HOW WOULD YOU RANK THE SUCCESS THIS YEAR AND DID YOU SEE THIS COMING LAST YEAR?
Yeah, I think that the season has been good. Its tough, because as a race car driver, I am very greedy. If I don’t win the championship, I wouldn’t say that it is a perfect season. With that being said, I feel that it was a huge step from first year of Trackhouse to second year of Trackhouse. Right now, I feel like we are working hard to build up our house, and we have done that. I feel like the 99 team has a lot of things still to prove. And for me, with how we are running, I know that there is potential for more, and that is very exciting. I am very happy with where I am, I am very happy with Trackhouse, and the 99 team. I have an amazing team and we are going to continue to fight. I wish I was still in the playoffs and fighting for a championship, but it just wasn’t in the cards for us. But we have the speed and honestly everything to give these guys a fight. We are going to continue to do that and close this season as strong as possible so we can start building momentum for next year.”
YOU TALKED ABOUT THE TEST HERE, AND HOW MUCH THE TIRES DROP OFF. HOW IS THAT GOING TO AFFECT DRIVERS PUSHING OUT TO THE OUTSIDE WALL AND HOW QUICKLY WILL THAT HAPPEN?
“Very, very quickly. Honestly probably the fastest I ever remember. The last time we were here, before the Next Gen car, we were in a high downforce package. So the last time we were here with a lower downforce package was a long time ago and honestly, in the long run, it feels that way. It feels like you don’t have any grip. But it is fun. I think that is going to make the racing very, very fun and I think you guys are going to enjoy that. I think that when we start, and in the first 10 laps, you guys are going to see cars like bees – everywhere. Then slowly we are going to be migrating to the top like we have always done. We will see what happens, but I think in the long run, it is going to be tough to pass. That is reality, but it has always been that way here. So, once everyone migrates to the top, its going to be tough to pass because everyone is going to be running very, very close to the wall. But we will see how it works. It is pretty free and if you are too free, maybe you can’t run the wall. There are going to be a few options and there are a few things I have in my mind, and we will see how things play out.”
WITH THE PENALITIES TO COLE (CUSTER) AND BUBBA (WALLACE), DID A: NASCAR SEND A MESSAGE AND B: DID IT CHANGE ANY OF YOUR PERSPECTIVE ON WHAT YOU MIGHT DO TO HELP ROSS (CHASTAIN) AND WHAT YOU MIGHT DO IN THINKING ABOUT RETALIATION?
“Honestly, it hasn’t changed anything in the way that I think or the way that I do things. Because in my opinion, all those moves were extremely, extremely dumb. Both of them. And with both of them, I was going to be extremely surprised if they were not penalties. Like before even those situations happened, I would never do something like that. Not that clear, you have to be smarter. I don’t know what those guys were thinking. I am glad NASCAR is reacting to this, because when is too much? When is too much of helping a teammate? People know I want to race, and I race everyone very hard. But in the next few weeks, I am going to race Ross, not super hard. Just because he is my teammate, and I know what is ahead of him. I am going to keep racing him hard, and I will never give up a win to help him. But definitely, my level of aggression toward my teammate right now, is going to be a little bit lower. But I will never brake to give up a position and I know the consequences of that. That is not professional. The same thing in wrecking somebody in the way it happened last week, its not smart, especially with everything that is happening right now. Honestly I am glad NASCAR stepped in and they were able to put everyone in their places because it was too much.”
IS IT ONLY NATURAL THAT WHEN YOU COME TO SOUTH FLORIDA, YOU JUST FEEL A LITTLE MORE COMFORTABLE? YOU ARE GOING TO HEAR PEOPLE SAYING VAMOS IN THE STANDS AND ALL THOSE GOOD THINGS. DO YOU FEEL SOME COMFORTS OF KIND OF LIKE HOME?
“Yeah, definitely, I definitely do. There are a lot of people that are talking to me in Spanish and everything starts I would say driving to the racetrack. If you turn on the radio and you start flipping stations, everything is in Spanish. Then we get to the racetrack and most of the security people speak Spanish. So, the energy just feels different, and they make me feel like home. And that feels very amazing. I really feel good and its hard to explain that to people. I don’t expect everyone to understand this, but me being away from home 98% of the time, I am able to have this experience and it feels very good. Miami is this way and there are many racetracks that are this way. Texas, every single race on the west coast, and yeah, I really feel more like home in coming to places like this. And I know that there are going to be a lot of fans speaking to me in Spanish and bringing some Mexican flags. We have a lot of support and that is something that I really enjoy a lot.”
DOES IT FEEL LIKE THE RACING IS A LITTLE MORE AGGRESSIVE THIS YEAR IN THE PLAYOFFS THAN IT HAS IN THE PAST OR IS IT JUST BECAUSE ITS PRESENT TIME AND WE THINK LIKE THAT?
“You, know, that is a very good question. Good or bad, I think I have a very short memory when it comes to that kind of stuff. I think back then, last year, I think the racing was pretty aggressive as well. But I think that just because of the package, It was aggressive for longer because everyone was more tied together with a high downforce package and less power. Right now, I feel like its kind of a hybrid between the high downforce that we used to have and the low downforce that we used to have. But I think that we seem to race equally aggressive. Last week I had a pretty good experience because I was in the front the whole first half of the race in Stage 1 and 2. I was top five, top two, leading the race and I thought ‘man, we got this’. Then we had a very bad pit stop and I went to the back, and I was like ‘holy…,this is where the dogfight is’. So yeah, everyone has been very aggressive, especially in Stage 3, but yeah, as a race car driver I enjoy that. But yeah, just seeing everyone in the present right now, we see everyone being very aggressive and I feel that everyone enjoys that. You guys, media, and us as drivers as well.”
REGARDING RETALIATION, MARTINSVILLE AND THE END OF THE SEASON AND MAYBE RUNNING OUT OF TIME TO PAY THAT BACK
“Yes, we can. You just have to be smart about it. You can’t do it the way that (Bubba) Wallace did it, that is completely unacceptable. But retaliation is not wrecking somebody like that. With retaliation, you can put someone in the wall a little bit. NASCAR won’t penalize you for that. But what happened last week, it was just over the line.”
DO YOU SEE MARTINSVILLE NEXT WEEK AS BEING KIND OF CHAOS WITH SOME OF THE PEOPLE THAT OWE PEOPLE HERE AND THERE?
“You know, the way that I see it is that there are a couple of guys that owe me something. But the way that I see it is that you don’t, and this is just my opinion, I don’t wait for Martinsville to say, ‘okay, these two guys owe me something, I am going to pay them back at Martinsville’. I don’t think it works like that. The way that I think it works is that it just comes to you. If one day that guy that did something to you is close to you, and for some reason you are struggling, maybe that is the day that you are going to give that back. Again, its not wrecking, its just to give that person a very impossible life and maybe put them in the wall a little bit to remind him, ‘hey, remember what happened a few months ago?’. It happens and I don’t think you wait for one racetrack to do those things. I think the moment just presents itself.”