Chevy Racing–NASCAR–Daytona Media Day–Kyle Larson

FEBRUARY 14, 2018

KYLE LARSON, NO. 42 CREDIT ONE BANK CHEVROLET CAMARO ZL1, met with members of the media at Daytona 500 Media Day. Full Transcript:

KYLE LARSON: I don’t know, I was just talking to Jimmie about that a little bit, and we still don’t really know. We’ll see. I think it’s still so early with the bodies, but then again, the rules package, as well. I don’t know if it’s just the way that his setup was or my setup was where it got him turned sideways, but I know for a fact that we’re working on my setup stuff to make my car handle better, and hopefully allow me to push people a little easier, too.

Is there any extra pressure for you? Obviously NASCAR is looking to fill a marketing void with so many popular drivers retiring. Any extra burden for you to fill that?
“No, not really. I don’t honestly pay attention to it a whole lot. I would say maybe other guys that get promoted even more than I do, maybe there’s more pressure on them, but I’m just a race car driver going out there to try to win the race, not really worry about all the other stuff. I’m worried about my job on Saturdays and Sundays.”

How does it feel to be on a very short list of championship favorites? If you ask anybody, you’re coming into this year with sort of a different view on things.
“Well, yeah, this is a different media day than normal, just because normally ‑‑ this is the first year I’ve been considered a championship favorite from day one. Last year we showed people that we could be a contender, where now this year people are pointing and looking at us that we could potentially be a championship favorite. That’s cool, and definitely is somewhere I’ve always wanted to be in my NASCAR career is to be a contender every week. We still have to get the season started, though. You never really know how you’re going to be until you get through Daytona and get through the first month, but it is neat to be considered one of the favorites already.”
Your media day has changed because of this, or is it the same ol’ ‑‑
“I feel like media day is different this year because we have less stuff to do. It doesn’t have anything to do with us being fast or whatever. No, it’s been a fun media day, though.”

It hasn’t changed ‑‑
“No, no, just a couple extra questions about being a favorite. (Laughter.)”
You actually had your best season in Cup last year. As you look back on how it ended, are there things that you hope that you guys can do better this year or things that you thought you didn’t handle as well as maybe you thought you should have?
“I mean, I don’t know. You can only handle a blown engine so well. I don’t know, and I think in the two races I wrecked, yeah, I could have done things differently. But I couldn’t do anything about blowing up at Kansas, which really ended our season. I don’t know, I think you just go out there and keep doing what you did to put yourself in the position to be contenders every week. I felt like I learned a lot throughout the season as far as contending for wins and late race restarts and things like that. Hopefully when I put myself in those positions again in the future, I can be better prepared even than I was the beginning part of last season. All of us are getting better and better each week. You can look at Kyle Busch who’s to my left, and he’s won so many races, and he’s getting better every week. We all just learn and adapt.”

Things obviously changed this year; you have a new car, and the pit stops and so forth. Do you feel like you’re in a position to adapt?
“I think our team is really, really good at adapting. We have the new body, and yeah, we haven’t raced yet, but I felt like when we went to Vegas a few weeks ago to test, we were strong. I think ‑‑ and even you look at years past when NASCAR threw a rules change at us say for Darlington or whatever and we’d have a smaller spoiler, different splitter, whatever stuff like that, back when we were just an average team, we would always be better at those races. I feel like our team is great at adapting, and I think that they’ll adapt quickly with this new Camaro.”
What would it mean to you to come out of here this weekend as the Daytona 500 champion?
“Oh, it would be awesome. Any time you can start your year off strong at the first race of the season is a big deal. We were close last year to being the Daytona 500 winner and ran out of fuel and came short. Yeah, if we could put ourselves in position again and win the biggest race of our year, that would be amazing. And to leave here as a point leader would always be a good thing.”

