NASCAR CUP SERIES
COOK OUT SOUTHERN 500
TEAM CHEVY PRESS CONF. TRANSCRIPT
AUGUST 29, 2022
KYLE LARSON, NO. 5 HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS CAMARO ZL1, met with the media via teleconference in advance of the NASCAR Cup Series race weekend at Darlington Raceway, where Sunday’s Cook Out Southern 500 will start the 2022 NCS Playoffs. Press Conference Transcript:
QUITE A CHANGE FROM LAST YEAR WHERE YOU CAME IN AS THE FAVORITE WITH ALL OF YOUR WINS AND PLAYOFF POINTS. WHAT’S IT LIKE JUST BEING IN A POSITION NOW WHERE YOU’RE BACK TO BEING THE ‘HUNTER’ AND TRYING TO DEFEND THIS CHAMPIONSHIP?
“I don’t know.. I haven’t put much thought into that. Obviously when you look at the points; I think last year, we had 40-something, maybe closer to 50 playoff points, as we headed into the playoffs. This year, I think we only have 19. It already adds a little bit more pressure on each race knowing that you need to go get stage points, stages wins, race wins, all of that, to help out your post-regular season.
This first round sets up really nice for us and our team. There are three really great tracks for us, so I think it’s a good opportunity for us to have a good few showings; get some playoff points and try to put ourselves in a better spot as we approach the next couple of rounds.”
LAST YEAR WAS REALLY THE FIRST YEAR THAT YOU HAD A DEEP PLAYOFF RUN, WHERE YOU WENT THROUGH EACH OF THE ROUNDS AND YOU GOT TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP RACE FOR THE FIRST TIME. HOW VALUABLE WAS THAT EXPERIENCE TO REALLY SEE IT FIRST-HAND ON HOW THE ROUNDS WORK; WHAT IT TAKES, THE VALUE OF PLAYOFF POINTS AND SO FORTH TO GET TO PHOENIX?
“Yeah, I think only one other time maybe in my career that I made it to the Round of Eight. I believe anyways.. I might not have, but I think I did one other time. That experience would have probably taught me more and prepared me more for this year’s playoffs. Like last year, I feel like it’s not often that a driver has that many points – I know (Kevin) Harvick has done it in the past – but where you have a lot of points and you can rely on those points and not go into each race with some stress of crashing or having something bad happen. And if it does, you’re still not in terrible shape. I think the second round last year, we had a bad Talladega; we had an alternator issue at the ROVAL and I was stressed out. Where I would have been really stressed out if we had the bad race at Talladega with just that one itself.
I don’t know.. just go out there, execute and try to run upfront all race long. That should hopefully put you in an OK spot.”
YOUR FIRST FULL-TIME CUP SEASON WAS 2014, SO THE ONLY ERA OF CUP RACING YOU’VE EVER KNOWN WAS THE ‘WIN AND YOUR IN’ FORMAT. IT’S NOT TRADITIONAL RACING, IT’S NOT POINTS RACING. DO YOU ENJOY GETTING TO SEPTEMBER AND THE INTENSITY OF THIS FORMAT? AS A RACER, DO YOU ENJOY THAT PRESSURE ENVIRONMENT?
“Like you said, I don’t have experience the other way, so this is all I’ve known and it’s the only way of racing in the playoffs. I don’t know if the regular season was that way back then when I was running. The playoffs being like this is the only way I’ve known, so it just kind of is what it is to me. I think if I had raced another way, how it was before, maybe I would have a different opinion. But I don’t know anything different, so it’s just the way it’s always been.
I think having an emphasis on winning is exciting for the fans. Having the elimination stuff is stressful and that makes things exciting to watch on TV and the storylines developing throughout each race. Hopefully we can win some races and just advance that way. That would make things nice.”
WE HEAR ALL OF THE TIME THAT WINNING IS PARAMOUNT. THERE’S NOTHING MORE IMPORTANT IN THE CUP SERIES THAN WINNING. AND YET, WE GET TO THE PLAYOFFS IN SEPTEMBER, AND ALL OF A SUDDEN WE’RE COUNTING POINTS.. SO IT’S NOT LIKE WINNING IS STILL THE ONLY THING. WHAT IS THE BALANCE WITH YOUR TEAM, IN TERMS OF TRYING TO PUT YOURSELF IN POSITION TO WIN, BUT ALSO COLLECTING MAXIMUM POINTS IN EACH STAGE?
“Yeah, I don’t know. I feel like in the road courses – and maybe superspeedways a little bit – but mostly the road courses where you have to sacrifice stages for the finishing position. We’ve only got one road course in the playoffs, so aside from that, I think you’re always going to go for the stage points and the race win hopefully comes along with that. Obviously, there are cautions that fall at a certain point at the end of a stage and you have to sacrifice the points for tires and fuel. Then I don’t know.. I think it all kind of depends on where you’re at in the points at that moment.
