Transcripts: Kyle Larson, Cliff Daniels, Jeff Andrews – 03.03.24

THE MODERATOR: We’re now joined by two members of the race-winning team, the Hendrick Motorsports president and GM Jeff Andrews, and the crew chief of the No. 5, Cliff Daniels.

Q. Cliff, the speed that you guys had today, I’m sure that you were expecting this and hoping for this, but is this indicative of what you thought the season would be like for Chevrolet and for Hendrick to come out like this?

CLIFF DANIELS: I mean, I think one advantage that we probably have right now is just the continuity of what we know of our car. To be honest, I thought the Toyota’s pace was pretty impressive today, like the 45 was really good. Just knowing that their car is different, I would imagine the balance and some of the handling characteristics are a little bit different just from an aero standpoint.

So the continuity of our stuff and the depth of our notes I think was really helpful for today.

We’re going to have to keep evolving pretty quick because the more they start to get their stuff figured out. The gap is going to get closed.

To be honest, I know that win both stages and win the race, you would say we had the dominant day, but there were some cars that were pretty tough right there with us, and at the end of long runs, the 45 was there every time.

I think the gap is actually tighter than what it may look on paper.

Q. Cliff, you talked about last time y’all were out here just how difficult it is to win races. You guys are notoriously amazing on pit road. Talk about how difficult it is to maintain that consistency week after week and just how difficult it is to win these races.

CLIFF DANIELS: Yeah, it’s really tough, and it’s an evolving process. I’m so proud of the folks at Hendrick Motorsports in our pit department, the guys on the 5 team. It may sound cliche to say of how much work they out in, but they really do. Even rainy days now we figure out how to do pit stops on rain days and things like that for pit practice.

They put in the work, and when you put in the work and you have the reps, we have all the same guys, all the same team from last year, they know each other, they understand each other, and you just have to keep evolving, which is what they’ve done.

Middle of the race we had a couple wonky pit stops, things got weird with how we were flipping some tires around, but the 5 team, they executed so well on pit road at the end of the race. That was really cool.

Q. Cliff, is there any sort of sense of relief in the sense of you had the speed here in October and you come back and it’s still there?

CLIFF DANIELS: Yeah, I would say it’s a relief for sure, and to the point I mentioned, it’s really fun to be a part of with all the folks at Chevrolet right now.

We don’t have a new submission and we know the other OEMs do. Our sense of urgency is there. We know that we’ve got to keep evolving kind of like I mentioned to Jeff, just the continuity of our stuff and keep understanding our stuff better.

So we still have to push. We still made setup changes from the fall to here because we didn’t quite have the long run pace that some other guys had in the fall. I would still argue we needed a little bit more today. We’ve got to keep evolving and we’ve got to keep pushing.

To your direct question, yes, it was relief, but certainly not satisfied.

Q. Because you won this week, will that impact anything on maybe how you start practice next week with the new diffuser? Will you maybe go in a route just to see because you have a win in the bank now?

CLIFF DANIELS: Totally valid question. The cake is mostly baked for everyone’s Phoenix stuff. The cars are going to leave Tuesday morning, so in the next 24 hours there is just not a lot that you’re going to do different to the cars from the shop prep.

When we get there, I’m sure there’s things we may talk through and look at with our teammates of trying to be the most helpful for the practice plan, since you have a full practice.

The one thing that I am surprised about, and to tip you guys off a little bit for next week, is some of the aero map of that car and things that you have to look at different from the conventional aero map of the Next-Gen car.

So it’s actually going to be exciting to get to go play that out and see how it goes. The drivers are really positive at the test that we were part of in December, January, whenever it was, just of what that aero package was going to be, and we’ve got to do stuff different to accommodate that.

To be honest with you, it’s a bit of an unknown for everyone.

Q. Did you get that aero map on the wheel force test?

CLIFF DANIELS: It’s been evolving. So we knew some of the aero of what that was because it wasn’t really on the plan, that actual configuration wasn’t on the original test plan for the December test. I think it was December. It was very late in day two after feedback from the drivers of, hey, we want this spoiler and let’s try this diffuser again, that I applaud NASCAR, they completely listened to the feedback of the drivers; hey, let’s bolt it on and go do some more group runs, and it actually raced pretty well, and the drivers liked how they could drive the cars a little bit more sideways, have a little bit more to lean on.

To your question, yes, there’s a wheel force test. We’ve kind of been evolving it from that point. I would imagine everybody has been investigating the same stuff.

Yeah, it’ll be interesting to see, and obviously we’re all optimistic to do anything we can do to improve the short track racing.

Q. Ever since you and Kyle paired up, you guys have three wins at this track. Seems like you hit the setup every time. What makes this track so special for you?

