KYLE LARSON, NO. 42 TARGET CHEVROLET SS, WAS THE GUEST ON THIS WEEK’S NASCAR WEEKLY TELECONFERENCE.
BELOW IS THE TRANSCRIPT:
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Today we’re joined by Kyle Larson, driver of the No. 42 Target Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
The Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender is coming off a career‑best 10th‑place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway, as he gets set to make his Sprint Cup Series debut at Auto Club Speedway.
Kyle, talk about heading into this weekend’s race with at momentum of a 10th‑place finish.
KYLE LARSON: It’s definitely a good feeling going into the California, my home state, with a good finish at Bristol.
We’ve had really fast cars all year long. Just haven’t really caught the right breaks to get those top 10s. I feel at Phoenix and Vegas both we had top‑10 cars. I got stuck a lap down there from mistakes.
I think with the good finish at Bristol, it’s really going to hopefully turn things around, hopefully bring a lot of consistency.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll now go to the media for questions.
Q. I saw the tweet you sent yesterday saying that it was a good finish after the first few weeks. You mentioned mistakes you made, can you expand on that? I know the troubles you had early in the Daytona 500. What’s really been the biggest issue in the first three weeks? I know Bristol is a completely different track. Maybe the style of track was different, but what was the biggest change for you that made you have this breakthrough performance at Bristol?
KYLE LARSON: Well, at Phoenix we got caught under green‑flag stops where we had a long stop there went a lap down. Just kept barely missing the Lucky Dog. Like I said, thought we had an eighth‑ to 12th‑place car there.
Then at Vegas I sped in pit road and we had lots of green‑flag runs and could never get a Lucky Dog there, so…
Finally at Bristol, we finally had a race that nothing went wrong for us. Daytona I got in the wall, got in the wreck late. Bristol was the first week of the season that was mistake‑free and drama‑free, I guess, didn’t have anything happen to us. Hopefully we’ll have more and more of those.
After the first three weeks I realized to even get a top 15, you have to be almost perfect or have a perfect race. It’s tough to come back from mistakes in this series. I learned that really quick.
Q. When you’re up there chasing Matt Kenseth for the lead, are you getting excited? Ultimately you finished 10th, but can you sort of see it and feel it, Holy cow, I might be able to get this win?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I definitely thought that through the midpoint of the race. Our Target car was extremely fast in the middle of the race. I thought if we were quick enough that if everything works out, maybe we can win.
There at the end maybe we pitted when we shouldn’t have and then it was tough to pass. It’s really actually exciting to be a little bit disappointed in a top‑10 finish in the Cup Series. Like I said, this series is really competitive and hard to do well in. I thought we had a top‑five race going for sure and ended up 10th.
Career‑best Sprint Cup finish for me and a little bit disappointing, too. I guess that’s a good thing, though, from where this team has come from.
Q. Obviously you made a few starts last year in the Cup Series. What has been the biggest adjustment in the first four weeks of this year making that transition to Cup?
KYLE LARSON: The biggest adjustment? There are a lot of adjustments. Maybe the one that stands out is trying to get your feedback right to your crew chief from Happy Hour to the race. That’s something we’ve struggled with at Phoenix and Vegas both were making the right adjustments on the car to start out the race good. We got behind a little bit in the beginning of both races and it’s hard to come back from those.
Communicating well with your crew chief, even though I ran those Cup races last year, these really are the first four races I’ve got to work with Chris Heroy. I did some testing with him last year, but it’s totally different than putting yourself in situations in races and stuff. The communication part has been a big adjustment.
Q. Is the extra seat time you’re still getting in the Nationwide Series helping you on the Cup side at all?
KYLE LARSON: I think it helps a little bit just knowing how the track might change throughout a race. I really think it helps for my Nationwide race running the Cup stuff. Now when I get in the Nationwide car, it feels slow. Things happen slower. I have more confidence in that. That’s why I’ve been running really well in that car so far, too. I think it helps the Cup Series a little bit, but I think it helps the Nationwide Series a whole bunch.
