Dropping the Hammer with Kyle Larson

Determined and confident, Kyle Larson fights hard to win his first Cup race of 2019. (Photo Credit: Sean Folsom/TPF)

Determined and confident, Kyle Larson fights hard to win his first Cup race of 2019. (Photo Credit: Sean Folsom/TPF)

When it comes to a driver who’s candid but passionate about various motorsports discipline, Kyle Larson often tops that list in the NASCAR garage.  By all means, the 26-year-old Elk Grove, Calif. native doesn’t hold back behind the wheel nor with his honesty.

In a time when racing may have a lot of agreeable characters, Larson doesn’t apologize for his way and style.  Instead, his focus is on getting the most out of his No. 42 Credit One Chevrolet Camaro on any given race weekend.

Certainly, Larson doesn’t mince words about the overall state of his team and performance.  Naturally, he recognizes what he and his team need to improve upon especially as they prepare for this Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Refreshingly genuine, honest, and unassuming, Larson has the makings to be one of the perennial stock car stars who connects with those in the world of dirt track racing.  With five Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series wins under his belt, this young driver knows how to make it happen, particularly at the larger tracks.

Surprisingly, Larson has yet to win a race on an intermediate-sized track (1.5-mile).  However, he’s knocked on the door for Victory Lane as he placed runner up in the 2017 spring race.  Additionally, he led 142 laps last month at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Texas’ sister venue.

Prior to Friday’s opening practice round, I caught up with Larson to cover a variety of on and off track topics.  From working with new teammate Kurt Busch to his passion of model car collecting, Larson talks about it all and much more.  Without further ado, let’s start “Dropping the Hammer with Kyle Larson,” Texas Motor Speedway style!

Rob Tiongson : Here we are with round seven of the season and you’ve shown some speed and potential with this new package. What’s your take on this package and do you feel this has suited your driving style?  And would there be any changes you’d suggest to maximize the on-track product, if you had a say?

Larson realizes there's room for improvement as the circuit turns to Texas Motor Speedway. (Photo Credit: Sean Folsom/TPF)

Larson realizes there’s room for improvement as the circuit turns to Texas Motor Speedway. (Photo Credit: Sean Folsom/TPF)

Kyle Larson :  We had a good (run) in Atlanta.  Other than that, we’ve been kinda average.  As far as the new package and how it suits me, I mean, I think I’m more of a high horsepower type of driver and less downforce, so kind of the opposite of what we’ve gone to.

So, I mean I feel like it hasn’t really suited me that well compared to other people.  I just think with me being from a sprint car background, I’m used to high horsepower and tough cars to drive.  It’s been a little bit different for me this year.  But we all have the same thing out there so we’ve just got to do better the next time.

Rob Tiongson :  You’ve got a new teammate in Kurt Busch, a driver who’s known for his intense focus and passion.  What’s it like to work with him and what are some things you’ve learned from him that you feel has helped you as a racer?

Kyle Larson :  As far as driving style goes, you really can’t learn much yet or at all until you get into the race.  We spend all weekend pretty much wide open cause the cars are so much slower.  Everyone’s got a similar driving style right now.  It’s been fun being Kurt’s teammate.  He’s very smart and understands the cars extremely well.  He can feel what’s going on with the car and chassis.  That’s interesting to listen to.

Rob Tiongson :  Texas has been something of a feast or famine track for you.  How is it like to race on this venue and what’s some of the key factors that you, as a driver, try to attack in terms of getting around this track, especially since its refit in 2017?

Larson had one of the faster long run speeds in final Cup practice at Texas. (Photo Credit: Sean Folsom/TPF)

Larson had one of the faster long run speeds in final Cup practice at Texas. (Photo Credit: Sean Folsom/TPF)

Kyle Larson :  I enjoy Texas.  We’ve been pretty fast here the last couple of years.  We had some bad luck last year.  We were really fast and blew a right front and hit the wall really hard.  It was probably the hardest hit I’ve ever had.  As long as we can maintain having good speed here, I enjoy it.

Rob Tiongson :  Recently, your golf buddy Denny Hamlin called you the “Cole Trickle” between himself and his teammate Kyle Busch.  Would you say he’s accurate with this description, and is he the Russ Wheeler of the group?

Kyle Larson :  I’m Cole Trickle?  Well, I guess that would make sense because Cole Trickle ran sprint cars and all of that before he got to NASCAR, so yea, I would be very similar to him.

Who would Denny be?  I don’t know, I don’t even know if I’d compare him to Russ Wheeler.  He’s even more quiet.  He’s not.  (laughs) On the racetrack, he’s not.  He doesn’t get into too much drama on the racetrack.

Rob Tiongson :  You’re something of an old school racer who enjoys competing in various dirt track and sprint car events.  How special and important is dirt track racing to you, not only as a passion, but as an ambassador of this level of motorsports?

