ERIK, WE SAW YOU VISITED AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL THIS WEEK FOR READ ACROSS AMERICA DAY. TELL US ABOUT THAT EXPERIENCE.
“It was really great. That was a couple of days ago we went out there and got to do that in person. Been doing a lot with reading initiatives, obviously with the foundation. It’s been tough the last couple of years to do things in person and indoors, so it was nice to be able to get to a school in person with kids and read to the class. Then obviously get to answer tons of questions from them on all different subjects. Really enjoy that and hopefully get to do some more of that. Not only at the schools, but at tracks and obviously all the places we go through a season. It was a lot of fun.”
ERIK, I KNOW ITS ONLY TWO RACES BUT HOW HAS THE START OF THIS SEASON AS FAR AS HOW COMPETITIVE YOU HAVE BEEN IN THE FIRST TWO RACES DONE FOR YOUR PSYCHI AND WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT HOW YOUR TEAM IS SITUATED IN TERMS OF THE NEXT GEN CAR?
“Well, it’s been good. Obviously, your confidence goes up week to week. I think in racing it is a bigger thing than people realize. It’s easy to look at a sport like golf and think when someone gets on a hot streak it is easy to keep it going. Honestly, racing is very similar and when you get kind of rolling and it’s not just me, it’s the team, it’s Dave (Elenz, crew chief), it’s everybody. When they get rolling on that confident hot streak, it’s easier to keep that momentum going. The Next Gen car I think has been great to us so far you know two races in. Hopefully just continue it going this weekend. This is a lot different track than Fontana. It’s easy to say that and it will be a totally different challenge for a racecar than what fought last week and balance last week. It’ll be a learning process, but you know the speed for sure has been there at Daytona, Fontana. Hopefully it continues this weekend. We are in a good spot in points right now and want to keep that going. Your expectations change. Obviously, being in contention to win last week definitely puts our mindset towards a win at this point. Hopefully we can continue to chase that.”
I THINK SOME PEOPLE SAY THE NEW CAR CREATES PARODY AND THAT IS WHAT’S ALLOWED YOU TO IMPROVE SPOTS, BUT I’M CURIOUS HOW MUCH IS IT NEW CAR AND HOW MUCH IS IT NEW CREW CHIEF AND NEW TEAM?
“Well, it’s a combo. It is hard to put a percentage on each one. I think it’s a combination of things, right. The new car and some of the tendencies of the new car, some strong suits I think that Dave (Elenz) has had in the Xfinity Series and already learned a little bit about at that level and has brought that over. Obviously with the merger with GMS, it really lets us kind of develop our own package right here. You know when I came to RPM last season, that car was in a development freeze, and it was what it was. There’s nothing left to gain on it. We couldn’t do anything to make it any better or any different than what it was. You know, that’s tough as a driver. Kind of locked into what you got and every driver wants something different. So, I kind of had to adapt and figure that out. With the Next Gen car, I think it’s opened up so many doors for us. Just having the same parts and pieces, we just have to figure out to take that wheel that they have given us and make it a little bit rounder and for us I think Dave’s (Elenz) done good job with that and that’s been a focus of not just him but everybody on the team. To answer your question, it’s bits and pieces of everything. It’s not just the new car. It’s not just the new crew chief. It’s everything kind of bundling all in one.”
A LOT OF TIMES DRIVERS SAY IF I HAD WHAT THAT GUY HAD I COULD DO JUST AS GOOD AS HE IS. DO YOU FEEL NOW THAT YOU ARE IN THAT BOX THAT’S CLOSE ENOUGH TO GO LIKE OK I HAVE WHAT THEY HAVE, NOW I REALLY DO GET TO SHOW THEM WHAT I GOT AND I CAN BE AS COMPETITIVE AS THEY ARE?
“For sure, right now. I think it’s so early on with this car, we don’t totally know everything that is even right and wrong with it. What’s the right things to adjust on and make it faster, make it better. What’s the car want? We have ideas of it, but we don’t truly know what’s going to be better and what’s going to be worse for this car right now. I think if the rules are continue being enforced the way they are right now with the parts and the pieces, I think that parody will last a while. I think eventually guys are going to start figuring out what makes these cars better, what makes them tick. Obviously, the big teams will have some sort of advantage there, but for sure right now we are on a good track to have you know at least somewhat of a leg up at this point in this season. It’s closed that gap. You know I would say that gap is 90 percent closer to what it was the last few years.”
HOW ABOUT THOUGH DRIVER TO DRIVER? DO YOU FEEL NOW LIKE OK, I’VE ALWAYS FELT LIKE I WAS AS GOOD AS THEY ARE AND NOW, I HAVE A CHANCE TO PROVE IT?
“Yeah, I think so. It’s adapting at this point, right? You know the car’s quite a bit different than what last years were. Driver to driver, you know I look at a lot of guys in the series and I think if you put most of the guys in a race winning car situation, they would have an opportunity to do it. I think the difference maker comes down to the finesse parts of it. You know, restarts, passing, traffic. I’ve seen a lot of guys take fast cars and when they are out front it’s fine, but as soon as they get back in the field they can’t come through. There’s a lot of different parts and pieces to being a winning racecar driver in the Cup Series and it’s by far the hardest thing that I’ve ever done. But right now, I think it’s definitely at a point where driver is able to make a bigger difference than in years past.”
ERIK, I WAS JUST CURIOUS WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE READING AND THE YOUNG KIDS. WHY IS THAT YOUR PASSION, WHY IS THAT SOMETHING YOU DO?
“I think for me, it starts from when I was pretty young kid. You know, my parents started reading to me when I was probably before I could comprehend what they were even saying to me. Then it would continue. It was every night when I was a kid, until I started reading on my own. My mom or dad would sit and read books to me, books I was interested in and wanted to read. Obviously when I started reading on my own, I could remember sitting in bed at night, had my own light, I would stay up. Instead of staying up late to watch TV, I was staying up late reading books. For me, I just really enjoyed it. I enjoyed learning and I wasn’t always the greatest student in school, but I wanted to learn thing that I wanted to learn. With books for me, that gave me the opportunity I could read and learn about any subject that I wanted to. That’s continued now. Anytime I want to go and figure something out or be more in tune with a subject, I’ll pick up a book and read and figure it out. I think that translates to childhood, right? That’s an early jumpstart, something that anybody, any family can do is reading. That gives that kid such an early advantage in life. If you’re a good reader and you can comprehend early and figure out how to take that information out of a book and absorb it that’s a huge advantage for any kid. So that’s what really it means to me and why it’s something that I really push for.