Kyle Larson is the epitome of a wheelman who thrives in about any kind of racecar.
The 29-year-old Elk Grove, California native excels in stock cars, sprint cars and dirt late models. On any given day during the racing season, Larson is likely slugging it out at the local short track and adding to his trophy collection.
When it comes to his weekend warrior job as the driver of the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevy Camaro, he typically dazzles as a genuine NASCAR Cup Series superstar racer. Moreover, he’s hot off the heels of a 10-win Cup championship season in 2021.
Larson extracts the absolute maximum with his car, searching for different lines and often capitalizing. Moreover, he’s adept at just about circuit type in the Cup Series as evident with his three road course wins.
Although it’s been a somewhat trying start to 2022, Larson has been fast and steady with a win at Fontana and three total top fives and top 10 results. Recently, the 10th year Cup racer rallied from a 22nd starting spot, tallying an impressive fifth place at Richmond Raceway.
“My morale hasn’t really changed just because we’ve been quick,” Larson said. “I feel like we’re somewhere around a fifth place car every weekend. So, that’s not not a bad thing.
“Obviously, we want to be better but we haven’t been getting the finishes. But, our speed’s been there. So, we’ve just got to keep working hard and the finishes will come and just try and keep our heads in the game.”
As Larson shares in his latest interview, he’s confident about his chances to contend for wins and the title. Similarly, he and his No. 5 team, spearheaded by crew chief, Cliff Daniels, are getting closer to finding their swagger and strength that netted them last year’s championship.
Still, Larson understands how he must minimize some mistakes on the track to reestablish his patented consistency.
“I think our car was quick, but I didn’t do a very good job,” he offered. “But other than that, I feel like we’ve been doing a good job as a team and we’ve been running close to the top five. And we blew up at Phoenix, we got wrecked at Atlanta and then like I said, I didn’t do a good job [at COTA].”
With more days like Fontana, Las Vegas and Richmond, the unmistakable blue, red and white colored No. 5 car may be a consistent frontrunner this year. Like his Hendrick Motorsports predecessors, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, he finds ways to make a top-five car into a winner as a stellar driver with an impressive team.
Recently, I caught up with Larson at Circuit of the Americas. Needless to say, he’s determined to repeat his historical feat while adapting to the seventh generation Cup car. Let’s get “In the Hot Seat with Kyle Larson” here on The Podium Finish!
Rob Tiongson : Well, Kyle, thanks so much for taking time today with The Podium Finish and The Podium Finish Live! podcast. I know qualifying didn’t go so well, but you’ve been having a pretty good year, despite some of the setbacks last week. So how do you feel about your championship season defense so far?
Kyle Larson : I mean, we’re good. We’re really good. We just had some DNFs here lately. Maybe lack a little bit of speed compared to where we were at last year. But we’re close, so that’s been promising.
And just a lot of hard work with the new car. I think a lot of learning on my part, as well as the team, and trying to get the car faster. I’ve just got to continue to study hard and work hard, and we’ll get back to what we used to be, hopefully.
Tiongson : Certainly. I mean, I know Atlanta was a little tough. But you guys almost made it through Stage 2, except for that bad bump. When moments like that happen, how do you compartmentalize some of those ups and downs and not get too discouraged?
Larson : Well, I think had we not had a win under our belt to this point, I think you’d stress about it a little bit more. But knowing that we’re already locked in the Playoffs, it does help you move on from things quickly and get over DNFs. So, yeah, I don’t know. It’s just… and too, I mean, I didn’t get crashed on purpose or anything like that. He was trying to help us both out, and he just got me a little too early and spun.
Tiongson : That I understand, for sure. Now there’s a possibility, of course, that we may have more than 16 different race winners, which could be very interesting come Daytona. But have you guys considered that possibility and thought, “Okay, we’ve got to put some more emphasis on getting more regular season wins?”
Larson : Not yet, no. I mean, I feel like every year, it starts out like this, and you’re like, “Oh, shoot. Man, maybe there’s going to be 16 different winners.” And then eventually, guys start racking up more wins, and it kind of eliminates that from happening. And then, yeah, it always comes down to four to six kind of spots on points.
Tiongson : Certainly. I know this is the first road course race with the Next Gen car. What are your critiques about it in terms of the positives and some of the areas of opportunities for this particular Cup car?
Larson : Yeah. I mean, it feels pretty normal to me so far. So I mean, I wouldn’t say… I don’t have any posit-… I mean, there’s positives. Don’t get me wrong. But there’s nothing different enough to be like, “Oh, well, this is better than the other car in this area.”
I would say the steering shakes for me, which is odd and not good, but we’ll try and get that a little bit better. I mean, the brakes are better, so you can brake a little deeper, stuff like that. But all in all, it feels similar.
Tiongson : And none of the creature comfort issues that, say, Tyler Reddick’s been having with his legs, of course?
Larson : Yeah, not with me. No.
