CHEVROLET SS ROOKIE OF THE YEAR CONTENDER KYLE LARSON EARNS CAREER BEST FINISH AT AUTO CLUB SPEEDWAY
TIRE ISSUES PLAGUE 206-LAP RACE IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
FONTANA, Calif. (March 23, 2014) – After earning his first career NASCAR Nationwide Series race in his Chevrolet Camaro on Saturday, California native Kyle Larson piloted his No. 42 Target Chevrolet SS, to a second-place finish in the fifth race of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Auto Club Speedway. The Rookie of the Year contender made a daring move on the final green-white-checkered restart to battle with race winner Kyle Busch (Toyota). Larson ultimately finished the 206-lap race in the runner-up spot.
Larson’s valiant move was a spectacular way to end a race that was primarily dominated by Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s “Spring is Calling” Chevrolet SS and Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS. Johnson led a race high 104 laps before being stricken with a flat tire with only a handful of laps remaining. He handed the lead to Gordon, who battled through the field twice due to two pit road incidents.
Gordon had a very fast Chevy SS too, and led four times for a total of 23 laps. When the final caution flag came out on lap 199 of 200 it set-up a green-white-checkered finish. Due to the plaguing tire issues, Gordon and the No. 24 Chevy team took four fresh tires; but didn’t get a strong restart and settled for a disappointing 13th place finish.
At the checkered, Kurt Busch was third in his No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS, which was his best finish of the 2014 season to-date.
Busch’s Stewart-Haas racing teammate and team co-owner Tony Stewart, No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS earned his second consecutive top-five finish coming home fifth. Jamie McMurray, No. 1 McDonald’s Chevrolet SS also recorded his best finish so far this season finishing sixth. AJ Allmendinger, No. 47 Charter Chevrolet SS, scored his first top 10 finish of 2014 ending the day at Auto Club Speedway in the eighth position while new father Paul Menard, No. 27 Duracell/Menards Chevrolet SS finished ninth.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS, overcame two tire issues to earn a 12th-place finish and Danica Patrick, No. 10 GoDaddy/Get Found Chevrolet SS ended the day in the 14th position, which was her best finish thus far in 2014.
Kyle Busch (Toytoa) was the race winner and Matt Kenseth (Toyota) was fourth to round out the top-five.
The series travels to Martinsville Speedway on Sunday March 30th.
POST RACE DRIVER PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPTS
KYLE LARSON, NO. 42 TARGET CHEVROLET SS – FINISHED SECOND
KRISTI KING: We’ll get started with our post‑race press conference here following the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway. Welcome once again Kyle Larson to the hot seat up here, driver of the No. 42 Target Chevrolet, finished second in today’s race, and also our top finishing Sunoco rookie for today’s race. Getting a little more comfortable sitting up here in the media center. Talk a little bit about your racing overall this weekend, obviously with the win yesterday and finishing second today it’s been a really good weekend here for you.
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, it’s been a really good weekend. I guess you couldn’t ask for more, but was surprised to get up there late in the race. We were probably a 12th‑place car for most of the day. We struggled with our Target Chevy being too loose on exit but still too tight in the center. We tightened the exit up and got way too tight in the center. My guys worked really hard all day long to find that right balance, and right there on the last pit stop we were able to make good enough adjustments where we could go hard for a couple laps.
I was thinking I was going to line up eighth but then the 40 stayed out and I had to line up on the bottom and I was disappointed because the bottom had been getting jammed up once we got to Turn 1, and I was surprised, I just watched it on TV and it was pretty wild, we were four wide there into 1. Came out in fourth there, I think, and then got to second off Turn 2 the next lap and thought I might have a shot at Kyle depending on where he’d go into Turn 3, but he was good enough to keep it on the bottom and stay ahead of me. But we’ll take a second. Long race and definitely didn’t expect to run second, so I’ll take it and head back to North Carolina with a smile on my face.
Q. Kyle, on that last run from the final green flag, were you pretty much a straight shot to the front or did you have to move around a lot of guys to get to second?
KYLE LARSON: I had to move around a little bit. I spun my tires just a little bit, and Jamie was able to get a run to my inside, so I was stuck in the middle. I think I got to Jeff’s outside. Luckily I didn’t get tight behind anybody or loose or anything like that. It was a pretty ‑‑ I guess it was pretty hectic for me, but really nothing too scary for me, either.
Q. Kyle, describe how you threaded through to get up to second. How many cars did you pass and who did you pass?
KYLE LARSON: I don’t know, it’s on TV somewhere. I don’t know, I just explained, I lined up ninth and was going to try and actually go to Jeff’s inside if I got a good enough restart, but Jamie got a good one behind me, so I got stuck in the middle, but it all worked out. Thankful for it.
Q. Can you talk about the tire situation? Why was everybody having so many situations with their tires?
KYLE LARSON: I don’t know, just I think it was a little bit of camber issues or something. We had a little bit of an issue in practice or happy hour yesterday, and then we worked on that and got it better, and we actually didn’t have any tire issues the whole race. Every pit stop my crew chief would tell me my tires were great. There was just a small concern that last run we had when people really started blowing tires, but I wasn’t too concerned.