With what happened last year, did you kind of turn that around and feel more encouraged because you were so close, or did it take a couple weeks to get over the disappointment, as well?
“I don’t even remember. I just remember being disappointed about losing the race, but also at the same time, I was happy that I got to see the white flag as the leader at the Daytona. It was a cool experience. Obviously I want to see the checkered flag first someday, but it was still cool to feel like I can do it, because Superspeedway racing is so different than anything that any of us grew up doing, but especially me coming from a sprint car background and never even a flat cart background where I did any drafting. I never drafted anything until 2013. It’s been an area that I’ve struggled at, and I’ve gotten better each time, but to feel like I was going to win was cool.”

Do you know how many sprint car races you plan on this year?
“I’ll probably race 25 or 30 times this year, give or take a couple. Depends on weather and the baby coming in May and stuff. You never know how busy I’m going to get.”
How often (indiscernible) and have you moved on?
“No, I don’t think about it at all. I’m pretty good at forgetting things, I guess. Yeah, in a good way. I mean, honestly, I was bummed out after Kansas for ‑‑ still am, if I think about it, but I don’t think about it, so I don’t get too bummed out. I was kind of over it a couple days later and moved on and ready to go win the race the next weekend. Yeah, I mean, there’s nothing you can really do about a blown engine. It wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t anybody on the team’s fault. It just happens, and you move on from it.”

Does it help that you do race so much to kind of get past a bad week here or there because you’re not sitting around for months thinking about something?
“Yeah, yeah, I mean, I have a lot to always look forward to, or another race, at least, to look forward to. So yeah, I mean, that helps getting over it. I still don’t race as much as I used to. I ran like 70 races last year, and I ran 130 in 2012. I could do a whole lot more, but it is nice ‑‑ at least in the sprint car stuff, I remember it being a good thing, if you have a bad race, you know you’re racing the next day, where stock cars if I have a bad race, I have to wait a whole week, which kind of kills you, but so does everybody else.”

As Danica gets ready to exit the sport, what kind of effect do you think she’s had on racing? Do you see more women ‑‑
“Yeah, I guess I see a handful more women racers, but I feel like, at least when Danica was racing full‑time, we definitely saw a lot more young girls at the racetrack, which was huge for our sport and very, very important to have young kids but especially young girls at the racetrack. She was a great ambassador or is a great ambassador to racing and pop culture and all that. It’ll be, I guess, sad to see her racing career end, but she’s going to be more involved in other stuff now, I think, now that she’s not racing, that she’s going to make an even bigger impact on, whatever you want to call it, life or whatever.”
I know that you’re here for Speedweeks and obviously the 500, but I see that you were with your family at Disney World. What are some things outside of racing that you’re enjoying with your family?
“Yeah, well, there is a lot of racing that you can catch while in Daytona for two weeks. I was at Volusia for six days last week racing and watching, and then here at Daytona for the Clash and qualifying. But then we spent Monday and Tuesday at Disney World, which was fun, with the Bowyers and Ricky Stenhouse came with us. Owen and Casher are three months apart in age, so they’re best buddies, and they’re like brothers. It’s funny to watch them. But Disney World was a great time. The only way to do it with kids I felt like was the VIP tour, so we did the VIP tour. A little expensive, but we got to see every park in two days. That’s kind of unheard of. It was fun. Owen enjoyed it. He missed breakfast Monday morning, so he was kind of a crab Monday, but Tuesday he was fine.”
Was that his first time?
“Probably that he’ll somewhat remember. We took him to Disney World when he was a few months ago, but he’s been to Disneyland a couple times, and he’s really into the Disney movies, so he was super pumped to meet Woody and Buzz, and he asked Woody where the snake in his boot was. It was funny, Buzz and Woody, they can’t talk, but they’re like acting it out, like oh, where’s the boot, whatever. So Owen enjoyed seeing the characters a lot and then riding a handful of the rides.”
So the mental massaging that you have to do for the race, is it nice to get away for a couple days?
“Yeah, it’s always nice to decompress and get away from racing here and there. But now that we’re done with Disney World, I’m focused on racing and trying to figure out what we need to do to be better.”

