AUSTIN, WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING TO LEARN HERE RUNNING BOTH RACES AND HOW EXCITED ARE YOU TO GET ON THE RACETRACK TODAY?
“I’m always looking forward to anytime you get extra time at a road course. For us, it has been really helpful over the last couple of years getting more laps. I feel like early in my career I didn’t do a lot of this, and I wish I had. It’s a lot of fun getting to go out there and run these trucks. Thankful for the opportunity from Tyler Young and we’ll just go have some fun with it.”
AFTER THIS RACE WE GET OUR ONE AND ONLY BREAK OF THE SEASON. YOUR THOUGHTS ON JUST A WEEK BREAK FOR A SEASON THAT STARTS IN FEBRUARY AND ENDS IN NOVEMBER.
“What a grind. I’m looking forward to the off weekend. I’ve got my vacation planned and my grandfather is already on me about getting back to work. I was like, hey I’m taking this one off weekend. I’m going to get home Sunday, well probably Monday morning very early and then Tuesday I’ll be flying to the beach and will stay there until Sunday and then get refocused again going back the next week. It will be nice to not have to worry about going to the track this coming weekend. Our schedule’s already probably one of the most brutal in sports and then you took away two of our off weekends, it makes it pretty tough. That’s what we are here to do.”
AFTER THE BREAK WE GO TO NASHVILLE. LAST YEAR, THERE WERE A LOT OF DRIVERS THAT JUST THINK THAT WE WERE NOT GOING TO SEE THE KIND OF RACE WE SAW. WERE YOU PLEASANTLY SURPRISED AT HOW WELL THAT TRACK RACED?
“Yeah, I think so. I think what they did with the, they used something a little different it wasn’t just straight PJ1 or anything, they kind of ran the track in with the tire dragon and did some different stuff. I thought it was a pretty impressive race. I felt like guys were very underestimating what that track could do on the braking side of things. Everybody brought too small of a brake package, and we were blowing brake rotors. So, this year should be a little different. They will be more prepared. I think you will see another good race for sure.”
WITH THE NEXT GEN CAR, WHAT DIFFERENCE WILL THAT MAKE? WILL IT MAKE FOR A BETTER RACE ON TOP OF WHAT YOU WERE JUST TALKING ABOUT OR NOT?
“It could. It’s funny. The race began everybody running the top I feel like, and it moves back down to the bottom by the end of it. I don’t know what to expect. That place is kind of round the bottom is the fastest lane, but if we can get the top worked in it would be nice.”
I WOULD IMAGINE DRIVING THE TRUCK VERSUS THE NEXT GEN CAR IS QUITE DIFFERENT. IS THERE ANYTHING THAT YOU ARE THINKING YOU MIGHT BE ABLE TO LEARN FROM THE TRUCK RACE THAT YOU CAN CARRY FORWARD TO THE CUP RACE?
“I think visually is the biggest thing. I’m looking forward to seeing the track and every time, you know you only come here once a year, so every corner has a little something different. This is the old configuration that we’re kind of used to. Last couple years been working on that snake section through there kind of down the drag strip. Now I think the biggest advantage is just, you know when you have a 15-minute Cup practice you’ve got to be on your game from the drop of the time limit. For me, this is just more about visually getting my marks back and having fun. I’ll definitely learn something about the track today that I’ll take into tomorrow. The driving style will definitely be a lot different with shifting, will be the biggest thing, not having to worry as much about wheel hop.”
I WAS TOLD THAT THE DRIVERS KIND OF GOT WITH NASCAR AND THE TRACK AND THE TURTLES HAVE BEEN REMOVED, OR BUMPS IN TURN 4. ARE YOU AWARE OF THAT AND HOW WILL THAT AFFECT THE RACING?
“I just don’t think you will get the good pictures that you’ve gotten in years past. It will be easier on the driver’s back. With this car it’s just so brutal when we are on this shock stops that it probably wasn’t going to work out. It was something that the drivers definitely got to try to get ahead of coming here. I think, I was really proud of NASCAR for getting that changed. It was a good communication between us and NASCAR.”
DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU ARE IN A MUST WIN IN CUP TO MAKE THE PLAYOFFS?
“I do. I mean, I think so. I don’t think mathematically it’s not hard at all for us to get into the playoffs if there’s no more new winners. I think we are in a place where we can point our way in. I think there are going to be more winners and we need to be one of them.”
ALONG THOSE LINES, IS THERE ANY FRUSTRATION IN THE FACT THAT YOU’VE HAD MORE OPPORTUNITY TO WIN IN THE FIRST 15 RACES THAN YOU HAD ALL OF LAST YEAR BUT IT JUST HASN’T HAPPENED?