Kyle Larson :  I just really enjoy racing those cars.  I feel like when I do go back and race them, having a small part in growing the sport for a different type of race fan, there’s a lot of dirt fans that don’t really watch NASCAR.  But I feel like with me going back to race dirt, I can get those guys to transition to watch NASCAR also and vice versa.

I feel like there’s a lot of NASCAR fans now that watch sprint cars and midgets, things like that, because of myself and Christopher Bell and Tony Stewart, guys like that.  I just enjoy it and it’s cool to feel like I’m helping out.

Rob Tiongson :  E-sports has been emerging in recent times, particularly with iRacing and the new eNASCAR Heat Pro League.  How big is it for you to see that happen and see the connection with virtual racers and on track racers?

The worlds of on track and virtual racing may not seem impossible to Larson. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Huff/TPF)

The worlds of on track and virtual racing may not seem impossible to Larson. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Huff/TPF)

Kyle Larson :  It’s been cool to see the exposure those people have been getting between iRacing and NASCAR Heat.  All of those guys are getting a lot of exposure and they put on some amazing races.  A lot of those guys are good enough to be racing with us on the real race track, I think, but may have not had the funding to go racing as a kid or do that in real life.  It’s cool to see the teams buy into it and draft.  It’s pretty neat to see.

Rob Tiongson :  As a child of the 1990’s, I have to imagine that video games had to be a part of your life.  Growing up, what was your favorite go-to video game that you absolutely kept playing?

Kyle Larson :  The 2002 World of Outlaws on PlayStation 2 is the greatest video game ever.  For it to be from the early 2000’s and for the physics and graphics to be as good as they were, yea, we still play it.  That was the best game ever.

Rob Tiongson :  We somewhat touched upon this last year, but I understand that you are a model racecar collector.  Do you have a specific, favorite die-cast in your collection, and does your son Owen enjoys die-cast cars as well?

Safe to say that Auckland, New Zealand is far from this young racer's mind. (Photo Credit: Jose L. Acero Jr/TPF)

Safe to say that Auckland, New Zealand is far from this young racer’s mind. (Photo Credit: Jose L. Acero Jr/TPF)

Kyle Larson :  I don’t know if Owen knows much about collecting but he’s got a lot of toy racecars that he’s destroyed. (chuckles) But a favorite for me?  Honestly, any Action diecast, any of those sprint cars or midgets, they’re really realistic looking compared to the ones that are out now because I think costs have gone way up to build so the quality has kind of downhill a lot the last decade or so.

But those Action ones were amazing with the detail in them.  So, I’ve got so many of those.  Every TSR, Tony Stewart Racing one,  they did a bunch with Danny Lasowski, Tony himself, Steve Kinser, I’ve got a bunch of those, Kasey Kahne…and then I went on eBay a few years ago and bought every GMP 1/18 scale champ car, midget, and sprint car, but right before they had a rollcage.  The detail in die-cast cars were way better than they are right now.

Rob Tiongson :  Let’s do something a little unique here called Free Association!  Tell me the first thing that comes to your mind with the following topics:

Dream vacation destination.

Kyle Larson :  Auckland, New Zealand.

Rob Tiongson :  Guilty pleasure dessert.

Kyle Larson :  Crème brûlée.

Rob Tiongson :  Most PG karaoke song I sing is…

Kyle Larson :  (laughs) Definitely not PG.  If you did rated R, I could tell you right now but it would get me in trouble. (laughs) PG…PG…would “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” be PG?  It’d be more like PG-13, but PG nowadays.

Rob Tiongson :  Biggest rival on the track.

Kyle Larson :  I would say, lately, just competition wise, it’d probably be Christopher Bell.

Rob Tiongson :  My NASCAR yearbook superlative would be…

Kyle Larson :  Most intense or versatile.

Rob Tiongson :  Netflix released a 10-part documentary that followed various Formula 1 drivers and teams during their 2018 season which showcased a unique side to drivers and teams’ lives on and off the track.  Would you be open to a NASCAR version of this?  And which drivers do you think would be best for this?

"I would like to be on it.  I think I could be one of the characters, at least for an episode." - Kyle Larson (Photo Credit: Jonathan Huff/TPF)

“I would like to be on it.  I think I could be one of the characters, at least for an episode.” – Kyle Larson (Photo Credit: Jonathan Huff/TPF)

Kyle Larson :  Yea, I’m actually halfway through that.  I started it two days ago and it’s really really cool.  I wasn’t really an F1 fan and I wouldn’t say I’m still a fan after watching that.  But, F1’s definitely more interesting to me after watching that.  So, yea, I for sure think that NASCAR could do something like that.  I would like to be on it.  I think I could be one of the characters, at least for an episode, following me throughout my crazy months in June or July, racing sprint cars and then racing Cup also.

Editor’s Notes

Special thanks to Kyle Larson and the No. 42 team for their kindness during the Texas race weekend!  “Follow” Kyle on Twitter, “Like” his Facebook, and “Visit” his official website!

Rob Tiongson

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

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. I enjoy editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography.

Graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. Proud to be from Massachusetts, just as happy to be a Texan.

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