Kyle Larson, Rick Hendrick, Jeff Gordon - Victory Lane Interview
- Kyle, you've been the class of the field for the entire year. Double-digit wins, most top 5s, most top 10s, just truly incredible. By the way, the most laps led in NASCAR Cup Series history. Just incredible. It's a magical season. On behalf of everyone in NASCAR, our premier partners who are up here with us, our millions of fans around the world and these unbelievable fans here at Phoenix Raceway, I want to congratulate you, and it's my honor to present the Bill France Cup to you as our 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion. Well done, Young Money.
Let's chat about this day. You mentioned it to Rutledge. Even with 20, 30 to go, you're sitting back there, the last of the Championship 4, that you thought no way we're pulling this off?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, for sure. I knew the only way we were going to pull it off is if our pit crew got us off as a leader, and damn, they did. That was just crazy. I tried to do as good of a job as I could down pit road without speeding, getting my sign as good as I could, and those guys nailed the pit stop and got us out the leader.
I still had to fight through. Martin was really fast behind me. Our car was just gripped up enough for that length of a run that we could hold them off.
- You said you had tears even before driver introductions, riding around, waving to the sold-out crowd here at Phoenix. What made this day so emotional for you?
KYLE LARSON: I think just thinking about the journey and how tough of a road it's been to get to this point for so long, but especially the last year and a half, and too, I think just the atmosphere, I haven't felt an atmosphere like this maybe ever.
With the pressure of this race and everything that was on the line, to win this championship -- every one of these fans made me feel it. I was trying to tell myself to just chill out, stop tearing up. I make fun of my dad all the time for crying, and I'm worse than he is.
It's just so cool. So cool. So thankful. Thank you to Rick Hendrick, Jeff Gordon. We have so many people from Hendrickcars.com here, Hendrick Motorsports. This is just awesome, an awesome day.
- You talked about the journey. Last year you were at the Hendrick Motorsports command center watching this race, suspended by NASCAR. How much of your story is about second chances?
KYLE LARSON: Probably the whole thing. Without so many people that helped me, Anthony and Michelle Martin, wish you were here today, Tony Sonay (phonetic), Rod Moskowitz, Doug Harris, everybody who was there for me at the beginning, and then to get me up to the point where I could at least go have a meeting with Rick Hendrick. And for him to work his magic, NASCAR for allowing me to come back, they had every reason not to let me come back, and thanks to them. So many people were able to give me a second chance and put me together with Cliff Daniels and everybody on this 5 car. I'm just the luckiest human being on this planet.
- Mr. Hendrick, he said you took a chance on him, but how much of his story is about second chances, Rick?
RICK HENDRICK: I'll tell you, we've always known he's a wheelman, and he works so hard off the track. Man, I just -- he deserves this, and what a year, man. I am so proud of everyone, Chevrolet and Lloyd Reuss's. There's so much for General Motors. A good friend of mine is home sick. Lloyd, this one is for you, buddy.
- Talk to me about the chance you did take on him. Did you feel you were taking a risk by hiring Kyle Larson?
RICK HENDRICK: I never thought I was taking a risk. I mean, I know how good he is. I'm just fortunate we were able to get him, and man, what a wheelman he is. 10 races won, 11 with the All-Star Race. It's unbelievable.
- How were your nerves throughout the day? Because your drivers were racing each other pretty hard, Chase Elliott and Kyle.
RICK HENDRICK: You know, you worry about that, and then I thought when Truex was out front and we had needed that caution, our guys had an unbelievable pit stop, and this thing can change on a dime. Congrats to Truex and Denny and to Chase. Chase had a heck of a year and drove an awesome race today.
We're just proud to be here and thank Hendrick cars and Chevrolet and everybody that's been our partner. I'm so happy for this kid. He deserves this.
- Jeff Gordon, how about that performance from this young man?
JEFF GORDON: Unbelievable. By the whole team, and Kyle Larson is a great talent. You give him a great race car and great race teams and he does amazing things. We've seen it before, seen it in other forms of racing. He and this pit crew and this team, they did it all year long. They got to this point.
What a battle. I just want to say Phoenix Raceway, NASCAR and all these fans that came out here today, this is what a championship weekend is supposed to feel like, and that was a championship battle. Great competitors and a great champion here.
- You know better than anyone how important a good pit crew is. Is there a better example of a team win than this one you've ever seen, Jeff?
JEFF GORDON: Well, it was a total team effort not just from the whole season but from the whole weekend, how they prepared to go qualify and get that lap to win the pole, get the No. 1 pit stall, and they had great stops all day long, and an unfortunate caution that got them behind and then another one that helped him get another opportunity, and I think I heard it was like the second best stop of the entire year. That's what championship teams do.
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