Kyle Larson speaking on the eve of the 2018 Daytona 500: “We were a favorite to win a Cup championship last year, so it’s probably easy to pick us as a favorite again this year, but you never really know how your season is going to start. Last year I looked at every race track like we could go there and win. You want that confidence that you’re going to win before you even go to the race track.”
Larson and the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing team have been confident throughout the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup season. And with five runner-up finishes posted up thus far this year, they’ve certainly gone after wins – they just haven’t got one… yet.
Q: Back to the future at Darlington Raceway on Sunday afternoon for the Bojangles’ Southern 500 ‘toss it back in time’ race. Do you enjoy the weekend and do you enjoy the track?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, coming here to Darlington, it’s a historic racetrack and a cool event; Darlington is a cool racetrack, too. It’s a lot of fun to run really close to the wall there. In fact, you try your best to keep it off the wall for 500 miles, so it’s probably our toughest race of the season and I always enjoy this race.
“[But] that’s the toughest part – trying to find speed without jumping over the limit and getting into the wall and damaging your race car. It’s already a long race, so if you upset the aerodynamics of your car it can make it a lot more difficult. Trying to keep the car off the wall in hot conditions is tough to do.
Q: Is there a race track out there similar to the Lady in Black, whether it be in NASCAR, USAC, World of Outlaws…?
KL: No, not really. I don’t think anything is like Darlington. It’s kind of its own animal.
Q: What does it take to hustle a 3,450-pound stock car around there? Do you ever shift the car?
KL: No, you don’t shift – you leave it fourth gear the whole lap. You carry a lot of speed through turns one and two, and you get a run and get up right up next to the wall and then peel back off and turn down the hill for the exit, and you’re going really, really fast down the back stretch. Turns three and four are much tighter and flatter corners. You have to slow down a lot. It’s two totally different ends of the racetrack. With three and four you can run either the bottom, middle or inches off the wall. It’s a unique place.
Q: Everyone knows you like to run up high against the wall almost anywhere. Does the collective experience you possess from USAC and World of Outlaw help you at a funky place like Darlington?
KL: I think so. I think to be used to cars that are really hard to drive and have a ton of power is really good. And when you run the cushion and stuff like that with the sprint cars, it helps at places like Darlington with a stock car.
Q: Everyone seems to want to outdo each other with throwback paint schemes for this Darlington one-off. You’re going to roll out in the No. 28 Texaco Havoline Ford livery of late Hall of Fame wheelman Davey Allison. Are you excited about that?
KL: Yeah, it’s cool to be able to run the Davey Allison scheme. Obviously, he’s a legend, and secondly, Jeff Carpoff of DC Solar [CEO] used to work with Texaco. I know it means a lot to him to run the scheme.
Q: Counting tomorrow’s 500-miler and next week’s event at Indianapolis, only two races remain in the regular NASCAR Monster Energy Cup season. You’re ninth in overall points and you’ve motored to seven top five finishes, however, no wins. What’s your take on your ’18 campaign up to this point?
KL: Obviously I’d like to have some wins. We had three wins up to this point last year, but we had a new car [this year] and stuff like that, so there have been things to learn. We’ve been close to wins. I ran second five times this season so it’s not like we haven’t been running good, we just haven’t gotten those wins that we were getting last year. We’ll just continue to keep working hard then hopefully we’ll learn some things before the playoffs to benefit us and help us go for a championship.
Q: Have you been surprised that Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr have more or less throttled the sport this season?
KL: Yeah, it has been pretty crazy to have three guys really be dominating like they are, with wins and leading laps and winning all the stages in the races and stuff like that. Their teams figured out something, and hopefully we’re not too far off of them.