What are you expectations going back to Darlington for the second time this year?
“We’ve had good speed with our Toyota group on the mile-and-a-half and 2-mile tracks. We’ve been good at those places. Under a mile, we’ve struggled a bit, and road courses we’ve struggled a bit, as well. Would like to think we have a good shot at Darlington this weekend. We were running in the top-four the last time there and a car in front of us blew a tire and crashed and we got caught up in that. So don’t need any of that this time around. I would like to think we can go to Darlington and run in the top-five for sure and maybe even improve our program from the last time we were there and go out there and get a win with our M&M’S Camry.”
What is the most challenging part about Darlington, especially with it opening the playoffs the last few years?
“Darlington is a tough track. They call it the ‘Lady in Black’ for a reason. It seems like whether the pavement is worn out like it is now, it seems slick, or if it’s a brand new racetrack, the pavement still seems slick. That really kind of lends itself to some tough racing there. Being on the inside of guys and having a track that is only two lanes wide with the cars going around there at 170 or 180 mph, it makes it difficult for us. You try to pick and choose those battles as you go on throughout the race and try to pass those guys in the right spot so you don’t get in a bad spot where you break your momentum going forward into the next turn.”
Do you notice the racing getting different once you get into the playoffs with so much more at stake?
“Definitely. I feel like things do amp up and (drivers) race each other a lot harder and there’s a lot more on the line. You have to pick and choose your battles, but when you get into these playoff races, and even more so in the cutoff races, every position is a point and every point counts as you try to navigate and get through each round. So you just have to know who you are racing and what they have at stake and be smart. But you never know what it’s going to come down to that will get you to the next round or eventually to the final four, which is where all of us want to be to have a shot at a championship at the end of the year.”
At Darlington, do you wait to get toward the front as it gets later in the race when the sun is starts going down? How does the track change as it goes from afternoon to early evening there?
“You start the race off there and you just don’t want to hit the wall. We know how easy it is to get into the wall and get a Darlington ‘stripe.’ You don’t want to hit the wall and take yourself out of a chance to win the race. The early stages of the race, you are biding your time and racing the racetrack and you are trying not to put yourself in a bad spot, and you aren’t worrying about competition, and you aren’t trying to take too many chances. As it gets deeper into the race and closer to the checkered flag, you are definitely going to be going for it and, if you can find even a half-inch of grip by getting a half-inch closer to the wall because that’s where the speed is at, you’ve just got to do it.”