. Yeah, you do a little bit better job at kind of closing out and finishing the race, just leaving yourself an opportunity.

Q. Obviously past champion. What went right for you a couple years ago? Your pit crew helped you. What are some metrics that you hope to repeat?

KYLE LARSON: Yeah, kind of a lot of what I just mentioned. The race then wasn’t going perfectly for us. We were running fourth of the four guys with 40 laps left in the race, which isn’t very long. Just don’t lose hope I think in those moments. Know if a caution comes out or something happens, like I said, just keeping myself in contention to leave our team an opportunity to capitalize and give ourself as better shot to win.

Our team has proven that we can do a good job at the ends of the races. Like I said, just got to stay in contention and hopefully have a shot.

Q. What is your expectation of the rest of the field? How aware do you have to be of guys, last race of the year, last opportunity? How aware are you?

KYLE LARSON: I think having experience in the Final 4 and out of the Final 4, there’s more respect given to the guys in the Final 4, for sure, without hurting your race majorly.

Yeah, everybody is out there racing for something. That’s I think what we have to understand, as well. We’re not the only four cars on the racetrack.

Points are tight, down to 30th. A guy in 30th might think he can get to 29th and it will make a big difference for their team. Yeah, I think there’s more respect, for sure, I think for the field, for us four in the final race. But, yeah, there also is a checkered flag out there to be accomplished, a trophy out there to be taken home, a race trophy.

Yeah, teams are still going to be pushing for that. I mean, try not to make people mad throughout the year so you have a little more friends.

Q. You’re only one of the four to have a championship. What extra edge does that give you?

KYLE LARSON: I don’t think it really means anything. I think when I won the championship in ’21, it was totally different race car, the style of race was different, pit stops were different, the way you executed the race was different. I don’t really think it matters at all. 

Yeah, I kind of view us all as equals. Even the guys who are in the Final 4 for the first time, I don’t look at them any differently than myself or Bell who have been in the Final 4 twice. I think it’s anybody’s kind of race.

Q. The opportunity to be here, having a chance to win a championship. When you look at your season, you have been battle-tested this year, does it feel more satisfying to be back here compared to ’21?

KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s satisfying, for sure. I think I probably speak for our whole team that it’s, yeah, great to have this opportunity to try to accomplish what we did a couple years ago.

I honestly look at last year. Last year was kind of eye-opening to me. Last year felt like a terrible year. Minus that mistake at Charlotte, we were still going to be in the Final 4. We were three points away from the Final 4 as a driver. Our team made it to the Final 4, and it felt like a terrible season. 

That opened my eyes to, like, our team is so good and our cars are so fast, I think just clean it up a little bit, we can make it again. I think I just cleaned it up just a little bit, and we made it again. I think if we continue to do that, we should be a force each and every year. 

Just excited for the opportunity. Kind of blessed to be racing for a championship at the highest form of American auto racing.

Q. You put a lot on yourself, you look internally, I’m not going to blame the team?

KYLE LARSON: Yeah. I rarely blame the team about anything. Most time it is me. It’s easy to not blame anybody else but myself.

Yeah, I think I’m pretty — I don’t know if hard on myself is the right word. I just kind of hold myself to a higher standard than what I show sometimes on the racetrack.

Yeah, I just do a lot of self-reflecting and try to be better from it. 

Q. Almost feels like it’s a tale of two seasons. The speed was there, but the finishes were inconsistent. This season, you were right in form. You take out Homestead, you haven’t stumbled.

KYLE LARSON: No, no, I don’t think so. Yeah, no, we’ve been pretty much pretty good. So the first round was really good. The second round was probably our worst round for speed, but we were able to do a good enough job in the stages and stuff to kind of propel us through that round. 

Yeah, Vegas we put together a really good race, executed really well with not having the best race car in the field. Homestead, I think had I not had that win, I probably would have played the race out differently. I think we still would have finished probably in the top two or three at that race, then had enough points at Martinsville to point ourselves in.

Yeah, no, we’ve done a good job for sure in the Playoffs. As Cliff said, we’ve been battle-tested throughout the regular year, so we’re kind of ready for the Playoffs, whatever may arise and come at us.

It was a tough season to this point, and you would love to cap it off with a championship.

Q. You’ve been the best on pit road all season. What makes pit road so difficult? What has the preparation been like?

KYLE LARSON: Yeah, no, pit road, there’s a lot of opportunity on a pit road with a corner. Phoenix has a long corner, pit road. There’s a lot of opportunities to maximize your speeds and stuff. The pit stalls are really slick. Hitting your signs consistently is important, all that. 

Getting the number one pit stall would be very important and a key to winning I think on Sunday. Yeah, we’ll put a lot of emphasis on qualifying. Like you said, my pit crew has been so good all year. I have a lot of confidence in them to put down a good stop when it matters most, and hopefully we can win. 

Q. What would it mean to bring another championship for Rick and Jeff?

KYLE LARSON: I think it would be great. Obviously trying to get Rick his 15th championship in 39 years I think is pretty amazing. Leading into the 40th anniversary of Hendrick Motorsports next year would be great.

Yeah, no, it’s just fortunate to be racing for an amazing race team with amazing people. Would love to do our best to try and make them proud.

Q. How are you feeling for this week?

KYLE LARSON: I feel fine. I don’t feel overly confident. I think all of us kind of have an equal opportunity to win.

So, yeah, just going to be fun. I’m just looking forward to getting on track tomorrow and getting a better idea kind of how the weekend will play out.

Q. We’re witnessing a change of the guard with you being the oldest among the four in the championship?

KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I don’t know. It’s odd. I’m the oldest at Hendrick Motorsports, the oldest in this Final 4. Maybe I am getting old. I don’t feel old.

No, yeah, I don’t know, the sport’s gotten to a place where a lot of the guys who have been in it now for a couple decades, with Harvick retiring this weekend, Aric Almirola has been a part of the sport for a long time. I think there’s a lot of young talent that I guess they’re getting a little bit older now and gaining that experience, they’re with really good race teams, can go perform.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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