WHAT ARE YOUR INITIAL THOUGHTS OF THE NEXT GEN CAR? WE’VE HAD IT ON THE SHORTEST TRACK AND THE LONGEST TRACK; OBVIOUSLY TWO COMPLETELY DIFFERENT SCENARIOS. HERE, WE’RE KIND OF GOING INTO THE MORE NATURAL FLOW OF THINGS WITH THE PACKAGE THAT WE’RE GOING TO BE RUNNING FOR THE REST OF THE YEAR. DO YOU HAVE ANY EXPECTATIONS; OR IS WHEN THE GREEN FLAG WAVES, IT’S PUTTING ON THE LEARNERS HAT AND LEARNING AS MUCH AS YOU CAN AS QUICK AS YOU CAN?
“I don’t know what to expect. I didn’t have much experience in the car this off season, so I was learning a lot when I got to the Clash and even Daytona. I thought it was a fairly similar feeling to the other cars. It has its little bit of differences, but those tracks are so unique that I don’t think we’re really getting an idea of what the differences are and what stands out until we get out on track today and really through this west coast swing. I think it’s a good test for what we’ll feel and what it’ll be like throughout the rest of the year. We’re at a 2-mile track this week, 1.5-mile next and a short track following that. So, once we get through the west coast swing, I think we’ll have a good idea of the differences and who’s learning quickly and who’s not.”
DAYTONA IS A WILD CARD FACTOR, BUT HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO GET BACK ON TRACK AND PUT UP GOOD FINISHES RIGHT AFTER?
“Yeah, definitely. We had a DNF, so we need to come here, have a good run and makeup on the points that we lost out on there. It’s definitely an important weekend to go out there, qualify good and race well tomorrow. I’m excited about it. I love this place. I’ve had some good runs here in the past, so we’ll try and get another one tomorrow.”
DO YOU HAVE ANY CLUE IF YOU’LL BE ABLE TO RUN THE HIGH LINE HERE?
“Yeah, I’m not sure. Watching a little bit of the Xfinity practice, it doesn’t look way different. Guys are still moving around; the pace falls off a lot. So, it doesn’t seem too different. I haven’t talked to anybody if the grip feels different or whatnot with the resin anyways. With the new car, I don’t know if we’ll be able to run the fence like we did before. I guarantee (Tyler) Reddick will probably be one of the first ones to try it, so we’ll all keep an eye on him. If he’s making speed up there, then yeah, we’ll try it. I just feel like with the aerodynamics of this car, it might be a little tougher to pack air against it and go really fast. But hopefully our car is good enough that we don’t have to rely on that.”
WE’RE HERE BACK IN CALIFORNIA, YOUR HOME STATE. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO BE HERE IN FRONT OF A HOME STATE CROWD?
“Yeah, it’s great. I feel like we’re spending a lot of time out here in California to start the year, so that’s good. It’s just a fun place. It doesn’t matter to me I guess that it’s in California or not, I just love this race track and love coming here. I’m probably biased to it for sure, but I feel like the west coast fans are the best. This infield, to me, is the best in the sport. Just a lot of fun throughout there. Everybody riding their bicycles around with their wheels lit up; parties throughout different campsites and stuff. They enjoy it and it helps us all enjoy it too. And then you get to go out there and compete on a really fun, worn out racetrack.
“I love being out there. Southern California is a lot different, so it doesn’t feel like home to me like Northern California. But either way, you get to come out here, eat some good food and enjoy some great weather.”
THIS WEEK, IT WAS ANNOUNCED THAT YOU’RE PROMOTING AN EVENT AT BULLS GAP SPEEDWAY PRIOR TO BRISTOL. HOW DID THIS COME ABOUT? WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS AND EXPECTATIONS? HOW DOES THIS FIT INTO THE EMPIRE, IF YOU WILL?
“It kind of came together late. Just through my relationship with Flo Racing – initially the idea of it started because I want to someday, somehow, bring back something similar to the Prelude to the Dream. So, I got talking with Michael Rigsby about that. That kind of turned into – well there’s no race at Bristol leading up to the Cup race like they had last year where a lot of the Cup guys went and ran. So then, Bulls Gap kind of got thrown around and we ended up putting on that event. It should be a lot of fun.
