BEING A BORN AND BRED HERE IN KIND OF THE CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA AREA, TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT JUST, I KNOW SOMETIMES WE REFLECT ON YOUR MEMORIES ON COMING TO THIS RACE, WHAT DOES THIS COCA-COLA 600 MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND MEAN TO YOU?
“It means a lot. First of all being able to be home, racing in our backyard it’s a 40-minute drive from the house over here, which is always great. Then you have so many friends and family that get to come see what you do and be a part of the weekend is always special. Charlotte Motor Speedway to me is so much of my life was started and created here. So many special things that mean so much. I mean first time ever making a lap in a racecar was on the track right outside the jumbotron back there on the backstretch, the little quarter mile in a bandolero. From that moment whatever is in the blood, it lit up and knew I was in love with racing cars. A few years later I was here for the Summer Shootout, and we parked beside a family called the Cary family that had driven down from Washington state. I think I was 13 or 14 and they had a daughter that was 13 or 14 who is now my wife. Met my wife here at this track when we were little and have got to bring my kids now. So, this is a very special place. The only thing is I haven’t got to victory lane in the big cars. I’ve won everything. I’ve won at the dirt track. I’ve won at the little track. I’m ready for my shot here in the big victory lane.”
JUST TALK TO US ABOUT THE NEW TEAM. DO YOU FEEL YOU’VE GOTTEN A CHANCE TO GET ACCLIMATED, GET A GOOD RAPOR WITH YOUR CREW CHIEF? JUST TALK ABOUT HOW COMFORTABLE YOU’VE GOTTEN A CHANCE TO GET WITH YOUR NEW TEAM.
“Yeah, we’re certainly growing. I think I underestimated a little bit of how much not having practice with the new team was going to be harder than I expected. My first four years with Germain, we were able to grow a lot. Those practice sessions and time at tests you’re able to grow so much with your communication. Getting things going this year and just kind of getting that marriage between Jerame (Donley) and I and our engineers and our specific 42 team, has taken a little bit longer. We’ve been able to capitalize on a lot of the help from GM and Chevrolet being in the simulator together. Those moments that we’ve had to, even though it’s a computer simulation, we’re able to work on our dialogue. I’m able to take time and have a little bit longer discussion about what I’m looking for, why I want that and why I say certain things and what that might mean compared to what he hears. Those things have been taking leaps and bounds, and our consistency and our speed has been growing with that. So, it’s been very exciting and we’re putting in four to eight hours a week together on simulators after racing. We all want it on our 42 team. We’ve got a lot of young, hungry guys. It’s part of maturing together that we are growing in and it’s coming together nicely and we’re working on getting to the speed of our teammate. Erik (Jones) has had a good start to the year, and we want to get to where they are and hopefully push them a little bit further too. I think we are getting really close. Even though we didn’t have the result last week at the Open, we were right there on those guys racing with them and the 3 and the 8 kind of our technical alliance cars. That’s where we want to be is around those guys and pushing them forward too. We’re moving the right direction. Our team is really, really grinding hard and getting everything, we can. These qualifying practice days are it is a mad house for us. You know you get 15 minutes on track. You’ve got about five minutes to debrief and make changes and then you go run one lap that’s your fastest lap all weekend and it’s just super quick. A lot of things happen, so we’re learning how to make it through today on these Saturdays and have a good debrief to lead into a good Sunday. Those things just take time and we’re working hard. We’re not satisfied until we’re winning races.”
WHAT’S LIFE LIKE AT GMS RACING COMPARED TO WHAT YOU THOUGHT MAYBE GOING IN TO WHAT YOU’VE ACTUALLY ENCOUNTERED?
“At Petty GMS so much has changed, because it was GMS and it was just three or four of us when we came here for the initial ROVAL test. Those guys put in so many hours just to get that one car to the track. Then a couple of weeks later we’re Petty GMS, two car team. Then, trying to get those two cars and two teams to the track and everybody is new and hiring people. We’re so fresh, especially my team. My lead engineer is in a new role for the first time. My crew chief is a first time crew chief. I’m probably myself and the car chief have the most experience doing the job that we’re doing at where we’re at. The good thing is with our team is we’re all young and hungry and motivated. We won’t take where we are at now and not progress. It’s been fun, it’s been fun being a part of the energy in this team. Maury Gallagher gives us everything we need to go out and race. Mike Beam is a great leader between the teams to make sure that we’re focused on the thing that matters and that’s gaining speed and what do we need to do to get faster each week.”
