COMING INTO DOVER, FIRST LAPS, NEW CAR, JUST WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND AS YOU GET READY TO PRACTICE AND QUALIFY HERE?
“Nerves. This place is intimidating. Walking in across the crossover bridge is a good reminder for how hard this place is, especially with this new car. I’m nervous. That’s what I feel right now. I feel prepared, but just the unknowns of it has the potential to be really volatile behind the wheel with the set up.”
I TALKED TO JUSTIN MARKS, YOUR BOSS, LAST WEEK. HE SAID THE FIRST JOB HE’S HAD IS TO CONVINCE YOU THAT YOU’RE NOT RACING FOR YOUR JOB ANYMORE, THAT YOU ARE SECURE AND DON’T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT EVERY LAP BEING YOUR LAST. HE SAID HE THINKS HE HAS MADE PROGRESS THERE. HE SAID HIS NEXT JOB IS TO CONVINCE YOU THAT YOU ARE AN ELITE DRIVER IN THIS SERIES AND ARE GOING TO BE RUNNING UP FRONT FROM NOW ON. HOW FAR ALONG IN THAT PROCESS IS HE?
“I heard that interview and I realize some of the things I say or really what I think don’t come across as the most confidence building. I walk in here as the guy who would be here all week and the last time I sat up here was with the Delaware Office of Highway Safety and our Buckle Up, Protect your Melon campaign. That’s the kind of thoughts I have walking in here. Being up here all week, like Delaware people think I live here. I’d be here for the state fair, I’d be here for the week leading up to the race and that’s not just the normal NASCAR schedule. I’ll be honest, there is more work to be done and when I pull on track, I still feel like I am the same guy that was in Johnny’s (Davis) four car and this weekend funded most of our season just with that sponsorship. I would say that point blank there is still a lot of work to be done and Justin (Marks) is helping me with that. The group that I have around me is helping me with that and it’s not something that is going to get fixed overnight. I don’t know that it necessarily has to. I think keeping some of that natural feeling that every part of this is really cool. I know I should expect somethings, but also, it’s ok to not expect all the stuff either.”
IS THERE ANY DIFFERENCE BEING A TWO TIME WINNER VERSUS BEING A ONE TIME WINNER?
“Oh yeah (laughing). Everything. It’s twice as sweet, right? That was the phrase we ran with. It’s just unbelievable because Talladega was just not expected. COTA, yes, we felt like we had a good car, and we did everything right. Got wild at the end, but Talladega we took the white flag, and I unwrapped my thumbs from the wheel ready to crash. Just hold your thumbs up and ready to plug the wall or be backwards in the grass. The unexpectedness of it caught me off guard and a lot of us off guard, but winning in the Cup Series I had no idea now when my last one will be and a month ago, I didn’t know if I would ever win. The grind doesn’t stop with two wins. We come to Dover and put ourselves in position to do it again.”
WHAT, IF ANYTHING, ARE YOU DOING OR NOTICING THAT YOU ARE DOING BEHIND THE WHEEL THAT MIGHT BE DIFFERENT THIS YEAR WITH THE EQUIPMENT THAT YOU’RE IN THAN WHAT YOU FELT ANY OTHER TIME IN YOUR CAREER?
“Driving this car is totally different. I mean I’ve had to re-learn so many things. I mean down to shifting and how the sequential works versus the H pattern. The only thing that is the same for me in the car is my seat, my bucket, my insert, and my steering wheel. Literally, everything else is different. So, all the inputs are different. Everything that the car tells me comes through in a different way. The chassis’ completely different. It’s just everything about my driving is evolving. It’s always evolving as a racecar driver. Every racecar driver evolves every lap around the track and for me I’ve never ran the perfect lap, and I don’t think that I ever will. I will keep working to be as close as I can to that. It’s evolving and this car I don’t know what it requires, but I know that I don’t hustle the car like I used to. I don’t expect to go out here at Dover and that to be any different.”
ROSS, YOU’VE GOT PITBULL ON THE CAR THIS WEEK. CURIOUS HOW MUCH MORE PRESSURE IS THERE TO PERFORM WITH YOUR BOSS ON THE CAR?
