Kyle Larson gets paid to drive, not ‘hold a wrench’


The simplest of questions last week to Kyle Larson resulted in the simplest of answers.

When asked about the difference in setups of the Chevrolet as it changed body styles for 2018, Larson smiled.

“I hold the steering wheel,” he said. “I don’t worry about setups.”

Larson wasn’t rude or evasive. He is one of those drivers who knows how to go fast and give feedback on the car. But he doesn’t give many suggestions as far as shocks and springs.

At the Chili Bowl earlier this year, Hendrick Motorsports driver Alex Bowman — who owned and worked on a car driven by someone else — was discussing whether it matters for a driver to be able to work on the car.

“I think if you put a wrench in Kyle’s hand, he’d give it right back to you and be like, ‘Nah, I’m good,'” Bowman said with a laugh. “That’s just different styles.”

Larson agreed with that assessment.

“I feel like I get paid to drive,” Larson said. “I don’t get paid to recommend setup changes or hold a wrench. The guys get paid to get the cars to go fast.”

Larson, in his fifth season of NASCAR Cup racing, has no reason to change his approach.

He’s a wildly successful sprint-car driver who is still considered one of the top young talents in NASCAR. The 25-year-old Chip Ganassi Racing driver won four Cup races last year and was a favorite to make the championship round until an engine failure at Kansas in the second playoff round knocked him out of contention.

Larson owns 16 career national series wins (five in Cup) and sits eighth in the standings as the series heads this weekend to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. The 2-mile oval was the site of one of his most impressive showings early in his career as he finished second in the 2014 race. He won at California a year ago to spark a season in which he posted 15 top-5 finishes.

“I grew up that way, just driving,” Larson said. “My dad didn’t trust me to work on my go-karts. That was kind of built into me when I was just a young kid racing.

“When I got into sprint cars the first couple of years, the team I was racing for, they made me do a little bit of maintenance stuff during the week, which was good to get some experience in that.”

In letting crew chief Chad Johnston and the No. 42 crew do their jobs, Larson doesn’t second-guess as much as other drivers, who are more prone to wonder whether their crew chief made the proper adjustment. He tries to perform the best he can and give the best feedback he can.

“I’m sure if I was smart enough to have suggestions, they would listen,” Larson said. “A lot of times, drivers in this garage, their egos are really big and they think they know more about a race car than they actually do.

“I think that gets them in trouble a lot of times.”

That’s not to say Larson thinks drivers who know more about how to work on cars are at a disadvantage. It’s about using the knowledge when it’s most beneficial.

“There are times where it would be nice if I knew a lot more about a race car because the times you’re struggling, you can dig yourself out of the hole quicker,” Larson said.

“But our guys are really good, so I can tell them what I’m feeling in the race car that they know me well enough to what adjustment I need to get me the feel that I want.”

His philosophy allowed him to not sweat the change from the Chevrolet SS to the Chevrolet Camaro this year.

He thought his team might struggle a little more early in the season. Although he didn’t find the balance he wanted last week at ISM (formerly Phoenix) Raceway and spun out on his own, he feels his team can rebound this weekend.

“I wasn’t too nervous about it, really,” Larson said. “You don’t know what to expect. Our team has done a good job of adapting to it and I feel like we’re in a better spot maybe than what Toyota was at the start of last year.

“That’s good. I wasn’t too nervous. … Everything seems to be same.”

Larson also has not dwelled on the sour finish to last season. He moved on, much like he would do in sprint cars, where the focus is more on big events than season-long championships.

“I honestly don’t think about it really at all,” Larson said. “I do a pretty good job of forgetting things and this is a new season, so what’s there to think about last year?

“We had a lot of bad luck at the end. Who knows what could have happened in the playoffs had we not had bad luck? But you can’t really think about that. You just have to think ahead to the following season and what you can do to avoid bad luck.”

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