WITH NORTH WILKESBORO COMING BACK NEXT YEAR FOR THE ALL-STAR RACE, YOU’RE THE ONLY ACTIVE DRIVER WITH A WIN THERE. GRANTED IT WAS ABOUT 10 YEARS AGO IN A LATE MODEL, BUT WHAT MEMORY DO YOU HAVE FROM THAT TRACK?
“Yeah, I remember going up there. I remember a lot about it. I remember thinking how cool it was at the time; being able to do the victory lane thing on the lift and all that stuff. It was a trip down a memory lane that I didn’t remember… that I wasn’t around for. Like I don’t remember any racing there, watching.
So for me, it was just this place that was kind of larger than life, in a way. You just hear all these great things; how historic the race track is. Watch videos of all these cool traditions and what not up there.
It was a great time. Fortunately, we were able to get the win and enjoy some of those traditions first-hand. But like you said, it’s been quite a while. I think that was in 2010 or 2011, so it’s been a few years, for sure. I remember a lot about it. I’m sure it’s probably changed some and some things probably haven’t. But looking forward to going back.”
IS ANY EXPERIENCE AT THE TRACK BETTER THAN NO EXPERIENCE?
“Winning anywhere is always a good thing. And at the time, it was a really big deal because they brought the track back and there was a lot of hype around the event. Not as much hype as there is right now, but there was a lot of hype around the event for that time period and what was going on. It was just fun to get the win and kind of be a part of some of those moments in bringing a racetrack back to life. In 2010 or 2011 – whatever year it was – it had been dormant for awhile then, too. Kind of similar, but just not quite as much hype around it. But it was still a big deal to me.”
NASCAR PUT OUT THE SCHEDULE ON WEDNESDAY AND YOU RETWEETED THEIR SCHEDULE TWEET AND SAID ‘LESS IS MORE’ AND THAT YOU LIKED NIGHT RACES. CAN YOU EXPAND ON BOTH OF THOSE?
“I think a more compact schedule, in my opinion. But look, I don’t make the rules and nobody asks my opinion that does. And that’s completely fine, I’m not asking for that job. I don’t want that job. But I’m a firm believer that less is more, in the sense of the timing of a schedule and when we could end our season to make the most for TV ratings and things of that nature. I think we could do better, personally.
And then as far as the night races go; there are a lot of Sunday afternoons that we spend in some really hot environments. Which is fine, I’m good with that. But if I was a fan sitting in the bleachers, I wouldn’t be. For 3 ½ hours in August, I would much rather do it at night and enjoy a night race, which number one I think is really cool. The environment is really neat. This is the best race of the year; here under the lights. I also understand that it’s cool because we don’t do it much. But I just think you see a lot of short tracks in places that run Saturday night shows and I think during the summer months, it’s something we should consider doing more of. That’s my opinion, but again, I don’t get asked. I don’t want to get asked and I don’t want that role. Just my humble opinion and that’s really about it.”
IS THERE AN IDEAL NUMBER OF NIGHT RACES OR A TRACK WE SHOULD HAVE ONE?
“I haven’t put that much thought into it. Just in general, I like them and I like the idea of them; when it’s hot for the spectators to have a more enjoyable environment to watch in.”
36 RACES, BUT WHAT WOULD BE THE TIME WHERE YOU’D WANT TO END? WOULD YOU WANT TO END IN SEPTEMBER OR AUGUST?
“36.. 45.. 50 – I don’t think it matters how many races we have. But I don’t see any reason in competing against NFL football when that starts. In my opinion, that’s not a battle we’re ever going to win. I think we should be smart about that.”
THIS IS A MUCH DIFFERENT TRACK THAN MARTINSVILLE, BUT IS THERE ANY APPREHENSION OF HOW THIS TRACK WILL RACE WITH THIS CAR COMPARED TO HOW IT HAS IN THE PAST?
“I honestly don’t know, I really don’t. I would say most people don’t. I think there’s been a handful of guys who have tested and maybe done a tire test here and things. I haven’t been on the track in this configuration this year in this car. I think there’s some challenges ahead today that’s going to make for a battle tomorrow night. Not even against your competitors.. I think it’s going to be a pretty big battle against yourself in just having your car balance close, being able to match the two ends, the shifting. There’s a lot of RPM difference between running the bottom lane versus running the top. So how they have the drop gear setup; how is that going to impact fourth and fifth gear. The chip can only be set at one location.
