DO YOU MIND JUST TELL US, OBVIOOUSLY I DON’T THINK YOU GUYS APPROACH THE RACE ANY DIFFERENT, BUT HOW FUN IT IS TO KNOW THAT YOUR TEAM HAS THE OPPORTUNITY TO TAKE HOME ANOTHER BONUS DEPENDING ON YOUR FINISHING ORDER?
“Yeah, for sure. It’s a big deal what Xfinity and Comcast do to allow us to four teams or four drivers through the process of these four races to race for $100,000. It’s a big deal to the exposure of our organization to hopefully getting that money. As drivers, we put that back into the race team so all the men and women at Kaulig Racing get a bigger bonus. For several reasons it’s a huge importance at these races. We were close last week to getting it and we’ve been able to get it before. I actually think Kaulig Racing has gotten it three times. That’s a lot of money to pour back in the organization, especially for all the people that work at the race shop. It doesn’t change how we race the race, but it’s definitely something that you look at. Ultimately, we are trying to win the race, but if you know that maybe you don’t have the car to win the race you start looking at about the three other drivers that you’re racing, and it becomes a race in a race. You’re always kind of looking at those three other drivers and where they’re running and at the end of the race you kind of dictate on if you have a chance to win the race and if not then you work your strategy to try to win that $100,000.”
WHY SHOULD WE SEE MORE DRIVERS LIKE YOU BE CHILL, HAVE A LOT OF CLASS WHEN THE MICS ARE HOT? IS THAT ALSO AS WELL TO AVOID NEGATIVE BACKLASH?
“I mean at the end of the day we all act and react differently. I probably react differently 10 years ago quite honestly. At the end of the day, we have partners and sponsors. We try to react and act how you know be perceived on TV. In the heat of the moment, it’s a tough deal. That’s what really makes this sport unique. Motorsports in general and NASCAR with all of the media that we have at the racetrack, it’s tough sometimes when you walk out of a situation like that and immediately you’ve got a TV camera and microphones to try to say the right thing. What I said was true. It’s how I felt. We react and, in that moment, you act how you want to act, but at the end of the day you put that in the back of your mind and say ok you stash that away and when it’s needed use it when you have to. Every person is different, so they all want to react how they should react. Like I said, it didn’t matter if I was mad or not you know? Ross (Chastain) made the move that he had to make to win the race and that’s how it ended.”
WE ARE 1/5TH OF THE WAY THORUGH THE SCHEDULE. HOW DO YOU BELIEVE KAULIG’S FIRST FULL-TIME RUN IN CUP HAS BEEN GOING?
“I think it’s going as you would expect. Justin (Haley), unfortunately, hasn’t gotten some of the results that he deserves. He can be a lot higher in points. You know, Daytona with the wheel nut issue that caused the suspension of Trent, I think has hurt a little bit for sure. Especially when you’re a rookie, kind of a rookie in Cup, when it comes to Justin being full-time with a rookie team, you know your crew chief you need that time to work together, and they work at the shop and leading up to the race. To not have Trent on the box is a big deal. I’ve gotten to work with Trent. He’s super good as a crew chief, so that’s hurt a little bit. I mean you look at what Justin’s done, Daytona, Atlanta he is going to finish maybe top-five and gets turned coming to the checkered and still gets an ok finish. Last week he was doing a great job of making not really a good day and going to make something out of it and they had another wheel nut issue where it got stuck on the last pit stop that cost them probably anywhere from seven to 10 spots. A lot of drivers can add that up, but with Kaulig Racing I think you can look at and say well that’s kind of a rookie team and how it’s going to go. On the 16 side of it, that’s what hurt at COTA. I mean even not winning the race, but we were going to finish second at worst or maybe third and we finish 33rd. That’s 30 points right there. It’s going as expected. You have some good runs and then you have some runs like last week where you are like wow, we got a lot of work to do.”
WITH THE RECENT SUCCESS YOU’VE HAD IN THE XFINITY SERIES, GETTING THE WIN IN THE CUP SERIES LAST YEAR, WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO BE AFFORDED SOME OF THESE CUP OPPORTUNITIES AT THIS POINT IN YOUR CAREER?
“I mean, I don’t even look at the Cup side of it. I just look at racing cars in general. You know what Kaulig Racing, Matt Kaulig, Chris Rice, and everybody at the shop has really done for me, give me new excitement and new love for the sport. I enjoy going to the racetrack. I’m still probably more intense now than I have ever been, because I know on the Xfinity side of it we have a chance to win every week that we show up. All the men and women are working so hard, so I take it personal when we don’t win because I feel like I’m letting them down. More intense at the racetrack than I have ever been, but I am probably more relaxed away from it. I enjoy it more. Chris and Matt, we have such a great relationship. You know, they are my bosses, but I don’t ever feel like they are. They’re really true, close friends. We have a lot of fun away from the racetrack, so it’s just being part of this organization and I’ve said it many times I just want to help it grow in whatever capacity possible. That’s what I am trying to do.”
IS THERE A PARTICULAR ASPECT ABOUT THAT TRACK (MARTINSVILLE) THAT YOU ENJOY RACING ON?
“It’s the rhythm of it. To me, it’s the closest road course oval that you have in the sense of the way you brake and the rhythm you get into the corners. Just everything that goes with it. Obviously, you are not shifting. Maybe on the Cup side of it we shift this weekend, I’m not sure but just the way it races. I love it. It can be a challenge if you miss the setup, it’s a tough place. You can’t hide. You can’t get out of the way. It’s mentally grueling because you know a late race restart you can run a perfect race and you can just restarts especially can get chaotic and you can not get a finish that you feel like you deserved all race. It’s mentally grueling until the checkered flag falls, but I’ve always enjoyed the racetrack. It’s something that I’ve kind of grown to right away and love showing up and racing at it. I’m really excited that I get to race two races this weekend.”