Tiongson : You’re a lot taller than him, of course.
Larson : Not really. I mean, maybe an inch or two, but. It’s nice to have somebody shorter than I am.
Tiongson : We’re just ribbing on Tyler, of course. Now, let’s consider your achievements on track, particularly with NASCAR and racing with Hendrick Motorsports. How have you embraced this opportunity with this team’s family atmosphere and the emphasis on teamwork, like we saw at the ROVAL last year?
Larson : Yeah, definitely. Hendrick Motorsports, we do a really good job, and they’ve always done a good job, of working together. And it sounds like the teams are all working together closer than they ever have. So it’s fun to be a part of that. All the teammates get along and race well together.
Even when we have a mix-up like Chase and I had at Fontana, it kind of gets nipped in the bud pretty quickly and allows you to move on, where I think you can look at other teams and teammates that have run-ins, and it kind of festers on for a month or so. So, yeah, it’s good to be a part of Hendrick Motorsports, and I hope to be together with all of our teammates and people and mechanics for a very long time.
Tiongson : Hopefully getting along better than my cat and my dog right now.
Larson : Yeah, that’s always an issue, huh?
Tiongson : For sure. I love my dog, of course. Now, you, Bubba Wallace, and Daniel Suarez, you guys are strong catalysts for the Drive for Diversity efforts. You’re the first graduate, of course, to get a championship, and moreover, I know you bring it up a lot, being the first Asian-American to win a NASCAR championship.
How meaningful is that, knowing that you could bridge the gap between those who are trying to get into NASCAR who are of our background and know that they have a chance like you do?
Larson : Yeah, it’s cool. I mean, it’s not something that, I guess, I pay attention a lot to, as a driver. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I know I’m doing something positive for the sport of racing and trying to attract new, unfamiliar faces to the sport.
So, yeah, winning the championship was neat. I know it made a lot of people proud. So I hope to continue to see more Asians come out to the races, and with their No. 5 gear on.
Tiongson : Absolutely. I know my nephew, actually, who’s five years old, he’s coming to his first race ever, so he’s super excited. Now you’ve been a great ambassador with your outreach efforts, whether with your own foundation or with Hendrick Cares. How has it been like to connect with these communities and make a difference out there?
Larson : Yeah, it’s been a lot of fun. Last year was great, getting to do some different things for the foundation, and raising money and awareness, money for the Urban Youth Racing School, as well as the Tony Sanneh Foundation, and just helping out where I can.
Those two people, or three people, I guess, with Anthony and Michelle Martin, and then Tony Sanneh, were really important to me over the last couple years. So to help out where I can and get to grow closer to some of the children that they have there is really neat.
Tiongson : For sure. I’m going change things up for you and make things a little bit light-hearted before you kind of debrief about what happened out there on the track. If you had to be me being a journalist describing yourself in three words, which words would you choose, and why?
Larson : Oh, gosh. I don’t know. Calm, quiet, focused.
Tiongson : I like that. That’s fair enough. A couple more right here. With all that you’ve accomplished in motorsports, I know that you’re really adept at racing, but what’s a prime bucket list item that you want to experience in your life?
Larson : I don’t know. There’s a lot still. Yeah, I mean, there’s races that I want to win, races that I want to run. So, I don’t know. I mean, Indy 500 someday, possibly. I mean, it’s an important one, but it’s not something that I’m itching, itching to do right now.
I’d love to be able to test an F1 car someday. I’d love to win Daytona 500, Southern 500. I’d love to win National Open at Williams Grove in a sprint car. I’d love to win the World 100 in dirt late models. So there’s still a lot of stuff out there to chase.
Tiongson : And you’re still young, because you haven’t even hit 30 yet, so plenty of time. My last question for you is kind of a unique one. We know that there are sister cities out there that connect different locations around the world.
Do you have a particular counterpart racer in any different series that makes you go, “Yeah, that’s my counterpart out there?”
Larson : Like, somebody similar to me?
Tiongson : Yeah, like in any division.
Larson : I don’t know. I haven’t paid much… don’t pay much attention to other stuff. I don’t know. I feel like Jonathan Davenport in late models. I mean, he’s better than I am in a late model. Obviously, he’s been doing it his whole life. But I just feel like, watching him, his aggression and patience and his thinking is a lot like mine.
Tiongson : That’s cool. I was going to say George Russell or Charles Leclerc in F1 remind me of you.
Larson : Yeah, I haven’t followed enough to even know. But, yeah, that’s cool to hear.
Special thanks to Kyle for taking the time during the NASCAR at Circuit of the Americas race weekend for his latest interview here on TPF! Also, special thanks to Jon Edwards of Hendrick Motorsports for his assistance and support with this interview. Look for more content about Kyle on TPF and follow his social media channels on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and his official website!
Nathan Solomon contributed to this feature last Saturday at Richmond Raceway in Henrico Country, Virginia.