YOU HAD THE TIRE ISSUE LAST WEEK AT KANSAS. WAS THERE ANYTHING THAT YOU LEARNED THIS WEEK ABOUT WHAT OCCURRED; AND IS THERE ANY CONCERN THIS WEEK WITH ANOTHER 1.5-MILE TRACK AND THE SAME LEFT SIDE TIRE?
“Yeah, that’s a good point about the tire being the same. I leave it up to the engineers. There’s nothing that I could do different. That was definitely the cleanest run that we had; probably the fastest pace that we had, being in the lead and running up front. But I don’t know if any of that really contributed to it. I think it’s just one of those things that everyone seemed to go through last weekend at some point in time.
Just fortunate that I could drive it back to pit road and not have any body damage, but we certainly had a lot of underbody damage that caused a loss of speed over the race. That was unfortunate. We didn’t do a great job keeping up with the track after we had our issues there with the left rear because it definitely took away a lot of downforce.”
NEXT WEEKEND IS THE COCA-COLA 600. IS THERE EVER A POINT IN THAT RACE WHERE YOU’RE LIKE ‘I WISH THIS RACE WAS OVER’ WHEN YOU’RE BEHIND THE WHEEL; AND HOW DO YOU HANDLE THAT AND STAY FOCUSED IN THE RACE?
“Honestly, not last year. I felt like last year was a game of runs. Obviously the No. 5 (Kyle Larson) was great all night and I felt like we were inching up on him each run; inching up and then we did take the lead at one point in Stage Three. So at that point, I thought the race was going pretty fast because I felt like we were constantly just trying to get a little bit better as the race went on. As soon as we took the lead, it was like ‘alright, we’ve got control of the race’. So, you’re trying to think about all of those things.
To answer your question, it goes by faster when you’re running well. If you’re not running well in that race, it’s definitely a really long race.”
THE CUP SERIES IS GOING TO GO TO GATEWAY. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE CUP CARS BEING THERE AND IS THERE ANYTHING YOU CAN TAKE AWAY FROM WAY BACK WHEN?
“There’s really not a ton I can take from when I race there because they repaved the track. The engine package for us is obviously going to be a lot different than what I raced there in the trucks. I feel like for me, it’s going to be all kind of a clean slate. I look towards a Martinsville (Speedway) or a Phoenix (Raceway) to kind of understand how the track is going to drive in these Next Gen cars. Probably more so Phoenix, but with longer straightaways. So, it might be like Martinsville on corner entry, at least into turn one.
I’m excited for it. I think our short track program has been really good this year. That’s not a short track, but it definitely kind of races like one.”
DO YOU ROLL IN HERE WITH KIND OF A DIFFERENT FEELING BECAUSE IT’S BIG MONEY AND NO POINTS ON THE LINE? DO YOU GUYS FEEL THE WAY FANS LOOK AT THIS RACE?
“Yeah, it definitely is a little weirder preparation for the week. It’s probably the least that I know about this race of any race every week. I feel like you get in a rhythm when you go to certain race tracks. You know how the stages are going to play out. You know how long the race is and you kind of plan all that in your head of what’s important. And then you’re also kind of worried about getting a good finish. I think at this race, you’re not as worried about getting a solid finish. You’re kind of just worried about winning it. That definitely brings a different preparation leading up to the week, just to think about what’s it going to take to win, instead of what’s it going to take to get myself in a position to win. You’re really just thinking about the qualifying format; you’re thinking about how do I maximize that to get on the pole.”
HAVING THE ALL-STAR RACE HERE AND HAVING A RACE HERE LATER THIS YEAR THAT IS PART OF THE PLAYOFFS – I KNOW A LOT CHANGES, BUT FROM A SIMULATION STANDPOINT AND FROM A DATA STANDPOINT, HOW MUCH WILL TEAMS AND MANUFACTURERS USE THIS WEEKEND AS PREPARATION FOR FUTURE RACES HERE?
“Yeah, it depends a lot on the weather when we come back in the fall - is it going to be 45 degrees? I think that alters your simulation quite a bit. I feel like you can get a baseline for travels and get a baseline for what the track content is and things like that. But really nothing really simulates the change in weather. I feel like that’s the biggest variable in a lot of this – figuring out if it’s going to be similar weather. Luckily, Sunday is kind of cooler and that might simulate more of what the fall is going to be like.”
YOU’RE RUNNING YOUR FIRST XFINITY SERIES RACES TOMORROW SINCE YOUR CHAMPIONSHIP IN 2017. HOW DID THAT ALL COME TOGETHER WITH YOUR HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS TEAMMATES AND WHY NOW AFTER FIVE YEARS?
“That’s a good question. It really came together just through Mr. Hendrick, Jeff (Gordon) and Chad (Knaus), and everyone at HendrickCars.com. They wanted to do this is and it was something that they saw was a benefit to us. They asked us who wanted to race and I was really adamant that I wanted to do as many as possible. I can only do five, but I’m going to do three as far as I know.
I think it’s good to get a feel for this place. I haven’t been here in awhile in a Xfinity car, like you said, and I feel like the Xfinity car is probably closer to the Cup car this year with the low downforce. So, maybe I can learn some things there; and ultimately just have some fun and try to go win a race. It’s going to be a scorcher, so hopefully I stay hydrated and don’t fall out of the seat.”