BACK IN MAY AT KANSAS (SPEEDWAY), YOU HIT THE WALL A LOT AND STILL FINISHED SECOND. DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU CAN DO THE SAME; OR WITH YOUR PLAYOFF POSITION, DO YOU HAVE TO PLAY IT ANY MORE CONSERVATIVE?
“Well, I wasn’t trying to hit the wall back then (laughs), so yeah I would rather not hit the wall.
I think in the playoffs, you have to be extra careful about everything, for sure in this first round. I think if you can get through each race somewhat safely, you should make it to the next round safely. I think being cautious and not super aggressive, unless you have to be, is the objective.
Like I said, I don’t ever plan on going to a track and running the wall and hitting the wall; but it happened more than a few times earlier this year. So just try and learn from the mistakes that I made to get me into the wall, and maybe the positions that I got put in that I overstepped the line and got into the wall. Just try to be more aware and not put our car in harm’s way.”
NASCAR SENT TO TEAMS SOME UPDATES TO TRY AND PREVENT FIRES AND PREVENT FIRES FROM SPREADING. HAS CLIFF (DANIELS, CREW CHIEF) SHARED THOSE AT ALL WITH YOU? WILL HE SHARE THOSE WITH YOU OR DO YOU NOT REALLY GET THAT DEEP INTO THE WEEDS?
“I flew out to California Monday morning. We had our debrief and stuff, talking about the race, but I haven’t talked to him (Cliff Daniels, crew chief) about the changes to the rule or just changes to the car. I don’t know what’s gone on. I’m sure he’ll fill me in later on this week. But I know even leading up to this, our team has been doing everything they can to be prepared if that situation does happen. Obviously nobody wants that to happen, so it’s good that NASCAR is being proactive in what they’re doing. Hopefully the problem gets resolved in the near future and teams don’t have to worry about freak fires and taking them out of the race, like what happened to (Kevin) Harvick and a few other guys this season.”
IN THE SPRING AT KANSAS, THERE WAS TALK ABOUT AERO AND WHAT YOU GUYS HAVE LEARNED. WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED, SO FAR, SINCE THEN AND HOW MUCH MORE DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU UNDERSTAND ABOUT THE CAR AND HOW FAR YOU CAN TAKE IT AT KANSAS IN PARTICULAR?
“I don’t know.. There were a couple of times when Kurt (Busch) and I were racing that where he positioned his car had an effect on me. I had kind of known that up to that point, but it was very apparent that what I was feeling was a thing. Every single driver in the field has learned a lot about aero and the differences around cars compared to last season or other seasons in the past. I think each week that you go on; you put yourself in better spots because of it and not put yourself in bad situations that you have in the past.
Going back to Kansas (Speedway) this week, all that stuff will be on my mind like it is every week, and hopefully me being better prepared will keep me away from making any mistakes like I did last time.”
WHEN YOU HEAR WHAT KEVIN HARVICK SAYS AS HE’S TALKING TO THE MEDIA; DO YOU EVALUATE WHAT HE SAYS AND REACT TO IT? DO YOU GUYS TALK WHEN HE’S TALKING ABOUT SAFETY IN YOUR PRIVATE MEETINGS; OR DOES EACH INDIVIDUAL DRIVER HAVE THEIR OWN VERSION OF WHAT THEY FEEL AND YOU KIND OF WORK INDEPENDENTLY?
“I think all of the drivers are on the same page, and it’s honestly a topic every single week in our drivers chat that we have. They are in communication with NASCAR a lot. I would say most months, I think they have conversations with them. It’s just probably tough to make moves, decisions and changes as quickly as us drivers – who are in the cars and the ones that are at risk of getting injured – it’s hard for them to make changes quickly. But I think it’s an ongoing topic and discussion, and I think NASCAR is always working on figuring out ways to make the cars safer. With the Next Gen cars, make parts and pieces last longer, where they don’t cost teams as much money and take you out of races with freak accidents.
