THIS PAST WEEKEND AT THE BRISTOL DIRT RACE, YOU CAME HOME WITH A 10TH-PLACE FINISH. TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THAT RACE, BUT ALSO JUST WHAT THAT MEANS FOR YOUR TEAM. A NEW TEAM THAT IS BUILDING TOGETHER – WHAT IT MEANS TO TAKE HOME A TOP-10.
“Yeah, that was a really big day for us – for Petty GMS and myself. First of all, winning the heat race was really cool. Anytime you cross the checkered flag first in any kind of Cup Series race, that’s a big deal and I don’t take that for granted. Especially doing it with the No. 42 – a number that Lee Petty brought to the series, made so famous and has passed down through so many drivers. And to do that on dirt in a heat race is kind of a cool throwback moment for me, personally. It was also a good boost of confidence. My goal was to go out there and win that heat race beforehand and I was able to do so against Kyle Larson, who is undoubtedly probably one of the best dirt racers out there, and racers in general; along with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Chase Elliott is no slouch either on dirt. I think he spent most of the winter almost living with Larson and running midgets and different dirt cars. I figured when I saw that heat race – it was the most loaded heat race with a large amount of dirt background. So, that was a huge vote of confidence for me.
And then starting the race in seventh after all the passing points and everything; driving straight up to second and getting our first stage points of the year with nine stage points, is huge for sure. That was a great start. We were just kind of checking things off our list. In the second stage, we were unfortunately hung on the bottom quite a bit and fell back. It was really tough in that race to restart on the bottom and go forward at all. I think if you go back and look at it, anybody who restarted on the bottom just fell back into the field. We were able to have a strong enough Gain Camaro that I was able to drive back up through the field, get a top-10 finish, which is another one of our goals. It’s always good when you set high goals and you are able to accomplish them in a weekend. So, we have a lot of confidence going into Talladega (Superspeedway), which is statistically probably my best track. Hopefully we’ll keep that rolling and just keep moving forward with momentum this year.”
YOU’RE 21ST IN POINTS. HOW WOULD YOU EVALUATE THAT, AS FAR AS THE SEASON GOES? WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE POINTS, IS TOP-20 A GOAL? OR FOR A NEW TEAM, IS STAYING IN THE TOP-25 THE GOAL?
“Obviously we want to stay in the top-25. I think there are good financial benefits for the team and everyone involved. I think that’s an expectation. And then we have goals, right. So, being inside the top-20 would be a goal, along with trying to get into the Playoffs and winning a race. We just want to show progression. We want our team to get better week in and week out. We started pretty good. We fell back to 26th in points and now we’re kind of moving forward again. I think for a new team and a whole new situation - where we’re at and with the guys that are around us being a strong group of drivers - I think the full points layout is a little bit different for everyone this year. I think the field is very solid all the way back to 28th in points. If we can crack that top-20, I think that would be a great thing. We want to keep looking for more and we expect more out of it. I think especially with the speed that Erik (Jones) has shown this year at some of the tracks. I know myself and our No. 42 team expects to have that kind of speed week in and week out. And if we can do that, we can go even higher in points and be a Playoff-contending team and a winning-contending team.
There are a lot of goals out there that we believe are achievable. But the expectation is to be inside the top-25 and show progression throughout the year and see where we end up at the end.”
AT TALLADEGA, WITH THE CHALLENGE OF GETTING CARS READY, IS IT THE SAME MENTALITY AS DAYTONA? IS IT 50/50 WHETHER YOU’RE GOING TO FINISH OR END UP WRECKED?
“These weeks are always weird for me because I’m thinking the same things you guys are. What’s it going to be like - Is it going to be aggressive? Is it going to be calm? Speedweek (at Daytona) seemed calm up until the Daytona 500. And then we started the race and people were bump drafting on lap one. I’m a big proponent of feeling the energy of the race. I just got off a meeting with my guys and I said this is the hardest race for me to prepare for. I just go off of what I feel. It may change within a lap, but I feel like if we can get up there and put ourselves in a good spot to get stage points and run up front, that’s obviously where you’d like to be. Or do I feel bad energy in the pack and people are doing things they shouldn’t at a certain time. For me, I won’t know until I’m in the situation. I don’t think anyone showed much patience in the Daytona 500. But also, in my opinion, nobody showed any patience in the last three years of superspeedway races. If you look back, there’s maybe 15 cars that were on the lead lap due to crashes and issues every race.