“Mr. Worldwide. From the outside I saw Trackhouse last year and knew Justin (Marks) but didn’t really know anything else about it. To get fully involved in it and to be on calls with Armando (Pitbull) it’s wild. I mean he’s got so much going on in his life, in his career and his tours. He loves NASCAR. He loves what Trackhouse is doing and how he can tie together his fanbase with ours and there’s a lot of overlap. There’s also a lot of overlap that people don’t even know. Fans on both sides of him or us, we share a lot of the same stuff. Now, with this Can’t Stop Us Now tour that’s going to help tie all of this together. It’s going to really line up with a lot of race markets and people can see both sides. My memaw wants to go to the concert whenever it comes to Estero, Florida, like in Ft. Myers. She is on me this week like I want to go. I got to either get them some tickets or something. End of the year in October, she calls me like I saw this on Facebook, and I want to go. That’s the perfect example of my grandmother doesn’t even know one of his songs and I asked here are you sure. She’s like no, but he’s your owner and I want to support him, and I want to learn about him. Now, we will see after the concert what our thoughts are, but she is going to go experience it. I think that’s awesome and if you’ve ever been to one of his concerts, the music is one thing but for me between songs his messaging and his delivery of motivation one and the way he excites a crowd, but then spins in how great this country is and the messaging he has for tens of thousands of people it just makes you want to run through a brick wall. Having him on the car makes me want to go fight Miles the Monster. You want to do good.”
BOTH OF YOUR WINS THIS YEAR HAVE CAME WITH LAST LAP PASSES. HOW IMPORTANT HAS IT BEEN TO KIND OF MAINTAIN BEING THERE AT THE END AND MAINTAINING CONFIDENCE?
“Two years ago, I did not win either of those races, because I made aggressive moves and either cycled myself at Talladega back to 15th or at COTA I wheel hopped and went off the track or crashed into somebody or spun myself. Two years ago, driving the 10 car in Xfinity and I don’t win either one of those races. It’s all about being there at the end. There were opportunities in both of those races to take ourselves out and it didn’t happen. Now there have been other races this year that small mistakes added up to us not winning and we had the same opportunity to. I’m not perfect. I’m human. There’s mistakes and we’ve had a great start to the season and stats look great, but there’s mistakes in there that I’ve also learned from this year. Continuing to evolve that is tough. I mean this is the best group of racecar drivers in the world, in my opinion. Any mistake and they exploit that.”
YOU SAID LAST WEEK THAT YOUR WATERMELONS WERE ON THEIR LAST LEGS, RIGHT? HOW MANY DO YOU HAVE THIS WEEK AND DO YOU GO TO THE GROCERY STORE AND DO YOU FEEL ONE FOR THE PERFECT THROW? IS THERE A CERTAIN ONE THAT SMASHES BETTER THAN THE OTHER?
“Well, yeah. The one we were able to bust at Talladega we bought the week after COTA. It was on its last, we knew we saw it. Roy, our truck driver, who gets them; him and his wife go out and it’s tough sometimes but there’s watermelons in the stores year round now. That’s what is so great about America and agriculture right now, is no matter where you live there’s no watermelons grown and being harvested in Alabama last week, but there’s watermelons in the grocery stores. That’s not always been the case. Some of us in the room maybe remember those days, back in the day. That’s an old joke (laughing), I’m sorry. Roy’s learned to pick a good one and it’s three easy things; look, lift and turn. You look at it, it should be symmetrical. Lift, it should be heavy for it’s weight. They’re 92 percent water and the bottom should be yellow. He’s done a great job, but it’s been a bit of inexact science and I hope that soon we’ll have a better way to have better product. We’re working on that.”
“We have one in the hauler. That’s more of a motivational piece and that’s the one that we bust. They bring that one out. Other times my dad had brought two from our farm. We are harvesting south Florida, Florida watermelons. Our farm is actively harvesting right now, so he had two. He brought his motorhome up and had them. We ended up not even busting them. He sent one home with a buddy, and we ate one after the race. We didn’t even bust them, we just cut them open. We won the Xfinity race at Daytona a few years ago, I think we busted probably 30. I mean, all night after that race just busting them all over the infield with people. I try to, if we have extras, let other people bust them because that’s cool. Everybody knows what the means. That means that we won. Sunday night, early into Monday morning, there is a video of some of my buddies busting one open that I’m just watching. That’s really cool.”
“I’ve autographed my fair share of watermelons!”