Transcript: Kyle Larson, Cliff Daniels, Jeff Andrews – Press Conference – North Wilkesboro Speedway

HE MODERATOR: We’re now going to continue into our post-race press conference here for tonight’s NASCAR All-Star Race. We’ve now been joined by Kyle Larson, driver of the No. 5 Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.

Congratulations on that win. In dominating fashion, we should add. Tell us a little bit about just the overall day of coming in, seeing all the fans and then being able to take home that victory tonight.

KYLE LARSON: Yeah, as we all know, it was a great atmosphere all weekend. Just a great job to Marcus and his whole team on reviving this place and making this real. I don’t think we ever thought that it would get to this point with the All-Star Race when Dale and everybody was here cleaning up weeds and cleaning everything up to scan for iRacing. I don’t think any of us thought that the All-Star Race could be here someday or a Cup Series race in general.

The vibe was just amazing, and the race, too, was quick. It was fun. It made it fun that my car was so good. Yeah, just a great night.

I didn’t expect to be fast at all. Cool weekend.

Q. I got the impression this weekend that you guys weren’t totally happy with the car after practice and then early in the race. Then lap 15 it seems like that was kind of the winning decision to come down pit road. Were you surprised that the car was that good once you put the tires on and then it was able to hold on in clean air?

KYLE LARSON: Yeah, definitely. Friday we were really bad. I mean, yes, I ran the fast lap in practice, but if you look at the 30-lap average, I was like second to last. We were really bad on Friday.

Saturday we were really bad in the heat race, as well. I was super loose in the heat race, like loose everywhere, no grip.

So I had not great expectations for tonight. I just didn’t think there was enough that they could do to make me better. I thought we’d run around 15th tonight.

Being a short race, starting where we did, I was like, man, you can’t pass here. But then we fired off, I dropped anchor, I got stuck in the outside lane, kind of settled into second to last or whatever, and just trying to feel my car out, and I’m like, I think I’m all right here, like I’m not bad. I just can’t pass, but I was like, man, my entry is more stable, I can get through the middle all right, my drive-off seems better than yesterday. Never did I think we would drive to the lead.

But we pitted for tires, and I sped on pit road, so we restarted last. Was able to pick off a lot of cars in the outside lane the first few laps, and then I could get that line low of 4 working and get really good drive-off. Managed my tires, I felt like, pretty good down there, as well.

Once I was picking people off, I was like, man, is my car this good or is the tire disparity the reason why I’m driving through the field. So I asked, man, is anybody else passing like I am that were on new tires? And they didn’t really say that anybody was. I was like, wow, shoot, our car is really good here.

Then we got to the lead, and I was like, well, shoot, I want to lap as many cars as I can so we don’t have to deal with as many for the final segment. I think they said we had like a 12-second lead or something, which was great.

Yeah, came off the leader off pit road, and then knowing how good my car was, I wanted the second segment to play out exactly like it did. I just wanted a long run to the end, no drama, and that’s what happened. I was able to kind of manage my stuff throughout the early — really the whole run, but my car felt good enough, I could look in my mirror and stretch away from Bubba and push it when I needed to see if I still had lap time in the car, and continued to manage my stuff.

That last segment went by so fast. Honestly, when I took the checkered flag, I was thinking, is the format — just 200 laps, right? I was like, that was so fast.

Just cool to dominate like that, and to do it kind of like how you saw people dominate races back in the ’80s and ’90s.

Q. What’s the cooler distinction to you, that you’ve won three All-Star Races or done it at three different venues along the way?

KYLE LARSON: I think definitely doing it at three different venues along the way. I’m very proud of that for sure. For so long the All-Star Race was just at a single racetrack, and I think it’s been cool the last however many years. It’s not switched every year, but it’s gone from Charlotte to Bristol to Texas to here. I don’t know if there was another track.

I didn’t get the chance to race at Bristol, but to win at Charlotte was awesome. That’s one of my first big wins in a stock car. Then Texas was cool to win at a different track. Now you’re like, man, they keep switching these things up. It would be cool to win at another venue at a historic venue like this.

I am extremely proud for sure to have won the All-Star Race, but to win it at three different tracks is really, really neat.

Q. Do you have any idea of what you could do that nobody else could do tonight or why you were that much better?

KYLE LARSON: I don’t know. I need to watch the replay. I need to look at data. I was passing those people when I was on better tires, so it was like hard for me to really see where I was — I was beating them everywhere.

