So far this season, we’ve raced on every style of track NASCAR has to offer, with the exception of Dover – a high-banked, high-speed, 1-mile concrete oval. What are the challenges that you’ll face at Dover?
“Dover is just a unique animal of its own just because of the fact it has those elevation changes and it has a lot of speed. Dover is going to be one of the most difficult places we go to in order to just say, ‘OK, this is what we’ve got to do from a driving standpoint to really be up to speed.’ The corners are really long, you have a huge compression when you go down the hill and the car sets, then you get back on the throttle and it shoots you back up out of the hill. It’s a physically demanding racetrack and it’s a racetrack where you definitely get the biggest sensation of speed of anywhere we go because of the way it compresses you down into the banking and tosses you up out of it.”
When you roll onto the track at Dover, can you attack it the same way you always have, or do you need to creep up on it to better understand what its limits are on those high banks?
“We’ve been pretty methodical in our approach after California, where we backed the thing into the fence on the first lap. Ever since that race, we’ve been pretty methodical in, let’s dot our I’s and cross our T’s and make sure that we understand what we have and make the right changes and be ready for the race, instead of working on the car all night and trying to fix it. I think that kind of set the tone and it’s been a steady progression from there.”
Has the new 18-inch tire changed the way the car feels? More specifically, with less sidewall, is there lees feedback as to when the car is on the edge of spinning out, and is that especially noticeable at a place like Dover?
“I haven’t really felt that, and I think the car in general gives you a little less feedback, especially at the braking tracks. You don’t feel the car as much through the pedal as you used to with the old car. But it definitely does not give you as much feedback, whether that’s the tire or the stiffness of the suspension and everything being much stiffer than we used to race, I don’t know. There’s less feedback given to me through my feet and my hands than there was before. From a feel standpoint, you still feel the same things from your butt and that side of things, but it’s a different type of sensation than it used to be.”
We’re only at Dover once this year. Do you see that as a good thing, as it makes that race more of a must-see event and helps diversify the entire schedule even more by allowing for new venues to come on the scene?
“For me, it’s kind of both ways. Obviously, the schedule is good now. We have a mixture of different racetracks in different places and you have to keep the schedule mixed up. But, unfortunately, it took a lot of the places where we run really well away, too.”
You have three NASCAR Cup Series wins at Dover and 22 top-10s. Is there something specific about Dover that augments your driving style?
“Dover is a racetrack that everything about it is unique. The concrete, itself, all the way around the racetrack, is unique. Dover is a racetrack where you can get away with being aggressive every single lap. You have to drive the car as hard as it will go every single lap, and that’s hard to do there because there are all the little bumps that come with the concrete, the change of elevation as you go in and off the corners, and all the banking in the corners – it’s just a really, really fast racetrack. It’s also a very physical racetrack just because of all the G’s and the bouncing and everything that comes with driving around Dover. It’s a racetrack where you have to have your hands gripping on the steering wheel and gritting your teeth all at the same time in order to go fast every single lap. When your car’s off, there’s just nowhere to hide there. You wind up going a lap down, probably two laps down, because you pit early and then the caution comes out. It’s a beast of a racetrack and there’s a reason they call it the Monster Mile because you can get yourself in trouble really quick.”
Dover has a very unique trophy. It’s the track mascot, Miles the Monster, and he’s got the winning car held in the air. Is it one of the sport’s best trophies?
“My kids love Miles. There are so many racetracks that have terrible trophies – the plastic trophies – I feel like they smash up and I’ll take them home and Keelan will be like, ‘Man, Dad, that’s a terrible trophy.’ That is not the case at Dover. They have a very unique trophy that is easily known as to what racetrack it came from and that’s what every racetrack needs.”