It’s been almost two years since your last visit to New Hampshire. How do you feel about Sunday’s race?
“It honestly just feels like I haven’t really raced there before. I’ve only been to New Hampshire once in trucks and once in Xfinity. Neither went great and I just don’t have a lot of laps there. I’m interested to see how this weekend goes. I feel like a lot of the tracks this year that I haven’t enjoyed in the past, like Phoenix, I’ve seemed to like more in the Cup car. I think it’s probably because we have more horsepower, and you can slip and slide around a lot more and manage it. So, I’m excited to get to New Hampshire this week. I don’t really know what I need in the car since I don’t have a lot of track time there, but we’ve got 301 laps to figure it out.”
You’ll have a two-week break after this race, and then we return with back-to-back road-course races. Is that something you’re looking forward to?
“For sure. I wouldn’t say the road courses are my favorite but, from a results side, it’s certainly been our best chance to go run up front. The road-course deal is a place where I feel like I can make a difference. Some of these low-downforce tracks and the road courses are places where I feel like I can do more on my end to get position on track and make a difference in how we’re running, not relying solely on the team to make adjustments and figure it out for me. With five races left to make the playoffs, with the road courses and Daytona, it’s kind of open for anybody, so we’ll try to take one of those spots.”
This far into your rookie season, do you notice a difference in how far you’ve come as a driver and how the team has progressed?
“As a driver, it’s a night-and-day difference. Results aren’t where I’d like them to be, just because I think anyone would love to say they won every race and that’s not realistic. It’s going to take some time to run up front, especially in the Cup Series. It’s not a secret that, as a company, we’re not where other teams are and, as a rookie, that’s just the cards we’re dealt and I have to work with that the best I can. But I feel like I’ve done a much better job over the last four to six weeks of being a more complete racecar driver and putting things together. As a team, we’re really hitting our stride. A 15th-place finish is certainly not where we want to finish at Atlanta, but in those last few laps we were battling with Kevin Harvick. He’s the person I try to judge myself against. We’re in the same equipment and obviously Kevin is going to be a Hall of Famer, so if I can run with him, I’m doing my job, especially at a place like Atlanta, where he has had so much success.”
Do you feel you’ve had to shift your goals for this year?
“My goals have definitely changed throughout the year. When the season started, I wanted to be Rookie of the Year and make the playoffs. As the season has gone on, we’re now in a must-win situation to make the playoffs and my goals have shifted as I’ve had more time in the car to figure out what is realistic. Now, when I look at what I’d like to accomplish in my first Cup Series season, I’d like to be top-20 in points and to consistently be the second-best SHR car. I don’t think anyone is expecting us to outrun Kevin, so if we can be second, I feel like that’s a good way to judge where we are. I’d rather compare myself to teammates to judge where I’m at. That just makes it easier to keep realistic expectations. I would also like to get a couple more top-10s, mainly on an oval. I feel like we’re really close to doing that and just need to close it out. I’m OK with my goals shifting as time goes on. I don’t think it’s reasonable to set something in February without ever having been in a Cup car and stick to that for an entire season.”