You’re in a must-win situation Saturday night at Bristol. What sets you apart from the rest of the playoff drivers who are also trying to advance to the Round of 12?
“Experience. I think experience goes a long way as you go down this road. Obviously, it’s different than the regular season because there’s so much on the line, but our guys have been through that battle. Plus, we don’t have anything to lose.”
How do you approach this cutoff race at Bristol?
“For me, just continue to be open-minded about how to drive the car, what to do with the car, give good feedback. From the team standpoint, being open-minded is what led us to having the setups evolve and the cars evolve from the guys at the shop, and that constant evolution is a part of the process of developing the car. It’s still very open for development and to find things and be able to hunt for speed. For us, just understanding what we’ve got as far as the car goes, and how do we maximize the potential of our car and not worry about what everybody else is doing. That’s something that we’ve always done a good job of, just to be narrow-minded, worry about our own problems, look at the outside world and take it with a grain of salt to be able to adapt some of the things that work for other people, but you still have to develop your own program and do the things that work for you.”
To win at Bristol and really anywhere, you need both luck and teamwork, but does one outweigh the other?
“I can tell you that having the car run well is a much higher piece of the equation. When I say that, especially in the position that we’ve been in, it’s been all hands on deck because in order to get your cars from not where you want them to winning cars is very difficult, especially in a scenario like we are with the new car where we don’t know everything about it. We’re learning on the fly as we race week to week about the characteristics of the car, and the track and the tires and, from my standpoint, the different characteristics of how to drive the car, what it likes and what it doesn’t like. We’re kind of learning that all along the way. The biggest key for us in order to get our cars back to being capable of winning has been the experience of the team, and communication lies in that category. We have to have honest conversations with each other, like, ‘I agree with that, I don’t agree with that,’ and not having anybody’s feelings get hurt is something that our team does a very good job with. I always felt like that was one of our strongest points when we had practice throughout the weekend. We could take a terrible car or we could take a car and experiment with it, not make many laps, and say we need to do this, and this, and this, to start the race and everything’s going to be fine. I think the experience of our team and having those relationships with each other that are honest and being able to communicate with each other like adults is very important. You can get into great depth with each other and be honest with each other to progress in the right direction.”
Bristol represents a bit of an unknown because you haven’t raced there this year, at least on its concrete surface. What are you expecting at that track with the NextGen car?
“As we’ve gone through the year with this particular car, we’ve realized there are a number of unknowns that come with the car and things that you don’t think about unless you race. The characteristics of the car, and the tire that they bring, and what you’re going to fight, combined with the short amount of time you have to practice, along with all the known characteristics that you’ve had in the past might be different, might be the same, might be worse, might be better. There’s just really no rhyme or reason to things that have happened this year. You just have to be really open-minded to adjust and adapt quickly to whatever happens. That usually happens after qualifying. You’re still limited on the things that you can do, but for us, hopefully our tire model’s close and hopefully our tire test information that we have and the simulator models that we have for tires and grip levels work out well. If not, it could be a long night.”
What makes the Bass Pro Shops Night Race such a special event?
“The Bristol Night Race has always been an event that seems to just bring the best out of everybody, as far as competition and chaos. For our sport, it’s just been that bookmark that always shows up every year, that always creates excitement. There’s always a full house and the crowd is always there to see the action. Year after year, it lives up to that, and now it’s part of the playoffs.”
Bristol at night has a different vibe, as if there’s more adrenaline flowing. Do you feel that way too?
“Bristol, the night race, especially, is a place that just has a special feel. Being in the playoffs now and being a part of that event for a long time just gets you jacked up as a driver. It’s just a very intense place to race. It’s an intense place to just make laps, honestly. As you get into that race and understand the magnitude of the situation, especially with Bristol being in the playoffs, it’s something that I just think is very challenging and exciting to be a part of.”
How do you stay out of trouble at Bristol?
“As Bristol goes, you can wind up in somebody else’s mess. You can create your own mess too, but it’s usually something that’ll jump out and bite you in a hurry. As soon as you let your guard down, something happens, and the next thing you know, your hood’s up over your windshield because they’ve spun out and wrecked, or you’ve been hit in the back, whatever the case may be. It just happens really quickly there. Bristol is a high-speed racetrack, but it’s also a racetrack where you can’t see the exit of the corner until you round the center part of the corner. Sometimes you come up on the wrecks before you even see them, and you can hit stuff really hard there.”