“For me, I just hope people pay attention to it; a lot of fans come out and experience a new style of racing that maybe they’ve never seen in person. It’s only 45 minutes or so from Bristol and it’s the night before we’re on track there. So hopefully, we get a lot of fans there. But then, in the future, I would love to get an event going like Tony (Stewart) and Eldora (Speedway) had with the Prelude. There’s obviously a totally new generation of drivers out there. I never got to compete in the Prelude to the Dream. It ended right when I got to NASCAR, so I would love to do that and would love to bring it back someday. To me, this is kind of the beginning of that or moving towards that. Like I said, hopefully someday we can do it.”
YOU SAID YOU REALLY ENJOY THIS TRACK AND YOU’VE HAD A LOT OF SUCCESS HERE. WHILE THE POTENTIAL FOR THIS TRACK GETTING CONVERTED TO A HALF-MILE IS ALWAYS STILL THERE, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT? IF IT WERE CONVERTED, WOULD YOU MISS THE WAY THE TRACK IS RIGHT NOW?
“Yeah, I mean I would miss it. I love this style of track and the way the surface is wore out. But as much as I love these intermediate-style tracks – and we saw it at the Clash - that short tracks are what makes this sport, to me, exciting. I’m for more short tracks. They don’t suit me very well, but I still think for the betterment of the sport, that we need more of them. I would like to see it. I know that it’s a big undertaking and I’m sure budgets and stuff have changed since COVID. So, that may be why it hasn’t happened to this point yet. But yeah, I think it would get a lot of people even more excited about this event.”
WITH THE REINTRODUCTION TO QUALIFYING AND A VERY CONDENSED VERSION OF PRACTICE, LAST YEAR IT WAS A SOLID YEAR FOR YOU. YOU WERE STARTING UPFRONT BECAUSE YOU WERE FINISHING GREAT. HOW ARE YOU GOING TO TAKE ALL OF THIS COMING BACK THIS YEAR?
“Yeah, I think it’ll be interesting. There’s really no time to work on your car. Especially here in the early portions of the season, with me, I don’t know what to expect when I got into turn one at any of these racetracks until we get a few races in and all that. I don’t know – it’s a cool opportunity to get some track time and kind of shake the order of the starting lineup up a little bit. Last year, we started upfront a lot because we were upfront in points, were running fast laps and finished up front. Which was awesome and I think our car was fast enough that we probably could have qualified on the pole as often as we earned the pole with the criteria that they had.
“But yeah, at least we’ll get some sort of competitiveness to try and go out there and help our weekends out. Especially too, like for us, with last week at Daytona and having a bad race, we would have started in the 30’s here. So, now we have an opportunity to go out there and start on the pole, which is great. Not a lot of track time to learn and really get an idea, but it should be fun.”
WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO GET OUT OF THESE 15-MINUTES OF PRACTICE?
“Just get comfortable with the car, really. Like I said, I don’t think there’s enough time to adjust on your car at all. And two, with the surface and how quickly it wears your tires out, I think making two or three-lap runs and coming in and trying to make an adjustment – unless your car is way off – will only hurt you. We’ll try and go out there; run as long as I can and just get familiar with things. Just get comfortable. We haven’t been here in a couple of years. I haven’t run this car on a track like this, so just try and get comfortable and confidence before qualifying.”
DENNY HAMLIN’S CREW CHIEF SAID THIS TRACK IS PROBABLY THE HARDEST TRACK FOR ROOKIES OR FOR YOUNG DRIVERS. DO YOU AGREE WITH THAT AND DO YOU THINK WE’LL SEE THE VETERANS EXCELING HERE BECAUSE IT’S JUST SUCH A TOUGH TRACK FOR THE YOUNG, TALENTED DRIVERS?
“It’s definitely a tough track, but I think everybody is really talented. And for like Chase Briscoe, for instance, I feel like he does really well on tracks like this. This place kind of reminds me of a dirt track, just because of the seams, patches and little marks that you have to try and hit to get grip.
“Yeah, I mean I think there’s that part where the veterans know those areas that allow their car to go a little bit faster. I think veterans will have the edge for a little while; but like I said, everybody’s talented, so they’ll figure it out. If your car is good, your car is good and you’ll go fast.”