TAKE US THROUGH YOUR THOUGHTS GOING INTO THE WEEKEND AT KANSAS SPEEDWAY AND THE SECOND RACE OF THE PLAYOFFS ROUND OF 16.
“Yeah, Darlington (Raceway) was fine for our team.. it wasn’t a great finish, but we had speed. So as long as that keeps happening, we’ll be OK.”
YOU FINISHED TOP-10 AT KANSAS IN THE SPRING. WHAT IS IT GOING TO TAKE THIS TIME TO JUST GAIN A FEW SPOTS THERE AND FIND YOURSELF IN VICTORY LANE?
“The sport is evolving this year; really I’d say across the board more than I’ve ever seen, for sure. The race cars are just evolving. We got them basically on pallets over the off season. We started assembling them; we started testing them and we started racing them in February. We’ve been on this continuous learning curve that this sport always goes through, but it’s just steeper. We just started with cars that we’ve never raced before; we’ve never wrecked before and we’ve never pushed them to the limits before. So the teams are constantly evolving and finding what geometry and setups work better and keep pushing the limits.
I think Kansas (Speedway) is going to feel similar; the track has only aged a few months and it’s going to be warmer, but it’s not going to be too different from the spring. I think just like then, when we were contending within the top-five, I think we'll have that same speed again."
TALK ABOUT JUST RACING, IN GENERAL, AT KANSAS SPEEDWAY WITH THIS CAR. WHAT DO YOU NEED TO BE ABLE TO DO WELL?
“With the progressive banking, we continue to move up. I don’t know exactly what the weather is going to be like Sunday. There are some chances of some stuff we don’t like to talk about and some cooler air. But definitely practice on Saturday will be just using that top lane. We’ve seen that for quite a few years now. These cars like momentum. They like more racetrack to turn on, so they want the widest corner possible. If the guy in front of you is similar in speed and he’s running your line up top, it’s not great. But the great thing about Kansas (Speedway) is that you can make the bottom work if you’re better. And if you’re not, I feel like I’ll be patient and I just have to wait for the next opportunity. You’re not stuck in line, but you don’t want to give the guy behind you momentum and clean air. So it’s a mix of offense and defense.”
WINNING IS OBVIOUSLY IMPORTANT IN THE PLAYOFFS.. IT’S YOU’RE GUARANTEED CHANCE INTO THE NEXT ROUND. TALK ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF POINTS, ESPECIALLY WHERE WE ARE NOW IN THIS ROUND WHEN WE HAVE TWO RACES LEFT.
“Winning solves everything. Running good will give you the most points.
So yeah, there’s ultimately 16 cars – including me – that will be the test of if we score enough points or not. If you win, you’re automatically locked in. It all just pays to run well. The difference for us – from last year to this year – has been eye-opening in the amount of points we can earn. It’s amazing.”
DO YOU FEEL LIKE KANSAS SPEEDWAY IS A PLACE THAT YOU CAN CAPITALIZE THIS WEEKEND?
“Yeah, for sure. It’s pretty wild that our wins have not come on 1.5-mile tracks because I feel like those have been our strongest races. I don’t know how we’ll qualify.. we’re working on that. But the main thing is that we’re fast throughout the race for 400 miles.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE ANNOUCEMENT TODAY WITH NORTH WILKESBORO HOSTING THE ALL-STAR RACE NEXT YEAR?
“I love it. I never thought I would see the day. I’ve driven by the track, but I’ve never stopped and never seen it. I’ve watched a lot of old videos over the years of races there and I’ve done some iRacing on it.
I do think there is a reason why they left it, right? There’s a reason they stopped racing there. But I don’t know, we’ll go back and experience it. It’s going to be cool. Hopefully we’re locked-in.”
HOW MUCH DO YOU KNOW ABOUT NORTH WILKESBORO OR HAVE YOU WATCHED OR LEARNED ABOUT IT?
“I’d be making stuff up if I said I did. Like I said, I’ve iRaced and watched some old videos when I can’t sleep, but that’s about it.
HOW ARE YOU LOOKING AT WHAT CAME OUT OF DARLINGTON? WHAT DID YOU MAKE OF EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENED.. ALL THE PLAYOFF CONTENDERS THAT HAD ISSUES AND YOUR RACE?
“Yeah, it’s crazy. We prepare all year and then a lot of us did have issues. I expected it.. Obviously I don’t expect for the No. 1 car to have issues. But it was said in our pre-race meeting, teams are going to take themselves out… let’s just not do that. Not that the No. 99 or us had the race and the finish that we wanted, but we survived and we didn’t hurt ourselves, so far. Time will tell if the points lost ultimately account for anything. But the only reason that we’ll look back on Darlington (Raceway) and say it cost us anything is if we have more issues. As long as we just have clean races, we’ll be fine. We have plenty of speed.”
