How are things behind the scenes with your new sponsors?
“It’s been really cool. I’ve been super fortunate my entire career. I’ve had really good relationships with all of the sponsors I’ve had and they are all incredible people. We’ve been able to build a lot of really cool things, but Mahindra Tractors is different in that it’s really the first time I’ve been aligned, with the exception of maybe one or two times, with an actual consumer brand. You look at HighPoint.com, for example, it’s not as much of a consumer play. It’s more of a B2B thing, whereas Mahindra is trying to sell tractors to fans and that’s something that I haven’t really had at the higher levels of NASCAR. It’s been cool to see the approach and what they’re trying to do to correlate that over to tractor sales, and it’s been a lot of fun. Anytime you can bring a new partner into the sport, it’s special, and to be able to do it in a way that we’ve been able to do it and make a big splash, it’s all because of them. They are obviously investing a lot, not only with the race team but with our broadcast partners and things like that. Not only are they seeing the success in all of this, but it’s also helping my brand to let people see my personality in these commercials and some of the other things we’re working on. We’re not done, yet. It’s just been a lot of fun for me to see how enthusiastic they are about this race team and it’s been a lot of fun.”
What are your thoughts about COTA based on last year’s race?
“From the racetrack standpoint, I feel like I’m kind of going there for the first time, just because last year I don’t think I ever ran a single lap in the dry. I think we practiced, qualified, everything in the wet, so it’s going to be like learning a whole new racetrack this week. I know from a facility standpoint it’s pretty remarkable. It’s super cool to go out there. Even last year in the rain, there were a ton of fans out there, so I’m excited to see what it looks like this year. I didn’t get to do a ton of exploring in the city last year, but I know Austin is a really cool town. I’m going to try to do a little bit more this year while we’re there, just because we’re there a little bit longer than usual. I’m super excited to get back. I’m really excited, truthfully, just to get this Next Gen car on a road course. Based on some of the testing we did on the (Charlotte) Roval, they’re a blast to run on the road course. I’m curious to see what the racing will be like. I think it will definitely change the landscape of these road-course races. I think you’re going to see a lot more guys that are competitive than in years past because you can drive this car so much harder. It does a lot of things a lot better than the old car, so it’ll be interesting to see how that works out and plays out. It looks like the weather is going to be really good and it should be a great show.”
What can we expect this weekend on a dry track, in comparison?
“I think it’ll definitely be different than what we saw last year. I mean, last year’s race will look way different than this year’s race with the weather. It was a different style of racing when it was that wet, but from a driver’s standpoint it’s a lot of fun, just the visibility is obviously tough. And then, from a fan’s standpoint, it’s tough to see what’s going on and a little more miserable than if it was a really nice day. I think this car on the road courses is where it’s really going to shine and, truthfully, on the oval stuff, it’s been a lot better than what people expected. I think the road course is probably going to blow it out of the park. It’s a really well-built racecar, especially for road-course racing. It’s going to be interesting to see with 40 of us out there going for it versus just a test session where only a couple of guys are on track, but I think COTA is a really good racetrack to unveil this thing on a road course and I’ve been really excited to get there, so I’m looking forward to it.”
You’ve had a chance to work with Joey Hand in preparation for the road-course races on the schedule. How has he helped you with your road-course development?
“It’s been huge. Joey is obviously an extremely good road-course racer. He has a little bit of a dirt background, so he can kind of relate to what I go through, but it’s been huge. Anytime you can have somebody come from a different discipline and different style driving cars and give input, it’s huge. We’ve seen that with other manufacturers kind of doing the same thing and, for me, I like criticism. I like people telling me what I’m doing wrong, and he literally just gave me a whole sheet of different things I could try. And I think the good thing about being at the simulator and having Joey there is just the fact that you can run laps, he can see it and come out and say, ‘Hey, try this, this and this,’ and you can apply it. You don’t have to wait until the weekend to try things. I know last year I was definitely able to find speed in places that he was telling me to try based on what we did in the simulator. Now we have to race against him. I’ve been telling him that I think he’s going to be really, really good this weekend. It’ll be interesting to see how those guys run. This thing, in a sense, is a lot like a sportscar, which is what he’s used to, so I’m excited to see him run this weekend and think he’ll be one of the guys to beat.”