WE’RE GOING TO ANOTHER ROAD COURSE THIS WEEKEND, THE THIRD OF THE SEASON. OBVIOUSLY YOU EXCEL ON THESE TYPES OF LAYOUTS. THIS IS ONLY THE SECOND TIME AT ROAD AMERICA FOR THE CUP SERIES. TALK ABOUT YOUR MINDSET AND HOW MUCH YOU’RE LOOKING FORWARD TO GETTING TO WISCONSIN.
“Road America has always been one of my favorite race tracks in anything that I’ve driven over my career. I’ve been fortunate enough to race a lot of races there in different forms of open wheel racing; won a Champ Car race there. It’s a race track that is challenging and unique. There’s not a lot of race tracks, especially in North America, that are like Road America with the speed down the straightaways. You still have really big brake zones. There’s a lot of passing opportunities and a lot of areas to make mistakes. That’s something that’s, in a way, makes it still a true road course because there’s no run-off area, really. You go off the race track, you’re in gravel or grass. So you have to be pretty spot-on on the race track throughout the four miles.
It's a fun weekend. Knock on wood, the weather looks really good. I love the crowd there. The Wisconsin race fans, they pack that place in. It’s cool to have Cup going there as well now. We’ve had speed over the first two road courses; winning them in Xfinity. I think we can improve. That’s something we’ve been working hard on at Kaulig Racing. By no means do we think ‘OK, our road course program is set and we’re good to go’. We’ve been working hard to make our race cars faster. It’s going to be a tough field in both series. I’m pumped up to get there and hopefully have a strong weekend.”
IT’S BEEN REALLY HOT THE LAST FEW WEEKENDS AND YOU HAD A LITTLE SITUATION AT NASHVILLE. SO FIRST OFF, HOW ARE YOU DOING AND HOW HAVE YOU BEEN HEALING FROM THAT SITUATION?
“Obviously, it was really hot in Nashville. The Xfinity cars have always been really hot. I was actually OK, the only problem I had on Saturday was my foot got really hot. Going to the shop and looking at the race car, we think we know why. By no means was it cold inside the race car through the rest of cockpit; but really I was actually OK, it was just the fact that my throttle pedal was crazy hot. So when I got out of the race car, I was just trying to cool my feet down and get my shoes off. I was fine Sunday during the race, no issues. I’m feeling good, just rehydrating and getting ready for another long weekend.”
HOPEFULLY NO BLISTERS ON YOUR HEELS. THAT’S THE WORST FEELING ON A ROAD COURSE I WOULD IMAGINE.
“As we’ve all seen when I walk, I don’t really walk on my heels. I’ve never worn out a pair of shoes in the heels ever. Like I could probably resell all of my shoes from basically the middle of my foot, back, and make all my money back because I never touch the heel of my shoes. The heels have never been a problem. I don’t even wear booties in the car for my feet. It was actually just the pedal itself, so my toes and the top of my foot got really hot. But no blisters, it was all good.”
ON THE XFINITY SIDE, YOU’RE MAKING YOURSELF KNOWN AS A TITLE CONTENDER. YOU DID MENTION ABOUT WANTING TO IMPROVE ON SPEED ON THE ROAD COURSES. HOW ENCOURAGED ARE YOU ABOUT THE OVERALL PACKAGE AT KAULIG RACING?
“I think it’s one of those things where – obviously we’re leading the points, which is great. If we’re going to be brutally honest - if we had to go race Phoenix tomorrow in the championship, I don’t think we have a shot to win it. But with that said, we still have a good amount of time before the Playoffs start. Last year at this point, we were second in points; probably felt a little bit better about our speed. But because of that, with no practice, we were always afraid to really try anything to try and improve the race car. We kind of thought, ‘OK, we’re still pretty good, we don’t want to hurt that’. The great thing about where we’re at right now, is we know we need speed and all the men and women at Kaulig Racing are working hard trying different things at every race. Nashville was a race track where the year before, even though the finish showed we ran OK, we were actually really bad at. So to go back to Nashville this year, qualify second, be quickest in most of the practice and lead some laps – that was encouraging because we were definitely trying some new stuff. By no means were we the fastest car at the end of the race to go win it, so we definitely have a lot of room to improve. But we’re working hard on it.
As of this moment, are we the championship favorite? I don’t think so. I think you have to look at all of the JRM cars that have everyone beat. What Justin Allgaier did at Nashville, he put a whooping on us. So we definitely have some work to be done. But that’s what I love about this team – we’re working hard and we are improving. Maybe it’s not as quick as we want to be, but we’ll get there. We have time before the Playoffs start, so that’s what I love about it.”
KNOWNING THAT YOU WON IN 2013 AT ROAD AMERICA IN THE NASCAR XFINITY SERIES, CAN YOU REPEAT THE WIN IN THE XFINITY OR CUP RACE THIS WEEKEND?
