Kyle Larson says he'll watch his words after Hendrick gaffe

4 years 11 months 4 weeks ago Friday, March 01 2019 Mar 1, 2019 March 01, 2019 7:25 PM March 01, 2019 in Sports - AP - National

AP Sports Writer

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Blunt Larson will try to be a bit more delicate with his words in the future.

Kyle Larson personally apologized to team owner Rick Hendrick this week after jokingly saying during an interview that Hendrick Motorsports cheats.

While the Chip Ganassi Racing star doesn't plan to stop the opinionated honesty that earned him that catchy new nickname and spawned a few accompanying memes, Larson also realizes his delivery can improve.

"I think I could be genuine with just using different words," Larson said. "Maybe I should buy myself a thesaurus or something."

Larson remained repentant Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, four days after he raised eyebrows in his video interview with NBC Sports. He insists the comment was meant in jest - which seems likely when watching the video - but he also realizes why many people didn't get the joke when they read about it later.

"In writing, it comes across totally different," Larson said. "I think that's where I got myself in trouble. I've just got to remind myself that it's hard to express tone and sarcasm and stuff through text. I just need to do a better job at that and probably choose better words."

In the NBC Sports interview, Larson was asked if Ganassi was the top Chevrolet team after its strong performance last week at Atlanta. Larson said he didn't know, but kept talking and got himself in a bit of trouble: "I feel like Hendrick just plays games in a way with NASCAR. I feel like they always start the year kind of bad to show NASCAR that they're being nice and cooperating and following the rules and stuff, and then it gets a couple months in and they start cheating and finding some speed."

Larson chuckled, but he understands why some people weren't laughing. And because Ganassi gets its engines and support from Hendrick's motor department, he acted quickly to mend any frayed feelings, issuing a public apology Tuesday and doubling down in Vegas.

"You don't know, but I'd hope that people would forgive me or move on," Larson said. "I've talked to Mr. H, and I think we're both good to move on."

Hendrick hasn't commented, but former Hendrick driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. responded favorably to Larson's online apology Tuesday, replying: "Racers know what you meant."

Larson's thoughts about Hendrick were just the latest in his series of pointed comments that have occasionally ruffled feathers and stirred interest in this sometimes staid sport. The California native still plans to have plenty to say, but he'll do it more professionally.

"I think people like that I speak my mind, but I think I can speak my mind in a better way sometimes and choose my words a little bit more wisely," Larson said. "I want to be who I am, and I think fans and media members appreciate that. But at the same time, yeah, I think in our sport you have to be a little bit more thoughtful before you speak sometimes. That's something I need to get better at, and I'll work hard to do that.

"I don't want to lose who I am, but at the same time I need to not get myself in trouble sometimes."

His fellow drivers are already having fun with Larson's new nickname: Clint Bowyer shouted "I just did a Blunt Larson comment!" toward the blushing Larson on Friday after Bowyer criticized an aspect of qualifying.

Larson hopes he can produce a performance that gives people something else to talk about this weekend, and he might have the car to do it. He led a race-best 142 laps at Atlanta and was running up front when a pit-road speeding penalty dropped him to the back, leading to a 12th-place finish.

Larson has two second-place finishes and a third-place finish in his last three races in Vegas, putting him in prime position to contend for his first victory since 2017.

But he has repeatedly fallen short on 1 1/2-mile intermediate tracks in recent races, struggling to find the final push to get into Victory Lane. Larson has lost the last six races in which he led the most laps, and he has never won on a 1 1/2-mile track despite leading 725 laps, the second-most in NASCAR history for a driver without an intermediate win.

Instead, Larson has eight second-place finishes. The West Coast driver hopes Vegas is the place to move up.

"I think the race will still come down to handling, and I think we'll be able to move around again," Larson said.


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