CHEVY NCS AT SONOMA: Kyle Larson Scores His Third Win of 2021 at Sonoma
SONOMA, CA – (June 6, 2021) – Kyle Larson’s return to his home state of California brought the Hendrick Motorsports driver his third win of the 2021 season when he took his No. 5 HendrickCars.com Camaro ZL1 1LE to victory lane in the Toyota Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway. In back-to-back races, the 28-year-old driver swept both Stage wins and led a race-high 57 laps to capture his first road course victory and ninth-career victory in 239 starts in NASCAR’s premier series.
The triumph is the fourth-consecutive victory for Chevrolet Racing and Hendrick Motorsports, continuing to lead all manufacturers in the overall win count with seven thus far in the 2021 season. The victory, Chevrolet’s 12th win at the 2.52-mile/12-turn road California road course, brings the winningest manufacturer in motorsports its 802nd all-time NASCAR Cup Series win. Hendrick Motorsports now sits at an all-time record of 22 race wins on road course circuits, more than any other organization in NASCAR Cup Series history.
Hendrick Motorsports has been no stranger to dominance on road courses. Larson’s victory brings the organization its sixth win in the last seven road course events. Chase Elliott, who finished in the runner-up position, gave Hendrick Motorsports its fourth consecutive 1-2 finish, tying a NASCAR record set in 1956 by Carl Kiekhafer Racing. Chip Ganassi Racing teammates posted strong top-10 finishes, with Kurt Busch, No. 1 Monster Energy Camaro ZL1 1LE, finishing sixth; and Ross Chastain, No. 42 Clover Camaro ZL1 1LE, taking the checkered flag in seventh. Alex Bowman drove his No. 48 Ally Camaro ZL1 1LE to a ninth-place finish, giving Chevrolet five of the top-10 positions in the final running order.
Martin Truex Jr. (Toyota) was third, Joey Logano (Ford) was fourth and Kyle Busch (Toyota) rounded out the top-five finishers of the race.
The NASCAR Cup Series season continues next weekend at Texas Motor Speedway for the NASCAR All-Star Race on Sunday, June 13, at 8 p.m. ET. Live coverage can be found on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90.
KYLE LARSON, NO. 5 HENDRICKCARS.COM CAMARO ZL1 1LE, PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by our race winner today, Kyle Larson. Congratulations on another victory. Last week and again today. An exciting week to be a part of Hendrick Motorsports. Talk to us a little bit about that run today.
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, thank you. It was an awesome race car. I was a little bit nervous to start the race just having Chase Elliott, who is probably the best road racer right now, lined up next to me. When I was able to kind of stretch out from him, then kind of slow myself down, I was able to learn some things about the track, kind of get into a rhythm. From then on, we were really good. Even passing cars was easier than I've ever had here before.
Just really shows how good my race car was today. Worked out great to win both stages and the race. Just an unbelievable race car, which it has been all year long. We just now finally have been able to get some wins to show for it.
THE MODERATOR: We'll start with questions.
Q. There's so many restarts late there, so many chances for the field to take a shot at you. What's the key in those situations to not make a mistake?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, on a few of the earlier restarts, they were able to kind of stay on my right side longer, then it had me out to the left through two, so I was hoping to get a better launch to where I'd be a little bit clear of them by the time I got to turn two to get down.
Each of those last restarts, I got good launches, was able to do that. On each of them I felt like I lost a little bit of front grip on each of them. Kind of went through there and pushed a little bit too much, couldn't get on the gas as soon as I needed to. Same with three, three A and four.
Chase was actually able to stay closer to me than I wanted him to by the time we got to seven. He's really good at out-braking people. I didn't want to go in there and make a mistake. I can get good drive off to kind of stretch out from him. Just had to make sure I hit my marks and didn't enter into the fast corners too fast, slide out and lose speed.
My car was really good. I didn't really have to run 100%. I could run 95%, just limit my mistakes a little bit better.
Q. You've always been fast here, but you haven't had the best races. What was the difference today?
KYLE LARSON: I think Hendrick Motorsports and just the cars that they bring to every racetrack right now, but today I think our car was better than Hendrick Motorsports has been here in the past. I think that helps my job out a lot.
Then also, I mean, there was definitely -- I put work into it this week by looking at a lot of S and T, things like that. Josh Wise and I work out, not just work out, I do a lot of stuff with him, and he's hired on Scott Speed to kind of work side-by-side with him. Scott is one of the best American road racers we've ever seen. Getting to pick his brain a lot, look at areas where I've probably struggled in the past.