Like I said, it’s an ongoing discussion. It just doesn’t happen as quickly as we would all love it to.”
DARLINGTON WAS A PRETTY FREAKY KIND OF RACE, WITH AN UNUSUAL WINNER AND THE POINTS CHANGING A LOT. DO YOU EXPECT KANSAS TO BE SOMEWHAT SANER OR MAYBE MORE OF THE SAME?
“I don’t know.. I feel like every week has been pretty wild and unpredictable. Darlington (Raceway) was maybe a little bit more than normal compared to other races this year, but I feel like every race this year, the majority of the field has had some sort of issue go on throughout the race. As much as I want to say Kansas (Speedway) will be different, I just don’t know. It could be even crazier. But I hope that we can have a smooth week; get some points and try and put ourselves into a better position as we go to Bristol (Motor Speedway).”
AT KANSAS IN THE SPRING, THE TOYOTA’S WERE REALLY STRONG. WHAT DID YOU SEE OUT OF THEM AND HOW MUCH DO THEY STILL HAVE THAT ADVANTAGE ON THOSE TYPES OF TRACKS?
“From what I remember, I feel like Kansas (Speedway) was one of the first races where they really stood out as being extremely good. And I would say nothing has changed since then, if not gotten even more in their direction on the intermediate-style tracks. They’ve been super good the majority of the season on that style of track and I don’t foresee this weekend being any different. I think all of the Toyota’s will be the ones to beat and it will be up to other teams to just execute as good as they can and win that way.
This year – after all the mess that I put myself in to almost win – we’ll just need to keep fighting all race long and we’ll have a shot to beat them. I’m sure they’ll get the pole, I’m sure they’ll be in the hunt all race long. It’ll be tough, but they can be beat, for sure.”
WHAT’S THEIR ADVANTAGE? IS THAT JUST THROUGH THE CORNERS OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT.. THEY’RE JUST GETTING THROUGH? AND IF SO, IS IT SOMETHING THAT CAN BE CARRIED ON SINCE THERE ARE SO MANY 1.5-MILE TRACKS IN THE PLAYOFFS?
“I don’t know.. I’m not really sure. I think just their overall speed and grip. And as much as I feel like I hear them complain about dirty air being effected by that, I feel like they are twice as good as any of the other manufacturers in traffic. They are just able to put their cars in different situations that I feel like I can’t do as well. I don’t know where the advantage comes from, but me racing with them, I feel like it’s more of an aero advantage.”
WHEN I WAS WATCHING YOU COMING BACK SUNDAY NIGHT, IT LOOKED VERY SIMILAR TO WHAT WE SAW THE NO. 48 DO TIME AND TIME AGAIN. THEY ALWAYS FOUGHT AGAINST ADVERSITY AND THE FACT THAT CLIFF (DANIELS) WAS AN UNDERSTUDY OF CHAD KNAUS; HOW MUCH DO YOU THINK HE PICKED UP THE ‘NEVER GIVE UP’ ATTITUDE AND MAKING THAT HIS OWN PHILOSPHY WITH YOUR TEAM?
“Cliff (Daniels) has had a very competitive upbringing through his childhood; through racing and sports. And then yes, I think him being with Chad Knaus on the leadership side of it and the crew chief role, I think all of those together has molded him into a great crew chief. I love having him on top of our pit box, especially for situations like we’ve been put in like this past Sunday, as well as what feels like many other times this year and even some races last year with how he keeps everyone calm. He’s very direct with the questions that he asks, the answers that he gives and the picture that he paints.
I think it’s just the way he’s wired. He’s very good at keeping everyone calm and leading the team; to follow his lead to be focused and not too down or depressed and let your mind wander.”
HE REALLY SEEMS TO HAVE A WAY TO GET YOU BACK UP AND IN THE GAME. AS LONG AS I’VE KNOWN YOU, YOU’VE NEVER FALLEN OUT OF THE SEAT, BUT HE GIVES YOU THAT EXTRA 10 PERCENT YOU NEED TO GO OUT THERE AND KEEP FIGHTING. IS THAT ACCURATE?