But yes, I think everybody always wants to just straight-up go for stage points and the race win.”
WHAT IS IT ABOUT DARLINGTON RACEWAY THAT SETS UP WELL FOR YOU? DID YOU LIKE THE TRACK FROM THE FIRST TIME YOU DROVE IT OR DID YOU HAVE TO GET SOME LAPS IN BEFORE YOU REALLY FOUND YOUR GROOVE THERE?
“I think most of the races I’ve been in at Darlington (Raceway) have been really good. Maybe if I had some bad results it’s because I got into the wall or something like that. But before getting into the wall, I always remember being competitive, having fun and running up front. I have yet to get a win there, but I feel like it’s in my top three or four for best tracks on the circuit, as far as average running position throughout the race and stuff like that. It just seems to fit my racing style. It’s really technical. You have to move your line around a little bit and be patient.
It’s just fun. I really enjoy it. It gets slick and hot.. it’s just a very demanding race track. I think the more demanding, it sometimes seems to be better suited for me. Hopefully this weekend we can go there, have a really good run and finally crack out a win there.”
HOW DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOUR REGULAR SEASON WENT? DO YOU FEEL AS PREPARED AS YOU CAN BE FOR THIS PLAYOFF RUN?
“Well I think our regular season didn’t go very well, to our standards, but I don’t really know if it did for anybody. Even for Chase (Elliott), like I don’t even know if his regular season was up to their standards. There was just a lot of inconsistency this year throughout the regular season. We had three blown engines now in the regular season, so DNF’s with that. But also mistakes on my part or bad pit stops. Yes, we got a couple wins, which was nice.. but we also probably gave away a couple, as well.
I would say no, it wasn’t good. But I do still feel like we are prepared for the playoffs. I feel like here lately, our pit crew has been performing well. Our cars have been fast all year long. Cliff (Daniels, crew chief) and our guys have been making good calls on top of the box. I’m doing a little bit better job of taking what I can get out of the race car and not overstepping things. So I feel like we’re prepared. We just have to hope that everything comes together and this is the time of the year for that.
I know we have a championship caliber team. We proved that last year and we just have to do it again.”
YOU MENTIONED THE INCONSISTENCIES WE’VE SEEN THIS SEASON. IT’S KIND OF BIZARRE FOR YOU TO HAVE SIX DNF’S, AS YOU MENTIONED. WHEN YOU LOOK AT THESE INCONSISTENCIES, HOW MUCH OF IT IS THE NEW CAR? IT’S REALLY CHANGED THE DYNAMIC IN A LOT OF THESE RACES AND THERE ARE A LOT OF FIRST TIME GUYS THAT ARE GOING TO THE POST-SEASON.
“Yeah, it’s hard to say that it’s not a factor with the unique set of drivers in the playoffs. I don’t know what it is about it.. I think just the cars are more similar than they’ve ever been to one another. There are more things that can go wrong in a race that could take you out of it and put others in contention.
I don’t know.. I think there is a long list of things that can factor into why it is what it is. But I think it’s cool for the race fans to see a different group of drivers up front all year long; a different group than we’re maybe used to seeing in the playoffs. I think it’s added some storylines for the commentators and for you guys, and I think those are all good things.”
COULD THERE BE SOME BIG UNKNOWN THAT NONE OF US ARE EXPECTING THAT POPS UP, SAY IN THE ROUND OF EIGHT EVEN?
“I don’t know.. I don’t know. I think we just have to kind of wait and see how things play out because it is an unknown. I don’t even know what is an unknown because we don’t know what the unknown is.
I don’t know. I can’t answer that for you, I’m not really sure.”
YOU DON’T REALLY FEEL LIKE THERE IS A CLEAR CUT FAVORITE RIGHT NOW GOING INTO THE CHAMPIONSHIP BATTLE?
“I definitely think there are favorites, but there is a lot of craziness that has happened all year long. So even though I have favorites; I’m not confident in anything, just because of how wild and inconsistent the season has been for so many people. I think you can look at us as being one of the favorites. I think you can look at Chase (Elliott), obviously; and in my opinion, Ross Chastain. I would say us three probably, and definitely the Gibbs guys that are in the playoffs. There are a lot of tracks in the playoffs that I think suit their cars and setups very well. Honestly, I would probably look at them as probably being the ones that could go out there and win. I think there are other teams that can do a better job of executing, but the Gibbs guys probably have the fastest and best handling cars to go out there and really win to advance that way.”