“I think so. I mean, not so much frustration. Just when is it going to happen. I feel like I’ve got a real positive mindset in that our time will come. The Good Lord has blessed us, like you said, with a bunch of opportunities this year. Charlotte, I could not sleep the next night. All week it ate away at me because we were so close and I tried to think of all the scenarios, played Monday morning QB with myself all night long. Eventually, you just have to let that go out of your mind and I did. I feel good about it. I gave it everything I had. Those opportunities don’t happen very often to win a Coke 600 and I felt like we were really close doing it for a second time.”
THEY SAY IT’S THE GAME OF INCHES, WORLD OF INCHES. MAYBE, WHAT, EIGHT INCHES OR SIX?
“Yeah, for sure. Even that I think I was more concerned with, could I have done anything different to not get loose in the center of the corner. I drove in there pretty darn deep, and I thought it was a good save, but I was kind of looking both ways because I had cars coming at me pretty fast. I didn’t know the fourth car was out there. I think the (Ross) Chastain thing is what upset it for us really. Him getting to the right rear of (Kyle) Larson because I thought we were three wide so I felt like I was going to get given a little bit of room there. I mean he couldn’t of course, so that’s the thing that got me. I couldn’t tell that he was left front to his right on the right rear quarter.”
OUR NEXT ROAD RACE IS ROAD AMERICA. COTA VASTLY DIFFERENT THAN SONOMA. ROAD AMERICA IS VASTLY DIFFERENT THAN MAYBE ANYTHING THAT WE’VE GOT. HOW MUCH DO YOU LIKE RACING THERE AND WHAT’S IT LIKE TO JUST RUN ON A COURSE THAT LONG?
“Road America is multiple times where you can mess up in a lap. It is cool to put together a lap there, because you know you mentally held it together for a long period of time. You can kind of find speed where a second is not far off at all at Road America. You can figure out a second there, which is pretty cool because not many places we go to you can say that.”
ESPN MADE AN INCREDIBLE BID FOR F1 TO GET THEIR TV RIGHTS AND MOST OF THAT WAS BASED ON THE SHOW THAT FOLLOWS THE F1 DRIVERS AROUND. YOU’VE GOT YOUR LIFE IN THE FAST LANE; WE’VE GOT SOME OTHER STUFF THAT’S COMING OUT. TALK ABOUT THAT EXPERIENCE AND IF YOU THINK WE’RE BEHIND THE GAME ON PROMOTING NASCAR. WE USED TO DO THIS 10 – 15 YEARS AGO, BUT IN THOSE TYPES OF REALITY STYLE SHOWS, ARE WE GOING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION AND WHAT WILL THIS DO FOR THE SPORT?
“I think any publicity is good publicity in certain aspects for our sport. I think that, yeah, getting into the lives of some of the drivers is key. What we do is not natural for anyone. The schedule, the travel, the lifestyles we live is just interesting. I’ve kind of in a way thought the whole time, why is there not more on what we do. It is interesting. I mean, we live inside this bubble where we feel like we are the main attraction each and every weekend and we are when we are in this town. There are other things that go one outside of this garage and it’s cool to get to those people that might not be tuning in on a regular basis on the weekends and try to fire them up about the sport and promote it in anyway. I think NASCAR has a really good trajectory right now. I think it’s very positive for our sport to reach other avenues. It was a grind for eight weeks for me and its still kind of lingering on. I’m still doing interviews for the show. It’s going to be cool. I’m too nervous to watch it. I’ve already been getting episodes and checking them out. I’ve heard good things and it looks pretty good.”
YESTERDAY, WE MET WITH STEVE PHELPS AND HE TALKED ABOUT OVERALL EVERY RACE WE HAVE HAD HAS BEEN GOOD, WITH MAYBE THE EXCEPTION OF ONE. DO YOU FEEL THAT WAY AND WHEN WE ARE TALKING ABOUT CHANGES IN THE SPORT, HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT HOW NASCAR HAS BEEN OPEN TO THOSE CHANGES?
“I think it’s good. Change is fun for fans. It’s sometimes frustrating for competitors, but in the end, we are here for the fans. I think it’s been good, and we have been very fluid. I mean going back to your thing about F1, their Netflix series definitely helped their sport, because if you look at any given weekend our racing, we have like 30 cars on the lead lap last week at St. Louis. You don’t see that in an F1 race. After the race starts, it’s kind of like there’s two people you’re talking about strategy wise, sometimes. I think that the most intriguing part to me is just their strategy because they have three different compounds of tires. Past that, our racing is the best racing in the world. I’ll put it up against anything. We complain about it when it’s good, because there’s no other form of motorsport that races like we do. That’s just my opinion.”