In the Hot Seat with Kyle Larson

Surely, Kyle Larson keeps focused in the midst of his incredible season. (Photo: Sean Folsom/The Podium Finish)

Surely, Kyle Larson keeps focused in the midst of his incredible season. (Photo: Sean Folsom/The Podium Finish)

Without doubt, Kyle Larson dominates the NASCAR Cup Series headlines as the hottest driver on the circuit. For the past five points races, Larson compiled a staggering average finish of 1.6.

Simply put, with three consecutive runner up results accompanied by two wins, Kyle Larson remains a consistent, on track threat. All things considered, the 28-year-old Elk Grove, Calif. native turned up the wick in grand fashion.

Of course, Kyle Larson attributes his incredible success thus far to his No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet team. By all means, crew chief Cliff Daniels and the No. 5 team consistently crank out lightning fast pit stops and cars each weekend.

Still, Kyle Larson remains realistic and grounded during his incredible winning streak. Indeed, his humility serves him well where he does his talking best in his car.

Earlier this week, I caught up with Larson as we discussed his winning streak, preparing for the hot summer races and his son Owen’s racing efforts. Now, let’s get “In the Hot Seat with Kyle Larson” here on The Podium Finish!

Rob Tiongson : Alright, Kyle. Since we last talked, you’ve been on quite a hot streak lately. So, congratulations on your recent wins at Charlotte, Sonoma, and of course, this past Sunday night in the NASCAR All-Star Race at Texas. With this amazing run that you’ve been on since Darlington, what do you think has been the key to the No. 5 team’s incredible streak?

Chiefly, Kyle Larson credits his team for his incredible success this year. (Photo: Sean Folsom/The Podium Finish)

Chiefly, Kyle Larson credits his team for his incredible success this year. (Photo: Sean Folsom/The Podium Finish)

Kyle Larson : I don’t know. I think our race cars have gotten a little bit better. And we’ve just been executing really well as a team all around. I think early on the year, I was making a few mistakes that took us out of good finishes and things like that.

And now, like I said, we’ve just been able to run smarter races because our cars are a little bit better. We’re executing how we need to, so yeah, it’s been fun. It’s been cool to have six consecutive top two finishes. I just hope we can continue that streak.

Tiongson : Absolutely. If you think about the streak you’re on, are there times where you get a little bit superstitious? And you’re like, well, “Maybe I need to keep on doing what I’ve been doing because it’s working obviously for me?”

Larson : No, I mean, I haven’t really been doing anything different is the thing. I mean, daily routines and all that. I’m still staying as busy as ever busier here these last few weeks than than I was for most the season so far with all the dirt racing I’ve been doing. Yeah, I don’t know. Just keep doing what I’ve been doing, which is, I mean, normal. Each each day feels busy and normal for me.

Tiongson : Well, always good to have a bit of a routine for sure, including being on the winning streak that you and your team have been on.

In the All-Star Race that you won here in Texas, you were one of the few who made up outside line work given how some drivers struggled a little bit with the top groove where the PJ1 was applied. How confident were you that your car would stick for that winning pass on Brad Keselowski?

Chiefly, Kyle Larson observed one of the key moments from last Sunday night's NASCAR All-Star Race at Texas. (Photo: Sean Folsom/The Podium Finish)

Chiefly, Kyle Larson observed one of the key moments from last Sunday night’s NASCAR All-Star Race at Texas. (Photo: Sean Folsom/The Podium Finish)

Larson : Well, it was more of the pass on Chase [Elliott] to get to the lead. I know I had a good restart down the backstretch. And Chase was kind of slowed down just because the bottom lane got disorganized. [Ryan] Blaney was able to suck him back. And I was able just to get to his rear bumper early down the backstretch and push them all the way by the 12.

I think I maybe even cleared the 12 and just decided my only opportunity to get the win was to take advantage of turn 3. And go as high as I needed to to try and get to his right side and get to this quarter panel to slow him down. I wasn’t too confident that it was going to have grip up there just because nobody ran that high yet.

