Your paint scheme this weekend is one that is very special to you, personally. Talk about what it means to race it.
“For me, I’m pretty pumped up about this one. I’ve been around the garage since I was a little kid and this was the paint scheme I kind of grew up around. Jason drove it several times and he was always a big hero of mine. I’ve always had the (initials) JL on the back of my helmets ever since I’ve had them painted. Obviously, he was always my hero and I always try to honor him as much as I can, whenever I can. Now, seeing his paint scheme in the shop with my name on it was actually surreal because I remember when I was a little kid and just loving to see this car, and now I get to drive it. It’s a pretty surreal feeling, for sure.”
What was it about Jason Leffler that led you to be such a fan of his?
“Jason was always a hard-nosed racer, like you didn’t mess with him on the track. He had the big mohawk and he was just a cool guy to root for. I guess he was always one of my heroes. I got to meet him a few times when I was a kid and he was always really down to earth. He was always an aggressive driver and he came from a background a lot like me, so he was always a guy I looked up to. He was the first driver to win a race for Haas CNC Racing, so that was a huge deal at Nashville. So he was always my guy.”
Darlington is one of the trickiest tracks in the Cup Series. How do you approach racing on “The Track Too Tough To Tame?”
“I would say Darlington is one track that I always look forward to. It’s one of those races that every driver looks forward to because of the challenge behind it and how much you can do as a driver. There are so many different lanes you can work and you’re running right up against the wall. It’s just a driver’s racetrack and I feel there’s not one guy who doesn’t feel excited when they hear Darlington is coming up.”
Heading to your 12th race, now, in the NextGen car, what are your thoughts about its evolution this season?
“We’ve been to about every single kind of track with the new car, now – superspeedways, short tracks, the mile-and-a-halfs. So we have a good idea now, we have a bigger notebook than we had. Now, it’s just kind of putting it all together and figuring out what you need in practice, in qualifying and the race. We’ve had weekends where we’ve gotten adjustments right. It’s just a matter of doing it everywhere.”
What’s been your biggest surprise of the season so far?
“I would honestly say the mile-and-a-halfs, just aero-wise how the cars have handled on those tracks. You don’t have a lot of security or the downforce you’d want, which has made the cars a little edgy to drive. But I think it’s been pretty entertaining for the fans, and it seems like there’s a lot more in the driver’s hands.”