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May 30, 2021

Kyle Larson

Charlotte, North Carolina, USA

Press Conference

An Interview with:

THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Kyle Larson, winner of tonight's Coca-Cola 600 and driver of the No. 5 MetroTech Chevrolet.

Q. Kyle, have you ever had just kind of a car like that and a dominating performance like that in NASCAR?

KYLE LARSON: I would say a few times. Probably more so -- like Vegas I think was a much more dominating car. I think Kansas was. My car was really, really good. I didn't have many complaints tonight, but I just think with the grip in the track and all that, my teammates were just as good as I was.

It was much harder to fight them off than say it was in Vegas or Kansas or things, other races like that.

Even when I was at Ganassi I had some races where it was probably easier throughout the whole race. I can think of Darlington, whatever year that was, where this one I felt like I was on defense for most of the race.

Finally in that final stage I was able to kind of stretch out and relax a little bit, but for most of the race I didn't really relax at all.

Q. Kind of the string of second-place finishes, does that pop into your mind at all near the end of this race, like gosh, just don't let something happen and me finish second again?

KYLE LARSON: No, I mean, not really. Honestly all I'm thinking about the last 20 is just like, just don't be a caution because I don't want to have to be a strategy game, do we stay out, do we pit, anything like that. I just kind of wanted to cruise to the checkered flag.

No, I'm not thinking about the second-place finishes at all when I'm out there. I'm more just trying to think ahead of -- hopefully it stays green and we get to the checkered like we did, but if not what do I need in my car to be better if we do pit. I had a big lead, so I'm like, well, let's try and take care of my tires as much as I can just in case we have a restart and we stay out.

No, I'm not thinking about oh, gosh, let's not finish second when I have a 10-second lead.

Q. I'm curious your take on the lap traffic tonight. It seemed like there was really a much larger disparity tonight between the leaders and the lap traffic. What was your take on that?

KYLE LARSON: I mean, for the most part, most of the cars we lapped were pretty easy. I could catch them in okay spots and get runs in the corners. But it was as you got to the faster cars, that's about when my front tires were pretty wore out and I was tight. It made it difficult to get runs and pass them.

I got stuck behind the 10 a couple different times and maybe somebody else one other time. That really allowed the guys in second to close on me because I was just stalled out and making things were by trying to get aggressive to pass.

With this package and us running up in the PJ1, it was just kind of narrow up there and you're just a little bit stuck in their dirty air.

Yeah, but it seemed like usually about the time where I would catch traffic and be struggling, that's usually in the run where we would get to pit and put fresher tires on and get spread out again, so it worked out.

Q. You were battling your teammates most of the night. Was there ever a point even when Chase and William passed you, was there ever a point where you didn't necessarily feel in control of the race or even when they got by you did you feel like you had the car to be able to get back to them and get around them?

KYLE LARSON: Well, when Chase got by me early, I was like, uh-oh, this is not good. But when I ate him up getting to the commitment line for the green flag stop and took a large chunk of that out and came out the leader, I knew I had something in my advantage to be able to beat them guys.

And then when William passed me, he was way faster than I was. He was way faster than Chase was. But my goal when he passed me, he kind of stretched out a little bit, my goal was just to inch closer to him for when we got to the green flag stops because I knew I could do a better job than him on the green flag stop, and that's what I was able to do.

We gained a lot of time. I think we pitted a lap earlier than him. I did a good job coming to the commitment line, our pit crew did a great job on the stop, and I was able to edge him out down the backstretch when he blended up. That carried us to the third stage win, and that No. 1 pit stall really helped for our pit stops and beating cars off for the caution stops.

It all just worked out really well, and qualifying on the pole I think really helped our race tonight.

Q. Multiple wins, the consistency, really the level of dominance you've had, was this the kind of season that you expected to have coming to Hendrick Motorsports or have you surprised yourself a little bit?