But it was definitely slicker. It was enough grip to get the pass done. And then same thing kind of when we got back around there. The next time when Chase was sidedrafting me, [I] was able to just barely hang on him.

Then, that’s when Brad actually passed us. Thankfully, he didn’t move up and was able to get back to his right side into [turn] one.

Tiongson : That has to feel like a Christmas present moment for you when you guys headed back into turn 1. And Brad didn’t really move up in front of you, but did on the low groove. You’re like you’re probably saying, “Hey, thanks. I will take advantage of this.”

Larson : Yeah, for sure. But I mean, the way the spotters angles are, it’s much more difficult to see when somebody is clear than you know probably is for us on TV. So yeah, but it definitely worked out in my favor that he wasn’t able to get cleared up.

Tiongson : Checkers or records I suppose in that moment. And it paid off dividends again, in the race that you have been certainly excelling with in your past two starts.

It’s been a year of firsts for you. You won your first intermediate Cup track race earlier this year in Las Vegas, you took the checkered flag in pretty much a perfect Coca-Cola 600 performance. And then you won your first road course race at Sonoma.

When you consider your goals before the year began and what you’ve accomplished as of today, would you say that you and your team are exceeding your expectations?

Most importantly, Larson understands the ebbs and flows of NASCAR. (Photo: Michael Guariglia/The Podium Finish)

Most importantly, Larson understands the ebbs and flows of NASCAR. (Photo: Michael Guariglia/The Podium Finish)

Larson : I don’t know. I never really set goals before a season because you’ll never really know how your season’s gonna go. (chuckles) So you know, you don’t want to disappoint or set your expectations too high and disappoint yourself.

But, I like to get into a flow of things and then kind of evaluate how we’re doing. And then, you know, set more goals from there. So I mean, not really set goals, I guess. We’ve been strong all year. So, I’d hope to contend at as many races as possible.

We’ve been able to contend at pretty much all but a couple races this year. So, it’s just been fun from my seat. I’m extremely proud of my race team, pit crew and everybody at the race shop for what they do to build fast race cars and help us, you know, execute our jobs on the weekend.

And yeah, you know, it’s nice to have three points paying wins as well as an All-Star win to this point in the season. I hope we can get a handful more before the end of the year.

Tiongson : With those victories that have happened this year, it’s been probably a lot more fun to because fans are coming back to the grandstands. In some cases, there are some in the infield like it would be during prepandemic time. So, how much do you you and your team feed off the energy from the fans who are now back at the track?

Wherever Larson and his peers race, they feed off the fans' energy. (Photo: Sean Folsom/The Podium Finish)

Wherever Larson and his peers race, they feed off the fans’ energy. (Photo: Sean Folsom/The Podium Finish)

Larson : Yeah, I think we all definitely feed off of it and have more fun at the racetrack now. It’s not as awkwardly quiet and stuff like that. I feel like these last the last month and a half or so, things have felt almost 100% normal to me now, especially because we don’t have to wear masks and stuff.

So, we can hear the crowds screaming at us, you know, cheering and booing you getting excited. And we love that atmosphere. That’s what makes NASCAR races so fun to go to.

Tiongson : And I’m sure too, along the same lines with them being the racetrack and not wearing the mask anymore, I’m sure it’s a lot easier to hear as reporters ask you questions versus where we are a little muffled with the masks. I can speak from the experience on that. (chuckles)

Larson : Yeah, yeah, I think we’re all happy those masks are no more.

Tiongson : I’m just getting miss making sarcastic faces to people. That’s another topic for another day. (laughs) We’re heading towards the long hot summer portion of the year. And I don’t need to remind you about that because you were just here in Texas where it was 145 degrees on track. I don’t know how you guys did it.

But how do you guys prepare for these grueling races? Especially starting this weekend in Nashville and going to Atlanta next month?