Q. There’s always talk about Cup guys running in Nationwide. How important is it for you to have that extra track time? If they made rules saying that Cup guys can’t do Nationwide, how would you feel about it?
KYLE LARSON: I would be disappointed if they ever did that. I don’t see them ever doing it.
I think the Nationwide regulars like Cup guys running with them. I know I do. I consider myself still young, I guess, in racing stockcars. Whenever I’m out there with guys like Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, I can see them in front of me, I’m learning a lot from them.
I like it. I think it’s good for the development side of the young drivers ’cause it is a development series for those kids. I think it’s a good thing for NASCAR to have the Cup guys in there because it’s just going to make their series more competitive when those young guys move up.
Q. Do you feel like your start of the Cup season has proven anybody wrong, has shown that you do belong in Cup?
KYLE LARSON: Maybe just that Bristol race, then moments of the race in Vegas I felt like I was really competitive, too. I hope fans see that I’ve been competitive each week, maybe not at Daytona, but every week since then I feel like I’ve been pretty competitive. I hope they see that.
Q. You’re running all the Nationwide companion events. Was that your idea, Turner Scott’s idea?
KYLE LARSON: I think that was everybody’s idea. Chip Ganassi, he really wanted me to do double duty. I think I read a stat somewhere before the year, I’ve only ran 40 something stockcar races in my career. I’m getting double the amount of experience in stockcars this year running both. I think it’s a good thing. I think it’s good for Turner Scott Motorsports to have me still over there racing.
Now that Dylan is a development driver over here for Chip Ganassi, me and him get to work together a little bit. I can teach him some things and all that. It’s kind of cool I guess being the veteran of that team over there.
Q. Does part of you wish you still could be eligible for the Nationwide championship given the year you’re having so far?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, yeah, I thought about that the other day. Obviously I like where I’m at right now. Yeah, we’ve been running really well for far. I guess I can still try and get Harry Scott and Steve Turner the owners championship. Maybe I can help them accomplish that.
Q. I know you were talking earlier about the communication being one of the adjustments. Have you found it much different running since you ran mid‑pack and towards the front just what it’s like running in those situations, how it differs from the Nationwide Series, what the pace has been like in the Cup Series with these limited starts
? Anything struck you about those situations?
KYLE LARSON: Just the whole field is really aggressive in the Cup Series. The pace, like you said, throughout the field is a lot quicker. It’s more aggressive.
Nationwide, you get up to the top three or four, that’s really when the pace quickens. But in Cup, everybody is so even, it’s tough to get an edge on somebody. It’s just extremely tough.
I don’t know. It’s a lot of fun doing that. At Bristol I got to be up front. You get in the back, it’s tough to pass because everybody is going so hard, a lot of the same speeds. It makes it interesting for us and makes us try harder.
Q. You talk about the aggressive thing. Some people might be surprised because they might say that the Nationwide races would be aggressive because they’re shorter races. Can you explain what you mean by things are more aggressive? What’s happening out there that is more aggressive than what you’ve seen?
KYLE LARSON: You know, in the Cup Series, there is a little bit more of a give‑and‑take. I just feel like the top 25 guys are all racing really hard. Even though it could be a 500‑mile race, you’re still racing as hard as you can to position yourself to be up near the front at the end.
It’s hard to give up a little bit when you know it might affect you at the end. I know everybody thinks that when they’re racing.
As a fan, before I ever came over here, Oh, they’re long races. They just ride around till the last hundred laps or whatever. But for my first race at Charlotte last year in the Cup Series, I realize there’s not as much give‑and‑take as I thought. It’s all racing really hard the whole time, and it’s a lot of fun.