KYLE LARSON: I did not expect to be this good. I had hoped to. It's still early in the year, but I don't know, I knew I would be good. Chase Elliott won the championship last year, and Jimmie had one of the fastest cars every race. They just kind of had some issues, and they didn't get the finishes that they quite deserved. I had that in the back of my mind and thought, well, if Jimmie had the fastest car, maybe we would still continue to have one of the fastest cars this year, and Cliff and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports, they've probably gotten their stuff even better toward the end of the year, and it's been awesome to see. Like looking at the scoreboard we had four cars in the top 5 is pretty dang cool.

Q. Kyle, what does Rick Hendrick mean to you?

KYLE LARSON: He means a lot. I think we all in this room have a lot of respect for Rick Hendrick and a lot of you probably don't even know him, just like myself really before this year. I had obviously -- he said hi to me in passing and things like that, but I've always had a lot of respect for him, and then now getting to see firsthand the level of respect that everybody has for him and how they all love to work for him, I think it just shows how great of a person that he is and how great of a leader, too.

I think there's just a lot to be learned off of him. He's got a lot of experience in the business world, too, to get him to where he's at and build the empire that he's built today.

He means a bunch to me, and I definitely love having him at the racetrack, love having him around. He came to our competition meeting a few weeks ago, and I thought that was really cool, that our owner was sitting through an hour and a half competition meeting with us when he could have been doing a lot of other things on a Monday afternoon than he was that day. But he was there to support us, and I think that says a lot about him.

Q. You've had some really strong runs at some of the playoff tracks. What this organization has done the last few weeks has been remarkable, but it's also come at tracks that aren't going to be playoff tracks. With all the success or some of the things that you guys have done, how do you carry that through because the playoffs still are several months away and a lot of things can change? How do you look at what you've done but what you still have to do to be a true title contender?

KYLE LARSON: Yeah, definitely. I honestly don't even know what the schedule is for the playoffs off the top of my head. I mean, yeah, I guess this track isn't in the playoffs.

I don't know, in my experience in the Cup Series, too, a lot of times, and you see it a lot, the team that's the best throughout the regular season isn't the team that always is the best throughout the playoffs and wins the championship. I think we all know that at Hendrick Motorsports, and I think that's why we continue to not settle with where we're at.

There's no denying that we're the most dominant team, organization out there right now, but that could easily change in a couple months. I think I've seen it in my career, so I'm happy that we're this good, but I'm not thinking it's going to be a cake walk to the Final Four or anything like that just because nothing is easy in this sport, and every week these teams are getting better and better.

We've got to continue to get better, as well.

Q. Sort of a follow-up, you haven't been at Hendrick Motorsports very long, but I wondered what have your impressions been of working with this organization and how in general it has helped you to have the kind of season that you've had this year?

KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I mean, it's an amazing place. Everything about the compound there at Hendrick Motorsports just down the street is perfect. Everything down to the way they mow the lawn. It looks amazing.

I think it just -- they put a level of effort into everything and pride in everything. That's why we -- I don't think it's a surprise to anybody that our cars are this good. He's built such an amazing empire, and everybody there loves to work there, too. I think that's the most important thing. They all respect him -- I mentioned it earlier, but they all respect him and love to work for him and want to do a good job for him that results follow.

I don't know if -- it's probably hard for Mr. H to have a few thousand employees probably, and I'm sure they all love working for him. That's hard to do. I don't think there's probably another race team out there that everybody that works there loves their boss. But I feel like at Hendrick Motorsports it's that way, and I think because of that, the results follow because everybody is putting 100 percent of their effort in, and us four drivers get to be a part of that and go out there and have some fun on the weekends.

Q. You mentioned a couple times battling your teammates tonight. What is that like as a driver when week after week it seems on a consistent basis, at least lately, some of your toughest competition is facing your own teammates?

KYLE LARSON: Yeah, it's a great problem to have when we're all battling each other for the win. We've done a great job of racing each other hard but yet not putting each other in a bad spot, either. We all want to see each other succeed for Rick, and we all work great together during the week and even on the weekends when we're racing. Like I said, we're racing hard but we're racing with respect.