“The last two years at Road America for Kaulig Racing, we’ve had really fast cars. We’ve just had a little bit of bad luck. I actually went back and watched the race last night to get ready and realized how fast we were there last year. We just had some mistakes on pit road that put us in the back of the field. And the way the strategy worked out, we didn’t have tires at the end of the race when a couple of those guys did. The previous year, we were the same way. I think we were leading and got the strategy wrong. So we’ve definitely had speed there. We’ve worked hard to try and improve it because just like every series, everyone is improving. It will be a challenge, but I definitely think we’ll have the speed to go win there, we just have to go execute. That’s what’s hard about Road America – because the race track is so long, you can use different strategies and you never really lose a lap. So if you play a strategy and it works out for you, it’s a big advantage. That’s what happened last year for a couple of those guys.
I have confidence that we can go there, be at our best and really have a shot to win this race. We just have to make sure we execute. That’s what it’s always about. It’s tough to get in the back of the field and try to drive through the field to get back to the front, which is what we had to do a lot last year. By the end of the race, I had used up the car, as well. On speed, I think we’ll be pretty good, we just have to make sure we execute.”
IS ROAD AMERICA ONE OF YOUR FAVORITE TRACKS?
“Road America is up there, for sure. What I love about it – as I said before, you have everything on that race track; long straightaways and really fast corners. The carousel is incredibly fast; turn one is incredibly fast. But you also have big brake zones, like into turn five into Canada Corner.
It’s easy to use up the tires there. It’s easy to make mistakes. But there’s also a lot of passing opportunities if you get in the back of the field. I love the race track. I think Xfinity always puts on a great race. I think with the Next Gen cars, they are really going to put on a great race in the Cup race on Sunday. I’m happy that I get to be a part of both.”
WILL WE SEE A RACE FINISH LIKE WE DID WITH AUSTIN CINDIRIC OR ROSS CHASTAIN AT ROAD AMERICA?
“(laughs) At the end of the day, I hope we’re battling for the win. That’s what makes it fun. Hopefully it’s a little bit different outcome from COTA with Ross (Chastain). But yeah, especially in the Cup Series, the top-20 can probably win the race if you get it right; maybe even top-25. That’s how difficult the Cup Series is. So it’s not like you can pick one or two guys and say ‘these are the guys I have to go race for the win’. Especially with this Next Gen car, we’ve seen every weekend a different team can hit a setup right and be really fast. We saw what Daniel Suarez and Chris Buescher did at Sonoma.
It’s going to be tough, but it would be fun to be battling those guys for the win, for sure.”
HOW MUCH CARRYOVER CAN THERE BE FROM SONOMA OR EVEN COTA TO ROAD AMERICA?
“I really hope it carries over more from COTA than Sonoma, for us (laughs). COTA, I thought the car was crazy fast. It was one of the most fun cars I’ve driven in my life. Sonoma was not so much of that. I would have to say that if I had to pick out of those two race tracks, it’s probably a little closer to COTA. Sonoma, it’s just tough because you just burn the tires off there. Even if your car is good, you burn the tires off there. It was really difficult to pass. That’s what was shocking at Sonoma with these Next Gen cars. In the past at Sonoma, I’ve been where I’ve gotten in the back of the field for some reason – it wasn’t like you blistered up through the field, but you could make passes. It was really tough to pass at Sonoma with these Next Gen cars. I think we see that at times. At certain race tracks, it’s great racing; and then you go to the next race track and you’re like ‘wow’… like Martinsville, nobody could pass there.
The speed of COTA and the way the race track kind of flows is closer to Road America. But I do say that Road America has a possibility about using the tires up. I’m still a bit confused sometimes on the race tracks that we go to with these wider tires, low profile tires – they don’t wear out as much as I expect them to and then sometimes they really do wear out. Like Sonoma, there was nothing I could do to keep the rear tires on the car. I would burn them off so quick.
I think we learned a lot from Sonoma of what we were trying to do that didn’t work. So kind of use what we learned at COTA, went to the simulator and felt pretty good about it. But we’ll see when we unload there on Saturday for the Cup cars and see where we’re at.”
WITH THE CUP CAR, WHAT’S IT LIKE FROM THE DRIVER’S POINT OF VIEW IN TERMS OF CONSISTENCY? WHAT’S IT LIKE ON A DRIVER WHEN YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE – MAYBE ONE WEEK YOU’RE ON TOP OF THE WORLD AND THE NEXT WEEK YOU CAN’T GET OUT OF 25TH.
