WHAT’S YOUR APPROACH TO THE PLAYOFFS, GENERALLY SPEAKING?
“This is the exact spot that I’ve worked really my entire racing career toward… 11 years of wanting to be, as silly as it sounds, at playoff media day in the Cup Series. I don’t know what to expect.”
AS WIDE OPEN AS THIS SEASON HAS BEEN, IS THERE A TRUE FRONT-RUNNER?
“I think this new car that the France family and NASCAR rolled out got us 80 percent parity across the field. I don’t think you’ll get 100 percent, but I think it got us 80 percent farther than I’ve ever seen in the sport. Looking back at the history, I don’t know how you can call anyone a favorite.”
YOU SEEM PRETTY EMOTIONAL ABOUT THIS, THAT IT’S JUST STARTING TO SINK IN?
“It’s pretty wild. This week has felt almost awkwardly normal. I didn’t expect that. Sitting here, yes this is different. You go back one calendar year and the guys that I trained with were all here. I was the only one in the group not. That was humbling. I was out training and probably pushed myself too hard that day, but it was motivating. Not that pedaling the bike harder that day was going to make me get here. But it’s pretty wild to be here. I worked to get here but I just never thought I would get here, honestly.”
WHAT’S YOUR OUTLOOK GOING INTO YOUR FIRST PLAYOFFS AFTER A STRONG SEASON?
“I don’t think that question is ready to be answered. There are times this year where we did a really good job, and there are times this year where I did a really bad job behind the wheel. It’s about finding the middle ground. We don’t have to have 10 weeks of the best that I’ve ever driven, but it needs to be better than some of the weeks I’ve put out this year. I don’t have a number of races we’ll go and how far we’ll go in this run, but I wouldn’t want to be in any other position than where I’m at. It’s a great time to be in a Chevrolet and a great time to be at Trackhouse. It feels good.”
DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU DO A GOOD JOB OF TUNING THINGS OUT?
“Off-track, yeah. Probably sometimes too much. I don’t actually keep up with what people are saying enough. On-track, yeah I know who’s around me and I obviously know every situation and every scenario that’s happened this year. You can tell right away if a car is being driven aggressively against me or not. On-track yes but off-track I probably don’t do a good enough job keeping up with words being said.”
YOU AND JUSTIN (MARKS) HAVE BOTH TALKED ABOUT NOT CHANGING ANYTHING AND ENJOYING THE RIDE. BUT YOU’VE ALSO SAID YOU’VE BEEN GETTING ADVICE AND FEEDBACK. HOW MUCH ARE YOU LISTENING?
“I’ve had a lot of opinions given to me and a lot of advice. I truly believe it’s all with the right intentions. There’s a lot that goes in one ear and out the other, for better or worse. But I do take everyone’s opinion and make my own thoughts. I’m human and make mistakes. I’ll do exactly the opposite of what someone says even though their way was better. Sometimes it’s on purpose and sometimes it’s not.”
DOES PLAYOFF EXPERIENCE MATTER AND HOW DO YOU MAKE UP FOR THAT?
“I definitely wish I had done this last year or for five years, selfishly. That means I had put myself in the playoffs year after year. This is an arrival of Trackhouse, so come back to me in 10 weeks and I’m going to be better for what has happened, no matter what happens. When we’re sitting here next year, I’m going to have 10 weeks of playoff knowledge for better or worse.”
IS HAVING THINGS GO IN ONE EAR AND OUT THE OTHER HOW YOU’VE HANDLED EVERYTHING THAT’S AROUND THE PLAYOFFS TO KEEP YOURSELF ON THE RIGHT PATH?
“Selfishly and humanly, I’ve taken this first little bit to enjoy this. Yeah, we were all here for the preseason media day but I remembered then how I wasn’t here last fall for Playoff Media Day. Now that we’re all here, I’m taking these moments… my name is on a board at Playoff Media Day. I’m not sorry that I’m going to enjoy it. Walking out of here and tomorrow morning, it’s back to regular preparation that I do no matter what. There’s some hoopla right now and I’m going to enjoy it. I’ll get back to work tomorrow.”
TAKE US THROUGH THE FIRST YEAR WITH TRACKHOUSE AND WHY THIS IS SO SPECIAL.
“It’s just exactly where I wanted to be – having owners who believed in me and put me in the car where we had 10 races of 38 sold and said ‘You’re good.’ I signed a multi-year contract that I had never done, and they said, ‘You’re good’. They let me keep my team that I wanted to keep and said, ‘Y’all are good. Go race.’ That was the building blocks of what you saw this year. The new car that NASCAR and the France family rolled out was the catalyst for Trackhouse, and it’s the main reason we’ve been able to take the group of people that we have and go compete. It’s exactly where I’ve wanted to be.”
WHAT’S IT LIKE BEING PART OF SOMETHING THAT’S NOT RCR OR THE ESTABLISHED TEAMS… BEING THE DISRUPTERS IN THIS SPORT?
“I signed, going into 2021, with Chip Ganassi and thinking he’s been here for 20 years and he’ll be here 20 more… he’ll still be racing in the Cup Series and I’ll be retired. That just wasn’t the case. It was Chip’s time to step out. I bet on the long-term experience of CGR when I had options, and halfway through the year he sells it! As it turns out, it was the best thing that could have happened. It was his time to get out with this new car and Justin’s time to come in. It’s incredible.”
HOW HAS THE PHILOSPHY MANAGEMENT CHANGED SINCE JUSTIN TOOK OVER?
“Everybody is different, and there are strengths and weaknesses on all sides. It takes someone with strong belief in their thinking to get up in front of a shop and say that if you don’t believe in this new car and where NASCAR is going, we don’t need you here. That was blatantly said. For a lot of people, this was their time to step out. If had been at that point of my life, I may have made the same decision. You never know. For me and for Trackhouse, it was the perfect time to fully be in the sport.”
DO YOU KNOW HOW GIVING THIS CAR WILL BE AT DARLINGTON?
“I don’t ever feel like I know enough. The moments I thought I knew, I’ve crashed with other cars or I’ve crashed off Turn Two in the spring where I felt like I knew the potential of the car. Proximity to the wall is one thing but I don’t know how the grip changes from lap to lap. It’s constantly going down so that’s why I want to run both races (Cup and Xfinity) to build a notebook as best I can.”
WHAT’S THE THOUGHT OF THAT IN 10 WEEKS, YOU COULD BE A CHAMPION? HOW HARD IS IT NOT TOO LOOK AHEAD?
“I’m just here to hang on for the ride. However it goes in 10 weeks, I’ll have a better answer for you. It’s easy for me not to look ahead because I swear my memory is short enough! I have Darlington and Kanas on my mind. I know Bristol is the third race but no thoughts on Bristol yet. Darlington and Kansas is all the bandwidth I have. I literally can’t tell you what the fourth race is!”