Chasing the Cup with Kyle Larson

Earlier this season, Kyle Larson breathed a sigh of relief when he scored his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory at Michigan International Speedway.  After two years of frustrating bids to the winner’s circle, the 24-year-old Elk Grove, CA native is enjoying the benefits of that victory as he battles for his first NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.

Despite being one of the young racers in the Cup circuit, Larson is old school with his approach towards this sport. No matter if it’s a dirt track car or his unmistakable No. 42 Target Chevrolet SS, his focus is set on the mission at hand with ultimately standing tall in Victory Lane.

As of press time, Larson finds himself ranking 12th in The Chase points standings, just above the cut line heading into Sunday’s Citizen Soldier 400 at Dover International Speedway.

While it may not be a position with a lot of breathing room, the Californian has to feel confident about his chances to advance into the Round of 12 when reflecting on his strong runner up effort at “The Monster Mile” earlier this season.

Weeks after that historical triumph at Michigan, Larson and crew chief Chad Johnston have not wasted time with contending for the Cup championship.  For instance, the regular season finale at Richmond International Raceway earlier this month was treated as a tune-up for last weekend’s Bad Boy Off Road 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

With that kind of preparation, Larson and his No. 42 team would make the boy scouts quite jealous.  Instead, he’s taken the time to talk about his Chase efforts, the progress of NASCAR’s diversity efforts, and the impact that his son Owen has on him following a race weekend.

Those were some of the topics discussed with Larson last Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.  Without further ado, let’s get the green flag in the air with this latest exclusive here on The Podium Finish!

Rob Tiongson :  It’s been a season of firsts for you, from making your first appearance in The Chase to finally scoring that first Cup win in the August race at Michigan.  First of all, how much of a relief was it to get that first win given your many close calls towards making the trip to Victory Lane?

Arms raised in victory.

Arms raised in victory.

Kyle Larson :  It was nice to get that first win.  There’s a lot on the line with making The Chase because we weren’t going to make The Chase probably without a win at that point anyway.  Winning the race, getting the first one out of the way, was nice.  It was a big relief but then also, with the way the points format is to get your win and you’re in, you’re locked in The Chase, and it was great also.

RT :  It seems like since the spring, the No. 42 team have reeled off consistently strong performances, be it an intermediate track, a road course, or short track.  Do you feel like your team has the makings to make a good run at the Cup and potentially score additional wins before this year’s in the books?

KL :  Yea, definitely.  The tracks in The Chase are good ones for me.  I’ve ran well at all of them.  I ran third at Martinsville, which was in the past, had been my worst race track.  A couple of years ago, I ran second and third here (at Loudon).  I’ve struggled here lately in the last couple of years but I think we’ve gotten our cars better.  I think I’ve gotten a little bit better.

We’ve got to make sure we don’t run into any bad luck there.  At Chicago, we were going to have a good finish but got a flat right front late in the race and we went a lap down and finished 18th.  We can’t have any more bad luck if we want to make it through these rounds and hopefully, we can make a run at it.

RT :  You mentioned back at Richmond, which I thought was interesting, that you used that race as a kind of test session for racing up here at “The Magic Mile.”  What are some things that you learned from racing at Richmond that you look to apply at Loudon?

Larson is surrounded by Chevy racers at Loudon.

Larson is surrounded by Chevy racers at Loudon.

KL :  The crew chief, the engineers…they have made more changes to suit my driving style a little bit where I think we learned a little bit there doing that.  I think that’s translated a little bit here at Loudon.  I think we have a little bit of what we learned in our racecar this week for what we learned at Richmond.

So far, it’s been decent.  All we’ve done is qualifying trim stuff though today.  Tomorrow, we’ll get into race trim and work on that.

RT :  Hopefully the weather holds off so you can get qualifying in.  It looked kinda dark out there, to be honest with you!

KL :  Actually, I don’t mind if we don’t qualify I think, because it’d put us on the pole, so rain would be nice! (chuckles)

RT :  Your win was quite historical in that you became the first Asian American to win a Cup race in NASCAR.  Would you say that the diversity efforts with our sport’s progressing along for more racers, perhaps inspired by that great moment you got to enjoy at Michigan?