Undoubtedly, Larson thrives in the long, hot summer months. (Photo: Luis Torres/The Podium Finish)

Undoubtedly, Larson thrives in the long, hot summer months. (Photo: Luis Torres/The Podium Finish)

Larson : Yeah, I don’t know. I think our race car and team does a good job with keeping the temps down for me in the car. So, Texas was hot, but it wasn’t crazy for me. You know, I enjoy the summer months and the summer races., The tracks get slicker and harder to get grip on.

So yeah, I think that usually benefits me. And, yeah, I think you just got to stay hydrated throughout the week, and especially on the weekends and you take good care of yourself.

I think it’s important also to not spend too much time in air conditioning to help kind of keep yourself acclimated to to warmer temperatures. So your body can handle it better when it’s for that situation. And yeah, but it’s, I mean, it’s the same for all of us.

Tiongson : That’s actually an interesting path that you brought up about not having any air conditioning on. You guys are accustomed to the hot conditions in the car, but especially more so now. I’m sure you probably at times when you’re home, or you know wherever you are, you’re probably like you know what, “I’m gonna put the thermostat to like maybe 82. That will probably help me a little bit. (chuckles)

Larson : No, I’m not talking about that. I’m just saying I’ve spent more time outside then then you probably would if it was hot. I definitely turn my AC on in the house. But, you go outside and golf and I mean, I race a lot, too. So I’m just naturally out in the heat, but yeah.

Tiongson : Well that makes more sense. I was thinking you’re doing something like Noah Gragson had been doing with his apartment having his broken AC. So, I was like, are you guys just kind of like creatures of habit in that? But, now that that makes a lot more sense now.

Now, obviously this weekend is a special one not only for Nashville hosting his first Cup race since 1984. But, of course, it’s Father’s Day weekend coming up. So I mean, what does this holiday mean to you not only with your dad but also being a father to your son Owen and your daughter Audrey?

Larson : Yeah, Father’s Day is always a good one. It’s usually on my dad’s birthday or or right around it. I think my dad’s birthday is on Monday. So I guess that’d be the day after Father’s Day.

It’s always nice to celebrate both with him. Usually, they’re at the races on Father’s Day, so they’ll be there again this weekend in Nashville. So yeah, it’s good to be able to celebrate Father’s Day with him as well as his birthday.

And then, for me being a father now, it’s really cool too. I’m so busy this time of year that I won’t get to see my kids on Father’s Day. But you know, it’s rewarding being a parent and watching your children grow up. And yeah, I love every bit of being a dad. So, to get to celebrate Father’s Day with all the other cool dads out there is special.

Tiongson : It’s pretty evident with how close you are with your kids. And, with your son, Owen, who’s racing, I think in beginner box stocks, I saw some clips of him racing online. And I have to imagine there’s some nervousness with it. But also some excitement. Obviously, when you’re racing in the car, there’s a bit of control with what you do. But when you watch him do some racing events, what’s it like for you as a parent?

Larson : Yeah, I don’t get nervous at all watching him. It’s just fun for me and fun to see, you know, his progression. And also, it’s just, I feel bad for him, because I don’t have enough time to really get his car better. I’m not a mechanic either. So I feel bad for him, because I know he would do better if he didn’t have me as a mechanic.

I need to get some time to at least learn more about it or just hire somebody so he can go out there and have fun. And he has fun. He does a really good job. You know, I just I get embarrassed sometimes because it’s not his fault on the nights that he runs bad. It’s usually the mechanic’s fault, which is dad. (chuckles)

So yeah, we’ll continue to work on that and get him better. But, no, it’s cool to see him out there. He’s really good. And just naturally, I think he makes really smart decisions on the racetrack.

I think that’s from just growing up, watching as much racing as he has. I don’t really have to teach him many things. You know, he’s got a great instincts. And I think that comes a lot from you’re just watching so much racing.

Tiongson : I’m sure it also helps to have a dad like you who has made a name for himself now. And I’m sure you can pass along some of your experiences on to him so that he can certainly do the best you can each weekend.

