The Bristol dirt race has created buzz and it’s been greatly anticipated since it was announced last year. What’s your take on it?
“The Bristol dirt race is really challenging because I’m just not a fan of racing on dirt, in general. It’s just not something I’ve done a lot of. I love to watch dirt racing, but for me as a driver, it’s not something that I’ve really enjoyed doing. But that also motivates me – to go out and try to figure it out, do something that’s very different from anything I’ve ever done, especially at this level of racing. That motivates me and my Busch Light team to see if we can go and figure something out that’s way outside of our comfort zone.”
What do you think about the concept of the Bristol dirt race – putting dirt over the concrete on which you typically race?
“Bristol dirt – it’s actually something I would never do if I was choosing to pick a race. I would never decide to put dirt on any racetrack, ever. It’s not something I grew up doing, nor something that I’ve enjoyed when I’ve done it along the way. But I can tell you it’s probably the single best event that we will do this year just because of the fact that it’s so different, so far outside the box, and I think the anticipation leading up to it has been a lot of fun for all of us. So, I’m looking forward to the event and being a part of it. The challenge of doing something way outside my comfort zone is always something I enjoy once I do it, and I’m like everybody else, I just want to see how it’s going to turn out.”
What are your expectations for the Bristol dirt race?
“Our racecars aren’t going to drive like dirt cars. They’re drastically different in the way that you drive them. The things that I’ve seen at Eldora in the Truck Series, it’s just a different style dirt race. It’s the most intriguing event we have on the schedule. I think when I look at the Bristol dirt race, it’s going to be our most anticipated race that we go to and, as a competitor, being a part of an event like that is something that every sport needs. We’ve changed the schedule drastically this year. It got people thinking outside the box and got everybody outside their comfort zones, and that’s fun to watch. The more people that watch, the better off we all are. So, I’m excited about the event and what an accomplishment that would be to figure it out the first time around and do something outside my comfort zone. There’s nothing more rewarding than doing that. Every time I do, I’m like, ‘Man, that was pretty rewarding.’ It’s just not something that I would normally do, and it’s definitely going to test my comfort zone.”
You’re running the Truck Series race at Bristol on Saturday prior to Sunday’s Cup race. What do you want to get out of that race and apply to the Cup car?
“I’m just not on board with the fact that I need to go to a dirt track and practice, or I need to go drive a dirt car or I need to go drive a midget or whatever everybody else is doing. I’m of the opinion that I drive a Cup car for a living and it’s going to drive like a Cup car, but it’s just going to be on a dirt track. Myself and Rodney (Childers, crew chief) sat down and felt like there was no significant advantage to going and doing anything else that was not on the same racetrack, and the Truck is the closest vehicle that I can get in that’s on the same racetrack and we can get some laps. To practice those two vehicles back-to-back on Friday, jump in the Truck and do the heat races, and then do the heat races in the Cup car, after that I feel like we’ll know a lot more come race time on Sunday than we would’ve doing it a different way.”
What is your dirt-racing experience? The last time you raced on dirt was the 2009 Prelude to the Dream at Eldora, and you ran that race four times overall (2005, 2007, 2008 and 2009). What might you be able to apply from running those races to the Bristol dirt race?
“I ran Tony Stewart’s Prelude to the Dream at Eldora four times, and the last one was in 2009. I actually ran a lot of races on dirt around that time. The only one I ever won was at Dave Blaney’s track (Sharon Speedway in Hartford, Ohio) and that was in an IMCA car. But I ran the IMCA car several times that year, probably four or five times. I’m fairly certain I ran in my hometown of Bakersfield (California), I ran at Blaney’s track in Ohio, I ran at Macon in Illinois, I ran in Minnesota – all that stuff was around the time when I raced in the Prelude.”
When you ran those IMCA races, who did you drive for?
“I had my own car that I ran at three or four of them, and another owner’s car in Bakersfield, and at that time I was teammates with (Clint) Bowyer. Most everything was done by Mike Dillon with their dirt team. They had everything in place and they built the car for me and everything. So, Team Dillon was doing everything for us on that side of it.”
If running a dirt late model or an IMCA car or a midget doesn’t help much for this race because those cars aren’t applicable to a Cup car, how does a dirt background help a driver?
“As far as the dirt background, I think the biggest thing for me where I’ll probably fall a little bit short of those guys who have that dirt experience is just knowing where you can push the car, where the line is going, when it’s going to move back down, when it’s going to be in the middle, and when it’s rubbered up. I feel like I’m going to be slow to react in those situations. In dirt racing, a lot of times the guy who reacts first and finds that quick line is the guy who makes up the most ground, and then everybody else just follows along until the next guy finds a line. So I feel like that’s probably my weak point – figuring out exactly when to move and when not to move.”
One of those guys with an extensive dirt background is your teammate, Chase Briscoe. He’s a NASCAR Cup Series rookie, but when it comes to the Bristol dirt race, he’ll be one of the more experienced guys on the racetrack. How much will you look to him for guidance this weekend?
“Rodney (Childers, crew chief) and I had this conversation and I feel like this is a weekend where you just follow what Chase does. That’s really going to be our approach. You look at those throttle traces, you look at those ideas and suggestions and the feedback that he has from his experience in the Truck on the dirt and his dirt-racing background – we’re just going to take our Busch Light Ford Mustang and we’re going to park it right behind him. We’ll start there and listen to what he does and try to be as quick of a learner as possible and progress from there. SHR is fortunate as a company to have him – especially on this particular weekend to be able to help guide the ship. I feel a bit out of touch with what, exactly, you need to do there, and sometimes you just have to keep your mouth shut and take the advice from the people who have more experience on it than I do. That’s really going to be the approach this weekend.”