WALK US THROUGH YOUR RACE, YOUR FIRST RACE BACK WITH NO PRACTICE AND NO QUALIFYING. IT SEEMS LIKE YOU DIDN’T MISS A STEP.
“I don’t know about that. It ended up being a great finish. I had a lot of fun in the car and working with those guys. There were certainly some things that I need to be sharper on and brush up on. But yeah, overall, it was a great day. The CGR cars run really well there at Darlington (Raceway), so I was glad we were able to get a good finish and work our way back up toward the front there at the end.”
HOW WOULD RATE THAT AS FAR AS THE MOST DIFFICULT THINGS YOU’VE DONE IN RACING? WAS IT ONE OF THE MOST DIFFICULT? WAS IT NOT ALL THAT DIFFICULT? WHERE WOULD YOU RATE IT?
“It’s never really easy. I would say to get prepared and get the mental mindset and everything ready to start the race was very difficult. I was definitely anxious when they were getting ready to throw the green, firing off there in the first corner, and everything being new and different with having an extended period of time off. But really once we got into that second restart and ran three or four laps, I really felt pretty comfortable. There are a lot of things when you’re out for awhile that you just aren’t as sharp on as when you left; just all the little detail stuff like getting in your pit box clean, pit road stuff, just a lot of different little stuff. But I really felt pretty comfortable in the car. They did a great job of getting everything ready. I felt really good physically. There were really no issues there, just trying to get rolling again. So, I mean they were all difficult, but I certainly think it helped that typically their cars run really well at Darlington. Certainly, this package makes the cars easier to drive than what they were when I left. When you have less power and more drag, everything is happening just a little bit slower and that helps with the adjustment as well.”
WE THOUGHT VETERANS WOULD ACCEL AT DARLINGTON. IT’S PRETTY AMAZING WHAT YOU DID. HOW DO YOU LOOK AT GOING BACK AND DO YOU THINK THE VETERANS WILL BE THE ONES THAT WILL BE THE ONES TO DO BETTER WHEN WE GO BACK WEDNESDAY? HOW DO YOU LOOK AT PREPARING FOR THE RETURN?
“I don’t know, I haven’t really gotten to review any film yet or anything. I don’t really know what everybody looked like, except for the cars that I raced around. It’s just hard to predict who’s going to do better than everybody else on Wednesday, although it is a quick turnaround. I wouldn’t expect the guy that won the race is going to run really bad or vice versa necessarily. I just hope to improve a little bit on everything we did. But, at the same time, that’s what everybody is trying to do. It’s not like you’re going to go out there and be like ‘we finished tenth, I need to do this better and that better, and we’re going to go there and automatically do that much better’ because that’s what everybody’s goal is. Everybody went in there, nobody had any practice, all the drivers have been out of their cars for 60 or 70 days or whatever it was. I think everybody is going to get better. I have to try to figure out how to be better, we’ve got to get the car a little better. It’s definitely going to be different conditions, most likely, than what we had this weekend. So, there are a lot of variables.”
HOW ODD WAS IT YESTERDAY WITH ALL THE PROTOCALS AND NO FANS FOR YOUR FIRST RACE BACK? TODAY, THIS MORNING, HOW HAS YOUR BODY RESPONDED TO BE READY TO GO BY WEDNESDAY?
“I feel fine, I could probably use a little bit more sleep. It was pretty busy around here getting everybody going with the kids, getting all the race notes done and then throwing in some of this stuff. So, it’s a little busy; need a little bit of time probably to get caught up on everything. But I feel good, I feel really good. I haven’t really had any issues, which I’m thankful for. Everything fit pretty good and I feel good.”
“It kind of felt like you were going to a test, so yeah it was different not having all the fans there. I would say once they threw the green flag, you didn’t really notice it as much. But certainly, pre-race and post-race it definitely felt different, for sure. Once the race started, I thought the racing was good. With nobody having practice, I think that typically makes for better races because some people kind of hit it and some people kind of miss it. You didn’t really notice the environment from the driver’s seat being different once we started the race.”
SINCE YOU HAVEN’T DRIVEN THIS PACKAGE BEFORE, WHAT WAS IT LIKE AND WHAT KIND OF ADJUSTMENTS DID YOU HAVE TO MAKE TO YOUR DRIVING STYLE? LISTENING TO THE RADIO A LITTLE BIT, CHAD (JOHNSTON) WAS GIVING YOU A LOT OF INFORMATION, LIKE WHAT THE LEADER OR OTHERS WERE DOING WITH THE THROTTLE IN THE CORNERS. IS THAT SOMETHING YOU WERE GETTING MORE OF TO HELP YOU WITH THIS PACKAGE?
“It’s always good to get information; I would rather have too much information than not enough. So, I think that’s the approach we take. If you can use it to your advantage, you can get better and adjust to something faster. A lot of it is dictated on how your car is driving, the traffic your in and all that stuff. As far as the package, I certainly think it made the adjustment a little bit easier to get going again. It’s definitely different. Even Darlington for as worn out that it is and all the tire fall off, you have to be much more strategic, especially on restarts. The first three or four laps there were, I hate to say luck, but being on the right line on restarts. I can imagine that will be a lot more important when we get to places like Charlotte where you have a lot of grip and can run closer to wide-open, if not wide-open. But yeah, you had to be more patient. There were times where if it was the old package, you would catch somebody on a restart, you would turn under them and try to pass them and you could usually make that pass. I caught myself doing that a few times; you’d get along side of him and then four cars would pass you down the straightaway on the top. So, you certainly had to be more patient, I think. You had to get whatever you could get on restarts, but you also had to be careful to not get yourself in a position where you would get your car bogged down, get stacked up down the straightaway and go back by you. So, certainly a little more strategy involved, particularly when the cars were bunched up, than there used to be.”