Larson : I think as he gets older, I’ll be able to coach him a little bit more. But I think at an early age, it’s kind of up to them to, to learn on their own, and then kind of figure out their own style. And then, like I said, as they get older, as your kid gets older or driver gets older, you can kind of mold them a little bit better. But yeah, early on, I think it’s they got to figure out who they are as a racecar driver.

Tiongson : And that’s, that’s a good approach and good parenting right there for him to just kind of figure himself out as a driver. Once he’s a little older, like you said, you guys can kind of have those debriefing sessions. And maybe he’ll even tell you some things as well with your racing efforts. So it’ll be fun to watch you guys with your racing efforts as the years go on for sure.

This next topic is kind of something that’s been gained traction in which is mental health awareness. It’s been something that’s been discussed about in most walks of life. So, for you, how important is mental health optimization, especially given what we’ve all been through with the pandemic?

Larson : Yeah, I think mental health is important for for everybody. And I think, you know, I’m surrounded by great people and friends and family and children and I get to do what I love on a daily basis and driving race cars. But, you know, I can definitely see where things that the pandemic, you know, was difficult on everybody, and more difficult on some people. So, you know, it’s good to just get help if you if you feel like you need help. Or if your friends think you need help, you know, take it serious, and yeah, because mental health is a very important thing for sure.

So yeah, I know there’s at least I’ve read where drivers have struggled with it and their personal experiences. I’m sure we all have at some point in some way, shape or form. But yeah, I think surrounding yourself with with good people is important.

Tiongson : That’s great advice for sure. And I appreciate you being so candid about that. I know it’s not a very easy topic to discuss. But it’s certainly something that, as we keep bringing it up to the forefront, it’s not too difficult to talk about in the future.

Now, it’s been a little while since we’ve done this. So I’m going to do a really quick version of a thing called Free Association. Tell me the first thing that comes to mind with the following words or phrases. So, let me fire it off with favorite actor in a TV show or movie.

Larson : Denzel Washington.

Tiongson : I like that. A fellow racecar driver that you would choose as a golfing partner.

Well, might Larson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr challenge Phil Mickelson and Rory McIllory? (Photo: Michael Guariglia/The Podium Finish)

Well, might Larson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr challenge Phil Mickelson and Rory McIllory? (Photo: Michael Guariglia/The Podium Finish)

Larson : Ricky Stenhouse.

Tiongson : (chuckles) Oh, I can’t imagine what you guys can do on the golf course. That’d be fun. Dream streetcar.

Larson : Mercedes Sprinter van.

Tiongson : Oh, that’s an awesome one for sure. The best advice you’ve received from a fellow racecar driver, whether they’re a friend or a frenemy at the track.

Larson : Run wide open in qualifying.

Tiongson : (laughs) I like that. I like that very much. (chuckles) Now, I’m going to put you on the spotlight. I know this is going to be kind of a cocky question to ask you. But give me five reasons why you think you and your team are one of the favorites to win this year’s championship.

Larson : You said five reasons?

Tiongson : Yeah. After your car, of course. (laughs) Well, I can make it three for you.

While the competition keeps chipping away, Kyle Larson and his No. 5 team continually send it. (Photo: Sean Folsom/The Podium Finish)

While the competition keeps chipping away, Kyle Larson and his No. 5 team continually send it. (Photo: Sean Folsom/The Podium Finish)

Larson : I don’t know. It’s tough to come up with five. Yeah, I don’t know. I just think our race cars really fast. Our pit crew’s really good, our team is really strong. And I don’t know. That’s it, I guess. I mean, I don’t feel like we’re like, way better than the competition. But, there’s a lot of good teams.

Editor’s Notes

Special thanks to Kyle Larson for taking the time this week for this latest “In the Hot Seat” interview! Also, thanks to Jon Edwards and Hendrick Motorsports for their assistance with this latest interview on The Podium Finish. You can keep track of Kyle Larson on his Facebook and Twitter accounts and his official website. If you’d like to learn more about Kyle Larson’s “Drive for Five” efforts, be sure to check out his foundation’s official website. Lastly, for the podcast version of my interview with Kyle Larson, please feel free to listen to it below.

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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