“Yeah, you know, I mean, I didn’t really get a good feel for the pit stop stuff because we took a long time on our pit stops any ways to make adjustments and throw things at our car to get better. Once we get in the competition, I don’t know ‑‑ we’ll just see. I think the pit gun stuff ‑‑ it would be nice to have your own equipment, but at the same time, everybody has got the same stuff. It is what it is, and we’ll see how it goes.”
All the drivers have said that it felt like being in the pits for a minute ‑‑
“It sounds way different. In the past ‑‑ we’ll be able to time it as we get more reps and stuff, but the way it was, you could time it pretty well. It was all happening so fast, but you can hear the sound of the gun and time it, where now you still hear it but it’s way slower. It might only be a couple seconds slower or a few seconds slower, but it feels like an eternity in the car. So yeah, that part of it’s interesting.”

With football season coming to an end, NFL players do film study. Is there any film study that goes into this thing that can really be helpful for a race car driver?
“Yeah, no doubt. I watch a lot of film of restarts and pit stops and race lines and stuff like that, or go over my notes from previous tracks and driver data, stuff like that. So there’s a lot of stuff that you can prepare yourself with to refresh your mind, to get you ready for the racetrack that you’re going to. Yeah, film and preparation is a big deal.”

Does that study focus on what you did at the previous race or what the other guys did at that race?
“Both. Both. I look at ‑‑ any time I fast forward through a race, I always stop and hit play when I see my car or restarts or if they’re showing somebody that was really fast, what they were doing on the racetrack, stuff like that. I would say I watch myself the most, but I definitely study the other people, as well.”

Can you give me a sense from Sunday what that car was like, how much of a handful?
“Yeah, it felt like the car was just like out of the track, like not a lot of grip, the air was kind of moving me around wherever it wanted to. There wasn’t much like I felt I could do. I was happy we got in line single file so I could just relax, and I was still on it ‑‑ I still felt like I was going to spin out every time I went into a corner. So it’s just a sketchy, sketchy feeling when you’re going 200 miles an hour and you’ve got a line of cars behind you that are there ready for you to crash and run into you. Yeah, hopefully we can get our car driving better.”
How do you look at the (indiscernible)? Obviously it’s a different car. What are things you’re going to want to do to protect your car, too?
“Yeah, yeah. Talking to my crew chief a little bit before the Duels, our Duels ‑‑ we kind of had a Duels setup and something different for the ‑‑ yeah, Clash setup and something different for the Duels, so hopefully ‑‑ with it being impounded and not a lot of laps, you kind of have to do that, and I don’t know if other people did that. So hopefully the Duels setup is a little bit better, and we have more grip. I don’t really expect it to be too much different, but we’ll see. It’s nice after the Clash that our guys had a few days off to kind of go back to the shop and think about things that they could do different or even build stuff that they could bring to the track to put on the car after the Duels to make it better. We’ll see. I don’t know what to expect, but I hope we’re better.”
Is it good to know that the non‑charter guys, they’re already in the race because there’s 40 entries and there won’t be anyone you have to look out for?
“Yeah, I don’t know. I always feel like those guys in the past are fairly smart anyways because they’re not aggressive until the very end anyways because if they crash halfway through the Duels, their opportunity is done. So I feel like they’re always very cautious anyways until the last couple laps, and they’re usually right around each other racing for that final spot in the back of the pack of the Duels. It doesn’t really affect the Duels at all I don’t think.”

But points guys are looking for aggressive moves because of bonus points ‑‑
“Oh, yeah, I guess there is bonus points in the Duels, isn’t there. Yeah, I didn’t think about that. Yeah, it makes it more aggressive.”

You’re one of those guys that’s pretty good at restrictor plate races. When you look at the guys who are running up front consistently, Brad, Joey, Denny, what do you take from what they’re doing that you need to apply?
“Well, I feel like watching them, they’re really good, but their cars handle good enough for them to be aggressive, blocking lanes and things like that, where I felt like my car, especially this past week and then even last year, it’s hard to make those quick moves because my car feels so on edge. But you definitely see the same guys up front every plate race. It shows that you have to be a good driver to contend for plate race wins, and those guys definitely do it.”
Do you look at things you did back in your first couple seasons and things you do now? How do you look at it differently? Is there an anticipation of what may or may not happen and how you approach it?
“Well, I think my first year for sure, probably some of the second year, I was really aggressive and always trying to like run in the top lane and run in the middle lane just to try and always get runs, where I feel like I’m to the point now where I feel better just running in the bottom lane. I feel like it’s less stressful down there. You typically miss more wrecks down there, knock on wood, and I feel like since I’ve done that and just not really been that aggressive, I’ve been in contention more at the end of the races. That will be my plan again, just to relax.”