Scott really helped me this week of, like, I had my mindset how I thought you needed to out-brake people, which was opposite of what you really needed to do. So talking to him, I felt like I got a lot better out-braking people. I was able to pass people really easily.
I think having him was a huge benefit to me, as well as Ross Chastain, Reddick, Bowman who ran pretty good today until he had his crash. Yeah, I think we have a really cool thing going throughout the week and it definitely helped prepare all of us drivers who work out with him, Josh and Scott, to be good for the weekends.
Q. The celebration in Victory Lane, where you spit the wine out, was there something behind that? Looked strange.
KYLE LARSON: I won a K&N race here in 2014. Apparently it wasn't windy that day because it shot out perfect, was a cool picture. I was like, Man, I'm going to do that again today. But totally blew it. It was way windy. I feel super bad. I got it all over Jill Gregory. That was my bad (smiling). I messed that up.
I wasn't spitting the wine out because it was bad or anything. I was doing it for a cool photo like it was in 2014.
Q. Can you remind me, when did you first start going to Sonoma? What are your earliest memories?
KYLE LARSON: I didn't honestly come here a whole bunch. My parents brought me here, I don't know what year it was, I would have had to have been probably five or six maybe, because it was before I started racing. We came to like a Happy Hour, the Saturday practice day for NASCAR. I've came to a lot more, like, NHRA qualifying days than NASCAR. I came to one NASCAR race here when Juan Pablo won, with me and my best friend who actually was one of our spotters today, we came here and watched Juan win.
Like I said, I was always racing on weekends. By the time we were done with our race for the weekend, we were pretty burnt out, didn't make it up here.
I came to an INDYCAR race actually once or twice. Yeah, not a bunch of times here.
Q. The picture of you on the hillside in the DuPont year, when would that have been?
KYLE LARSON: That would have been during that practice day when I was probably five or six years old.
Q. To win here, is it a big deal to you?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, for sure. Even though I didn't grow up coming here a bunch, it's still my home track. I've spent a lot of time in the Napa Valley when Rico and I used to hang out a bunch. Actually got to have lunch with David Abreu and his winemaker Brad Grimes yesterday, he cooked for a lot of my friends, we got to have some of his awesome wine.
Napa Valley, it's obviously not my hometown, Oak Grove is my hometown. Throughout, I don't know, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 or so, I spent a bunch of time here. Yeah, so Napa Valley is close to me for sure.
Q. Just watching you take off in turn one, you just really seemed to get a launch that would separate you from the competition. Is there something you worked on specifically on the restarts to try to get an advantage?
KYLE LARSON: Not really. I mean, I'm trying to get away from them in every corner and stretch out. The last two restarts I was surprised. We had a lot of laps on our tires. I honestly had probably better traction then, at least equal or better, on the launch as I did on sticker tires. I don't know why that was. It kind of allowed me to get a little bit nosed ahead of the 9 through one, then kind of get my momentum built up like I needed to through two to get clear of him.
Where like the 19 and 22 on a couple of the restarts early in the race, they were able to stay on my right side for a couple corners. I didn't want that to happen. I just needed to nail my launch, then my few couple corners.
Q. We have several more road courses coming up. How much confidence finally getting that first road course win is it going to help you in future road courses?
KYLE LARSON: It definitely, definitely helps my confidence. I mean, I think everybody knows, like, I've always qualified really well on the road courses, but I haven't been the best racer. Then today starting from the pole, I was like, Man, I just hope it's not like it always is. It wasn't. I knew we had a car capable of winning after that first competition caution.
Yeah, so to get a win and know that I can race, I feel like I learned a lot here this week about how to kind of pass people on road courses. I think that's really going to benefit me going forward. We were able to beat the two best road course racers of the last six years or longer it seems today.
Definitely means a lot. For sure helps our confidence on this 5 car.
Q. In recent weeks you've been on this run. Have you given much consideration to winning the regular-season points championship?
KYLE LARSON: Definitely. I think there for a few weeks, I was probably over a hundred-and-something points behind Denny Hamlin. I was like, He's kind of got it locked up. I kind have thought, Well, I mean, I've had a couple really bad finishes, and he hasn't had any. If he just has one bad race, we'll be right back in it, which he still hasn't had any bad races, DNF's or anything like that. We've had a few really good weeks where we've won stages, won the race these last couple weeks. We've taken huge chunks out of it.