Just a lot of super interesting things that are normal for Bristol, but I think are going to be unique to this car. The bump off of turn two comes to mind. A very unique bump in turn one that I’m not sure we’ve really had this year. This place has a lot of vertical load and that bump over there is pretty aggressive. But a lot of times, you don’t see that until later in the event when it gets cool and you really start running the top part. Just a lot of challenges I think I could see on the horizon of just wanting to make sure you have your ducks in a row, personally, before you even start racing other people.”
YOU’RE UP 28-POINTS FROM THE CUTLINE. YOU’RE COMING TO BRISTOL WHERE YOU HAVE THREE TOP-FIVES AND FIVE TOP-10S. WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU’RE AT IN UNDERSTANDING BRISTOL?
“I would have to imagine not much has changed, unless for some reason some type of damage or bumps were done to the track with bulldozers getting the dirt on and off the race track. Which I kind of doubt that much has changed, but that would be the only thing unique to anything we’ve seen here in the past. And then obviously the way that they apply the grippy stuff there on the bottom; it looks wider to me this year than it has been in years past. I don’t know that, but just watching the Truck race last night, it seemed like the last couple of trips, it was a more narrow line around the bottom. Maybe somebody in here can tell me yes or no, but it looked like a pretty narrow line in the past where really only your left-side tires could be in it. You might get a little bit of your rights in it, but it was mainly your lefts kind of pulling you around. Now they have it sprayed so wide that your right-side tires are in it. That’s going to extend the life of that stuff because you have two different tire tracks to work in it, rather than one. That’s going to impact the lanes quite a bit. I don’t know if it will double it, just because it’s double the width. But it’s certainly going to make a big difference.”
WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT BRISTOL AND WHAT ARE YOU STILL SCRATCHING YOUR HEAD ABOUT AS A RACE CAR DRIVER?
“Yeah, I think Bristol is the one that kind of has that asterisk next to it for me, just because the environment here is so cool. This fall race, at night, 500-laps; this was one of the events that when I was a kid, it was larger than life. You couldn’t get a ticket for this thing for five years. It was just one of those events that everyone wanted to be at and if you weren’t there or you weren’t talking about it in the early 2000’s, you weren’t living is how I thought it was. I really think that was reality. When I look back at this event and what I remember of it; this was one of the races that made me want to be a race car driver, honestly. The environment here is unmatched and this event is special. I don’t see another date or track on our schedule that can rival what this environment is on Saturday night in August or September.”
YOU’RE WELL ABOVE THE CUTLINE, BUT IT’S NOT IMPOSSIBLE TO FALL OUT. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS HEADING INTO TOMORROW RACE? ALSO, WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO WIN HERE?
“I think even with what I just said, it would mean a lot. I think you look at this race and the spectacle that it is; that adds an element of the event that I think makes it really cool. So, yeah it would certainly mean a lot. This is a race that I certainly want to have checked off whenever I get done or get told I’m done. I think this is a special place.
As far as the cutline goes.. nobody is safe. The only guy safe I guess is whoever has locked themselves through. The No. 20 (Christopher Bell) locked himself in last week, so outside of him, nobody is. There’s some very capable guys that have had bad weeks over the last couple of weeks that could win here this weekend and that changes everything, as we all know.
I feel like racing yourself and making sure you have your own ducks in a row before you start racing other people is going to be vital to a successful 500 laps here tomorrow night.”
ARE YOU IN FAVOR OF THEM PUTTING PJ-1 DOWN HERE?
“Yeah, I think it’s been really nice in the past. The width of it here this weekend might be a tall tale on maybe what too much might be, not enough, or if it even matters. But I do think it’s been a good thing because it’s given an option. Here in the past, the top had become super dominate. It seems to me that it’s worked out more times than not over the last two or three years that we’ve come here, between the course of the three events throughout the weekend. I feel like 100 or 200 laps into the Cup race, we start having these two lanes magically and it’s worked out really nice. I don’t know if that was scienced out, if it was just luck or whatever, but it’s created a really nice event. It’s also created a dynamic in the event that something changes; a lane deteriorates and you have to search and get somewhere else to find something new. And then once you run off the top, there might be a little grip left on the bottom that you can go back down there and find it. I like that dynamic and I think it’s a good thing for this particular racetrack. I’m not sure that it’s good for all of them, but I think for here, it’s been a really good fit. It’s just a matter of how much and whether or not we’re going to wear this out this weekend. We’ll see.. it may not matter.”
DO DRIVER GIVE FEEDBACK OR ARE YOU GUYS CONSULTED ON HOW MUCH TO PUT DOWN OR ANYTHING; OR IS THAT STRICTLY A TRACK DECISION?
“I don’t go there.”