“Yeah, definitely. I know sometimes, like when things aren’t going well for me, I might sound negative and mopey on the radio. But inside the helmet, inside the car; I’m just as driven as he is to get ourselves out of that situation. I never give up with or without words of encouragement from him. I don’t know if it gives me any more desire or that 10 percent; it just kind of refocuses me a little bit quicker and allows me to focus on trying to get the best finish that I can.”
WHERE IS YOUR FRUSTRATION LEVEL NOW WITH ANOTHER ENGINE FAILURE? DO YOU GUYS KIND OF HAVE AN IDEA IF IT’S THE SAME THING THAT KEEPS POPPING UP?
“Had I actually blown up, I would have been really frustrated with back-to-back weeks, but that wasn’t the case. We don’t honestly know exactly what happened or what the cause of it was, but it sounds like William (Byron) had a very similar issue that we had during the race. I think he just didn’t react as quickly as maybe I did and it kind of cured itself as he was on the track.
I don’t know.. I’ve never had that happen to me ever in my career of racing anything, and I’ve probably raced more than anybody has in the field. I don’t know, it was weird, but I hope something like that doesn’t pop up ever again because it could have ended up really badly for us.”
I ASSUME THIS ISN’T SOMETHING THAT NEEDS TO BE TALKED ABOUT WITHIN THE TEAM. EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS CAN’T KEEP HAPPENING, SO WHAT IS THE VIBE WITHIN THE TEAM AS YOU GUYS TRY TO GET THROUGH AND NOT HAVE THESE ISSUES?
“I think even when things are going great, you’re winning a lot of races and not blowing up engines; they’re always continuing to try and figure out how to make the engines faster and also even more reliable. That’s ongoing at the engine shop at HMS and they do an amazing job. They’re all working really hard and trying to figure out what’s been going on. I think it’s been different things each time for us. And each time out of it, they come up with something that better your odds of it not happening again.”
LAST TIME WE WERE AT KANSAS, YOU ENDED UP RACING KURT BUSCH FOR THE WIN. OBVIOUSLY IN MONTHS SINCE THEN, THINGS HAVE CHANGED WITH KURT. WITH THE MEMORY OF THAT IN MIND AND WITH WHAT’S GOING ON WITH KURT NOW, HOW MUCH DO YOU NOTICE KURT’S ABSENCE?
“I haven’t seen Kurt (Busch) since before his accident at Pocono (Raceway). His accident, him himself and his wellbeing is on all of our minds every day. Any time I’m racing a stock car, he kind of pops into my mind with what could happen. I hope all the best for him and I hope that he can get healthy again soon and get back on the race track.
But I hope all the best for him. He’s an extremely great competitor. I’ve been fortunate enough to be teammates with him for a couple of seasons, and he’s a great guy and a great person. Really more than anything, I think we all just want him feeling 100 percent, feeling better and be able to go about his day like normal.”
FROM A SAFETY STANDPOINT, ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT ANY DIFFERENT THAN WHAT YOUR THOUGHTS ARE SAY WHAT COULD HAPPEN WHEN YOU GET INTO A SPRINT CAR?
“Even before this year, injuries and safety is always on your mind no matter what car I’m in. I know every time I strap into anything, the risk of getting injured is up there, just because it is a dangerous sport. But when you’re in the car, you can’t really think about that. You just have to focus on going fast. When those situations start where you’re getting ready to crash, you’re just kind of praying that nothing happens and you can walk out of it.
And then yeah, I think with these cars now with the hits feeling way bigger than ever before; I think when crashes do start to happen, you’re just even more nervous of something happening to you. I think your concern is even higher for your competitors, as well. We all don’t want to see anybody get hurt out there. Now it seems like this year and these cars and the hits being bigger, I feel like – at least in my mind – when I see somebody crash, I’m more concerned about them than I was before. Before you didn’t really see guys getting injured or complaining about their heads hurting and stuff like that. Hopefully they can come up with a fix.”