It's definitely a goal of mine to get those I think 15 bonus Playoff points if you can win it. Yeah, we just got to keep finishing the races, gaining a lot of stage points, and finishing up front, not making things bad, just trying to be smooth and finish the best we can.
Q. Would you say at this point in time, is this the most confident you've ever felt in a Cup car in your career?
KYLE LARSON: In a Cup car, yeah, probably. I've talked about 2017 being a really good year for me. I would say this is better, for sure. Now we've got three wins at this point in the season. A lot of other seconds and top fives.
Right now I feel like we could go to any racetrack and be good. There were still times I think in 2017 where, yeah, we won a lot, ran up front a lot, but there were still races where we were just average.
Seems like this year we've been strong at every racetrack. I feel like I'm confident as a driver in what I've been learning, getting better at. I definitely feel like I'm a better driver than I was in 2017. But our team is also extremely good right now.
For sure I think all of us on the 5 car and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports for that matter is confident right now.
Q. Two years ago they added the carrousel back to Sonoma. What has been the biggest difference in tackling that?
KYLE LARSON: I don't know. I like the carrousel. Even two different than a couple years ago, there's a strip of new pavement there that you can kind of use, position your car on to get good grip, angle yourself for the exit. Some of the curbs were different than they were from what I remember in 2019, like up through one and two. Those curbs were different.
It was fun. You kind of had to learn it really quickly. Yeah, some of the braking markers were different than normal. Without having practice, it was fun to try to learn it all on the fly.
Q. With the stage wins, do you think this is the best stretch you've had in your NASCAR career?
KYLE LARSON: What was that?
Q. Do you think your current stretch is the best in the career?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I couldn't understand.
Everything is going better than it has for me in the Cup Series. It's just been a lot of fun. I just hope we can keep it going. I think it's great to be on a hot streak, but this series is so tough that you could easily get knocked back and be struggling and don't know why you are.
We just got to continue to work hard. Pit crew has been doing a great job. Cliff, everybody at the shop, on all the cars, have been doing great. I feel like I'm putting in a lot of work on my end and results are showing. We got to keep working hard to stay this good.
Q. It's been two years since you have been to Sonoma because of the pandemic and all that. How reliable are the notes when you come back after two years, all the rule changes, the tire compound changes?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I was honestly nervous going into this race because, I mean, I feel like I looked at a lot of stuff, S and T, all that, watched a lot of in-car and things. I haven't been here forever. None of us have.
A new team, all that. My week was really busy. I didn't really have enough time I felt like to get on iRacing to kind of get familiar with things. I was honestly a little bit nervous, especially being the first car to turn one today.
But I think all that stuff, video and S and T that I watched, really helped, obviously paid off.
Q. How did today make you a better racer, especially knowing you had Chase chasing you, your teammate because of the conditions and your tire falloff? How did all of that come together to help you get this win?
KYLE LARSON: I don't know. I think just preparation and work by everybody. Obviously it helped us today. Like I said, Chase and Martin are two of the best road racers. They are the two best road racers that have been around now for the last few seasons.
Throughout the race when I passed the 19, ran the 9 down and passed him, like it definitely helped my confidence out a lot throughout the race. I think going forward it will, too.
Just a cool day, for sure. Any time you win in the Cup Series, it's not easy, so you know you did something good as a team to get it done.
Q. Did the late cautions get you over the hump where you could run with cooler tires?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I didn't notice much with the tires. I think my car was really good. Honestly, my forward drive, the grip in my tires stayed better than what I'm used to. I don't know how other people -- how like the 19 felt compared to normal, if he felt like he fell off more or the lap times showed that.
For me, my car was good. I fell off, but I didn't fall off nearly as bad as I feel like I typically do here.
Q. I saw on social media this week that you raised $62,000 through your Drive for 5 program. What does it mean to have a program like that alongside your stellar season?
KYLE LARSON: It's cool. With each lap completed, the wins and stuff, the money gets bigger. It definitely in the back of my mind adds a little bit more pressure to want to go out there and complete every lap and win these races.
Cool that I'm able to raise that money, work together with some great organizations, too, through it. Definitely need to keep stacking that money up there. We have a goal of getting to $500,000. Hopefully we can raise some more money throughout the year with running up front, doing good, but also fans can donate as well.
