CONCORD, N.C. – Kyle Larson has started off the season faster than the Hendrick Motorsports’ Chevrolets, but he expects the competition soon will get to work on bending NASCAR’s new rules for 2019.
After having likely the fastest car at Atlanta Motor Speedway (where Hendrick’s four cars had a best finish of 15th), and with his No. 42 Camaro ranked highest in the points standings at fourth, Larson was asked Tuesday if his Chip Ganassi Racing team is the top Chevy in NASCAR’s premier series.
“Atlanta is so different than any other track that we’re going to go the rest of the year that you can’t jump to conclusions off one week,” Larson told NASCAR on NBC’s Rick Allen during an interview for NASCAR America’s Splash & Go feature (which is available for viewing above). “I feel like Hendrick plays games in a way with NASCAR. I feel like they always start the year off kind of bad to like show NASCAR that they’re being nice and cooperating and following the rules and stuff, and then it gets a couple of months in, and they start cheating and finding some speed.
“So I don’t know. But it was satisfying. It’s been satisfying the last few years to be considered the top Chevy team. That’s something that this race shop prides itself on, but we don’t need to be the best Chevy team. We want to be the best team.”
Late Tuesday night, Larson, whose team receives engines from Hendrick, tweeted an apology for the comment and said he meant it jokingly.
Larson went winless last season but had the best Chevy for much of the first half of the 2018 season. Chase Elliott broke through in August for the first of three victories for Hendrick, which qualified three cars for the playoffs in one of its worst seasons and opened 2019 by posting the top four speeds in Daytona 500 qualifying.
Larson also was the best for much of Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, leading a race-high 142 of 325 laps at the 1.54-mile oval. He finished 12th after a speeding penalty on his final stop.
“We felt we had decent speed and handled OK,” Larson said. “I’ve just got to do a better job of cleaning up mistakes. I think I only had one speeding penalty last year, so I guess I got to go the rest of the year without one.”
After getting mired in the pack because of his penalty, Larson said it was the dirty air from heavy traffic at Atlanta that made it difficult to make progress. The scenario should be different at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, another 1.5-mile oval with a less abrasive surface.
“I think looking at Vegas and other tracks with a lot of grip, I don’t know if dirty air will be as bad,” Larson said. “I know when I got to the back (at Atlanta), it was a lot harder to get to the front.”
Sunday’s race at Vegas will be the second test of a new rules package for 2019 and the debut of aero ducts that should feature larger packs of cars in a draft.
It also kicks off three straight races in the western half of the country with Vegas, ISM Raceway near Phoenix and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Larson will be racing Wednesday and Thursday in the World of Outlaws sprint car series, too.
“I love the West Coast swing,” said Larson, who has a win at Fontana and runner-up finishes at Phoenix and Las Vegas. “The weather is always good, there’s lot of fans to race in front of with sprint cars, all those races. All three of those tracks rank up there with my favorites.”