“For me personally, it’s fun. Let’s be completely honest here – like in the past, especially with the old car when we were with the No. 47 car, we knew that with these types of races we could go run well. But you knew half of the time at a 1.5-mile race track - no matter what you did, you could be perfect that weekend and you’d probably run 20th just because those cars had been massaged so much, aero-wise. And the big teams knew so many tricks of what they could get through tech; what they could show the officials to get them looking in that area and know other areas that they could really cheat up and it would never be seen. So it was tough sometimes going to those race weekends and going ‘I hope at best we can run 18th’. With this Next Gen car now, your eyes are kind of wide open. Yeah there are some weekends that I’ve gotten in the car and you’re just terrible all weekend and it’s a struggle. But also, when we went to St. Louis – I had no practice, had never seen the place before. We got the car dialed in mid-race and we drove up through the field. I actually thought we had a top-five car by the end of the race. Even last week, we got the car right and we were getting to the edge of the top-10.
That makes it fun because you know if you hit the setup right – the two road courses are the perfect example of that. COTA, I started at the back and we were a top-two car all day, between me and Ross (Chastain). Sonoma, I was at best 11th or 12th. So it does make it fun because you know if your team executes and you get the setup right, you can go have a shot to win races or run upfront. I think what it is, is they’re so aero-sensitive of getting the nose right on the front, getting the rear right and getting everything to go along with that – it’s hard to hit the setup. So I think that’s why you see that inconsistency, but I think it makes it fun. All these teams are showing up to these races knowing they have a shot to do well if they get the setup right.”
WHAT’S IT MEAN TO YOU TO HAVE 10 OF KAULIG RACING’S 16 WINS IN THE XFINITY SERIES?
“Yeah, it’s special to me. I was very fortunate at the No. 47 to get their first Cup win and you get that banner hanging in there. To come to Kaulig Racing back in 2019, there were some pole banners hung, some stage wins banners, but no win banners. It was something that as I got to know Matt Kaulig, Chris Rice and all the men and women there – I really took pride of being like ‘OK, I hope I can help be a part of this organization and try to make it better’.
I go to the race track and the race shop – even at this stage in my career and life – probably with more anticipation and anxiety because I want to be at my best for this organization because I want to go win races. So to be able to see all of those banners and have a Cup win banner in there from Indy is really special. I love it. Whether I’m in the race car or out of the race car, I just want to make the race team better and hopefully I’m a small part of that.”
WITH NEW HAMPSHIRE COMING UP, YOU ONLY GO THERE ONE TIME A YEAR. WHAT OTHER TRACKS ARE YOU ABLE TO APPLY NOTES FROM TO NEW HAMPSHIRE?
“Loudon, we’ve been there enough – at least I have and a lot of these teams – that we kind of have an idea of what the race track is. I would say that the resin they put down there at times does change it a bit. So it makes it a little more difficult of trying to figure out what the race track is going to do. The resin is actually a lot more consistent than the PJ-1 is, so it’s a little easier. But it still throws that curve ball into the race track.
What’s it like compared to other race tracks? I think you can look at a place like Martinsville – if the car was turning good there and had good grip, you can apply it a bit. But it is unique. It’s probably actually a little bit like St. Louis too, even though the straightaways are a little bit longer at St. Louis. But it’s its own race track.
If you’re asking about race tracks that maybe we only go to once and we should only go to once, I think there’s open possibilities as long as you have other race tracks that you could put on the schedule and add. That’s what’s great about NASCAR and where it’s at right now. With the scheduling, they do have options of maybe trying a new race track and we’ve seen that. Moving down the future, I think there are great possibilities of maybe only going to a race track once and you add another different city that we haven’t been to and you go to. Fortunately, I don’t have to worry about that. I just drive at the race tracks that they tell us to drive at.
Loudon, I will always say – when your car is right, I’ve always enjoyed that race track. When it’s wrong, it’s one of the hardest and most difficult race tracks because you can’t do anything about it and you seem like you’re always in the way. I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum there, so hopefully we’re on the good end in a couple of weeks.”
YOU HAD SOME ISSUES WITH HEAT AT NASHVILLE. ARE THERE ANY CHANGES THAT CAN BE MADE TO HELP WITH THAT, EITHER THIS WEEKEND AT ROAD AMERICA OR AT THE NEXT EXPECTED HOT RACE AT ATLANTA?
“The Xfinity car – I don’t honestly know why, but they’re just hot. The cars themselves, whether the right-side window is in or the right-side window is out, they’re just hot. That’s something that during these hot races, you just have to deal with it. I’ve always said that the Xfinity cars are a good bit hotter than the Cup cars. The Cup cars when we first started testing before they started putting the vents and everything into the car, they were crazy hot. But since then, they haven’t been too bad.
The Xfinity cars are just hot and you know that getting into the races that they’re going to hot. Our issue at Nashville I think we figured out, as to why it was extremely hot in the footbox. So I’m not as worried about it going to Atlanta. But yeah, during these summer races, you just have to prepare yourself. Kaulig Racing does a lot with cooling. We have the cool shirt that we all wear and that helps a huge amount. The rest of it, you just try to train for, hydrate and be ready.”