I thought we were going to have another one, two, three, four finish tonight, but Kyle had other plans for that and messed that up. No, it was a great night, and it's been a great few weeks really for this team.

Q. What makes this driver lineup at Hendrick work?

KYLE LARSON: I'm not sure. I think -- it's not just us drivers. I think it's everything that's -- it's the whole team. I think it's our crew chiefs, our engineers, everybody at the shop that has hands on our cars. I don't know.

I think at least for me, and I think all of us teammates are like this, I think we're pretty open with each other. I don't think any of us hide anything. I know I don't. I'm not afraid to ask -- I don't know anything about cars, but I'm not afraid to ask somebody why they're driving like this or how that helped them, and they've asked me the same questions, and I give them a 100 percent honest answer.

I think when you're honest with each other and want to help each other out, it just makes the whole program better. I've always taken a lot of pride in being a good teammate, and I think my other three teammates are the same way.

We're young, but we're hungry. We love what we're doing, and we want -- like I said, we want to see each other succeed for our whole organization.

Q. Alex Bowman mentioned after the race that one of the biggest keys for him with the four of you is how you guys all sit down with Chad Knaus in his new role this year. How has that helped you and the other three, as well?

KYLE LARSON: Yeah, so it's a little unique because I never got to see Chad Knaus in the crew chief role and I didn't get to see kind of how their competition meetings were run before, but when I am sitting in that competition meeting room and he's running it, you get to see why he is how he is and how he probably -- he takes everything very seriously, and he dives in deep to everything. He's very thoughtful and thinks deeper than I've ever been around anybody. He thinks about a lot of, like I said, deep things that I would never even think would be a thing.

I think it just shows how his mind is on racing and how to be faster, how to make all four of us faster every day of the week. He's a great leader, and I think the same as Mr. H, everybody has got a lot of respect for him, and I think his role now probably fits him perfectly for where he's at in his career and with everything he's already accomplished. He's definitely doing a great job.

Q. As remarkable as your off-season, so to speak, was last year away from NASCAR, can you imagine where your career would be right now without Rick Hendrick stepping in?

KYLE LARSON: No, I don't know, I can't imagine -- I would hope if I wasn't racing Cup, I would hope it was going as good right now as it did last year. But I don't know, I haven't had to think about that.

Q. Has Rick transformed your life at this point?

KYLE LARSON: Oh, yeah, for sure. Right now I'd be twiddling my thumbs in Indiana waiting to race at Lawrenceburg tomorrow, which I'm going to do anyways, but yeah, it's much different.

But no, I mean, I was happy doing what I was doing last year, but I always had the goal of getting back to the Cup Series and didn't really think it was a realistic thing throughout the summer. Even when I was winning a lot I just kind of accepted that this was my life and I was going to have a blast doing it and wasn't going to regret anything at that point.

No, it all kind of came together, and yeah, for sure it's transformed my life. Getting back into the Cup Series and getting a second opportunity at the highest form of American auto racing is something that I don't think normally happens. Just very thankful for it and want to take full advantage of it.

Q. It's time for you to come home now to Sonoma. You've got some massive momentum coming in. What are you expecting next week when you come back home and do you have any plans to spend time with family, friends? What are your plans when you come out here?

KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I'm going to come out early and kind of spend it as a vacation a little bit and then race on Sunday. Yeah, I'm excited to get out there and drink some good wine. I haven't really had wine in a while. I get to go do that, eat some good food and hang out with friends, see some of my family. Yeah, Sonoma is a fun place, fun racetrack, a track that I've honestly struggled. I've qualified really well at but struggled in the races. Yeah, I hope that'll be a different story now being with HMS.

Yeah, excited to get home. I love the West Coast, the best coast, and yeah, getting excited to go out there.

THE MODERATOR: Kyle, thanks for joining us. We look forward to seeing you at Sonoma next weekend.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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