KURT BUSCH, NO. 41 HAAS AUTOMATION CHEVROLET SS – FINISHED THIRD
KRISTI KING: Kyle, thank you very much. Congratulations on a great weekend here at Auto Club. We are now joined by our third‑place finisher in today’s Auto Club 400, Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet. Kurt, battled quite a few folks out there, especially toward the end of the race, even the boss man. Talk a little bit about the finish out there.
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, we put ourselves in good position at the end of the race. This race has two mindsets. One is to race 400 miles and not abuse your tires. The other mindset is it’s most likely going to come down to a green‑white‑checkered or a short run at the end with fresh tires.
We ran sixth to tenth most of the day. We might have been able to finish fifth. I think we were running fifth when Bowyer spun. To be up front and be in position with the Haas Automation Chevy is what we needed. We needed that after this season started as good in season reasons with leading laps and running up front, but it’s been horrible with our finishes. So it was nice to race the boss, Tony Stewart, today for the win. You’re excited in one moment. The second moment when it sets in, it’s like, wait a minute, neither the 14 nor the 41 won the race today. The strategy call was two tires. Me and Daniel Knost, my crew chief, we both agreed that was the right call. We beat everybody off pit road by a large margin, and it was because everybody’s stop was slow and maybe we should have put four on? It’s something you look back on because you didn’t win.
Congratulations to Kyle, my brother. They won the race today with four fre
sh tires, and it was a nice battle up front. I didn’t get a perfect restart, but it wasn’t a horrible restart. It’s just that everybody starts pushing and shoving, and I didn’t get down into Turn 1 leading. I got down into Turn 1 side by side with Tony and the two of us raced for the next three miles side by side. If I could have gotten clear, gotten up front, maybe we could have brought the Haas Automation Chevy to victory lane, but we’ll take a top 5 any day.
Q. Kurt, tires seemed to be the issue for so many people today. Did you have any concerns during the day? Did you feel anything? Were you worried about it at all?
KURT BUSCH: We were lucky, we had our tire problem with two minutes to go in practice yesterday, and that allowed us to go into a conservative approach overnight. I’m glad that we had that. Sometimes it’s a blessing in disguise, so to blow a tire and to not pay a penalty by spinning and wrecking your primary car.
Tires, Goodyear is doing a good job. It’s the same type of tire. But here’s what we have. We have faster cars, more downforce, and NASCAR is allowing us to put whatever cambers we want into the cars, and therefore it’s up to the team’s discretion if you’re going to have a problem or not. I’ve been in this game 15 years, and normally NASCAR mandates what certain air pressures you have to run and what cambers you have to run not to have a black eye for Goodyear, by no means is this a problem for Goodyear, it’s actually a thumbs up for NASCAR allowing the teams to get aggressive in all areas.
Q. Kurt, you said you decided to go with a little bit more conservative approach. You did that before the race started. Once all these problems started coming one right after another, can a team go back on that or have they kind of made their bed before the race?
KURT BUSCH: You’ve made your bed before the race starts, but you hope you’re right up against that edge to drive aggressively and use the tires to that level, and then you still have to wait, though, for the track to rubber in and to settle in over the first 300 miles.
Q. Had you and Tony lined up right at the start of that last restart, could you have held off Kyle?
KURT BUSCH: It would have been interesting. The 40 car threw a wrench into the program. They stayed out, so he was actually the control car, so I was second, and when he made his first move, the 40 car, to take off, I did, as well, and it seemed like whoever was behind Tony had a serious run. But it was probably because he had four fresh tires and he had that grip out of the left rear tire where I only had grip with the right rear tire. It was a good battle. I wish I would have gotten into Turn 1 with clean air. We’d be right there in victory lane.
Q. I wanted to go back to the tire issue problem. You said you had made, together with your team, a conservative approach. Does it mean for the rest of the season you run with a conservative approach or just this particular racetrack?
KURT BUSCH: Just with this track, just with the tire wear that we saw all weekend. This is a very abrasive track and it chews up the tires. Next week Martinsville will have its separate issues, but by the time we come back to Texas, that tire should have the durability where the teams can go full aggressive again.
Q. Very speculative question: Do you think it was wise to come in for Gordon when he was leading? Do you think he could have risked his tires and stayed out with the way the tires were performing?
KURT BUSCH: On that last caution?
KURT BUSCH: Because he was the leader? Is that why you’re asking? I don’t know what happened to him. With two laps to go, you would think that you could hang on. We had half the ammunition. We had only two right side tires. Four tires wouldn’t have worked. The guys from behind would have had fresher tires, and they eventually would have caught you.
KRISTI KING: Kurt, congratulations on your run today. Thank you for your time this afternoon.
CHEVROLET SS ROOKIE OF THE YEAR CONTENDER KYLE LARSON EARNS CAREER BEST FINISH AT AUTO CLUB SPEEDWAY