My strategy sometimes seems conservative, but I also have one of the best average finishes of the last four or five years at some of these speedways. So, until they prove me otherwise, I’m going to play a smart game – feel the energy of the pack; get stage points if it feels right and we have the speed to do it and in the right situation. But if not, I have to make sure our Black Rifle Camaro crosses the line on the lead lap and I can pretty much always guarantee us a top-15 or top-10 in that way.”
LOOKING AT THE FIRST QUARTER OF THE SEASON, EVEN WITH THE NEW CAR, IN ESSENCE YOU’RE SEEING THE SAME TOP TEAMS WIN. THE TOP-10’S FOR TEAMS ARE VERY SIMILAR FROM YEAR-TO-YEAR. IS THE NEW CAR AN EQUALIZER IN SOME WAYS THAT YOU CAN’T SEE MAYBE THROUGH WINS AND TOP-10’S? OR IS IT A CASE THAT MAYBE THESE BIGGER TEAMS HAVE THE BIGGER RESOURCES AND THE EXPECTATION WAS THAT THEY WERE GOING TO FIND THINGS BEFORE EVERYONE ELSE?
“Yeah, I think that’s a good question. I think it’s a little bit of both. The top teams have always had the most money and resources, and that’s always helpful. But they also have some of the best people – best drivers and crew chiefs because they have the same amount of money to go out and pay for them. Not taking away from any other teams – they’re going to put a good effort forward. I think that’s why you see the top teams winning. Winning teams win races and no matter what you put them in; winning drivers will do the same. I think it’s a little bit of a balance there, but I think you’re seeing within teams – week to week – you don’t know which driver within that team might win or might be two laps down. It’s been quite fascinating. You see two Hendrick (Motorsports) cars run really well and two run bad. You’ll see one RCR car run well and one RCR run bad. Same thing with us at Petty GMS – it seems like we haven’t had really one weekend where we’ve both been really, really strong. But we’ve both had our strong weeks. This car has a really fine line and seemingly when the driver, crew chief, team combo hits the right setup at the right time, you take off and you can have a chance. I haven’t had a weekend where I’ve gone into it where I don’t believe that if we hit it right, we can win the race. I didn’t feel that way in the past and I think this car provides that for everyone.
I feel very confident that at Petty GMS, when we hit right, we’re going to have a chance to win a race. I think this past weekend was a real showing of that. We could have won that race if we were in the right spot at the right time at the end of the race; and if different things would have worked out in our favor in strategy and rain-wise. I think you’re never out of it with this car, which is a welcoming sign. Obviously money always wins in everything and we need to continue to get more sponsorship for our team and provide more resources for everybody. We’re working hard at that. We’re a young, growing team. We’re doing really well. Maury Gallagher is putting so much into our program. It’s very exciting to be a part of this team because our goal is to win. And then you throw Richard Petty in there – he has that winning mindset. He’s the winningest driver in our sport. So, we have so much excitement and promise around our team. We’re very new and in a youthful stage as a team, and figuring a lot of things out. Both teams – my team and Erik’s – have had ups and downs throughout the season. We’re starting to leap back up in the points.