I think a strong suit of mine was my car was good enough. I could roll in with a lot of speed. I could kind of check up my center of 3 and 4 and drive off really low off of 4. That was a line that I had kind of found in the truck race, and I didn’t think that it would work in the Cup car as well as it did, and it seemed even better in the Cup car for me.

I think that helped me. I don’t know if that helped save my tires any or not, but I do think that low exit was where I could beat people.

But also, I think if you — you need to look at segment times, but I feel like my entry — when I was lapping people, I could roll in so fast on them on entry.

Q. We hear everybody say, I just want to win the race for the trophy. You not only won the race in dominating fashion, you won the trophy, you won a million dollars. What of those three is the most special tonight for you when you walk out of this place?

KYLE LARSON: I would say it’s all equal to me. You know, if I had to pick one of any of them, I think winning at a historic track like this, being the first Cup Series winner since ’96 is probably the coolest thing. Having your name in the history books of guys who are legends in the sport that have won here, I think that’s pretty special.

But the trophy, I mean, that’s my third All-Star trophy. They look the same, got different logos on them, that’s it, but they look the same. It’s cool. The check, I mean, there’s not many races in the world that pay a million dollars a win. I’m the only guy that gets to race in two of those — well, I guess Daytona pays that, but I get to race in a number of million dollar win races this year. My next one will be in a sprint car at Eldora. It would be pretty cool to win a million bucks there, as well.

Just a cool night all around.

THE MODERATOR: We’ve also been joined by Cliff Daniels and Jeff Andrews.

Q. Kyle, Marcus was in here earlier, talked a little bit about the idea of whether it needs to be repaved or not. Where would you fall on that or what would you like to see after this?

KYLE LARSON: Well, I mean, I hate we stunk the show up because they’re probably thinking they’ve got to do something different.

I don’t know, my opinion varies. Friday I was like, oh, we sucked, then you repave this place. Tonight, I’m like, leave it, don’t touch it. I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing them — if it’s whatever, but adding more patches of pavement in the upper grooves, I don’t think they need to pave the whole thing, but just little patches here and there add character to the track and find grip. I think that’s why we were so glued to the bottom was that there was patches around the bottom of the track.

I think if they can introduce some patches in the middle to upper grooves, I think that’ll make the racing even better.

But I don’t know, I would hate to see them repave the whole surface, but I think they could go another year of trying to add character and fill in some areas that need help with patches.

Q. Kyle, what was the most important thing you learned from the track race last night that benefitted you tonight?

KYLE LARSON: Well, I think just line stuff. I think that the low whatever off of 2 didn’t work in the Cup car. People were trying it when I was lapping them in there, and they were really slow doing it.

So what I thought from the truck race kind of matched up in the race today. I thought that eventually we’d be able to use the low off of 2, kind of get your left sides on the apron and exit really close to the wall and low and straight, and then I didn’t think that you’d be able to do it off of 2.

My opinion of that was right, and I think I wouldn’t have known that had I not run the truck race. I didn’t really mess around with the exit of 2 stuff. I did that I think maybe three or four times throughout the race, and I would lose ground on the guys I was trying to pass.

But 3 and 4, that’s where I was kind of making my money over there. Yeah, it was definitely beneficial to run the truck race. Thanks to Jeff Andrews and Cliff for talking me into running it. I really didn’t want to.

But I’m glad I did.

Q. Cliff, I’m curious, when did you guys start strategizing or planning for this race? Was it when they announced Dale’s race was coming here? Was it when they announced the format? Was your planning different from any other race?

CLIFF DANIELS: A little bit to a point. I think when we all heard the news, you get excited and want to start studying the track history and the details of the track and the banking and the loading and all the things. I would imagine most of the field probably came with similar to what they had at Richmond.

But yeah, anytime you get to see a new place or a new track on the schedule, you want to learn as much about it as you can, and we certainly got excited when we heard the news, and we’ve kept an eye out for it.

Q. Would you like to see North Wilkesboro stay an All-Star Race or would you like to see it a points-paying race, if it allows?

KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I don’t know. I’m not sure. I don’t know. I think it was great as the All-Star Race. I think — honestly, I think I kind of want to see the All-Star Race move around. I think that shows who the All-Star is.

Yeah, I would be fine either way. It doesn’t matter to me. But I do think having the All-Star Race move around, it shows who the best team and driver is and all that. Really, I just want to see us keep coming back here. I think NASCAR has a lot of roots here, so it deserves a spot on our schedule, whether it be a non-points race or a points race, whatever.

