WE’VE SEEN A LOT OF DRIVERS SHUFFLING THE PAST COUPLE OF WEEKS. DO YOU THINK IT’S GOING TO BE COMMON NOW THAT WE’RE GOING TO SEE DRIVERS KIND OF NEGOTIATE WELL PAST THEIR CONTRACTS; OR IS THAT AN ANOMALY?
“I think it’s just kind of an anomaly. Tyler (Reddick) is obviously super talented and I think he has a lot of leverage with winning and things like that. But I don’t know.. I don’t think that will be common. It happened with Kevin (Harvick) way back before I was racing, but watched it happen. I just think it’s the way it worked out with that situation.”
CAN YOU SUM UP THE EXPERIENCE AT SLINGER NATIONALS? IT’S JUST ANOTHER WEEK WHERE YOU WIN DURING THE WEEK, SO DO YOU COME INTO THE CUP WEEKEND WITH ANY MORE OF A SPRING IN YOUR STEP AFTER WINNING A SHORT TRACK RACE?
“Yeah, that’s a great question. I had a great time at Slinger. I had never been to that race, but I’ve heard a lot about it and watched videos. Matt Kenseth has won it eight times. Kyle Busch has won it once. The only reason I know that stuff is because it’s on the trophy, so that was cool (laughs).
I enjoyed it. I’ve raced a lot more this year and I’ve loved what its done for just the use of my time. I can be back home trying to prepare for a race as much as I can, but being out at the race track is just fun. I didn’t realize how much I enjoy doing that during the week. It’s tougher on the schedule.. like you get less sleep, you don’t have as much time at home, all those things are true. But it’s just been a lot of fun to do it. Looking forward to the future, I feel like it’s something that I’m going to try and incorporate in my career as I go. Obviously its gone great this year. I never would have thought it would go like it has, but it’s gone pretty amazing. A lot of things have worked out in our favor to win the races. It does bring over some confidence because I feel like when I’m in a race car, I’m learning and I can just have some fun.”
BRAD WENT AND RAN THUNDER ROAD LAST NIGHT. WE’VE SEEN OTHER DRIVERS IN THE CUP, XFINITY AND TRUCK SERIES SUPPORT GRASSROOTS RACING. WHAT DOES THAT SAY ABOUT RACING AS A WHOLE RIGHT NOW?
“Each race track you go to or each series you go to, the people in that series are the best at what they do. When we went up to Wisconsin and raced Slinger, I was 29th in practice at the beginning. My car was a lot better than that and I was probably going to get better than that, too. But it’s not easy to just go to these different places and insert yourself. So that’s what makes it so impressive of what Kyle Larson did last year and what other guys have done in the past. Kyle Busch used to travel to all these places; and Matt Kenseth.. people like that. It’s cool that Brad (Keselowski) went and did that last night. It’s fun to see the different environments.”
NOW THAT YOU’RE HERE IN NEW HAMPSHIRE, HOW ARE YOU FEELING ABOUT THE WEEKEND AND WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE TRACK HERE?
“I thought I had it figured out before I got to the Cup Series and I realized I just had really good cars to get me to this point. New Hampshire is a place that I’ve wanted to work at and get better; and this is a perfect opportunity this weekend to hopefully improve. Hopefully it translates to the Cup side. The Xfinity car is a little bit different, but the downforce level and the power level is not that different in the fact that it’s a short track. It should line up pretty well. I’m excited to get laps in the Xfinity car. We finished second at Texas (Motor Speedway) and hopefully we can have a little bit better run than that.”
THROUGHOUT THE DAY TODAY, WHAT HAS YOUR PREPARATION LOOKED LIKE?
“Not much of anything (laughs). I just got in with the team guys; got some lunch and waiting for this practice session to start. 20 minutes of practice isn’t a lot, but hopefully we’ll get one or two runs and get a chance to feel the car out. I go out first in qualifying, so I’m not sure how good or bad that’s going to be. Going out early isn’t usually a great thing, so we’ll just have to wait and see how that plays out.”
FOLLOWING UP ON THE GRASSROOTS QUESTION, HOW IMPORTANT DO YOU THINK IT IS FOR THE OVERALL HEALTH OF NOT ONLY NASCAR, BUT SHORT TRACK RACING, THAT YOU GUYS ARE DOING MORE CROSSOVER?
“I think it’s important. When you go to some of these short tracks, you notice how little some people know about what we’re doing, what’s going on, or where the Cup Series is racing. And then when you kind of educate them and they get a chance to meet you, their whole perspective changes on what NASCAR is all about. I think sometimes it’s kind of distant for them.. like the drivers seem pretty distant, just from their side of the fence to inside the garage. Going to the short tracks, it’s really not difficult to get a pit pass and go up and talk to your favorite driver. So it opens that door a little bit more.”
