Talk about the emotional moment of being able to take the No. 14 car back to victory lane for your hero and now team co-owner Tony Stewart, and discussing the win with him postrace.
“This car is obviously his, and he has a lot of passion and drive for that car. He took a chance on another guy who is kind of like himself, a dirt Sprint car racer. We grew up in towns that are 45 minutes apart and my dad raced against Tony in Sprint cars. I was a diehard Tony fan growing up and diehard 14 fan, so for me to add my name to the list of guys that have driven the No. 14 car to victory lane is definitely special for me. Looking back, when I was 6 or 7 years old and wearing the Tony Stewart helmet and uniform, I never in a million years thought I would get to take his car to victory lane in the Cup Series, and it was really cool for him to call, and to get to hear how excited he was for that to happen.”
Have you noticed any significant strides in yourself or the team compared to last year?
“I think from a confidence standpoint I feel like I belong this year. Last year, it was very ‘eyes wide open.’ I was racing against guys I had watched on TV for years and that I’ve looked up to. Now I don’t look at the 18 car and go, ‘That’s Kyle Busch.’ It’s just the 18 car, another guy out there. I think that confidence has come a long way. Obviously with the results, the confidence builds. I feel like I belong. Especially, now, winning, I’ve proven I belong in the Cup Series. When you come in in your rookie year, you think you’re ready, but you’re never ready. To run up front and lead laps is special, for sure.”
Next we head to Atlanta and, even though you’ve raced there twice in the Cup Series, the track has undergone significant changes since the last visit. You’re coming off a win, which typically gives the team a lot of confidence and momentum, but how does the track change affect your preparation for this weekend?
“It’s going to be wild. It’s great to win on Sunday, but this coming week there are going to be 39 guys that are going to try the same thing. A couple of guys in the shop asked me how it feels to get that first win and it feels good, but it doesn’t mean anything if we go run 40th this week. You’ve got to be able to go do it again. So I think, this week, there are a lot of unknowns for a lot of reasons. The NextGen car still is a big variable that we don’t really know a lot about, but then the track is totally different than anything we’ve ever had. It’s supposedly going to be like a mini-Daytona or Talladega with pack racing and drafting, but what really happens when we get there? It’s going to be intense, it’s going to be wild, it’s going to be a narrow track with a lot of speed and a lot of excitement. It’ll be interesting to see where we stack up when we get there. I don’t know what to expect. I’ve been on the simulator quite a bit trying to figure it out, but we won’t really know what it’s going to be like until we get there.”