WHAT ARE YOU LEARNING IN STOCK CARS? THIS IS YOUR THIRD YEAR. THE LEARNING CURVE’S GOT TO BE A CONSTANT: “Yeah, it’s only my third year. I learn a lot every time I get in the car. We got to do quite a bit of testing this off season in the Cup car so that helped me learn some things especially with fuel mileage stuff. A lot of the Cup races come down to fuel mileage and I’ve never really had to deal with that. It was good at the test. We would work on the car a little bit, but we would also work on myself a lot. I think that’s going to help prepare me for this season and certain situations that come upon us and hopefully I will be able to tackle them.”

THIS IS A DEEP ROOKIE CLASS. YOU SEE GUYS LIKE MARK MARTIN, BOBBY LABONTE, JEFF BURTON PROBABLY WON’T DRIVE MUCH THIS YEAR. IS THIS REALLY A CHANGING OF THE GUARD IN NASCAR? “Yeah, little bit and I think that’s a good thing for the sport. New fresh faces come in, I think will attract younger fans and bring a new energy or whatever to NASCAR racing. I think it’s good for the sport. I really look forward to seeing how it all plays out throughout the year because I think it’s going to be good .”

Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray
Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray

Photo by: Getty Images

ARE THERE ANY OLDER GUYS THAT YOU TALK TO (INAUDIBLE)? “My teammate Jamie McMurray has a ton of experience in stock cars. He’s won just about every big race there is. He’s definitely a guy I can go to to talk about things. He’s really easy to talk to and I think he really likes giving me advice, so he’s a good one to go to. Tony Stewart. I’m sure I can talk to Jeff Gordon. Those are three good guys that I can probably talk to.

IT’S EASIER TO TALK TO A GUY WHO HAS THE SAME BACKGROUND AS YOU? “I think Tony will be easy to talk to because we kind of know the same language and can describe things to where I will know what he’s talking about. The lingo is a little bit different between different types of racing and stuff. Tony will be easy to talk to about that stuff. I’m sure he will be willing to help me, I hope. Throughout the year, I will probably be able to talk to more people after I become friends with them and stuff. It will be fine for me. ”

YOU ARE ONE OF THE SMALLER GUYS ON THE CIRCUIT? DO YOU SEE THAT AS AN ADVANTAGE, DISADVANTAGE OR INSIGNIFICNT IN TERMS OF YOUR ABILITY TO DRIVE OR HELPING THE CAR IN ANY WAY? “I think it’s pretty insignificant. We’re just a small part of the whole picture – and that’s the race car and the team. As far as physically, I don’t get tired or anything like that. I could usually run longer or a lot more at the end of the race. I don’t think size is an issue. You see Jimmie Johnson who is super in shape. He’s winning championships. And then Tony Stewart, who also wins a lot of championships. So it doesn’t make a difference, I think. ”

ARE YOU INTO FITNESS YOURSELF? “I haven’t been, but I’m starting to work out a little bit at the shop with our guys.”

KYLE, THERE’S A LOT OF CHANGES IN NASCAR CUP THIS YEAR, BUT THERE’S ALSO A LOT AT CHIP GANASSI RACING AND YOU’RE A PART OF THAT. I WAS TALKING TO JAMIE MCMURRAY EARLIER. DO YOU GET A SENSE THAT THERE’S A LOT OF EXCITEMENT AROUND nkm sure. Over the past couple of years, I’ve gone to a few of their Tuesday lunch meetings where they get everybody in the shop in there and go over the weekend and stuff. A few years ago, they weren’t very excited in there. And each year, it seems like everybody in the shop gets more and more excited. And that’s coming from the cars running better. We had a meeting two days ago and you could just see the looks on everybody’s faces. We’re super pumped up about Speedweeks, getting the season started. I think everybody in there feels like we are really prepared. Even listening to Jamie, who’s been with the team a long time, he feels like this is the best the team’s been since he’s been there. I think that says a lot about the changes they’ve made and making the cars and the team better.”