Q. What were your emotions like returning home after all that happened last year? What was it like exiting the car in front of the home crowd?
KYLE LARSON: It was cool to be here today with I guess the largest crowd that California has seen at a sporting event since the pandemic started. I think it was just cool for all those people. I got to come hang out with a lot of my friends before the race. They cooked some tacos before the race, so that was cool. Did some wine tours throughout this week, went to Guy Fieri's house the other night, have a good time, drink a little bit too much (smiling).
It's good to come out West. I think all of us enjoy staying at a nice resort with our families. We're just relaxed, enjoying some awesome weather. To cap it off with a win at my home track, it's really cool.
Q. What was it like going to Guy Fieri's house?
KYLE LARSON: He's good friends with Clint Bowyer. This is kind of towards the end of the FOX broadcast. The other night they had like a little party to say thank you to them. We happened to be staying with Clint this week, so we got to go.
Yeah, I don't really remember it, but I made I guess a deal with Guy that if I won this weekend, I would give him the trophy. I got to figure out how I'm going to get it to him.
But, no, it was cool that he let us come over and have a good time. Look forward to coming back out again next year.
Q. Knowing the past couple weeks it's been you and your teammates racing each other closely and hard, how do you balance racing a teammate but also going out there yourself going for the win?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I don't know. I feel like you do have to race each other a little bit differently. You don't want to run into each other and damage their car or damage yours, take out two opportunities for our organization to get a win.
At the same time we got to run hard because we're battling up front for these wins with each other. It's been cool to get to race really hard with Chase especially. William and Alex have been doing a great job this year, to have us all getting wins, battling up front all throughout the race, it's awesome.
I think, too, we all want to see each other do good. We work really well together. I think we all learn something off of each other each week.
Q. A lot of people with the success that you're having have pointed to you as the championship favorite. What does it mean to you to hear that? Do you feel that is the case?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I mean, it's still a lot of racing left. I think if you were to point right now at a favorite, I think for sure you'd have to look at us, with us running up front, leading lots of laps, getting the stage wins, things like that, and now getting a couple race wins these last two weeks.
Like I said, it's still a long ways left to go. Teams are going to get better. Teams are going to fade. I just hope we're a team that continues to get better, keeps getting these wins, hopefully be battling my teammates for a championship in Phoenix later this year.
Q. This is five consecutive finishes for you in the top two. What have you learned about yourself?
KYLE LARSON: I don't know. I'm not really sure. We could have won some more races, I think. I got to race a lot last year. Gosh, I ran 90-something races. I think I was in the top two for 70-something of 'em. I think last year kind of taught me a lot, helped keep my heart rate down. These late-race restarts and things, I feel a lot less pressure I think when I'm out there nowadays than I did maybe before.
Yeah, I think just the experience of that really helps now more than anything.
Q. Mr. H was talking after last week's win about the camaraderie and how proud he was that you and Cliff Daniels have built the relationship. Talk about that relationship, how beneficial it's been.
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, all these wins are team wins. Yeah, my relationship with Cliff and everybody on the 5 car is great. Cliff is a very intense guy. He's a perfectionist really. That's what you want out of a crew chief.
Outside of that, it's cool to me that obviously dirt racing is important to me, all that, but he watches more dirt racing than I do throughout the week. I think that's really cool. He'll talk to me, Hey, man, did you see this or that? This guy did great, did you see that slide job? I think that's awesome.
It definitely helps us build a closer connection. He's only a few years older than me. I hope we're together for a very long time. I hope this 5 team is together for a very long time. They've already been together for a while with Jimmie and stuff. I hope with me plugged in, we can be together forever.
Q. How did today kind of reflect with you being with Hendrick now? Chase being the so-called road course ace, whatever, what is the competition like between you guys all under one roof? They have the Penske commercials where they have the competitive nature. Are you guys kind of like that, butting heads, pushing each other?
KYLE LARSON: I mean, so I wasn't around before. Every week we go into the competition meetings, Marshall and Chad, even Rick, Jeff Gordon, guys like that, will talk about how the teams have never been working better together than they are right now. That includes us drivers, too.
Like I mentioned earlier, I think we're all competitive with each other, but we all want to see our organization do well. We definitely work well together. We race hard together.
I'm sure throughout the years we'll have run-ins over whatever on track. I think if we can be man enough just to have talks to get through them, be good teammates, it would be hard to stop us.
