After the first stage of last week’s race at Phoenix, you seemed to be a little more comfortable behind the wheel and found yourself just outside of the top-10 for a good amount of the race. Do you feel like you’re understanding the Cup Series car better after these first five races?
“I’ve learned a lot in these early races and, with no practice, I always use the beginning of a race to feel out what I’ve got. But yeah, I’m understanding more of what I need to do to take care of the car, and when it makes sense to be more aggressive to get track position or to set myself up for the long run. We’re building a notebook and figuring out what we need to do before we get there to have the car set up the way I like it when we unload off the hauler. Last week, I felt like, was a pretty good race for us. On track, the car was really good, we had lots of speed, but there were some things that happened on pit road that were out of our control and caused some setbacks. But we know what we had, and it was a good race for us. There are going to be times when you wish those things would happen earlier in the race so you have time to recover.”
You got used to winning early and often in the Xfinity Series a year ago. How do you keep your head up as you navigate your rookie Cup Series season?
“It’s a difficult balance when you go from battling for wins week in and week out to the Cup Series, where there are days when it’s a struggle all race long. The encouraging thing is, when it’s a race like we had last week, where we have lap times that are consistently in the top-five, I know we’re capable of being up front. Being able to race around some of these drivers that I’ve never raced against before and that I grew up watching win Cup races, like Kurt Busch, that gives me confidence and is so encouraging even when we’re having one of those days. The Cup deal is tough, it’s extremely hard, but it’s doable. It’ll just take time, learning to figure it out. It doesn’t happen overnight. You see guys come in and struggle for years before they figure it out. Just look at Chase Elliott. It takes building the notebook and learning what it takes to run up front and win.”
It seems there have been a few races where you’ve run well, but the result itself doesn’t show that. Would you say that’s also the best way to describe your experience at Atlanta?
“Atlanta is definitely one of those places where I’ve run well, but something weird always happens and I don’t get the finish I should. Last year, I was leading and sped on pit road. The year before, I think I was running top-five and we had a tire go down with 15 laps to go. Just seems like there is always something that gets in the way, but hopefully that changes. I think this race is a good chance for us to put a whole race together. I love running Atlanta, it’s the type of track that really plays into my dirt background with how slick it gets. It feels like we’re building consistency and we just need that one race to come together, and I think Atlanta very well could be it.”