DO YOU THINK THERE WILL BE A GOOD POSITIVE COME OUT OF THE FACT THAT YOUR CREW CHIEF AND HIS HAVE PRIOR WORKING EXPERIECE TOGETHER AND COME FROM THE SAME ORGANIZATION? “I think so. Keith (Rodden) – you can tell Keith is extremely smart. People even from outside of our team talk about how smart Keith is. And also Shine (Chris Heroy), my crew chief, you can tell he’s a really, really great team leader. He’s extremely focused. All the engineers and and everybody in the shop make the cars go fast. I think we’ve got a really good combination between both the 1 team and the 42 team.”

CHRIS HEROY’S ALSO AN OPEN WHEEL GUY, TOO, SO THAT’S GOT TO BE NICE? “Yeah, California, too. I got to work with Shine a lot at the end of last year. We did, I think, like five or six tests so I got to get used to him and really my whole team before I even got to run for this year. They’re all easy to get along with. We’ve had some fun at the tests while it’s raining and stuff. It’s been a good off season getting to know all the guys and hang out with them a little bit .”

BECAUSE OF YOUR BACKGROUD, WOULD YOU LIKE TO TAKE A SPIN IN (SCOTT) DIXON’S CAR? “Yeah, for sure. I think that would be awesome, and hopefully someday I will get that shot. I think Jamie said he got to run IndyCar, also. Being with Chip, you have those opportunities to run other different types of vehicles. I got to run the Rolex 24 Hour race, which is probably something that I never thought I was going to be able to do and got to do it when I was this young. And hopefully, I can compete in the Indy 500 someday. That would be awesome.”

HAVE YOU ALREADY TALKED TO CHIP AND STARTED LOBBYING EARLY FOR THAT? “Not lately. I went to the 500 this year. I jokingly said that I would like to, and I’m sure jokingly back (Chip) said ‘Sure, let’s do it.’ Who knows, though. It’s so tough to do with the schedules of the month of May and all the stuff we have going on in the Sprint Cup Series. Nobody’s really done it in quite a while, so if I could do it someday, I would be up for it.”

KYLE, YOU’VE RECEIVED A LOT OF PRAISE FROM OTHER DRIVERS – BEING THE NEXT BIG THING. HOW DOES THAT WEIGH ON YOU? “It means a lot to me. I think it’s definitely helped to help me get me to where I’m at right now. Having guys that everybody looks up to talk about me. I definitely pay attention to it, or have. I try not to pay too much attention to it because I don’t want to add any much pressure to myself or even let me get cocky or anything like that. Like I said, I try to put it in the back of my head as much as I can and just go out there and have fun and not pay attention to that stuff.”

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR 2013 SEASON AND WHAT YOU WERE ABLE TO ACCOMPLISH? “2013 throughout all my racing was up and down. It definitely wasn’t my strongest year as far as wins go. I won 16 races throughout my whole 2013 season in all different types of cars. I finished second 18 times, which is way too many. In Nationwide though, I came up close four times to winning a race. I’d say it was a good season overall. There was times when we were heading in the wrong direction but we were able to get back up and do good. I would say it was a good season.”

A YEAR AGO, WOULD YOU HAVE SAID YOU WOULD BE IN SPRINT CUP RIGHT NOW “I’d like to have hoped so. It happened. So yeah, I guess. Everybody dreams to be here. I did.”

YOU HAD AN EVENTFUL SPEEDWEEKS LAST YEAR. “Last year, I got a lot of exposure. Some for good reasons, and a lot for bad. This year, I’m just hoping to have it all be good exposure and be in the headlines for good things. I’m really excited to get Daytona Speedweeks started and get on track. Try not to think about last year.”

KURT BUSCH IS STILL TRYING TO PUT AN INDY DEAL TOGETHER. HOW MUCH OF A DYNAMIC DO YOU THINK THAT WOULD ADD. “He’s ‘The Outlaw,’ so I think it would be really cool if he could do that. Kurt’s got a ton of talent. I hope he gets something together. Although I would like to be the next one to do it, it would be cool if he could do it, too. I think it would help make it easier for NASCAR guys to go do the double so yeah, I hope he can do it.”

WILL YOU MISS BEING ABLE TO RUN DIRT TRACK RACES SO OFTEN? “Yeah, I’ll miss it a little bit. Normally, where ever we’re racing NASCAR races, there’s a race somewhere close you can go watch. So, I have just as much fun watching. I’ll be doing plenty of that this week at Volusia.” YOU WON’T BE RACING THOUGH? “No.”