A few years ago when they were tandem racing, they had a dial‑in where you could get drivers on the radio during the race. Would you ever be interested in having a situation where you could call during races, punch in a driver’s number and yell at them during the race or anything?
“No. I wouldn’t like that. Maybe if you get like a phone call in and they could like ignore or decline your request maybe, but yeah, I don’t know. That would be kind of ‑‑ I wasn’t around for the radio. I think I got here like the year after you could do that. But for plate races I think it would be okay because you’re working with that guy. But who knows. Someday maybe they’ll do that because it’ll be good for media.”

What are your thoughts on drivers saying I don’t want to give away my secrets?
“I would say I’m more leaning towards that side of it. But then again, it doesn’t really matter. I get to look at Jimmie Johnson, and I got to look at Jeff Gordon and Chase Elliott at Martinsville, and I still suck at Martinsville. But then also like I’m really good at Homestead, and I don’t really want a bunch of people looking at my stuff there, but I think you’re still at the mercy of how your car handles. Somebody might be able to look at my stuff and be like, man, he’s carrying so much more throttle into the corner. Well, my car might be handling a lot better than theirs, and they can try and it doesn’t work for them. It is what it is, I guess, but ‑‑ I don’t know. I think it’s cool for the fans to be able to see it and cool for the guys in the booth that have experience, Jeff Gordon and Steve Letarte, those type of people that can really break it down and explain to the fans what this guy is doing and look at the data and be like, okay, he must be struggling with this is why he’s using this much brake pressure at this point of the corner. I think the fans will be a lot more knowledgeable once they learn about it and look at it on the TV.”
In Martinsville, for example, when you look at another driver’s braking points and how they’re doing it, do you look at it and say, this is what I need to do? Is it something that’s so easy to apply?
“Yeah, I mean, I think there’s so many factors. Like myself at Martinsville, just looking at Chase’s stuff, he uses a lot less brake pressure than I do. If I do that, I go way slower. He might have a different brake package setup than I do, which allows him to use less brake. The way he ‑‑ how quick he can get to the gas, if I try that, it might not work for me. Everybody’s car is different, and everybody’s car reacts different. Yeah, I don’t know. You can learn more oftentimes than not, but there’s still those moments where if your car is not driving like theirs, you can’t do what they’re doing.”

“We had a lot of bonus points, a lot more than other people last year. But you just go out there and race. You’re not going to be like, I’m going to pick this race and I’m going to win both stages and the race. We were up front a lot of it. We knew how important stage wins were and race wins were, and we had the second most points going into the playoffs. Yeah, they’re just as important as they were last year, and if your car is fastest, you can gain those points.”

Does it even help having all that extra information if your car is not set up the same?
“Yeah, I still would prefer to not be able to look at other people’s stuff or have people look at my stuff. I think there’s the guys ‑‑ Austin Dillon is a big fan of it, and I think he’d probably use it as ‑‑ he can learn a lot off of it. But then again, it might be ‑‑ I don’t know. It could go a lot of ways. I think if I looked at Kyle Busch’s data, and I’m like, I run in the corner further than him, I get back to the gas sooner than him, and he’s got more RPM at the end of the straightaway than I do, I think it’s going to make me disappointed or vice versa, him be disappointed in his engine or whatever, and then somebody will go to NASCAR, and then our stuff will be even more similar, and the cars will just get more similar and more similar, and it’ll be harder and harder to pass. I would rather all of us go up seeing zero data. I would prefer it be that way. But we’re going to live with it. It’ll be fine. The same guys are going to win. The same guys are going to run up front. It’ll be fine.”