CAN THIS TEAM WIN THE TROPHY FROM WHERE IT STARTS THE PLAYOFFS?
“Why not? I’m confident at the tracks in the playoffs. RCR has shown speed at every type of track with Tyler (Reddick) winning the road courses, us winning the speedway. Martinsville, I finished third but was probably the second-best car there. And we probably should have won the 600 at Charlotte; I was really close there when you got down to it. I’m happy to be in this spot and I think we’re the dog. Some people are already putting us out, which is just fine with me because it takes pressure off and we’ll go have fun and try to upset some of these guys, and take it as survive and advance mode from here on out.”
ARE YOU PLAYING WITH HOUSE MONEY?
“We’ve been strong in a lot of race this year and have had opportunities to win more races than in years past – Martinsville, Fontana and Talladega. Those three – second, second and third – and Charlotte was the other one where I lost sleep over at the 600. And two of the first three races are 500 milers and long races have statistically been my better races.”
DO YOU FEEL DISRESPECTED A LITTLE BIT?
“No. I look at social media and we’re not usually the most popular guy and I’m cool with that. I want to go out there and do what I’ve done in the past in the playoffs and make it to the next round. One round that really sticks out to me a couple years back is I was two away from transferring to the third round at Talladega. Denny (Hamlin) got me by like a point, so I know how much every position matters in this deal. I want to take advantage of this opportunity, and the Next Gen car has created a lot of opportunities with 15 winners this season. Good tracks coming up for us.”
IS THERE ANY PROBLEM FLIPPING THE SWITCH FOR THE PLAYOFFS?
“If anything, I’ve learned with 15 winners is you need to stay aggressive. I talked to the guys about it the other day (that) some of the strategy calls we made over the last couple of weeks we probably wouldn’t have done it if we were racing for points. We maximize more points by doing other things; by being aggressive on strategy, putting ourselves in better position. So, I don’t think a whole lot is going to change. We’ll monitor where everybody is running during the race and go from there. I believe we should stay on the same strategy path that we’ve been on.”
HOW DOES YOUR PLAYOFF EXPERIENCE HELP YOU GOING INTO THIS?
“Just knowing how every position matters. Looking back at a couple of times when you’re outside looking in and it came down to a point or two points, knowing that you have to get it at all cost.”
HOW DID YOU NOT GET INVOLVED IN THE WRECK AT DAYTONA?
“As soon as I saw the 99 go up the track, I tried to get to the apron as soon as possible. A lot of things happened in between there. I call it the good Lord looking out for me. The backside of that, the toughest thing I had to do is get slowed up to miss the 21 car that was coming down the track because I had to gas up for a car that I saw in my peripheral that was coming down the track. It was square to gas, hard brake, downshift, move left and then everything opened up after that.”
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST REACTION WHEN YOU SAW THE REPLAY?
“It’s so cool. It’s what’s great about being a race car driver is I’ll have those memories in the back of my head for the rest of my life. The in-car camera makes it very special for other people to see it, too. What people didn’t see probably or remember is the wreck before that. I was in a wreck going 180 down pit road with damage, blew a tire, went a lap down. So, the big wreck was one thing, but my heartrate was already up from the previous wreck when I thought we were in a good position at that point. I think we were third or fourth on the outside and we had come from 25th or 30th, and that wreck happens. Somehow it barely hits and nose on the right side, spin and I thought for sure I’m hitting inside wall of pit lane. The spotter does a good job of telling me to release the brake. I’m going backward, push the clutch in and cars are coming at me, so that in-car footage is what’s pretty wild actually.”
THE COOL FACTOR WILL NEVER LEAVE THAT SITUATION?
“We went through a lot of things in that race that made it special, and I won’t forget any of it.”
HOW DO YOU LIKE YOUR PROSPECTS AT DARLINGTON?
“I love that track. People ask me what’s my favorite track and I’ve gone to saying the places you win, so Daytona and Charlotte. But Darlington is my favorite. It’s like driving back in time. It’s a driver’s track. Tire management comes into play. It’s a long race and you’re racing the racetrack. Historically, that’s been good for me.”