COMING INTO TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON HOW YOU GO ABOUT ATTACKING THIS TRACK AND LOOKING FORWARD TO NEXT WEEKEND AT TALLADEGA SUPERSPEEDWAY AND THE ROVAL? IT’S A REALLY DIVERSE SECOND ROUND OF THE PLAYOFFS.
“I think we probably all look at Texas (Motor Speedway) as a good opportunity to hopefully get a win, get locked-in and not have to worry about the next two races. Texas, I feel like it’s a very strategy-driven type of race track. It’s really difficult to pass, so you’ll see some different varying pit strategies going on, whether it be staying out, fuel only, two tires, four tires. So just trying to have a good enough car to play that the right way and keep your track position. Having good pit stops and good restarts I think is important. It seems like all of that has been more important this year with just how difficult it’s been to pass.
Hopefully our car is good. I felt good in the All-Star Race. Just blew a right-front tire pretty early on, so I didn’t really get a fair judge of how we were then to how we’ll be now. It’s much warmer conditions this week too, so I think that will change things a little bit. But yeah, hopefully it goes well.”
WITH THE C-BELL MICRO MANIA, YOU WERE OUT THERE ON THE TRACK THE OTHER NIGHT GIVING KYLE BUSCH SOME POINTERS ON HOW TO DRIVE. YOUR THOUGHTS ON THIS AND HOW IT BUILDS FOR THE YOUNGER DRIVERS, OBVIOUSLY OWEN (LARSON), BREXTON (BUSCH) AND OTHERS OUT THERE?
“It’s a cool event that they put on our there. There were a lot of cars. The race track is really nice, too. They did a great job with it; the grandstands, the dirt, the banking, the shape of the track is all good. There’s like 140 micros racing just in the main division. There’s a lot of great talent out there.. young talent. Guys that have also been racing micros their whole lives too. A lot of experience out there. It’s cool to see Kyle Busch run out there. He’s doing a really good job of it. I feel like he’s got a little bit of tinkeritus and works on his car too much. I told him just focus on driving instead of working on it, but he’s doing a good job. I think he missed the lock-in spot by one, so he should be on the pole of the B-main I would think tonight.
I had fun last night racing myself and we should have a good shot of winning tonight.”
YOU HAD YOUR BATTLE WITH CHRISTOPHER BELL OVER THE YEARS, BUT THIS YEAR IS THE FIRST YEAR THAT HE’S REALLY BEEN A THREAT HERE IN THE CUP SERIES, ESPECIALLY THE LAST FEW MONTHS. WHAT IS HE DOING DIFFERENT?
“I don’t know. I’ve always known his talent and abilities. I’ve been surprised that it’s taken him as long as it has to be consistently in the top three to five because, like I said, I’ve raced with him longer than anybody else has in the field and I know the potential that he’s had. It’s neat to see him run up front; another dirt guy contending for a championship. It’ll be fun going to battle with, not only him, but everybody. I always enjoy seeing dirt guys win, especially from my neck of the woods in dirt racing.”
THERE’S BEEN SOME RUMBLINGS OF A TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY REPAVE UPCOMING. IF IT WERE TO BE REPAVED, WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE?
“I would like to see them change it from a 1.5-mile track to something shorter. I don’t know if that means bringing the backstretch in or whatever. If I could build a track, it would probably be a three-quarter mile Bristol, basically; pavement, progressive banking, all of that. But I don’t know if that’s even possible here.
I’m not sure what they have in mind, but anything would be better than what they did.”
THREE RACES IN NOW AND THREE NON-PLAYOFF DRIVERS HAVE WON THOSE RACES. THE STANDINGS ARE STILL SO TIGHT. HAVE WE ESTABLISHED A CHAMPIONSHIP FAVORITE YET AFTER THE FIRST ROUND? WHERE DO YOU SEE THINGS SHAKING OUT?
“I don’t think that there’s a championship favorite. Chase (Elliott) getting through the first round, it wasn’t a great first round for his standards, his team’s and what they had for points going in. So I feel like for him, making it through the round and resetting; as long as he can get through this round, I think he’s probably still the favorite. I think (Christopher) Bell has shown so far in the playoffs that he’s really strong. But I don’t think you can pick a favorite until you get through this round because whoever the favorite is right now could easily not make it into the next round just because how wild this round is. I think three weeks from now, you’ll be able to pick a better favorite. But right now, there’s so many unknowns, as far as craziness that’s going to happen.”
DO YOU THINK ANY OF THE PLAYOFF DRIVERS WILL NOT EVEN WANT TO RACE HARD AT TALLADEGA UNTIL THE FINAL STAGE, GIVEN ALL OF THE WRECKS WE’VE SEEN AT THE SUPERSPEEDWAYS?
“I don’t think so.. just because there’s so many stage points on the line, so I just don’t foresee that. Yes, there might be a couple that do that, but I feel like you typically don’t see that anyways.
I don’t know, we’ll see. I don’t think so. I think there’s so many stage points on the line and if you can get those stage points, then even if you do wreck, you’ll have a decent points day out of it. I foresee everybody racing pretty hard.”
IN TERMS OF TALKING ABOUT THE PLAYOFF POINTS, YOU GUYS GOT VERY FEW PLAYOFF POINTS WITH ALL OF THE NON-PLAYOFF WINNERS TAKING ALL THOSE POINTS AWAY. HOW MUCH OF A CONCERN IS IT THAT SO MANY POINTS WERE LEFT OFF THE TABLE AND HOW DOES THAT CHANGE THINGS GOING INTO THIS ROUND?
“I don’t know.. I mean I’d rather see them win than somebody else win, honestly. If I can’t win, I’d rather see a non-playoff driver win. So I don’t know, I haven’t really looked at it and thought about it much. But I know for us and our team, we didn’t get hardly any stage points at all in the first round, so I feel like that needs to change. We have to do a better job throughout the first two stages to get some points to benefit us through each race and help us transfer into the next round. Stage points are super important and we’re going to try hard to do a better job in the first two stages to get some points.”
ARE YOU STILL GOING TO MEET WITH JOHNNY RUTHERFORD THIS WEEKEND OR DID THAT ALREADY HAPPEN?
“I haven’t yet. He called me yesterday while I was getting ready to race over there, so I’ve got to call him back. Thank you for reminding me (laughs).
But yes, I want to. He wanted me to take a picture with him and sign the picture that we had taken together at the Chili Bowl a long time ago. So, yes thank you for the reminder. Definitely going to hit him up here.”
WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER FROM THE FIRST TIME YOU MET HIM?
“I don’t remember what year it was.. I had to be pretty young. I’m sure my mom set it up. I think they were all sitting around Keith Kunz’s trailer. Like she always is, she probably set the photo up. I’m glad that she did. When he called me, I didn’t have his number at first. This was a few weeks ago. He left me a voicemail and the first thing I did was I copied the voicemail and sent it to my dad and Jon Edwards. It was super cool that Johnny Rutherford had gotten my number and wanted my autograph. So, that was pretty neat and I look forward to meeting up with him here this weekend and getting another photo op.”