Q. I like how you said that you still consider yourself really young, you feel young. A lot of times we forget how young the drivers are. You are in the Cup Series. I wonder if you feel that way when you go into the garage, not just the learning part but the way people treat you in there or address you as you’re around these veteran drivers? If so, since you are a Cup driver, how long will it be before you don’t feel that?
KYLE LARSON: I don’t know, I think it takes a little bit of time. It’s nice, I think being there’s so many rookies in the Cup Series this year. The veterans aren’t eyeing one rookie because there’s seven or eight of us out there.
I am extremely young still. But I think it’s a good thing for everything really in this, being the new style of rules or whatever for this car. I’m not used to how it was in the past. I think that’s good.
As far as the way the other drivers have been treating me, it’s all been good so far. I’ve raced everybody clean so far, and they’re doing the same with me. We’ll keep trying to do it the same way.
Q. Are you a goal setter setting where you should be right now? Do you do the best you can and you don’t set yourself specific areas?
KYLE LARSON: Well, I want to be fast each week. I feel like we have been fast each week. I felt, like, as far as the speed of the cars, where they’re at, I feel like our goals are close to being met, just our finishes haven’t met our expectations. But, yeah, I think as far as how the cars have been, our goals have been met there.
Q. About your Rookie of the Year contention, obviously you won it last year in the Nationwide Series. This year you’re competing with Austin Dillon. You finished 10th, he finished 11th this weekend. When you’re racing someone week in, week out for the top rookie honors, do you naturally start having a little rivalry to where you’re paying attention to what he’s doing? Also, what would it mean to win Rookie of the Year in Cup after winning it in Nationwide?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I pay attention because obviously Austin is the favorite, I would say, for winning that title. I definitely pay attention to where he’s at on the speed charts or in the running motor, wherever, during the race. I don’t know if he does the same with me or not.
I think it’s fun. I had a lot of fun racing at the end of the Bristol race on Sunday. He was quite a bit faster than I was. I was driving as hard as I could, as hard as I did the whole race, to try to stay in front of him. We ran clean and hard.
I’m sure we’re going to have a lot of good races this year with Austin. I hope it’s a nice, tight battle to the end. It would mean a lot if I could win that Rookie of the Year award. Like I said, I only had 40 something stockcar races in my career before I got to the Cup Series. I think it would mean a lot if I could beat guys that have a lot more experience in stockcars.
Austin has won Nationwide Rookie of the Year, Truck Rookie of the Year, and championships in both series. So if I could stop him this year and win that Rookie of the Year, it would be really special.
Q. Regarding the points standings, is it too early to start thinking of those in terms of Rookie of the Year or do you set your goals that high and sort of let the chips fall where they may?
KYLE LARSON: I don’t know. I think you still have to worry about points a little bit to position yourself to make the Chase if you don’t win a race. I always try and pay attention to that. Like I say, I pay attention to where Austin’s running so hopefully I can beat him for Rookie of the Year.
It’s nice that you win a race, you get locked in. But you still have to try your best to gain as many points as you can.
Q. You’ve driven many different types of cars. What was the biggest change when you started driving Cup cars?
KYLE LARSON: I think the biggest change between everything versus Cup is just the competition level. You’ve grown up racing winged Sprint cars, I used to think the best drivers in the world were in the World of Outlaws Series. I still think they are very good, but the depth of the really good drivers in the Cup Series is really amazing. That’s what makes it really tough, is there’s 25 to 30 drivers out there each week that are extremely good and fast. You go to the World of Outlaws race, there might be seven or eight guys you have to beat.
I think that’s what makes it really tough. Probably the one thing, I don’t know, that didn’t surprise me but made me realize how tough it really is.
THE MODERATOR: That’s all the time we have today. Kyle, thanks for joining us this week and good luck at Auto Club.
KYLE LARSON: Thank you, guys.
KYLE LARSON, NO. 42 TARGET CHEVROLET SS, WAS THE GUEST ON THIS WEEK’S NASCAR WEEKLY TELECONFERENCE.