HOW MUCH DID YOU HAVE TO SCALE IT BACK? ARE YOU COMPLETELY NOT RACING? “I don’t think I’m completely not going to race. I think with running Sprint Cup and Nationwide, you’re busy from Wednesdays to the next Monday almost. So, you don’t have a whole lot of time to do things outside of racing the NASCAR stuff. If I can hit a handful of them throughout the year, I think that would be pretty good. I got to run Chili Bowl, which was fun. I’m not planning on running any the first few months, just trying to get used all this stuff. Hopefully, if I’m doing good, I can go race that stuff. ”

HOW DOES YOUR CRASH IN THE NATIONWIDE RACE LAST YEAR AFFECT YOU COMING BACK HERE? DOES IT PHASE YOU AT ALL MENTALLY AND HOW DOES THAT CRASH COMPARE TO OTHERS YOU HAVE HAD? “It doesn’t phase me at all. I’ve crashed racing Sprint Cars and stuff before that have hurt a lot worse than that. That one was just a little different because of how crazy it looked and all the stuff going into the stands. Physically and mentally, I was fine. I still am. I didn’t think about it at all really after the first quarter of the season last year all the way on. And now the only reason why I think about it is because I get asked about it every time. I can’t wait for the questions to be done about it, but I understand.”

DRIVERS HAVE TO HAVE A GOOD WORK ETHIC. WHERE DID YOU GET YOURS? “My work ethic? I think just being busy all the time racing as much as I do over 100 and something times a year you’re always racing and try to stay in shape. Long weeks and stuff, racing, which is fun. Lately, I’ve been going to the shop to work out and hang out with the guys and stuff. I guess my work ethic is getting better than it used to be.”

WHEN YOU WERE A YOUNG GUY INAUDIBLE? “I definitely remember racing or running my little go-kart at my dad’s friends house and racing competitively at Red Bluff in outlaw kart stuff. Those days were a lot of fun, and I will never forget them.” HOW OLD WERE YOU? “I was seven when I started racing the outlaw karts, but I was four I think, when my dad built me a little kart to play around in.”

WHEN YOU WERE YOUNGER, I KNOW YOU HAD A DIFFERENT PATH THAN A LOT OF THESE GUYS, DID YOU RACE AGAINST SOME OF THE GUYS MOVING UP IN THE NASCAR RANKS AT AN EARLIER AGE? “Tyler Reddick, who is running for Brad Keselowski, I grew up racing with him. I knew him when he was probably four years old when he was racing. I’ve had a lot of time racing with him and traveling to the Midwest and stuff to race go-karts. He went and raced dirt Late Models and stuff so I haven’t really been around him a lot the last few years but he’s probably one guy I’ve got the most experience or background with. Other than that, I’ve raced Tony (Stewart) a little bit and Kasey (Kahne) whenever they do it.”

OBVIOUSLY THERE’S A LOT OF TALK ABOUT THE 3 CAR RETURNING WITH AUSTIN DILLON. AS A YOUNG GUY WHAT DOES THE 3 MEAN TO YOU? “You definitely relate the 3 to Dale Earnhardt and how special that was. He did a ton of great things. You watch NASCAR throwback kind of shows where they show great moments from years past and a lot of them feature Dale Earnhardt and the No. 3. I think it’s a good thing that Austin’s in the 3. It’s been a while since (Earnhardt’s) accident. You know, RCR owns the number. I think it’s their choice and I think Austin is that type of, sort of throw-back driver a little bit, with his cowboy hat and everything. I think he’ll suit the black No. 3 pretty well.”

DO YOU REMEMBER WHEN DALE HAD HIS ACCIDENT? WERE YOU WATCHING THE RACE? DO YOU RECALL MUCH ABOU THAT? “I remember watching it. Every time you see an accident, you’re hoping it’s not as big of an accident as you think it is. NASCAR’s pretty safe, so you don’t really ever think that anything bads going to happen. Then they made the announcement. I just remember it being a really sad day for the whole world, really. It was such a major scene. That’s a day that probably everyone won’t forget.”

