You got to run up front for a few laps on the Daytona road course and were hanging steady in the top-10 for a bit. Was that a good feeling to hold your own against guys who have been racing in the Cup Series for many years?
“Definitely. I wish we didn’t have as much damage because I felt like we could’ve done a lot better. The road-course deal was tough but, at the same time, I felt like I was just as good as everyone else I was around. I passed a ton of cars going from the back to around 15th quite a few times and I learned a lot. Seeing a guy like Christopher Bell win that race is really encouraging because I ran against him just a few years ago in the Xfinity Series, so that helps with confidence. Starting up front later in the race was definitely a good experience that pushed me to get over the nerves pretty quickly and see how those guys race in that position and the intensity of what it’s like with a couple of laps to go. It was good experience overall and I wish it had ended differently. I felt like we could’ve run top-10, for sure, and then we all got stacked up. It was a good day and we were better than our results show. We just need to put it all together and hopefully this coming week that happens.”
We’re heading into a slate of races at tracks where you’ve picked up a few wins in the Xfinity and Truck Series. Even though you’re still learning and feeling out the Cup Series car, does your past success at tracks like Homestead and Las Vegas bolster your confidence?
“There’s always more enthusiasm and confidence when you go to a place you enjoy running. Hopefully that translates over to the Cup Series as it has in the past, but this is a whole new ball game. I don’t know what to expect. I’ll do the same thing as the last few weeks and try to stay out of trouble and have a clean race. I’m focused on continuing to learn by watching the guys I race around trying to figure out what the car needs. This will be the first time I’m running on an oval in this car. Daytona’s a different bird, so this will be the first real test of where we are and where we stack up for the majority of the schedule to come.”
Homestead is one of the tracks you enjoy racing at the most because it’s worn out and it gets slick in the heat of the day, but you’re going to be starting further back in the field. When you know how to get around a place like Homestead and you’re stuck in the pack, do you have to remind yourself to take it easy and get your bearings in those first laps as opposed to being aggressive from the drop of the green flag?
“The hard thing for me right now is, when you start in the back, you have to get going pretty much from the start so you don’t go down a lap early in the race. But, I’m also still trying to figure out how the car drives at these places. At Daytona, it took me probably five or six laps to figure out what I was doing. No practice really makes it hard to show up and go when you haven’t turned a lap in this specific car on that specific track. It’s a tough balance because you have to go so you don’t get behind too early, but at the same time you have to try to figure out what you’ve got and maintain position so that you can eventually gain position. Being around other cars helps but it seems like the farther back you are, the harder the racing is and the more intense these guys get. It’ll be quite the learning curve, but Homestead is a place where I at least understand what I need to go fast and hopefully that’s something that will pay dividends for us.”
Are you using this first 1.5-mile race at Homestead to learn for next weekend’s race at Las Vegas?
“The biggest thing we’re looking to learn is what I need for my car to be good in traffic and dirty air. We’re probably going to be in dirty air quite a bit these next two weeks and trying to figure out how different the Cup car is in dirty air versus the Xfinity car, and even the truck, will really help us prepare for the rest of the season. Figuring out what I need from a balance standpoint this week that could help me next week will be huge. Homestead and Las Vegas race quite a bit differently, but learning what I need in traffic and combining that with trying to figure out the race lengths and how the pace of the race plays out is top of the list. They’re both 400-mile races, so trying to see what I need to be there at the end and save equipment will also be important. I’ve learned in these first two races that, with the Cup body not being the composite body I was used to in Xfinity, any damage at all makes a big impact and that’s something to keep in mind in the opening stages to make sure we’re set up in a good position at the end.”