YOU SPOKE GOING INTO THIS RACE HOW YOU WERE A LITTLE BIT NERVOUS AND YOU JUST USED THE WORD ‘ANXIOUS’. WAS THERE A POINT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE RACE WHERE YOU FELT LIKE ‘I GOT THIS’?
“You never feel like you got this until you’re coming off four and leading; that’s the only time you really feel like that. I would say about the second or third lap, I felt pretty good. I felt pretty comfortable and I felt pretty aware of my surroundings. I was able to race a lot of the cars around me and even in that first segment, make a few passes on some competitive cars. It really felt pretty good, so just the part about being on the race track it didn’t take me long to feel comfortable or at home, or I haven’t really had any time off. That part didn’t really take very long. A big part of that, like I said, was having a good-driving race car. I really wasn’t uncomfortable at all by the time we got done with the second restart.”
A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO, KEVIN HARVICK WENT OUT OF HIS WAY ON HIS RADIO SHOW TO PRAISE YOU AND HE WAS GLAD TO HAVE YOU BACK. HARVICK SAID IT AGAIN LAST NIGHT AND HE WENT OUT OF HIS WAY TO TALK ABOUT HOW GREAT IT WAS TO HAVE YOU BACK. HAVE YOU HEARD FROM OTHER PEOPLE THAT HAVE SAID THEY ARE EXCITED TO HAVE YOU BACK?
“I’ve heard from a lot of people. That’s really nice of him to say, especially when he’s out there winning those races. Certainly, it feels good to be back. I’ve had a lot of fun the last two or three weeks working with Chad (Johnston) and my new team, and getting back on the race track and being competitive. You just don’t know, I wasn’t real competitive the last season that I raced and, certainly, the year before that really didn’t go the way I thought it should go or wanted it to go necessarily. It feels good to be back, to be wanted, to be part of that team and to get a good start. It’s only one race; I have a lot of racing to do and I realize I have a lot of improving to do. But it has been fun so far, for sure.”
KURT BUSCH TOLD US LAST NIGHT THAT HE WAS REALLY LOOKING FORWARD TO CALLING YOU ON THE WAY HOME. I WAS WONDERING, DID YOU GUYS HAVE A CONVERSATION AND HOW THAT WENT TALKING TO KURT?
“I actually called him, I didn’t know he was calling me (laughs). I called and talked to him a little bit on the way home. Actually, as soon as we hang up here, we have a call scheduled. It was good, Kurt had a really good day. He finished really well and I’m looking forward to reading more of his stuff, and hearing more about his race. Hopefully, I can learn something from that and apply it for Wednesday.”
HOW DOES YOUR FINISH COMPARE TO HOW YOUR EXPECTATIONS WERE GOING INTO THE RACE? ALSO, SINCE YOU DID SO WELL IN THAT RACE, ARE YOU ALREADY LOOKING POTENTIALLY AHEAD AT A PLAYOFF BID FOR CHIP GANASSI RACING?
“We’re only one race in and have a lot of work to do and racing to do to have a shot at making the Playoffs. Obviously, a win would get you there, but I don’t know about any of that. Expectations are a tricky thing. I expect to be competitive. I didn’t know how long that would take for me to be at my best, necessarily. You never know how you’re going to run week to week. It was super, super random and I never usually make predications. But my kids were talking to me last week and Kaylin was kind of grilling me on where I thought we were going to finish and how we were going to run. I don’t know why, but I just had 12th in my head. She had two other people last week when they were talking about it, everybody had 12th. I would have been pretty happy with being 12th my first day, so finishing 10th I thought was really good. Top-10’s are not easy to come by, so to get one on our first day and for Kurt to go out there and run third, I thought that was a big success for the whole organization.”
I KNOW YESTERDAY YOU WERE RUNNING AROUND TYLER REDDICK A BIT; I DON’T KNOW HOW MUCH YOU RAN AROUND JOHN HUNTER NEMECHEK AT ALL. BUT SEEING THOSE TWO ROOKIES COME HOME WITH TOP-10’S, DID YOU SEE ANYTHING THAT JUMPED OUT ABOUT THEM THAT MAY HAVE SURPRISED YOU?
“I watched the championship race for Xfinity at Homestead last year. I don’t know him at all, but I watched that race with my dad and it was just incredible driving. He went and won that race, and he was the difference maker in that. A lot of times, everybody is pretty good when you get to this level, and you feel like it’s more about the car, positioning, and a lot of different stuff. But when I watched that race at Homestead, he’s just incredibly talented. Especially at those tracks where you have to run high and get all that extra out of it, and just laying it on that line without making a mistake. A lot of people can lay it on that line, but typically or eventually make a mistake. He really impressed me watching that race, so I can’t say it really surprised me when I saw how fast he can run. Yesterday, particularly when he had nobody in his way in that top grove, he really got that working well.”
“John Hunter (Nemechek) I haven’t really raced against a lot. I’ve watched him race; he’s obviously got a lot of talent. It’s not a knock at all on the team, but especially when you see him in that car in the top-10, that was a really impressive run.”