YOU’VE GOT ONE TOP-10 HERE IN 11 STARTS AT THE CUP LEVEL. WHAT IS IT ABOUT THIS TRACK THAT’S DIFFICULT TO GET A HANDLE?
“I don’t know.. I wish I knew. It has been a difficult place for me in the past, but this year has been different. Last time here, we were running top-five when I had a flat tire. I felt like we were going to have a shot to fight Toyota for the win, but we didn’t make it to that point.
I feel like the Next Gen car has changed a lot; the history in previous races, results and stuff like that. In the past, it hasn’t been a great place for me. But I truly believe that right now is quite different. I feel like we are going to be contending for the win this weekend.”
WITH BEING A FORMER CHAMPION, YOU’VE GOT POST-SEASON EXPERIENCE. WHAT’S THE EXPERIENCE BEEN LIKE SO FAR IN THE CUP SERIES AND WHAT’S IT LIKE BEING ON THE BUBBLE OR HOW DO YOU AVOID THINKING ABOUT THAT ASPECT AT THIS POINT?
“Really, I think the secret is not to think about it. At the end of the day, there is a lot of stuff going on around the playoffs; a lot of pressure, a lot of media obligations, a lot of stuff going on. But at the end of the day, when we put the helmets on and we go to race, it’s exactly the same thing. It’s no different than the first Kansas race in the spring to the Kansas race right now in the playoffs. You have to try to be smart; try to control what you can control. At the end of the day, I can only control one car and that is the No. 99 team. I cannot control what everyone else does or doesn’t do. I have to be smart, control what I can control and put all of my energy and effort into maximizing the results for the No. 99.”
AFTER LAST WEEKEND’S RACE, YOU WERE A BIT OUTSPOKEN ABOUT THE NO. 20 CAR.. SAYING YOU OWE HIM ONE FOR WHAT HAPPENED DURING THAT RACE. A WEEK LATER, HAS ANYTHING CHANGED IN TERMS OF YOUR MINDSET OR DO YOU STILL STAND BY WHAT YOU SAID AFTER THE RACE?
“No, nothing has changed. But once again, that’s a perfect example of I have to control what I can control. Last week, I couldn’t control what the No. 20 was going to do. I feel like we were very, very lucky that we were able to finish the stage and continue with minor damage. The car wasn’t the same.. the toe and the right rear tire was messed up after that.
But you make decisions as a racecar driver. You have to live with those and that’s the way he races. Something that is very, very general in the Cup garage is that you’re going to race people and you have to expect those people to race you the same way back. If that’s 100 percent clean, with a little bit of respect but aggressive, that’s the rule of the game and I feel like it’s going to be no different this time. I’m not thinking about it too much, but I definitely won’t forget what happened last week because it could have been way, way worse. I feel like I got very lucky.”
YOU HAD A LOT OF SPEED AT DARLINGTON LAST WEEKEND. HOW DOES THAT TRANSITION TO HERE AT KANSAS BECAUSE THERE ARE SIMILARITIES.. UP AGAINST THE FENCE, THAT SORT OF THING. HOW DOES THAT TRANSITION TO HERE AND YOUR DEGREE OF OPTIMISM WHEN YOU LOOK AT THIS RACE THIS WEEKEND?
“I’m very excited. Nobody pays attention to the No. 99 team like I do or my team does. But we’ve been extremely strong. At Daytona, we were in the position to win it before the rain. We probably should have won that race.
In Darlington, whatever happened, happened. I made a mistake (on pit road) and that cost us a lot, but we were in contention to fight for the win once again. This weekend, honestly, is going to be no different. I think the No. 99 team right now is in a very, very good place. We’re just continuing to get better. At the beginning of the year, we were a very young, new team; new people working together. Right now, we are just jelling more and more. I’m excited for everything that we’re doing. The results on paper, they don’t look that great right now. But I’ve been extremely pleased with the speed that we’ve had. I’m really looking forward to continuing that.”
WHAT’S GOING TO BE THE BIGGEST DIFFERENT BETWEEN THE RACE HERE IN THE SPRING AND THE RACE TOMORROW?
“That’s a good question. I think that the biggest difference will be all of the developing that the teams have done. If you think about it, in the spring, the No. 45 team won the race in a very, very strong way in the final stage; and I don’t think there was a better car than the No. 45 in the final stage. If that team brought the exact same car to this race, I don’t think he’d be able to run in the top-20. The teams have gotten so much smarter and they’ve done so much developing in just a few months. It’s crazy to me and that just continues to grow.
I feel like the biggest difference would be the development that we’ve done in the last few months. I was expecting the race to be hot, but it probably won’t be that way. It’s actually a little chilly. With that being said, we may be racing with the same temperatures as we did a few months ago in the spring. So I think the biggest difference would be all the developing that the teams have done throughout the last few months.”
NEXT WEEK AT BRISTOL.. OBVIOUSLY YOU GUYS HAVE RAN THERE, BUT ON DIRT, SO IT’S A BRAND NEW RACETRACK IN A WAY. WHAT KIND OF CHALLENGES OR UNKNOWNS ARE THERE WITH THIS CAR BEING ON THE CONCRETE THERE?
