DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE IN THE PLACE YOU WANT TO BE HEADING INTO THE PLAYOFFS?
“I feel like we’re in a good place. I think we could be better for sure. But I think we’re in a solid spot mentally and in a position where we’ve learned some lessons that we can apply going forward.”
ARE YOU THE FAVORITE IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP?
“For me, there’s never a good answer, but I try to give an honest take on it. There’s been too many people good at different times. Just because we have a win more than other people doesn’t mean other people aren’t capable of winning or having a really good day. You have to respect the whole field. There are a lot of really talented drivers and a lot of really smart people working at these teams.”
IS 40 PLAYOFF POINTS ENOUGH TO FEEL A LITTLE COMFORTABLE IN THE FIRST ROUND?
“I don’t think anybody is safe at any point in time. You have to respect this format from Week One all the way to Week 10. I don’t think there is ever a period of time where you should think anything is taken for granted. No amount of playoff points is ever safe. Each round is so short. You could have two bad weeks back-to-back and do nothing wrong. Next thing you know, you’re in a position where you have to win the last race. That can happen to the guy who is first in points or the guy that is last. No one is safe from that.”
THIS IS AN UNFAMILIAR POSITION HAVING SO MANY PLAYOFF POINTS.
“It is. We talked about that a lot. We’ve never been in that position before. This is a good thing. I’d love us to put ourselves in that position more often year after year. It means you’ve probably had more fun that year. It also means you’re trying to hedge your bet. Nothing is guaranteed but it can certainly help. That’s the big one… we want to hedge that bet and better our odds as much as possible.”
NO ONE IS GOING TO HAVE ANY DATA ON BRISTOL BECAUSE IT WAS DIRT EARLIER THIS YEAR.
“That one is really interesting in my opinion. I’m excited to get to Bristol. It’s a really iconic event on our schedule. That fall night race is one that I always look forward to going to. I’m excited about that. Hopefully get it right because it will be a bit of a guess for everyone.”
ARE YOU ENJOYING YOU’RE RACING AND HAVING A GOOD TIME?
“Yeah, if things are going good then I probably have more fun than I do when they’re not. But that’s just how it is. If you’re having good runs and putting yourself in position to win or being fortunate enough to win a race, the fun meter is certainly going to naturally be higher than it would if the roles were not that way. We’ve been fortunate to have some good weeks over the course of the first 26. I want to be and I truly think we can be better for these last 10. That’s what it’s all about right now.”
YOU HAVE HALF THE FIELD FEELING LIKE THEY NEED TO GET BACK ON AND OTHER AGENDAS. DOES THAT COME INTO YOUR THINKING?
“For me, if it’s not going to make you go faster then it’s not worth your time. That’s the truth of this sport and trying to be successful on Sunday’s. You have to get your priorities in order of what matters to you and what’s going to make a difference come Sunday afternoon and how you do.”
THESE AGENDAS CAN IMPACT INNOCENT BYSTANDERS.
“They could and I can’t control that. I’m going to try and control the things that are in my hands and do the best I can with that. The only way to control things like that is to be out front. If you’re out front, you don’t have to worry about the mess. That’s the best way to navigate all those things. Sometimes things are just going to be out your hands, and there’s not much you can do about it.”
IN THE PAST, PEOPLE WOULD SAVE STUFF AND THEIR BEST PIECES FOR THE CHASE OR THE PLAYOFF. IS THAT POSSIBLE TO DO THAT NOW WITH THE NEXT-GEN CAR?
“I don’t know if that’s as relevant today as it was before, especially with the limited number of cars we have now. In 2020, we didn’t know whether we were going to make the final four or not until seven days prior, and we were able to get one together good enough to go compete. I think these teams are good enough now where they can make it happen.”
IS THE PLAYOFF FIELD MORE COMPETITIVE THIS YEAR?
“I definitely think it’s competitive. Look at how many people have won. That’s never happened. I think that answers the question in itself. Any of the guys in this 16 and even those who didn’t make the 16 could go and win more than one race in the last 10. So yes, it’s very competitive.”
WHAT’S THE CHALLENGE OF DARLINGTON?
“For me, you have to find the balance of the fast lane being around the wall – which is a difficult place to live all night for 500 miles – and the sun sets in a really awkward place there in turn three right in your face. It becomes hard to see the corner entry. To me it becomes a tale of two races the more I’ve done it and the more I’ve been a part of the race. In my opinion, it almost feels longer than the 600 for some reason. It feels like you’ve been racing for two days. You start in the daytime and end late at night. Balancing the event is probably the most important piece of going to Darlington; then making sure you have a car that’s put together that you haven’t bounced off the wall a bunch for those last 100 miles.”