KYLE LARSON WAS SAYING THAT HE FEELS LIKE YOU ARE MAYBE A LITTLE UNDERESTIMATED COMING INTO THE PLAYOFFS BECAUSE YOU HAVEN’T HAD SOME OF THE RESULTS, BUT THAT YOU HAVE BEEN SO STRONG THIS YEAR. IS THAT A FAIR STATEMENT TO SAY, THAT THIS YEAR IS MUCH BETTER THAN ANY OF THE OTHER PREVIOUS YEARS.
“Yeah, we definitely haven’t had the results to show the speed and performance that we’ve had. But I would like to think so. I think our team is capable of doing what we need to do, it’s just been a rough period of time, I feel like, to put races together for us.”
HAVING SAID THAT, YOU HAVE SOME GOOD TRACKS COMING UP. DO YOU GO SO FAR AS TO CIRCLE THEM OR ARE YOU MORE OF THE ‘ONE WEEK AT A TIME’ TYPE OF GUYS?
“Certainly, there are certain places where you kind of highlight and you’re like ‘OK, I feel like I can have a good run there regardless of the circumstances, regardless of how the rest of the season has gone’ and things like that. Darlington is definitely one of those that – based on our last few runs there – I’m like OK, this could be a good track for us. Even last year in the Playoffs, we got into Alex (Bowman) early when he had a flat tire, knocked the whole right side off the car and still was running like sixth before we had a tire issue. So it’s like, if we can have a car that’s together with all four tires and all four fenders rolling; I feel like Darlington is one of those tracks for us that’s good.”
HOW MUCH ARE YOU AWARE OF THE FOUR FIRST-TIME PLAYOFF DRIVERS? IS IT A FACT THAT YOU’VE RACED WITH THEM ALREADY FOR 26 WEEKS AND IS IT REALLY A BIG DEAL?
“Yeah, some of them the way that they are, you just know what to expect. You know that there are guys that kind of toss it in there and see what happens.. sometimes they don’t come out the other side and sometimes the guy they are racing doesn’t come out the other side.
So yeah, you just know each guy and how they race. Also, the way they race other people might not be the way they race you. Like it may be more aggressive or it might be less aggressive, so it just depends.”
ARE YOU OVER WHAT HAPPENED AT DARLINGTON THE FIRST TIME AROUND?
“I think you just put those kind of in your memory bank. I don’t think you’re ever ‘over it’, per say. If the situation presents itself where the shoe is on the other foot, then I’d like to think that I know what to do.”
DO YOU KEEP A MENTAL CHECKLIST, AS FAR AS THAT GOES? IF YOU’RE IN A POSITION WHERE THE SHOE IS ON THE OTHER FOOT AND YOU HAVE TO BUMP THE NO. 22 OUT OF THE WAY, ARE YOU GAME?
“I’m going to handle things the way I’ve always handled things. I’ve had run-ins with people in the past, handled it and they never messed with me again. It will sort itself out, for sure.”
IT SEEMS LIKE THAT RACE WAS A TURNING POINT FOR YOUR TEAM. YOU GUYS HAVE HAD CHALLENGES THIS SUMMER. I DON’T KNOW IF IT’S JUST A COINCIDENCE THAT RACE KIND OF STARTED IT ALL.
“Yeah, it’s definitely a coincidence. I wish we knew what happened or why things have gone the way that they’ve gone. But yeah, it’s definitely just a coincidence. I think we had a lot of really good tracks in the beginning of the year. As we started to chase some speed and chase some things, we got off a little bit throughout the summer.. just the way the car drove and things like that. I think we’re getting back to where we need to be now. We know what works; we know what doesn’t work. We definitely know what doesn’t work after the last month or so, so that’s a good thing.”
GIVEN THAT, WHERE’S YOUR CONFIDENCE AND MENTAL MINDSPACE? WHERE’S THE TEAM AT STARTING THE PLAYOFFS?
“I think the team is in a really good space. Rudy (Fugle, crew chief) is very strong minded. He kind of has the football coach mentality when it comes to the playoffs. He’s really good at gathering all the troops and getting us all ready to go. I’m included in that mix and he’s got me fired up. I’m ready to go. I believe in my team. I believe every person on our team is capable. It’s just a matter of extracting that and I think this year could be the year.”
DO YOU LIKE BEING UNDER THE RADAR?
“Yeah, that’s just my personality. I don’t really like to be flashy or do anything that’s going to draw attention. I love racing cars. I’ve absolutely loved it since I was a little kid. This is what I want to do. These are the situations that you want to be in, so it’s nice to come in here. Being here for the fourth time in a row is great and hopefully we can make that next step.”
WILL THE PLAYOFFS BE AS WIDE-OPEN AS THE REGULAR SEASON WAS?
“With this car, we’re going to tracks for a second time now, but there are still so many unknowns. Like Bristol, we don’t have any notes on Bristol. Nobody knows – like is the car going to bottom out when we go to the race track for the first time? There’s a lot of unknowns with this car still.”
DARLINGTON, YOU WERE SO CLOSE YOU COULD TASTE IT LAST TIME. EVEN THE WAY IT ENDED UP, DO YOU STILL HAVE A LOT OF CONFIDENCE WITH JUST WHAT YOU LEARNED AND HOW YOU WERE ABLE TO WORK THAT CAR?
“Yeah, like Darlington and Martinsville – those are tracks where I really struggled at my first year in Cup. Darlington, not so much, but definitely Martinsville. But it seems like now, as I’m getting older and more experienced, those are some of my best tracks.
Darlington, I finished top-five there the previous year. Had a few issues that kept me out of the fall race, but I feel like Darlington is one of those tracks that I really excel at.”