Q. Kyle, do you ever think about just what’s happened and what you’ve accomplished just over the last three years since you got to Hendrick Motorsports, two All-Star Races, 15 or so points wins, the championship? Do you just think about how your career and your life has changed in a short amount of time?

KYLE LARSON: Sure. I mean, yeah. I think about it all the time, how fortunate I am and kind of where my life and career could have went in 2021 — yeah, 2020, could have went many different directions. Thankfully Rick took a chance on me, and I am forever grateful for that.

I think the timing was right, too. The timing was right for me. Their equipment was super good. They had kind of struggled a little bit for their standards up to the middle of 2020, and then Chase was able to win the championship, I came on board, and we’ve had a great two and a half seasons now since then.

I hope to continue to win lots of races for this organization and hope to be here for a very long time. They are the best team in the sport. They prove it year in and year out, and the people that are there are just amazing. It starts from the top.

Rick is just a great human being, and everybody wants to do him proud. Drivers, as well.

I’m very, very happy to be where I’m at and hope to continue to add wins and championships and all of that to my résumé being at Hendrick Motorsports.

Q. How has the success changed, if you could think about, as you said, pre-2021 and where you felt maybe your place was or your confidence was in the garage versus where it is today?

KYLE LARSON: Well, I think — I don’t know, you never — I guess before 2021, I always thought that I could do it. I thought that I had the talent to win races at this level. I just didn’t know then if it was me or the equipment or the whatever. But I wasn’t having success frequently enough like I wanted to and like I was having in the dirt stuff that I was doing.

Once I got picked up at Hendrick, I don’t think I was like — I was confident, but I don’t think I ever thought at the time that I would have the stats that we do up to this point, prior to running my first ever race for Hendrick Motorsports. But once I got to run whatever, some races in 2021, I was like, okay, I am a good stock car racer, I can do this. It’s been a fun road to this point, and like I said, we have a lot left to accomplish, and I’m only 30, so I hope to be around for a long time and creep up on what Jimmie and Jeff have done.

Q. Cliff, only five cars took tires on that first caution. Why did you do that at that point?

CLIFF DANIELS: I thought at that point, was the caution at 14 or 15 laps in, somewhere around there, so I knew the lap count was relative to okay, if I have to eat these scuffs later, you could maybe pallet that, and we were so far back in the field at that point that we knew it was a risk. Let’s be honest, if the caution came out with 30 to go in that stage we were going to be hosed. The field is going to come in and put on stickers. We are going to have 15-lap scuffs, really big risk.

I wasn’t sure how the flow of the race would go when I was watching YouTube videos this week of North Wilkesboro back in the day. They would have really long green flag runs, and the way the track is so tough, I think the teams, the drivers are spending so much time battling the track that it’s almost difficult to battle each other. You’re fighting your car on entry and then all of a sudden you’re tight middle and now you’re trying to run high or run low and do this and that. I just didn’t know if there was going to be the type of action that would bring a caution outside of just really good, hard racing, and because of the All-Star Race, at some point — were we 18th at the time? We were pretty far back.

KYLE LARSON: We were like last.

CLIFF DANIELS: We were really far back. At that point you almost have to play something different. If we where at a points race, you might have to be more conservative to the field or to the guys you’re trying to compete with in points and all those things, but just with the nature of the race, we had to do something different, and that was fortunately like the perfect time to make that call because then we weren’t going to be sitting on 30-lap scuffs, it was 15-lap scuffs. Okay, if we had to restart upfront on 15-lap scuffs, fall back to fifth or sixth then, eh, maybe he could hang out there at least we’re better than 18th. That’s kind of the perspective.

Q. And then the way it worked out, you guys would have been covered either way in the final stage had there been another caution because you had 15-lap scuffs on, right?

CLIFF DANIELS: Yes and no. Yes, for the most part. The tricky part that I really had my eye on was if a caution would have come out, I don’t know, say 10 or 12 laps into the final stage, I’m not really sure what the field would have done, if that makes sense. Because it was so early. Then if we would have pitted and put on our stickers at that point and the field didn’t put on stickers and we are sitting on 15-lap scuffs and they still have their stickers, if that makes sense.