Larson recognizes some areas of opportunities for NASCAR's diversity efforts. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

Larson recognizes some areas of opportunities for NASCAR’s diversity efforts. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

KL :  I mean, I don’t think too much about that stuff.  I’m just going out there racing but if I can make any impact on any getting any other young Asian Americans to race or become race fans, that means I’ve helped the sport out a little bit.  That part is cool and NASCAR does a lot to try to make the sport more diverse.  They’ve done a good job with it and it seems to be growing.

RT :  What are some other things that NASCAR could do to promote more diversity in our sport?

KL :  It’s tough.  This sport…you’ve got to catch a lot of breaks.  A lot of those kids have to have financial backing from family or sponsors.  I was lucky enough to win a lot of races growing up.  I raced in sprint cars and midgets and got noticed by Chip Ganassi Racing well before I went into the diversity program.  That part helped me.

It’s tough for those kids to go run for the diversity program and make it past the K&N Series.  It’s great that they get the opportunity to run that but there’s really nowhere for them to go afterwards.  That’s where I think NASCAR needs to work hard on lining them up with rides after they accomplish stuff in the K&N Series.

RT :  NASCAR seems to be trending towards a new era with the likes of you, Chase Elliott, the Dillon brothers, Erik Jones, and others making your mark in the sport right now.  What’s some of the things you’ve done to connect not only with your fans but also the traditionalists who’ve been a part of the sport over the years?

"I’m young, look young, and act young." - Kyle Larson

“I’m young, look young, and act young.” – Kyle Larson

KL :  I think I connect with both.  I’m kind of an old school racer where I still race a lot of different cars outside of Cup.  Those other guys…well the Dillon brothers, they do a little bit of dirt late model stuff now, but Chase Elliott, all he does is Cup series and XFINITY and stuff like that.

I still go and race with grassroots racers and fans.  That’s why I can relate to both age groups.  I still stay true to my roots.  But then (again), I’m young, look young, and act young.  That helps with the younger fans. (laughs)

RT :  Ashley Hobbs wanted to know, if you got to be a driver and car owner, aside from your current teammate Jamie McMurray, which drivers would you hire to race for you, which driver would you like to retire with, and which driver would annoy you, regardless of their skill?

KL :  I love racing with Jamie.  He’s a great teammate and he’d be a great teammate for any driver so he’d be on there.  I think Corey LaJoie is somebody who’s extremely good that hasn’t gotten all the great opportunities that I’ve gotten.  I think Kevin Harvick’s extremely good.  The same can be said with Kyle Busch.  If there was one more, I’d need a young guy so…I don’t know.  Have I said Chase Elliott?  I think he’s really good so Chase would be a good one.

RT :  Do any of them annoy you at any particular time in the race?

KL :  No, I get along with most everyone out there.

RT :  How rewarding has it been for you and your girlfriend Katelyn to raise your baby boy Owen and would you say that he motivates you on the track, even during the tough days?

Larson cherishes his role as a father while enjoying the spoils of Victory Lane.

Larson cherishes his role as a father while enjoying the spoils of Victory Lane.

KL :  I don’t know if there’s motivation behind it but it is nice that after a bad race, I can go to my motorhome and he’s still there with a smile on his face because he doesn’t know what’s really going on out there.  Having Owen makes it way easier to get over a bad race because you can take your mind off it a lot quicker because he wants to play with you when you get back.

It’s a lot of fun.  He loves the races.  They’re not here this weekend but they come to 90 percent of the races we run.  He loves making racecar noises and loves watching racing on TV.  He has a really good time at the race track.

Author’s Notes :  Special thanks to Kyle Larson and his No. 42 Target Chevrolet SS team for this great interview opportunity during the recent race weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway! 

We’d also like to thank New Hampshire Motor Speedway as well for allowing us to make interviews like these possible for our readers and race fans alike.

If you’d like to learn more about Kyle, Like his Facebook page, Follow” him on Twitter, and “Visit” his official website now!  Thanks once again.

Rob Tiongson

Rob Tiongson is a 30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught his eyes.

From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat.

Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Communications at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's just as happy to be a Texan.

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