YOU’VE DONE DOUBLE DUTY NOW A COUPLE TIMES WITH CUP AND XFINITY. HOW ARE YOU LIKING THE NEXT GEN CAR AT THIS POINT AND WHAT’S THE SWITCH BETWEEN CUP AND XFINITY IN EACH OF THOSE WEEKENDS BEEN LIKE?
“I’ve actually enjoyed the Next Gen car. The road course I had so much fun driving it. A really fast car helped. (laughed) Just the way the car is on the brakes, the sequential gear box of how you can attack the corners, I had so much fun at COTA just driving it in general let alone racing and battling for the win. The coliseum we did ok. Phoenix and Richmond haven’t been great races and it’s been a challenge, so I’d like to have been more competitive at those races, but even with that said driving it is still enjoyable. You know the switch back it’s not really that challenging because the way NASCAR does the schedules now, you do your Xfinity stuff then you do your Cup stuff and then you go back to Xfinity. Obviously, the next day it’s just the Cup race, so it’s not like where you’re jumping back and forth where it used to be in the past. That makes it a little bit easier to kind of get done with one car and set your mind to that and say ok now I’m going to focus on this. When you get done with that car then you don’t have to worry about it until the next day.”
HOW DO YOU MANAGE THE CHAOS THERE (MARTINSVILLE)?
“It’s one of those things where you have to be aggressive, no doubt. Track position’s so critical, but you have to be patient in that way. It’s a little bit like a road course but passing a lot more difficult. You’ve just got to pick and choose you times of when you can be aggressive. First you have to have a car that has the speed to be aggressive, but if you do you have to be patient at times and if you kind of rough somebody up early in the race if they get back around you late in the race it’s going to come back to you. It’s really tough. That’s where the mental side of it really comes from because it is just grueling. You are always around cars. You get frustrated really easy, but if you take it out on somebody early in a race you are going to get it paid back to you. It’s such an easy place to have a payback. First things first, you just see how much speed you have in practice. Then you kind of set your mind to that. Can you be on the offensive or are you going to have to be on the defense all day? That kind of changes, at least my attitude about how I’m going to run the race.”
FROM THE MENTAL HEALTH STANDPOINT, HOW DO YOU GET THROUGH THAT AND BALANCE OUT SOME OF THOSE STRESSES?
“I’m probably still not great at it. I do take it very serious and I’m sure Carly or anybody around me sees it at times when it’s not going well. I don’t hide my emotions. In the past it was one of those things where maybe I thought ok that’s not the right way to be, but I am who I am. I’ve talked about it right? I’m 40, I’m not changing. I always want everybody that works around me to be like yeah, he is intense, but man he cares. And I do. I care about everybody on our race team. When we don’t run well, I personally take it bad because I feel like ok, I’m not doing the right things to help us. It’s a little bit different, especially winning races now, going out there and having Matt and Chris around me, it allows me to be who I am and not maybe feel bad about it. They let me do that and then we go have fun with it. I get over it quicker. It’s always a challenge. The mental health side of it’s always a challenge. There are good weeks and bad, but it’s far better than it’s ever been for me. It’s a daily grind that you keep trying to learn from.”
YOU HAVE QUITE A STRING OF CUP RACES COMING UP THIS SUMMER, HOW EXCITED ARE YOU TO TAKE ON THESE TRACKS AND KNOW THAT YOU HAVE A BIT OF DOUBLE DUTY WORK AHEAD OF YOU?
“The oval side of it at least on the 16 side of it, I’m not speaking on Justin’s side of it on the 31 side, I feel like we’ve got some work. Sorry, my dog’s jumping in here. That’s Xena. It’s one of those things that I feel like I’m learning how to drive the car on the oval. We need to improve. The good thing is, even though the races haven’t went well on the ovals, the same characteristics of the car have been there. We’re going to try some new stuff going into Martinsville and see if we can make it better. The road course side of it, especially after COTA, I’m really super pumped to get to some road courses and run the car again. I think we can have a lot of speed. It’s a first year Cup team that we’re going to keep building. We’re going to have our ups and downs and hopefully I can help with going the right direction.”
WHAT’S THE TEAMMATE DYNAMIC BEEN LIKE BRINGING DANIEL HEMRIC AND LANDON CASSILL THIS YEAR KNOWING THAT THEY ARE REALLY VETERANS IN THE SPORT NOW?
“It’s been great, honestly. I’ve really enjoyed Daniel and Landon a lot. I think it’s unique because we’ve all king of had in a way, the same ups and downs in NASCAR. You know you fight to stay in the sport and always kind of grinding a bit. I love having them there. I think we’re, of course we want to win. That’s what it comes down to. We want to be at our best, but with us I think it is a little bit more at ease because we’ve shared all of those ups and downs at times in our career. I love having Daniel there, because he has such an outlook of different Xfinity cars that he has driven, which is something at Kaulig Racing I don’t think really, we’ve had a lot of. Ross (Chastain) had driven some of those races at Ganassi, but at the end of the day between Blake (Koch) and when Ryan Truex was there and with Justin (Haley) there and myself, we’ve only driven really Kaulig Xfinity cars. We don’t have a background of what other cars feel like. Daniel brings a great knowledge of that, of what he’s felt in the past. Landon, he’s working hard. I really enjoy his work ethic. He brings a different kind of thought process to the team. We have a lot of fun. I think we race around each other really well and you have to be like that to help build the organization in the right direction. On top of it, we kind of have the same feel of the racecar so it helps circle in on what we need to work on and keep building the race team. I’ve really enjoyed it and I think it’s only going to get better.”