To circle back and answer your question – the good teams are going to be good. But I think if you look within these teams and why we’ve had so many different winners is because you never know when the right person is going to hit the setup. I think Erik could have possibly won Fontana if things would have gone the right way. It’s an exciting time in our sport and I look forward to every weekend because I feel like I have a legit shot to win. I can see it as a driver. You can see speed differences. You can feel things of like – Ok, we’re just getting outdone by money or we’re just getting outdone by putting the right pieces together. I think every weekend we’ve hit this year – it’s just a matter of putting the pieces together. It’s all there for us. Certainly, Mike Beam, Maury and Petty GMS is giving us every opportunity to do that. And I feel like we’re right there. In the past - I feel like with the old car or the old system - even if we did everything perfect, maybe it was a top-15. But I feel like if everything is done perfect now, we can win races. So, that’s always exciting for a driver and I think you’re going to continue to see more new winners; and I think you’re going to have to win a race to be in the Playoffs this year.”
THROUGHOUT THE WORLD, A LOT OF PEOPLE HAVE TO WORK ON EASTER. OBVIOUSLY, THIS WAS A NEW THING FOR THE SPORT THIS YEAR WITH THE EASTER RACE. THE NUMBERS SEEM TO INDICATE THAT EASTER IS SOMETHING THAT WILL PROBABLY BE BACK ON THE SCHEDULE. WHAT KIND OF AN ADJUSTMENT IS THAT FOR THIS SPORT?
“It’s a tough spot for our sport. I know our sport respects family, faith, and holidays of all of communities and cultures. It’s a tough balance. For me, I don’t know if I get to speak from a very fair vantage point, but I’m lucky enough to travel with my family. My brother and his family was there; my mom, dad and grandfather. So, I got to have Easter with my whole family. But I have a very unique situation. And then I look at my friends and the employees at Petty GMS and across the garage that didn’t get to have that for the first time in a long time – that’s tough. You hear from our sport and we’re in such a great point in our sport and everything is trending up; and we have our best viewership of a race at Bristol since 2016. It puts everyone in a tough spot.
But I think there is a way to go about it. I think there’s a way to maybe schedule the Saturday events early enough – maybe do the heat races early in the morning on Saturday to give people time to go home. Most team members are within a two hour drive from home; or the owners of the sport should pay for the guys to fly home and fly back on Sunday. If we’re going to do a Sunday night race, plan everything to give the guys a 12 to 18 hour stretch where they can choose to go home and be with their families and be able to come back for the race that night. At Petty GMS, we flew, which was nice for the families to at least to get home Sunday night. But we still didn’t get to bed until 1:30 a.m. and there were teams that had to drive home. That’s a tough weekend and it definitely doesn’t help the families back at home.
There’s a balance. I think we can work the schedule. I think the owners and NASCAR, in general, have to work together to do as much for their employees as possible in that situation. That’s the way I see it. But it’s a very positive thing that we had great viewership. I know next year, it’s going to be going up against the Masters, which will be interesting to see how that works out. So, we just have to work together to figure it out because these people that work so hard deserve time with their families, especially when you look at our schedule this year. We have one off weekend throughout this whole year and that is brutal. That’s really tough, especially with a new car and early in the season with a massive shortage in parts. There are still teams that are scrambling and working from 7:00, 8:00, 9:00 to midnight every night and then turning around and racing. It’s all good because we want the sport to succeed. But eventually you burn people out and we’ve got to take care of our people. That’s what makes this sport so important and we just have to look at some of these things to get some breaks for people, whether it’s the way that we travel or plan out weekends. I think there is plenty of time, especially this past weekend, to do a lot more for the people.”
BRISTOL, WHEN THEY SENT OUT TICKETS FOR POTENTIAL FOR SALES FOR NEXT YEAR, IT’S THE WEEK AFTER. MY QUESTION FOR YOU – I KNOW YOU AND YOUR BROTHER RACED A LOT OF DIRT BEFORE GETTING TO NASCAR – OVERALL, HOW DO YOU CHARACTERIZE THE RACE? THERE WERE A LOT OF OPPONENTS THAT WERE COMPLAINING ABOUT THE DIRT TRACK RACING ELEMENT OF IT. DO YOU REALLY BELIEVE THIS IS SOMETHING THAT SHOULD BE INCLUDED ON THE SCHEDULE AS A POINTS-PAYING RACE?