WE’RE AT TIME OF YEAR WHERE EVERYBODY’S KIND OF LOOKING AHEAD INTO NEXT YEAR A LITTLE BIT, YOU’RE DEAL WITH GMS, ARE YOU GOING TO BE BACK THERE NEXT YEAR?
“I hope so. We’re still talking and there’s a lot of things that we have to kind of go through behind the scenes as far as conversations, but I think everybody is fairly happy with the progress of what’s going on. My focus is on me and doing my job and leaving no excuse to be back. Hopefully it all shakes out. I really love the people that I am working with and the opportunity that I’m getting. Results always help that too.”
I KNOW IN THE PAST YOU’VE TALKED ABOUT HOW THE STRUGGLES YOU’VE HAD AND TRYING TO KEEP YOURSELF GOING. WHERE ARE YOU RIGHT NOW? WE’RE HALFWAY THROUGH THE SEASON, YOU’RE KIND OF GETTING ACCLIMATED AS A FULL-TIME DRIVER AGAIN.
“First of all, I like that question. I appreciate asking deep, deep questions. Me personally, I think I’ve kind of gone up and down a little bit throughout this year. I think at the beginning of the year, I kind of lost a little bit of focus of just handling things I can control, not worrying about results and just focusing and resetting every week on the things that I need to work on. I have a real close friend who’s pretty much my personal trainer and driver coach and therapist each week. I think it’s a good idea for everyone to have one of those. It’s Blake Koch. Him and I work every week, whether he’s putting things in perspective or being honest with me about what we need to work on. We spend a lot of time together focusing on me being the best driver that I can. I have fallen in love with the work of what I do and that’s become really fun for me and making it joyful to show up to the racetrack every week focused on things that I can improve on, and not so worried about the results of what the board says. I know as long as I put in the hard work and I’m enjoying what I’m doing the results will come. It’s starting to show and we’re getting faster and faster each week. For me, I am in a good place and I’m excited to be doing what I’m doing.”
WE ARE HALFWAY THROUGH THE REGULAR SEASON NOW, YOU’VE ALREADY MENTIONED THAT YOUR RESULTS DON’T MEAN ANYTHING TO YOU AT ALL, BUT WHERE I THINK YOU’RE 26TH IN POINTS RIGHT NOW AND WE HAVE THE 13 RACES LEFT. WHERE DO YOU WANT TO BE COME PLAYOFF TIME IF YOU CAN’T WIN? WHAT’S IT GOING TO TAKE FOR YOU TO FEEL LIKE YOU’VE BEEN SUCCESSFUL THE SECOND HALF OF THE REGULAR SEASON?
“I wouldn’t say the results don’t matter anything to me, but I try not to make them the main focus of my week or weekend. This sport can be very depressing because all we really want to do is win each week. You’ve got to focus on the things that you can improve on. One of the things I do is I don’t look at points, so you’re the one kind of informing me on that. I just want to see where we want to improve. We’ve got to show obvious improvement. If we’re running on track 20th to 24th right now, I hope by the second half of the season we’re running 18th to 14th, somewhere in that range. You want to see improvement. I want to continue to get better as a team and make sure our communication, my crew chief and I we feel better about how we communicate the second part of the year than we are right now. I think we’ve just got to focus on growth. We are a very new team. There’s obviously high expectations from what Erik’s (Jones) done. He’s done such a good job, him and Dave (Elenz). Those guys have a lot of experience, Dave from the Xfinity side winning championships and his whole team has been together, so we’re trying to manage that with building a new core of guys with the 42 team and just focus on growth. I know that’s what our owner and Mike Beam want to see out of us. We’re getting there and we’re progressing. We have had some really high moments at Bristol and some of these short tracks. Our obvious place needs to be the mile and a half's where we just need to gain speed. I really feel like our communication is getting to a point where I’m starting to get the things I need to feel inside the car. I’m a driver who is aggressive my nature when given a car that I feel like I can drive to the level of aggressiveness I want to. If not, I’m going to make sure I bring the car home and get us a good finish. Sometimes that doesn’t always equate to the high highs all the time, but I know when we get to where I’m hitting the car where I feel what I want to feel, we’re going to be very aggressive and go to the front. I’m looking forward to those moments.”