You are the rookie Cup Series driver for SHR and have been going through quite the learning process, but now you get to race on dirt, something that is more in your comfort zone. Is this a dirt guy’s race to win?
“It’s going to be a unique race. The dirt guys, to some extent, will have a little bit of an advantage but, once the track goes away, once it starts to rubber up, it’s going to be more like a pavement race. I think the only advantage a dirt guy really has is they’re able to read the dirt and kind of know which lanes are starting to change and where we need to be running at certain times of the race. But all of the guys in the Cup Series are really good drivers. Guys like Kevin Harvick, they’re going to figure it out and they’re going to be fast. We might be a little better early in the day when it’s elbows up and you really have to pitch the car around, but I wouldn’t consider myself a favorite. I’d like to be in the hunt by the end of it.”
You have a history of winning the first event on tracks like the Roval and the Indianapolis road course. Do you believe you can add to that list this weekend and add another stock car win on dirt to your resume?
“It would be great to be able to do that. I don’t know what it is about new tracks. I guess it’s because it’s more of a level playing field and we’re all just trying to figure it out. Our cars don’t drive like dirt cars at all, but being able to figure it out and win the Eldora Truck Series race certainly helps my cause. The truck on dirt is more similar to what we’re going to be doing compared to running a sprint car or midget to prepare. I by no means expect to be the best guy out there – there are so many strong competitors in the Cup Series – but it is a great opportunity to go out, run well and potentially lock into the playoffs. I know my team is putting a lot of emphasis on that race because of my dirt background. Hopefully I can use that to my advantage and be around at the end of it.”
We know you had aspirations of making it to NASCAR, but did you ever dream you would get to run a Cup car on dirt?
“When the Eldora Truck Series race started, I felt like it was a possibility that the Cup Series would potentially get a dirt race, but I’d be the first one to tell you that I didn’t think it would happen at Bristol. I figured we would just go to a dirt track that we already had. For them to do it at Bristol, I can’t imagine how hard that is from a facility standpoint of bringing all that dirt in and all of these things for three weekends of racing, but I’m super excited. I think the Cup Series has needed the dirt race for a really long time. All the drivers have a way to kind of tie back into our grassroots and dirt guys never really had that. We have a short track, we have a road course, we have an intermediate, we have a superspeedway, but we never had a dirt track and, at least as a fan, I’ve always wanted to see the Cup Series drivers challenged in every single discipline. We finally have that now with the dirt race, so I can’t wait to be a part of it. I’m just excited as a fan to see it, as well.”
You’ve had plenty of career moments in your relatively short stock car career – ARCA champion, Rookie of the Year in ARCA, the Truck Series and Xfinity Series, nine Xfinity Series wins in a single season. You’ve also got a few notable stats as a dirt racer, the earliest of which was in 2008, your first full season racing 410 sprint cars. At 13 years old, you broke Jeff Gordon’s record as the youngest driver to win in a 410 sprint car. Did you realize then what an accomplishment that was?
“At the time, I think I knew it was an accomplishment but it wasn’t something I thought about constantly. I had more work to do. I had watched my grandpa win all these races with guys like Jack Hewitt and Steve Kinser, and my dad had won a ton. I just wanted to do what they were doing. Getting that win meant that I was following in their footsteps and adding to the family’s racing history. That’s what we did. Now when I look back, yeah, it’s a special thing. The further I get in my NASCAR career, the more I realize the significance in those little moments. I don’t take any of them for granted. I’m blessed to have an opportunity to race, and I know each time one of those moments happens that it could be the last. I want to advance my career and race for years to come, and of course things like that help, but it’s just a moment.”