“I do. I think a lot of our drivers just like to complain because they’re bored and sometimes just want something to talk about; just try to show emotion in that way. I think you just have to look at it a lot less selfishly. So what if you get a little dirty...inaudible. We’re all on the same track and we’re all doing it together. The only thing that’s going to make this sport continue to grow and be good for everyone is to have a positive outlook; see what worked and how we can make the things that didn’t work as good better and move forward positively. I’m never bashing anything unless it’s dangerous and there’s nothing about that race that’s dangerous. I thought it was fun. I think if you look at the first year to the second year, it massively improved. Sometimes people aren’t patient enough to let something kind of mature and grow into what it really can be. Sometimes we’re quick to snap judgement and say ‘this isn’t going to work’. That’s just not a healthy way to look at things in our sport. I enjoy the fact that NASCAR is choosing a different way to go about racing at different tracks and trying to do things for fans.
I think if you take your driver selfishness hat off and look at it globally, that was an awesome event. You think of all the things that we fixed from the previous event, that was great. And there’s another list of things that we can continue to do to grow. To say this race isn’t worth it and hope we don’t go back – I think that’s kind of ridiculous. I was surprised by some of the comments from some of the drivers. I think if you look at the attitude of the drivers – the guys that liked the race ran well and the guys who didn’t like the race ran bad. Mindset of your approach of what you want to be a part of definitely helps in having a better weekend.
I grew up dirt racing. I haven’t raced dirt in five years, so that was my first dirt race other than the Eldora truck races that I’ve ran, and I enjoyed it. Part of that element - when you go to a Saturday night dirt track or a weekend dirt track - is that things are moving. Things aren’t always the same. You don’t show up to the same track with the same bump and the same groove every single weekend. And in fact, it’s not the same from when you unload your car to the time that the checkered flag waves. Every lap you’re moving, changing and adjusting your car. It makes it tough, but that’s why we choose to go dirt racing – to throw something different at it. I think the big win was that the dust was down and the track had multiple grooves. There was passing. Was it hard? Yes. It’s also hard to pass at Bristol when it’s concrete. I think I had the most passes with 58 or 59. That’s a lot of passes, so it’s possible. You just have to be into it and embrace the fact that it’s good for our sport; and what’s good for our sport is good for us.”
MOTHER NATURE CERTAINLY HAD HER SAY THE FIRST YEAR WE WENT THERE AND IT WAS REALLY HARD TO GET THE TRACK CONDITIONED. BUT FROM THE DRIVER SEAT, YOU FOUND THE DIRT THIS TIME A LOT MORE COMPETITIVE TO RACE ON. DID THE BANKING HELP, AS WELL?
“Yeah, I don’t know a whole lot about dirt, other than my background. Inaudible.. from what I noticed was different was they added some calcium into the dirt to hold moisture in it a little bit better. Whether that was the cure or not, I’m not sure. But our daytime practice got pretty dusty at one point. I think the biggest win was moving it to a night race. It holds more moisture.. inaudible..
I don’t know what metrics led into that, but they were right in taking banking out of the bottom and adding it to the top. I think it was a really good race. I thought everything went great and I think we can improve it even further.”
YOU’VE BEEN ON A SINGLE-CAR TEAM FOR MOST OF YOUR CUP CAREER. WHAT IS IT LIKE HAVING A TEAMMATE THIS YEAR?
“It’s been great. It’s an adjustment for me. Like you said, I’ve been a single-car driver for my whole career. Just adjusting to that dynamic is not always easy. You’re learning personalities and the whole team isn’t centered around you. It’s around two cars. It’s helped me a lot to learn from Erik (Jones), Dave (Elenz) and the No. 43 team, who has had such good speed. They set a good expectation, which I really appreciate. The opportunity to know where your team can be is always so good. If they’re having a strong weekend, we can look at them and say ‘OK, this is where we need to get to’. I’m a very competitive person, but I also enjoy being a team player. I believe that together we can push each other to move Petty GMS forward. I’m enjoying having a teammate and having that dynamic. I can’t wait to see how we kind of grow in that together.”