DO YOU LIKE THE IDEA OF STAGING A RACE FOR CHAMPIONS LIKE THEY USED TO HAVE WHERE YOU BRING THE TOP DRIVERS TOGETHER? “Heck, yeah. I remember watching that when I was really young – the Race of Champions. I always dreamed of running in it. I don’t know if they still do it or not, or at least it’s not televised anymore where we can’t watch it. I think it would be fun for a type of guy like me. I have driven so many types of car. You go there and you run in buggies and weird race cars. If I ever got the opportunity to do that, I would definitely jump on it.”

WHAT WOULD BE FOUR GOOD VENUES OR TYPES OF RACES IN YOUR OPINION? “I don’t know if you could pick four. You could take one of each style of racing and see who’s good. Go to a mile-and-a-half somewhere, a short track in a stock car. Take one of the best drivers in every series to the Chili Bowl and see how they stack up against a few hundred other drivers. Go race a Trophy Truck somewhere. Go race F1. You could – it’s hard – you could pick one type of series or vehicle for each thing, a lot more than four.”

YOU’VE RACED THIS TRACK NUMEROUS TIMES? TO BE HERE FOR CUP IS THERE ANY EXCITEMENT? HOW DO YOU VIEW THIS WEEKED? IT’S FINALLY HERE OR IT’S JUST PART OF YOUR DAY JOB, IT’S WHAT’S YOU DO? “I’d say it’s more part of my day job and what I do. But It’s definitely exciting, too, to know that this is going to be my first of hopefully many Daytona 500s. It’s the biggest race of the year. It’s a really cool feeling knowing that a lot of little kids and myself growing up dreamed of being in NASCAR racing the Daytona 500 is one race you all know . It will be a lot of fun taking the green next Sunday for the race.”

OBVIOUSLY YOU HAVE HAD A LOT OF SUCCESS THROUGH THE RANKS AND THAT’S WHY YOU ARE HERE AT THIS LEVEL. ANY PARTICULAR TRIALS OR TRIBULATIONS? “I always kind of thought that I would make it. There was probably a few times when I was like having hard times, but never really thought I wouldn’t make it. There was times when I would get down racing a couple of years ago in Pennsylvania and stuff where you’re like ‘Man, this is a lot tougher than I ever thought.’” INAUDIBLE. “Yeah, the PA Possey. They are tough. Really, probably the one time that when I really thought I wasn’t ready or what was my first Sprint Car race. I was 14, a lot smaller than I even am now, racing against guys that are in their 40s and 50s that my parents had been watching since they were teenagers. I tore up my car. Was in the back of the B-Main. I just really was like ‘Wow, this is a lot different than go-karts’ where I could dominate in. That was probably the one time where I was like ‘Man, I don’t know if I’m ready.’ Then came out a couple of weeks later and ran sixth, and kind of knew I could kind compete with those guys. It seemed like each step you go, you realize you’re just as good as those guys.

WHERE WAS THAT FIRST SPRINT CUP RACE? “That was at Plasterville Speedway in Northern California.”

AND YOU TORE THE CAR UP? “Yeah, I destroyed it. I was just in the way, and wrecked in the heat. In the B-Main, and was getting lapped and was in the way and got drilled and destroyed the car.”

DID ANY OF THOSE GUYS YELL AT YOU OR TALK TO YOU? “I remember my crew chief at the time was Larry Shelton, and he’s a pretty intense guy. I’m 14 years old, and he’s screaming at me saying how bad I was. He made me cry and everything.” YOU CRIED? “I was also 14 years old, and I had just destroyed the car. But then probably six months later after I had raced and won a couple of races, he called me back and said ‘Man, I’m sorry. You’re making me eat crow.’ So, that was pretty cool.”

ARE YOU GOING TO CURTAIL ANY OF YOUR SHORT TRACK STUFF THIS YEAR? “Yeah, I won’t get to do a whole lot of it this year because I will be racing fulltime in the Sprint Cup Series, as well as the Nationwide Series. It takes up a lot of time throughout the year. I’ll try to get a handful of them in, maybe towards the end of the season. I enjoy watching races, so I will go there, to as many Sprint Car races as I can and be a spectator. I like that.”

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