As you get ready for your second superspeedway race of the season, how much learning/evolution has happened with the NextGen car since you raced it in the Daytona 500?
“I think it’s going to be pretty similar to Daytona. I think it’ll be more aggressive than Daytona just because everybody’s more comfortable, there’s more room to move around, and everybody has a little bit more time in the car. It’ll be the same style of race, just more aggressive.”
Are there any differences as to how the NextGen car performs in the draft compared to the previous generation car?
“It was different, but I’ve been through so many different styles of superspeedway cars and every package has its own little nuances. I think the superspeedways are probably the least amount of change than anything else that we’ve done so far.”
Despite the new car, is racing at Talladega and Daytona still pretty much the same as what you’ve known it to be throughout your career?
“Every rules package has a difference. Some of them you can push really good, some of them you can’t push, some of them are pack racing, some of them are single-file, some of them are tandem. This one, you can push and it has some tandem, but it winds up being pack racing. Every package ends up migrating in a little bit different of a direction, it seems.”
There are some drivers who really seem to excel at Talladega and Daytona – almost like how some drivers rise to the challenge at a road course. What is it about superspeedway racing that makes some drivers stand out over others?
“There are some guys who are really good at it. I think some guys look at it as, ‘This is my chance to win,’ and just take all the risks throughout the day to put themselves in position. We just want to finish where we’re running. I think we’ve been running in the top-five for five of the last six and wound up torn up. So, we just want to finish.”
They said that Dale Earnhardt could see the air when he raced at Talladega and Daytona. Are there things that you see behind the wheel that kind of foreshadow what will happen next? If so, are you constantly thinking two or three steps ahead when you’re in the draft?
“You try to be one step ahead of everything, but as you go through the day, you learn the things that work and the things that don’t work, and you try to be around the cars that you want to be around. But, by the end of the race, a lot of time you just wind up in a position and just kind of go with your gut and your instincts and the things that you’ve learned all day. I think it’s important to race all day to try to not only get stage points, but to learn the tendencies of the style of race that you’re in so that you can do everything that you can in order to maximize your position.”
There are some physically demanding races on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule. Is Talladega mentally demanding?
“Superspeedway racing, in general, is just a mentally demanding situation just because of the constant looking in the mirror and looking around and trying to keep the car going as fast as it can go and being aggressive and pushing and shoving and doing all the things it takes. There’s just a lot that you have to process from a mental standpoint, for sure.”
Describe the intensity of racing at Talladega.
“You have to be aggressive just for the fact that if you’re not aggressive, it always seems like you’re not going to be where you need to be. Nine times out of 10, the aggressor is going to be the guy who comes out on the good side of things just for the fact that you’re making things happen and you’re not waiting for something else to happen. When you wait for something else to happen, that’s usually when you get in trouble because it’s usually someone else’s mess. You can still get in trouble if you’re aggressive, but with the way things are, it’s best to stay aggressive and try to stay up front.”