I was more probably more nervous probably 10 or 12 laps into that final segment. If a caution would have come out it would have really made our hand difficult, being in the lead. If we put on stickers, if they do or don’t, then it really kind of puts you different than what they are. We were having a conversations in our pit box in that time frame in what-if situations.

Q. Have you tried to figure out — I know you don’t know the timing yet, but how do you do this race next year with Indy 500 qualifying?

JEFF ANDREWS: We’ll be at Indy, I can tell you that.

KYLE LARSON: I could have made it here.

Q. Like today would you have — you definitely will race the All-Star Race —

JEFF ANDREWS: Well, I think if it came — the first and foremost priority is driving the No. 5 car for Hendrick Motorsports. That’s number one on the list. There’s a lot of scheduling things to work through. We were up there on Thursday just kind of getting an orientation and walk around and a lot of observations, and we know we have a lot of things to work through that are hopefully good things at the end of the Indy 500 next year and logistics and things like that.

We’ll just have to see when schedules come out for 2024 and how this lines up with what’s going on at Indy on that particular weekend.

KYLE LARSON: Take the All-Star Race to IRP next year.

JEFF ANDREWS: That’s a great idea.

Q. Kyle, you did a full-lap burnout, which was cool as hell, but when the fans, because everybody was so happy, they were still cheering, even though the race you dominated, but the fans were going crazy and the fireworks were going on and they were cheering you on, do you feel that? Do you hear that in the car? Could you understand that these thousands of fans were just going insane?

CLIFF DANIELS: He told me he was looking at the crowd with five to go. He told me that in Victory Lane. Can you believe that? I’ll let him answer.

Q. The crowd was just — what can you take away from the energy you felt from the crowd as opposed to some of the other races we go to?

KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, I think for whatever reason the crowd just feels more on top of you here than other tracks. I don’t know if the code of building a track and the safety stuff was less regulated back then, but man, it feels like the front row is like right on the catch fence.

Yeah, I think thankfully I won both races, but doing the frontstretch interview they were just so loud and it was hard to hear yourself talk and all of that.

It was just cool. You could feel the atmosphere from Friday of truck practice. The crowd was massive for that. I think typically you see like 45 fans in the stands at any other track on a Friday.

It was just so cool. I think everybody was just excited to get to see a NASCAR national series run on the track here again, and yeah, it was pretty neat.

We were obviously stinking the show up, so I was looking at the crowd and could see a handful of them leaving with like five to go, and I was like, man, I hope you guys don’t have to take your seat again, I hope there’s no caution that’s about to come out.

Yeah, it was cool. This place, it feels — like it feels like a racetrack to me. I get to race at a lot of grass-roots venues, more than any other driver in the field. A lot of these drivers get to go to these fancy facilities every weekend. That’s all they do. I get to go to — I was at Wayne County, Ohio, on Tuesday night, and it has a grass-roots feel to it here, and I think that’s what makes me, to me, this weekend feel so special.

Q. Kyle, post-race Chase Briscoe said that you were the greatest driver of all time in anything that you get into, and then Darrell Waltrip had a number of things to say similar to that on the broadcast tonight.

Do you process things like that? What do you think of comments like that from your competitors, and then also from those that have come before you?

KYLE LARSON: Honestly, I think the way I think about it is I would not be able to accomplish any of this without great teams, and I am super fortunate to be able to race with great car owners, crew chiefs, in all forms of racing that I do. There’s not a time that I go to a racetrack where I don’t feel like I’m in the best equipment with the best team around me.

I think it starts with that. I wouldn’t be Kyle Larson without Paul Silva or Cliff Daniels or Kevin Rumley or Keith Kunz in the past, Chad Bo. So many people make me and my resume what it is.

I think just surrounding yourself with great people really allows you to showcase probably at times better than what you really are.

Q. No one had ever swept North Wilkesboro before this weekend, even going back to convertible series days. Does this count as a sweep? You didn’t win the heat race, but you won all the features, so does that still count as a sweep? What are you counting it as?

KYLE LARSON: I’ve got the trophies and the check, so it doesn’t matter to me. I don’t think they pay anything for heat races. It don’t matter to me.

But no, it just was special, a special weekend. I didn’t know what to think about coming here and running truck. I definitely didn’t think I’d win the Cup race. Sitting here in front of you guys tonight is special, and yeah, I don’t know. It’s pretty damn cool.

THE MODERATOR: Congratulations to Cliff, Kyle and Jeff. Thank you to all of you for spending some time with us. We wish you the best of luck next week at the Coke 600.

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