WITH YOUR PLAYOFF HISTORY, THERE WAS ONLY ONE OTHER TIME WHERE YOU WERE ABLE TO GET INTO THE ROUND OF EIGHT BEFORE THE RUN YOU WENT ON LAST SEASON. WHAT DO YOU FEEL LIKE THE BIGGEST LESSONS ARE THAT YOU’VE LEARNED THROUGHOUT YOUR PLAYOFF HISTORY THAT YOU FEEL LIKE YOU CAN CARRY INTO THIS YEAR?
“If you win, that’s great.. but if you’re not going to win, you just need to maximize your day and make sure you’re finishing the races. I think finishing is the most important thing. If you can finish in the top-10 or 12 every week until you at least get to the Round of Eight, I feel like that should be enough to get you in.. as long as you’re getting stage points, too. Stage points are really important, as well.
If you get one finish outside the top-20, then I feel like you’ve got reasons to stress. Just not taking yourself out of it has been the biggest thing that I’ve learned over my career of being in the playoffs. I think when you’re young; you think ‘OK, it’s the final 10 weeks and I need to go out there and win’ every week or win at least once a round. That’s not necessarily the case. I think as long as you can just be consistent and finish, let the other guys make those mistakes.”
HOMESTEAD IS ALSO BACK IN THE PLAYOFFS THIS YEAR. IS THAT ONE THAT YOU HAVE CIRCLED ON YOUR CALENDAR, AS FAR AS BEING HOPEFUL TO GET BACK TO VICTORY LANE?
“Yeah, I really like Homestead. It suits me well, being able to run the top and search for different lanes of grip. I do feel like though, with the Next Gen car, it seems to be a lot easier to run inches off the wall. So I’m a little bit worried that the whole field will be running up there and it will be really hard to pass, but we’ll see. It’s going to be great no matter what. Homestead is awesome all of the time. I’m just saying, I think compared to other Homestead races; maybe it won’t be as exciting and as good of racing, just because it could be harder to pass. Just have to wait and see until we get there.
But I love Homestead and no matter what package that we’ve ran there, I’ve always seemed to love it and run well. I don’t see a reason why we shouldn’t be able to go there and contend for a win.”
IS THERE ANY NERVOUSNESS GOING INTO THE PLAYOFFS WITH THE POTENTIAL FOR MECHANICAL FAILURES GIVEN THAT YOU GUYS DID HAVE THREE, UNCHARACTERISTIC ENGINE FAILURES DURING THE REGULAR SEASON?
“I have not really thought about that until we blew up last weekend (at Daytona). Our other two engine failures were early on in the year, so I thought we had it all cured and stuff. Having another issue pop up this weekend – which I think was a totally different issue than I had in the other two – yes, it’s on your mind. But that’s not something you should worry about when you’re on the track. There’s nothing I can do from my position to limit things from happening under the hood.
I’m confident in Hendrick Motorsports and the engine shop. They are the best in the business and they are going to continue to learn why stuff has happened and make it better for the future. My confidence in them has not gone down at all. I’m still confident that we’re going to have great power and great reliability.
But yes, it’s more on my mind now than it was, just because it happened the week before the playoffs start.”
WHAT TRACK OR TRACKS PERSONALLY GIVE YOU THE MOST CAUSE FOR CONCERN IN THE PLAYOFFS?
“Obviously I think Talladega. I think the ROVAL is in that same round. So I think that’s the round, where us being a dominant team last year, it almost took us out. That’s the sketchiest round for me.
As far as a track that I don’t do very well at, I would say Martinsville in that final round is a tricky one for me. But I think it’s also Las Vegas and Homestead, maybe, in that round. Those are two really good tracks for me, so hopefully if I do make it to the Round of Eight, we can have a great Vegas and Homestead and find ourselves in a little bit of a better spot once we get to Martinsville. I think still, to me, that second round is the sketchiest.”
EARLIER, YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT SEVERAL GUYS BEING IN THE PLAYOFFS FOR THE FIRST TIME. DOES IT WORRY YOU THAT SOME OF THESE GUYS – PARTICULARLY GUYS THAT HAVE BEEN PRONE TO CAUSE ISSUES IN THE REGULAR SEASON – DOES IT CONCERN YOU WITH SOME OF THESE GUYS BEING IN THE PLAYOFFS FOR THE FIRST TIME, THAT THEY MIGHT KIND OF DRIVER OVER THEIR HEADS A LITTLE BIT?
“No, not really. I don’t think about that at all. You’re going to be racing with them anyways, whether they’re in the playoffs or not, and they’re still going to be hungry for wins no matter what. I don’t think it changes much. Maybe if they’re in a must-win situation to advance to the next round, that’s when you get a little bit more nervous. But your awareness is going to be high for anybody in a must-win situation.
Honestly, to me, it doesn’t change my mindset at all. I’d be curious what other drivers would have to say. I don’t think it would change their opinions either. I don’t really think too much into it.”
Team Chevy high-resolution racing photos are available for editorial use.
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