CLIFF DANIELS: I would argue he is so good at tracks with a lot of character. That’s a testament to the different types of cars that he drives all the time. He can adapt to so many different things. We are going to see him do that gain here in about three months, which is going to be a lot of fun to watch.

He’s so good at moving the different lanes and how the car reacts in those different situations. I would argue we haven’t had the outright best car every time that we’ve won. He’s done a really good job on restarts. We all know how important clean air is.

Yeah, we’ve given him something that he can drive and do what he’s good at to go put it in position.

Q. Cliff, how heavy were you relying on your notes from last fall in relation to today, or did it play any part in your setups at all?

CLIFF DANIELS: Yeah, it did a lot, and the derivation of where we were today was completely from the fall and really identifying our weaknesses.

Kind of like I mentioned earlier, at the end of the fall race, especially at the end of long runs, we were pretty weak. We had great short run pace, but we didn’t have very good long run pace. We took what that foundation was. We built on it and evolved.

I think we closed the gap from short run pace to long run pace a little bit better for today, and we’ll look to do more of that for next time, as well.

Q. The temptation is to look at this and try to make big conclusions or jump to conclusions about the whole field, so I’m wondering how valid you think that is. If I’m looking at the Stewart-Haas cars or Noah had really good speed it seemed like —

CLIFF DANIELS: So did the 14.

Q. He faded, but he was good for a while, and then the Spire cars. Did we see enough today to think these teams have something to build off of, or is it still too early for that at this point?

CLIFF DANIELS: Partially both. But at the end of the year the Stewart-Haas cars weren’t always a top 5 threat, and they kind of were at times today.

The 23XI cars have been really strong at intermediates. They were today. The JGR cars were strong today. My assessment of today when I write my post-race notes on the plane tonight is going to be that the gap is tighter than what it was in the fall across the field.

And I really believe that, and I think you see it just with the different players that were inside the top 14 at any point of the race and being pretty competitive. There was times I looked through the top 20 in the leaderboard, and if the leader ran a 31 flat, 20th ran like a 31.10. That’s pretty close.

Q. Jeff, two wins in three races. I know it’s two completely different style tracks, but how important is that for Hendrick to get off to that kind of start with two different drivers? Also, Chevrolet remained undefeated at 3-0, which I know they’ve got to be pretty pleased about. You’ve got to be off the hook for a week or so.

JEFF ANDREWS: Yeah, for the next three or four days anyway.

Obviously a great start for Hendrick Motorsports, winning two out of three races here. I think what we’re most proud of is what we’re doing for Mr. and Mrs. Hendrick this year and the celebration of the 40th year for them and getting this started this way, this really couldn’t go any better. Obviously if we would have won last weekend, that would have been the best it could.

Just really proud of the effort that the company is putting in and our dedication and focus in our 40th year. Cliff hit on it earlier, but the Chevrolet contingent right now is as tight as it’s ever been, and the key partner groups and even outside of that are working really good together because we know we have very little margin here. We know we’re up against a new car with Ford and Toyota.

We have to do our best to work together and keep advancing this car. We’re obviously early on in the season here, a lot of racing to go, and they will get there, as cliff said. 45 was very good today and you saw a couple Fords up there. Anytime that you change a platform on those cars as much as they’ve had, it’s going to take a little bit of time. Both of those OEMs certainly have a lot of potential, and we’re going to have to keep pushing really, really hard to keep ourselves in contention through the early part of the summer here and then set ourselves up for the fall.

THE MODERATOR: Jeff, Cliff, congratulations. Thank you for your time. We’ll now continue on with Kyle.

Q. It’s NASCAR’s 20th anniversary year for the D4D program, and in the last two weeks we’ve seen three winners, three graduate winners of the D4D program including yourself. Have you recognized that? Is that important to you, and why?

KYLE LARSON: Well, now that you mention it, yeah, I think that’s really important. That’s really cool, with Suárez winning last week was super proud and happy for Rajah on Friday night not only because it’s Rajah and everything that he means to the sport, but with on his truck, and then myself winning here today, it is pretty cool for sure.

The D4D program was good for my career. Kind of gave me my introduction into stock car racing and gained a lot of experience not only on the racetrack but off of it, as well, with everything that they offered there at Rev Racing when I was there.

I’m sure it’s changed quite a bit since 2012, but regardless, they’ve produced some great drivers, and it’s cool to see. Hopefully we can add some more D4D guys on to the new championship list down the road.

Q. Typically you and Reddick race really well together. You guys put on some exciting events, but you also both like ripping the top. But today the bottom line seemed preferable. He said you took the bottom and he would have liked to have been down there. Can you talk about the cat and mouse going into closing stages?

KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I knew it was going to be cat and mouse. I knew I was going to have to kind of catch him off guard with a late kind of block.

Yes, the bottom was good, but he was making some time up top in 3 and 4, and I felt like going back to the fall, Bell was catching me around the top and I didn’t quite move up early enough or thought at the time that I could have maybe not had that last-lap battle if I moved around a bit more.

I thought I had a decent gap with eight-ish laps left, and I was like, I need to get going up top in 3 and 4 to try and build some momentum. That was the wrong move, and it really allowed him to get much closer to me. And then I was like, crap, all right, now I’ve got to block, air block him.

Tried in 1 and 2, I don’t know, three or four laps left, he was running a little bit higher than me in 1 and 2, and I was trying to take his air away and really mess his angle up off of 2 but it didn’t hurt him that bad and he was close to me in 3 and 4 or down the backstretch through 3 and 4.

I don’t remember what happened that next corner.

But there with two to go, he expected I think me to run the middle or top or something, and I was able to do kind of a nice lazy arc to the bottom and take his air away in the center of 3 and 4 and got him tight.

That killed his run down the frontstretch, and thankfully that was the white flag. I knew as long as I hit my marks I was going to be safe to the checkered. Seemed like blocked him maybe once earlier it took him a lap and a half to get that run built back to me to where I was going to have to block again.

Yeah, thankful it all kind of worked out there. But as you mentioned, yeah, I have a lot of fun racing Tyler. We’ve grown up together racing. We’ve had great races back to when we were like seven, eight years old. Cool to have another fellow northern Californian from the Outlaw kart ranks racing up front on Sundays.

Q. I know we’re only three races in, but when you got on your roll to win your championship, it started here. Any vibes for you looking forward to the rest of the season, getting this win in the fashion you did today and going forward?

KYLE LARSON: I don’t know. I mean, Next Gen racing is so much different than 2021. Who knows. Yes, I think we have the potential within our team to do that. I think it will be much harder. When we won here in 2021, we killed them at the end. This, we had to fight really hard for it.

As Cliff mentioned, the field is much tighter, so that’s going to make winning much tougher than back then. Again, I think out team is well capable of it. I feel like we’ve done a really good job of executing to start the year.

Daytona was going really well until it didn’t there at the end.

Atlanta was going great until it didn’t.

Then today, we did everything great from start to finish. Pit crew, pit calls, restarts, the car itself, myself in the seat, blocking the right way and making speed while doing it was good.

If we can carry that on, I think there is definitely potential to have a great season like we did in 2021, but 11 wins that year, I don’t know, that would be really hard in the Next Gen era.

Q. Did Owen plan to hijack your celebration? Did you know he was going to do that? It looked pretty fun out there.

KYLE LARSON: Well, I wasn’t surprised, I guess. When we won here in the fall he did the same thing. He ran all the way from watching it, grandparents’ motor home all the way to the start-finish line, so he was huffing and puffing when he got there.

It’s fun. It’s really fun to celebrate with the family. These are core memories that my kids are going to be able to remember for the rest of their lives. I can only imagine me being nine years old and standing on the roof of my dad’s race car staring at this crowd, how that must feel inside.

I don’t know if he understands, either. It would have to be pretty special, at least to look back on decades and decades down the road when he’s got children of his own and I’m old and he’s taking care of me.

I don’t think Cooper understands much other than just stuffing his face full of food.

Q. When you’re trying to air block like with the battle with Reddick, how much are you looking behind you and how much are you looking forward? Is it like a 50/50 split? How does that go?

KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I would say it’s got to be somewhat 50/50. Once you’re in the corner — three and four you’re more out the windshield because it’s a more line sensitive corner especially as you’re trying to run the bottom.

But even before you exit Turn 4 you’re already looking in your mirror and trying to judge the run that’s coming behind you.

And then as you turn off into 1 you kind of have — at least for me, I don’t know about other people — you’re looking where you’re going mirror is you can kind of out of your peripheral see his angle, and then like once I get loaded, then I can look again and add wheel if I need to block or release wheel to let it wash up or whatever.

Then yeah, same thing down the backstretch.

It’s fun when you do it right. It’s tough. I almost kind of messed up a couple times. There’s some guys that are really good at mirror driving. I felt like I did an okay job of it there at the end.

Q. Doesn’t seem like there was a whole lot of difference from four months ago. I’m curious, is that a relief? Does that give you confidence? I assume there’s always questions when you come back to a place that you kind of dominated.

KYLE LARSON: Well, the Next Gen stuff so far, especially for mile-and-a-halfs and all that going back to 2022, I don’t think the rules have changed at all. We’ve been good. We were good back then.