HOW DO YOU LIKE INTERACTING WITH THE FANS AT THE SHORT TRACKS?
“Yeah, it’s cool. The fact that there’s no barrier there, they can talk to you anytime. Typically I try to limit it to after practice or before practice, but it’s cool because you get to hear different stories. There was one guy that was at Jeff Gordon’s first race in the No. 24; and then he was seeing me at Atlanta. So people like that, that you meet, it’s cool to hear those stories.”
POCONO NEXT WEEKEND.. HOW MANY TIMES DO YOU ANTICIPATE THAT YOU’LL BE SHIFTING AT POCONO AND WHAT’S IT LIKE TO HAVE TO CONSTANTLY SHIFT ON A RACE TRACK LIKE THAT?
“I didn’t get a chance to run Pocono (Raceway) in the simulator this week, but watching Brett Moffitt run the simulator, I got a chance to kind of see where he was shifting. It looks like you’ll be shifting obviously every corner, as it is this year at most places. I don’t know if you’ll shift twice in certain corners or not. I’m not sure how the gearing is for that, but it’ll be interesting for sure.
And then to see how tomorrow is too with the shifting.”
YOU HAVE THE LONGEST STRAIGHTAWAY IN NASCAR. WHAT’S IT GOING TO BE LIKE TO BE DOWNSHIFTING AT THE END OF IT? IT SEEMS LIKE THERE’S A LOT GOING ON.. BRAKES, DOWNSHIFT, TURNING..
“Honestly, yes but we’re used to it now. We’ve been shifting so much. Even at Charlotte (Motor Speedway), if you were back in traffic, people were shifting. So I don’t think you ever kind of rule it out of your playbook and with that comes normalcy with it. I think we’re getting more and more used to it. It took me awhile to understand how to take my hand off the wheel and use my left hand a little bit more to steer the car, but it’s becoming more natural now.”
TO FOLLOW UP ON THAT, DO YOU EXPECT TO BE SHIFTING TWICE HERE; OR DO YOU THINK YOU’LL GET THROUGH THE CORNER SHIFTING JUST ONCE?
“Based on my simulator time, I feel like it’ll probably be once on both ends. But I would feel like if you get way back in traffic, you could be shifting twice each corner, each lap. Third gear is definitely an option. It’s not too much of a drop it doesn’t seem like from third to fourth.”
YOU HAD A REALLY SUCCESSFUL SEASON TO THIS POINT. I KNOW THE LAST FEW WEEKS HAVEN’T TURNED OUT AS WELL AS YOU’D HOPE, BUT WHEN YOU HAVE SUCCESS LIKE YOU DID AT SLINGER AND SOME OTHER PLACES, DOES IT REALLY MATTER IN A SENSE FROM A DRIVER’S POINT OF VIEW? YOU’VE ALREADY WON TWO CUP RACES THIS YEAR AND YOU’RE STILL A CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDER. WHEN YOU WIN THESE RACES, IS IT THE LEARNING SKILLS OR IS IT THE ‘HEY I FEEL BETTER ABOUT MYSELF BECAUSE I WON A RACE AND I BEAT THESE GUYS’. WHAT’S THE BENEFIT?
“I think winning does wonders for drivers and teams, too. I think you see momentum build. When we won those two Cup races really close together within a couple of races, you see momentum from that from a driver’s perspective. And then when I go to the late model side – we’ve obviously won six-in-a-row, which we would not have expected that, but it builds momentum in those guys. Every time I get in the car, I’m excited and they’re excited.
So yeah, trying to build that back on the Cup side is top of the list for me. I think going to do all this stuff during the week is trying to get me back to that level for me as a driver and us as a team. We’re spending more time than ever in the simulator, things like that, trying to just get ourselves back to where we feel like we need to be. Even though it’s not playoff time and people can say ‘oh, you’re locked in with two wins’ – we definitely see right now as a really critical point to get us back to where we want to be.”
YOU’RE WILLIAM BYRON.. YOU’RE A CUP WINNER. SO WHEN YOU WIN IN THE LATE MODEL, I’M JUST CURIOUS HOW IT EFFECTS YOU PERSONALLY.
“I think it’s learning how to be versatile. Winning in different cars is a big boost because you’re not one dimensional. Like before this year, I would have probably gone back and ran late models earlier if I felt like it was going to go pretty well. But I didn’t think I would be able to take what I do now and move around. Going and doing it this year has definitely bred some confidence to know that I can get in a car and learn.
I think that’s what it takes on Sunday.. that adaptability and being able to have different techniques and make it work.”