This is your first trip back to Indiana since before the season started. You’re 23 races into your rookie Cup Series season, driving the No. 14 car for your hero, Tony Stewart, and you’re heading to a track that holds special meaning for everyone, but especially Hoosiers. Will this be an emotional homecoming for you?
“Absolutely. For one, it’s still a little surreal to see my name on the hauler and the 14 car. As a kid, that’s something I dreamed of but I don’t think I ever really thought it would happen. I just loved racing and Tony was the guy we cheered for. It was a big deal when he finally got his win at Indy. For anyone, winning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is special but, for a Hoosier, it means so much more. It’s hard to explain but there’s so much pride in being from Indiana, so when you see someone from Indiana win at a place that is so revered in the motorsports world, and just in sports in general, it means a lot. The win last year at Indy is something I will never take for granted. I’m happy to be going back and to have fans there. The fans always show so much support for the Indiana guys and, any time you race at home, it’s like you find another gear, so I’m really excited to get back home and experience it all on another level with the fans.”
When you revisit last year’s Xfinity Series win on the road course, what sticks out in your mind the most?
“It’s still hard to believe it happened. I thought I threw it away and then, somehow, we were three-wide. I’m still not sure how that happened, but once we got to the final corner on the final lap I knew that we had it. It was a special moment and I remember heading toward the line and the yard of bricks and just thinking, ‘Man, I wish we had fans here.’ I knew I wanted to climb the fence, I had been telling everyone all week that, if we won, I was doing it and I was kissing the bricks. It didn’t matter to me that it wasn’t the oval, I won at Indy and I may never win again, so I’m not skipping that. I had no idea at the time that it was the first race at Indy with Hoosiers finishing first and second. It was really cool to be able to be a part of that with Justin (Haley). The other piece that, of course, added to how special it was, was to get that win with Zippy. Never in a million years did I think I’d win at Indy for Stewart-Haas Racing with Greg Zipadelli as my crew chief.”
So what are the chances of seeing the HighPoint.com/Ford Performance Racing School Mustang in victory lane?
“Hopefully we can do it again. I think we have a little bit of an advantage going in, but once everyone has a chance to get on track for practice, I think that goes away. It’s clear that road courses have been our strength. Watkins Glen isn’t one of my favorites, but even there we were able to run up front, so I feel pretty good about what we’ve got. I’m glad we’ll get some time on track since I obviously haven’t been on this course in a Cup car, and it’ll be nice to have a chance to qualify for a good starting spot. I think we’ll have a good weekend, but either way it’ll be special to race at Indy with my family and friends there and to kind of see everything come full circle.”
While you’re home, you’ll be doing some dirt racing. How cool is it to get the chance to go back to Paragon Speedway just a few days before the race at IMS?
“Paragon was the place that my dad always raced and then, once I started, I ran there a lot. It wasn’t the closest track for us, so not necessarily my home track, but it’s where I ran a good amount of races and got my first win in a sprint car. I haven’t been in a non-wing sprint car in years, but I felt like I needed to take the chance to race there while I can. One of the reasons I was such a huge fan of Tony’s was that you’d watch him race on Sunday in NASCAR, but then you’d see him come back and race on the short tracks against guys like my dad and it was such a normal thing. I just always thought that was the coolest thing for a kid who was growing up in the same area and wanting to race, and I’m glad I have the chance to go back and kind of do the same thing.”