Yeah, I think, as every team, we’ve progressively gotten our stuff better, but we had a good base starting spot in 2022. I assume that we’re going to be better and better every time we come back to these places. When we won here in the fall, you come back here again in the spring, you know you’re going to have a shot, at least you hope that. This one was maybe a little bit different because of the Fords and Toyotas with their new cars and off-season, who got their stuff better.

But I felt like we were going to be good again. Did I think we would win both stages in the race? I don’t know, but I felt like we would have a shot.

It was good. My car felt better than it did in the fall. Obviously in the fall the conditions are warmer in Vegas. I think it was like 20 degrees warmer. That has a big effect on the balance of your race car, especially on the long run.

But I thought my car drove better, as Cliff mentioned, from the beginning of the run to the end of the run where in the fall I would get really, really loose, and even all the other Vegas races I would get really loose on the long runs, but today my balance stayed not bad.

I know those guys were a little bit better than me, but it helps when you’re getting big drafts down the straightaways.

Q. You mentioned that you won both stages today, obviously picking up a lot of playoff points. What’s it mean to get a lot of those in the bank early in the season?

KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I mean, it’s good. You hope to keep stacking up stage points and stage wins. I look at it, like last year, yes, we made it to the Final Four, but I didn’t do a great job in the regular season. I crashed a lot. We didn’t finish as high up as the speed in our car in the regular season.

There’s a lot of bonus points on the table for the end of the regular season. It’s kind of a priority of mine this year is to try and do a better job in the regular somebody to make life a little bit easier when you get to the playoffs have something days like today early in the year definitely helps things, but you still have to carry it on throughout the next 20, whatever it is, two, three races before the playoffs start, and then yeah, once you get in the playoffs, there’s still a lot more points out there.

Just try to be more consistent than I was last year, and like I said, finish all the laps, and hopefully the points will take care of themselves.

Q. Obviously Phoenix is next. It’s a track where you won one of your biggest milestones in your racing career. What are going to be the keys for you to go back-to-back over there?

KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I don’t know. We have a slightly different aero package, I believe, for next week than what we’ve had at any other race. I was a part of that aero test at Phoenix throughout the off-season, but I don’t even remember what exactly is on the car for next week or what run from the test that was.

Yeah, regardless, it’s an important race next week to gather data. Hopefully we’re fast and all that.

Phoenix has not honestly been a great track for me I feel like in the Next Gen stuff. We were pretty good in the spring last year, but there was others that were a lot faster, and then in the championship race, our team just executed super good to even give us a shot at winning.

But Blaney was like way faster than we were in the fall race.

Yeah, just try to gather data and assess and build on your package for short tracks in hopes that you’re racing for a championship in November.

Q. I noticed when you climbed out of the car in Victory Lane, you had the Prime bottle with you. How did that deal come together, and do you think we’ll see a paint scheme with them in the future?

KYLE LARSON: I don’t know. Hopefully there’s an opportunity there for that relationship to grow. It’s a massive brand for sure. I’m happy to be a part of it and introduce it to the NASCAR world.

Yeah, it’s great. It’s cool to get a win with them and be chugging the bottle in Victory Lane. I look forward to that relationship growing, and hopefully they enjoy having me a part of their brand, as well.

Q. I wanted to ask you about the bells. Is that just a team 5 thing?

KYLE LARSON: I believe so. I don’t know if William, if they did that in Victory Lane at Daytona.

So the bell thing, I’m sure like you would know, the bells are pretty important, yeah, at the shop. I don’t know where it originated from just because I’m much newer at Hendrick, but I know even at Rick and Linda’s wedding anniversary last year they had a bell that everybody would — when they left, you would ring it.

The bell has always been important to Rick and Linda and Hendrick Motorsports. This off-season or preseason I’ll call it, we all got together, the team, the 5 team, at Hendrick Automotive Group just to kind of get pumped up for the season.

And Darryl Jackson, he’s hilarious, but he brought three bells to the little get-together and told us to keep one on the hauler for whenever we win, and then I got to take one home, and Cliff, as well.

That bell will travel with us every week, and we’ll be ringing it loud and proud in Victory Lane hopefully a lot this year.

Q. Is that because you expect to win so much you can’t get back to the shop in time to ring the bell so much?

KYLE LARSON: I don’t know. They work around my schedule quite a bit. Aside from 2021 with COVID and all that, every win since then I’ve gotten to go through all the different areas of Hendrick Motorsports and shake everybody’s hands and let them ring the bell and get to celebrate a little bit with them.

That’s special. It’s a really cool thing that they do. Even JR Motorsports has adapted it. When we won a race with them at Watkins Glen a couple years ago I got to go to their shop and same sort of thing, you have everybody ring the bell. It’s a cool thing, and hopefully now it’s a tradition for the 5 team going forward.