You’re out of the playoffs, but racing continues. Without a championship to strive for, how do you stay motivated through these final seven races?
“That’s just something from when I wrestled in high school and raced our Late Models, it was always pounded into my head that it’s OK to not be good, but it’s not OK to quit. It’s never OK to not give it 100 percent. It’s never OK to quit grinding away for every single second of whatever it is you’re doing because you’re letting yourself down. And in this deal, you’re not only letting yourself down, you’re letting your whole team down, and I think that’s contagious, because nobody ever lets down. We can be off and struggling in a race, but we can keep ourselves on the lead lap and have a good pit stop and all of a sudden show up and finish fourth or fifth at the end of a race just because five or six of them have crashed and we’ve ground away all day at the little things and made our car a little bit better and hung in there and all of a sudden here we are. Sometimes it’s just about grinding away and doing the little things right. You don’t have to be the fastest, but if you just do more right than everybody else, you’re probably going to be pretty successful. There’s a lot of details that go into what we do to be good. Even with a slow car you can still find 100 details to make a slow car faster, and sometimes making a slow car faster is OK on certain days. Every day is different. Every day you have to find something to improve on and it’s a constant improvement. There’s a saying that we live by and it’s, ‘Evolve or die,’ and this year that saying has never been more relevant.”
At this level of racing, what does it mean to put in the work?
“Long before you get in the car on Sunday, you have a meeting with the team and the crew chiefs and the drivers on Tuesday. You try and get as much information as possible from all parties involved so you can make the right decisions, because you only have a short amount of practice come the race weekend. And then you have the evolution of everything that happens in the lead up to the weekend. For us, that’s a Wednesday simulator session. Usually in that simulator session, you start on next week’s race and then you end on that week’s race and then they decide, ‘OK, we took this, this and this from this particular session and we took it back to the shop and we put that in the car.’ And then there’s the physical part, where you work to stay in shape. Overall, it’s a lot of work.”
You’re in your 22nd year in the NASCAR Cup Series. What’s important to you now at this stage in your career compared to where you were 15-20 years ago?
“I worry less about what I want to accomplish and just try to accomplish what I need to accomplish, and that is to engage with my team on a week-to-week basis to get the most out of our cars and our vehicles. You want to do everything you can to try and take as much as you can out of every single week that you’re at the racetrack because, at some point, there won’t be a next week. It’ll be what you used to do, and you want to give it your all while you can.”
Your only experience at Texas with the NextGen came in May during the NASCAR All-Star Race. What is your expectation as you return to Texas with the NextGen car, but this time, for a points-paying race?
“We can’t do any worse than we did in the All-Star Race. I think we ran last and next-to-last, us, Aric (Almirola) and Chase (Briscoe), so we had them covered from the wrong end of the field. But I really think that was part of the progression of the new thought processes we had in working on the car, and we’ve come a long way since Texas. That was one of those nights where it was, ‘OK, let’s do this. This is going to be a great night to test some things.’ It definitely ended with, ‘Don’t ever do that.’ Usually you find out more things at a test – which is kind of what the All-Star Race was for us – to not do than you actually find that are better.”
Back in 2017, Texas was repaved and turns one and two were reconfigured. How has the track aged since then and has it changed how you drive the track?
“It changed where you drive on the racetrack. You move up the racetrack, so you don’t have to be as technical through (turns) one and two as you used to. Just put it on the grip strip and hope for the best. It’s still a good racetrack for us, still a lot of good things that have happened for us, and hopefully we can continue that.”
Explain a lap around Texas, specifically, how you approach turns one and two and how you approach turns three and four?
“Texas is unique in the fact the two ends are so different. When they changed the racetrack, they made the width of the racetrack a lot wider through (turns) one and two than what it used to be. It’s a lot flatter, as well. It’s a very technical corner both in order to get your car positioned correctly and in order to make your car turn and stay in the throttle. It’s not as technical as it used to be now that the PJ1 is there, but you still have to put your car in the right spot in order to make a good lap time.”