I think all of us are very unselfish too. Like I said, we all want to see each other do good. I'm an open book if any of them have questions for me, I answer it 100% honestly of what I may be doing in the car with my hands or my feet, whatever lines I look for, past trends and stuff.
I feel like I can ask any of them the same thing and I'll get an honest response back. Like I said, we all want to see each other do good. I think that's how you build great teammates.
THE MODERATOR: Kyle, thank you for your time tonight. Congratulations on the victory.
KYLE LARSON: Yep, thank you.
CLIFF DANIELS (CREW CHIEF), NO. 5 HENDRICKCARS.COM CAMARO ZL1 1LE, PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:
THE MODERATOR: We've now been joined by our race winning crew chief, Cliff Daniels. A victory last week, now a victory here today in Sonoma. Talk a little bit about this week and what it has been like to be a part of the 5 team.
CLIFF DANIELS: Yeah, it's been a special week for sure. After the Coke 600, that was quite a race. It's hard to even believe that the race played out then the way it did, our car stayed up front the whole time.
This week we were a little tired on Monday and Tuesday. I'm so thankful and proud of the guys back at the shop, everyone at Hendrick Motorsports, because we let opportunities like that -- we let moments like that create opportunities for us to get rejuvenated and go work hard. Our guys put in a lot of long hours, the whole shop did, to try to get these cars ready to come out west. The trucks had to leave early this week.
Tuesday was a long day. Wednesday was a really long day. The guys were just ready to grind it out. It takes all of that prep and focus to get us back here. Very, very thankful.
THE MODERATOR: We'll start with questions.
Q. Did your plan coming into the race, did it change at all or was it set in stone and it unfolded as you expected?
CLIFF DANIELS: Stage one was pretty set. I think we executed that basically how we planned to. Didn't know how good our car was going to be. Haven't been here before with Kyle. It's been a couple years since we've been here anyways. It's no secret the last handful of trips here, the Hendrick cars, Chevrolets as a whole, we just haven't been as good as we need to be.
We were hoping we could stay up front and get stage points in stage one. We were prepared to shorten the stage like a lot of guys did in stage two. Once we realized we had a really fast car that could pass, Kyle was doing such a good job with it, it allowed us to gamble a little to try to get another stage winning, stage points, which luckily we did.
Then having a tire advantage on a handful ahead of us only by a few laps, but then a good chunk at the front of the field we had more than a handful of laps of tire advantage. Looking at that, assuming we could get through with clean tires and clean fenders, we thought stage three could play out eventually and work out okay for us.
I did not expect us to get back to the front that quick. That just shows how hard Kyle was able to drive the car. He's just a master in traffic. To see that play out was really cool.
Once we got up front, from my perspective, it's a little nerve-wracking because you know you have a fast car, there were still a lot of laps left. We didn't want to abuse our tires or push too hard. Even the way the race played out at the end, he had three restarts that he had to nail. He nailed them perfect, so really cool.
Q. Coming into this race, as it unfolded, have you noticed winning the regular-season championship is more attainable and that has affected your wanting to go after stage points?
CLIFF DANIELS: I can't say you're wrong in that assumption. It's definitely something we've had our eyes on. Credit to the 11 bunch, as good as they've been all year for a little while for the whole rest of the field. It didn't really look like that was going to be achievable for someone else because the 11 had built up such a lead.
Our team is strong right now. Knowing that is kind of in our sights, we're certainly going to pay attention to it. There's still a lot of racing left. It's going to be a long summer. A lot of weeks in a row where we're going to have backup cars and practice-qualifying events.
We've got to stay sharp. Then come Playoff time, that's when we've really got to be on top of our game.
Yeah, we're going to keep our eyes on it, but we need to keep sharp in the meantime.
Q. Do you have a set number of points that by this time of the year we want to be within this much of Hamlin, a month later... Do you map it out when you're trying to catch somebody like that?
CLIFF DANIELS: I understand the thought process, but honestly no way. Since the beginning of the year, we knew we were close in a couple races, for one reason or another, things didn't work out for us. We really just want to focus right now on executing every week. It's more about building our process, making sure the team -- if there's 10 tens out there to get, we don't need to try to get 11 and stub our toe or we don't need to get complacent and only get eight either, if that makes sense.