HOW DO YOU LOOK AT KANSAS, ITSELF, THEN?
“I can’t wait.. the hotter the better. I hope the wet stuff and cooler weather doesn’t come in until Monday and it stays nice and warm. Just being able to move around on the track. Even though everybody wants the top, if you’re car is better, you can move down the hill and pass. Restarts, you have a lot of options. We don’t have to spray anything on the track to make it good. We don’t have to do anything.. we can just go race and in today’s world, that’s nice to just be able to naturally race on a racetrack.”
IS THERE ANYTHING YOU CAN DO TO PREVENT THE DEAL WITH THE PIN HOLES AND THE DEBRIS THAT GOT CAUGHT UP IN THERE LAST WEEKEND?
“I don’t know.. that would be a question for somebody on the team way smarter than me. I don’t think so, but I don’t want to say for sure. I don’t think we could have done anything to prevent that.”
THE TIRES ARE A LITTLE BIT DIFFERENT THAN BEFORE WITH THE NEW CONSTRUCTION THEY DEBUTED IN POCONO OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT. DO YOU HAVE ANY SENSE IF THAT WILL CHANGE THINGS VERY MUCH FOR THIS WEEKEND?
“Well, first of all, I’m thankful that they have. I’m glad that it’s been awhile since we’ve been blowing left-rear tires like we were at the beginning of the year, so that’s good. There are still things that I do, we do, to hopefully guard ourselves as much as we can against blowing left rear tires. I know there’s going to be less stagger. So like Michigan (International Speedway), the cars are going to be tighter if you just go back with the same setup. You would have less stagger in the tires than you would in the spring. So that will be something to work through and hopefully the GM/Chevrolet group have that balance figured out for us.”
DO YOU HAVE A TARGETED POINTS CUSHION THAT YOU’D LIKE TO HAVE GOING INTO BRISTOL?
“I want to go get 60-points this weekend (laughs). There’s nothing comfortable about racing in the Cup Series and I like it that way.”
YOU’RE EIGHTH IN THE PLAYOFF STANDINGS HEADING INTO KANSAS.. KIND OF MID-PACK. HOW DO YOU DEFINE WHERE YOU’RE AT? OBVIOUSLY, NOT ENOUGH AND YOU’D LIKE TO WIN TO ADVANCE ON. BUT HOW DO YOU LOOK AT WHERE YOU’RE AT?
“Even with the issues at Darlington (Raceway), we cleared two more points above the cutline. Yeah, a lot of guys passed us, but we actually distanced ourselves, only by two, but we’re up to 15-points ahead. If we do that again for a few more weeks and we add two points to the cutline, then we’re fine and we move on.
Ultimately, that’s what I’m looking for, right? Yeah, I want to go win, but I really just want good races. I don’t want to be in the news for the obvious reasons earlier in the year. But right now, for points-wise, if I’m not in the news, then that means that I’m just solidly scoring points and we’ll move. That’s all that’s on my plan right now.”
WHEN YOU WERE ENTERING THE PLAYOFFS, YOU SAID IT WAS SORT OF SURREAL. WHAT DID YOU MAKE OF HOW IT FELT TO BE A PLAYOFF DRIVER AT DARLINGTON WITH EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENED?
“The whole week was really normal. I was almost scared that it was so normal that it was going to end up not being. And to an extent, that did happen. On Sunday, I had butterflies. I had nerves. It was a late race and I didn’t really leave for the track until like 2 p.m. I hung around with the family and just killed time. I think that’s going to bring in some nerves a bit, but it was weighing on me that my actions tonight could forever dictate the outcome of what we’ve worked to accomplish. Fortunately, we survived.. we put a few points on them and lived to fight through Kansas.”
NOW THAT YOU’VE BEEN THROUGH PLAYOFF RACE ONE, HOW DO YOU ENTER KANSAS? MAYBE MORE AGGRESSIVE, MAYBE MORE RELAXED, NO BUTTERFLIES.. WILL IT BE DIFFERENT YOU THINK?
“I don’t know. For me, I think that’s what’s so cool about all of this.. is that I’m experiencing it. I expect to feel similar at Kansas. They give out just as many points at Kansas as they did at Darlington. Running right up against the fence for 400 miles is no easy feat. I’m not expecting Kansas to be easy. I’m not expecting it to be calm. We can have issues; we can make mistakes. What was so great about Darlington – like throughout the second half of the race – was how calm we all stayed. We talked through the problem; we got it fixed, we cleaned up the pins and we finished the race. We got three of our four laps back. Half of a Southern 500 to make up three laps on the field, that’s the beginnings of a storybook ending if we get one more caution.”