“That’s a very good question. The only racetrack that we’ve been that is similar to Bristol – but not the same by any means – is Dover. Nobody really knows what to exact at Bristol. It’s a racetrack that is by itself. It’s completely different than anything else and it’s a tough place. With 20 minutes of practice; if you miss it during the week, you’re going to have a long weekend and a long 500 laps.
I love Bristol. It’s actually one of my favorite racetracks and I’m really looking forward to the challenge. It would be nice to have a strong weekend here in Kansas and go to Bristol a little bit more relaxed when it comes to points. Like I said, I’m not really thinking about it too much once I’m in the race. But during the week, there are a lot of conversations about that. I think the preparation we do during the week is going to be important because nobody really knows what is going to work in Bristol, just because it’s so different than everything else that we’ve done.”
FROM A COMPETITOR’S POINT OF VIEW, WHAT’S YOUR PERSPECTIVE TO SEE WHAT THE UNCERTAINTY THAT KYLE BUSCH HAS GONE THROUGH THIS SUMMER AND TO SEE SOMEONE OF HIS CALIBER TO HAVE THAT UNCERTAINTY FOR SUCH A LONG TIME? YOU’VE GONE THROUGH SOME DIFFERENT THINGS – NOT SAYING THEY ARE THE SAME THINGS AT ALL – BUT I’M GUESSING YOU PROBABLY HAVE A MORE UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE THAN I WOULD OR ANYBODY ELSE WOULD?
“I’ve unfortunately been in those situations in the past. Racing at this level is very consuming. You have to work 24/7 to be competitive; with your team, preparation both physically and mentally, looking at data. When you’re in a situation where you don’t really know where you’re going to land next year – team, contracts, all that kind of stuff – at the end of the day, in my mind with my experience, were distractions. Once you get to a race, you put the helmet on and you forget everything else and you get to drive. But everything else that happens during the week is not as good.. the preparation, the meetings, all those things. There is ‘X’ amount of time a day that you have to put into all of these discussions and negotiations that you aren’t putting into the competition. So, it’s never a good thing, especially for Kyle (Busch). He hasn’t had to experience that in many years. It’s definitely not the best situation, but you learn to deal with it.”
IN THE TWO 1.5-MILE RACES – CHARLOTTE AND HERE – THE TOYOTA’S WERE PRETTY DOMINANT.. FIVE OF THE TOP-SIX, TOP-TWO AND THREE OF THE TOP-FIVE AT CHARLOTTE. SINCE YOU GUYS HAVEN’T BEEN ON A 1.5-MILE TRACK SINCE THE COCA-COLA 600, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO TRY AND MAKE UP THAT GAP AND HAVE YOU BEEN SPENDING A LOT OF TIME ON THE SIMULATOR?
“Do you remember who was the best car in the Coca-Cola 600 (laughs)?
I think everyone has worked really hard. What Toyota has been able to do in the last few months has been very good. They weren’t as good a few months ago and now they have a pretty good package with whatever they were able to figure out.
Everyone at the Chevy camp has done a very, very good job just continuing to develop. I feel like we started the year as, I would say, the leader group in some of the racetracks. Some of these guys were playing catch-up, like Toyota, they are right there with us.. and at times, even a little bit better. But I feel like we continue to get better. I think that in Darlington, we showed some pretty good speed. We showed that we can fight with them. I personally felt like I was going to give them a fight. It was going to be a track position race, but I don’t feel like they were much better than me. And I feel like hopefully, here in Kansas, is going to be similar. We can fight in a level field. I guess time will tell.
I feel very confident. Everyone at Chevrolet and GM have done an amazing job. Trackhouse Racing with the No. 99 and No. 1 teams, we’ve been working together very, very hard to continue to move forward. I feel confident in where we are right now to continue to fight.”
YOU KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE TO FIGHT FOR AND WIN A CHAMPIONSHIP IN A NASCAR NATIONAL SERIES. CAN YOU COMPARE AND CONTRAST WHAT YOU’RE GOING THROUGH NOW TO WHAT YOU WERE GOING TO THEN? HOW MUCH MORE STRESSFUL, IF IT IS? ALSO, DOES HAVING WON THE XFINITY TITLE GIVE YOU A BETTER IDEA OF WHAT YOU’RE IN FOR DURING THE NEXT EIGHT OR NINE WEEKS?
“That’s a good question. If you really think about it, it’s the same thing. It’s exactly the same thing. The process is the same, the system is the same, what you have to go through is the same. The only part that is very different is the level of competition. Everyone is better and everything is more difficult. But the system – the pressure and the stuff that you have to do, how you have to be smart and how you have to pick and choose your battles – is the same thing. I feel fortunate that I have that experience in the past.. to live, experience and learn from that championship battle in 2016. It’s been fun. If it wasn’t because of that, right now would probably feel a little bit more like ‘OK, what is next.. what is going to happen next’. At least I’ve been there before.
But like I said, it’s quite different when it comes to the competition. I’m really looking forward to continue doing what we’ve been doing. We have to control what we can control. The No. 99 team has been doing an incredible job. Everybody is very calm; everybody is very relaxed. We are taking one day at a time and I feel like we’re going to be in good shape. I truly believe that. I feel like the playoffs are coming at a very, very good time for Trackhouse Racing.”