Yes, the points matter. Yes, the outlook of all that matters. Having the distraction of thinking we need to achieve a certain amount of points per event, we're just not really going there right now. We're keeping all of our focus just on what it takes to go execute every week.
Q. It's not the same equipment, but Kyle always has been fast here, but he hasn't had good races here. Was there anything you saw in his past races that you harped on him to focus on these things because if you do you'll have a good race just like you qualified?
CLIFF DANIELS: Not specifically. I think he naturally, and we all saw it today, right, even from the drop of the green flag, he has an amazing knack for this place.
To be very candid, the issues he's had of handling and the cars in the past at Ganassi, we have had the same issues. I can't say Hendrick has been as good as we need to be here. I think it was more of a Chevrolet thing in the past. We struggled the last couple trips here with Jimmie. Some of our other teammates did as well.
Thankfully we've had a great foundation of the road course setups that we've been building, credit to Alan and to Chase on the 9 team, that we've all been able to take that kind of foundation of what they've built and we get to go apply it at these tracks we haven't been at in a while. Obviously we have a few new tracks coming up that we haven't been to either.
He have to keep building on it, which is a really cool spot to be in. We'll just see how it goes.
Q. What was the difference with the tires this year? Seemed like they wore out a lot more than the past at Sonoma.
CLIFF DANIELS: There was a lot of falloff, for sure. To me, I guess what stands out is, as hard as we were able to run them at the beginning of the run, because we ran pretty hard, they didn't fall off a cliff of lap time after eight or ten laps. It was more of a gradual progression. Still plenty of falloff, we know it's a soft compound tire.
I thought that was encouraging, from the racing standpoint where a guy could go hard and kind of beat his stuff up, and didn't have to pay a one-second penalty for the next five or eight laps. You could kind of get everything back underneath you and keep going.
Even when we were passing our way back up through there and we had to work our tires pretty hard, once we got back into clean air, Kyle did a great job of being patient once we reestablished track position, the tires seemed to come back to him. We haven't had a chance to debrief yet, but it seemed pretty reasonable.
Q. Coming into the year you preached about building a foundation early with this team. Is there anything about how quickly things have come together for this team that is surprising or surreal?
THE MODERATOR: Hang tight. We will try to reconnect with Cliff. We'll get started as soon as we can.
Go ahead with your question again.
Q. You preached coming into the season about building a foundation early, the importance of doing that. Is there anything about how quickly things have come together with this team that is surprising or surreal, you have to pinch yourself about?
CLIFF DANIELS: It's definitely a very special place to be in for our whole team. There's been a lot that has gone into getting us where we are. Kyle had an amazing year on the racetrack and had a lot he had to overcome last year off the racetrack. He's probably never been in a better spot in his career now. He's definitely amazing in any car that he gets in every week.
Then for our team, it's been a challenge the last three or four years. We've really been seasoned to that. We have just an amazing chemistry back at the shop. Road crew, pit crew, our whole team is just absolutely phenomenal.
To kind of see it all come together in this way is really special. Even still, yes, with an amazing start to the year that we've had, very thankful for that, we're still going to Texas All-Star next week. That's the first time this team will be at Texas with Kyle behind the wheel. Then when we go to Nashville, that's a totally new track. It will be our first time with him behind the wheel. So on and so forth.
I think the first rerun track we get to, correct me if I'm wrong, is Atlanta quite a few races from now. Every week in a way is still kind of a new week for us. It's a good opportunity to continue to learn and continue to build that foundation. Again, still a lot of racing left. Hopefully we get it right when it counts.
Q. Given what you've seen from your team and Kyle, the organization in general over the last four weeks, the entire season, can you foresee anyplace on the schedule where one of your four Hendrick guys wouldn't be a legitimate contender for a win?
CLIFF DANIELS: It's a great question and it's kind of tough to say. Pocono is always a challenge I think for everyone. If I remember correctly last year, we weren't where we needed to be at Pocono. I do think there are a few more tracks coming up that are going to be challenging. Thankfully our company is so strong right now, everyone is working so well, locked in arms with each other. Hopefully that energy and that momentum can get us what we need when we go to some of those challenging tracks.
Going back to Watkins Glen, it's been a couple years. Indy road course will be new. There are some of these places that it's hard to say because we just don't know. Pocono is definitely a challenge, and it has been for us for some time. We'll brush up on our notes and give it our best shot.
Q. What is it like as a crew chief, you mentioned you were talking about how you didn't come here last year because of the pandemic, we missed you out here on the West Coast, but how difficult is it when you have all these little rule changes over the past two years, trying to rely on notes from 2019? How difficult is it to approach a track with all the different rule changes?
CLIFF DANIELS: It's definitely a big challenge. Another layer on top of everything you just said, is the tire construction changed coming here. It's a place, that, yes, all the factors you just mentioned, plus the difference in the tire, I had a lot of anxiety even before the start of the race just because we know kind of our process of what we looked at from old notes, trying to do our best job to understand the tire or predict the tire ahead of time. There's still so many unknowns.
Thankfully we had a good spot on pit road. Kyle is so good here. We saw that from the drop of the green flag. All of that helped. We did tune on our car just a little bit as the day went.
Yeah, there was a lot of prep to get us to this point that was our best educated guess, I would say.
Q. What kind of small things can you rely on when you have so much changing?
CLIFF DANIELS: Again, I mentioned it earlier. I think the foundation of where the Hendrick Motorsports road course package is right now, very thankful that it is strong and we can really compete well at all the places.
Thinking back to the Daytona road course at the beginning of the year, our cars ran up front. COTA, our cars were going to be up front wet or dry. Then to come here and be strong. Just a great a foundation. Those are the notes we rely on, then just try to piece together the uniqueness of Sonoma, how to apply that to here.
Didn't expect it to work as well as it did today. Thought if we got it right, we could compete. Certainly a great day.
Q. As later stages of the race were unfolding, you were making up some ground on Chase in big, big chunks, but the tire was falling off really bad. Did you feel like the late cautions saved things a little bit?
CLIFF DANIELS: Yes and no. I mean, I think either way once we had gotten out to the lead, still under green before the yellows happened at the end, I think Kyle was going to be really smart with how he managed everything. He was going to maintain a pretty good gap. I think we would have been okay at that point.
Obviously it's hard to say how bad the tire falloff would have been the last handful of laps of the race because that was going to be our longest stint of the day. Once the yellows happened, it gives everything a chance to cool down obviously, and that kind of more or less equalizes things to guys behind you.
I knew it was going to be critical to make sure we had a good launch on the restarts, have a good first couple corners. Kyle did just a phenomenal job of nailing I think it was three restarts, nailing all of that.
They certainly got to beat on our bumper for a corner or two, which is good, hard racing. Then it worked out after that. Yeah, tough to say if or if not the yellows. I think we were in a good spot either way.
THE MODERATOR: Cliff, thank you again for spending some time with us. Congratulations again on the win.
CLIFF DANIELS: Thank you, guys. Thanks for having me.
KYLE LARSON, NO. 5 HENDRICKCARS.COM CAMARO ZL1 1LE – Race Winner
YOU’VE ALWAYS BEEN A GOOD QUALIFIER AT SONOMA. NOW YOU’RE A GOOD RACER AND YOU GOT THE WIN TODAY. IT WAS YOUR SECOND WIN IN A ROW, AND YOU DID IT IN DOMINATING FASHION. WAS IT AS EASY AS YOU MADE IT LOOK?
“It was not easy. Any road course isn’t easy, just trying to keep it on track is tough; especially when you’ve got two of the best behind you on the last restart, Chase (Elliott) and Martin (Truex, Jr.). I felt like I did a good job at the one before and stretched it out a little bit and didn’t want to give him another try at it, but he kept the pressure on. Martin was strong too, but what a car. This HendrickCars.com Chevy, thank you Mr. Hendrick. The is unbelievable. I thought I would be okay today, but I just didn’t know how I would race. I don’t think of us really do with no practice. But our car was really good there and I can’t say enough about it.”
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO WIN IN FRONT OF YOUR HOMETOWN FANS?
“Yeah, it means a lot. Northern California will always be home to me, even if I live way out on the East Coast now. Thanks to all the fans for coming out. I know there’s a lot of Sprint Car fans in the stands and around this race track. I got to see a lot of my friends here today. I’ve got my family here. This is unbelievable.
“And to get back-to-back wins in the Cup Series is something I’ve always dreamed of doing and to get it done feels great. To win last week on Memorial Day weekend, four in a row now, if you count my dirt racing too. And we’ve got a big week of racing coming up. I look forward to all that and just look forward to keeping the streak going.”
RIS NASCAR Editor. Has been with RIS since the middle 90's. Writes on each of the three main series of NASCAR.