CHANDLER SMITH, NO. 13 KAULIG RACING CAMARO ZL1, Daytona 500 Media Availability Transcript:
Where is your mindset right now?
“Just qualifying, simple. Kaulig Racing has got a really good track record as plate racers as an organization. From Xfinity over to Cup, they’ve been pretty solid. They’re still really green to the Cup series, so we haven’t built up that portfolio that we have in the Xfinity series as far as the reputation as being strong on plate races, but it’s definitely got really good over the past few years they’ve been in the series. For me, I know if I make it into the race, it’s going to be good. I just need to make it in, hit my shift points good and get a good launch off of pit road, obviously. I’m the first one off. I’ll be the first one to hit the racetrack, which is crazy. I’m excited for the opportunity to get the call right out of the Trucks series. To have the opportunity to come run the Daytona 500 is pretty crazy.”
Have you been able to pick their brain on what they’ve learned from the Next Gen car last year?
“A little bit. It’s a completely different aspect of racing compared to what they’re accustomed to in a Xfinity car, and what I’m accustomed to in a Truck. It’s a different animal. I want to get into the race and learn as much as I can in the Duels to apply it for Sunday if I make it in. Taking it one lap at a time.”
There’s no practice. Do you wish you had that opportunity? Are you okay with being the first one to roll out there?
“If we lived in a perfect world, we’d have practice before qualifying because who’s to say right off the bat we had a problem with the clutch or anything. If we had practice, we’d be able to identify a problem and fix it before qualifying. It’s been like this for years, so it’s not going to change and that’s fine.”
Did you get a decent amount of sim time to prepare?
“We did one sim session for Daytona. Daytona is kind of a weird place to get on the simulator because nobody does it. I got on there to practice launches and whatnot. I practiced a launch also out in the parking lot and was able to feel where the clutch released and all that good stuff and feel how the throttle throw is compared to Xfinity and Truck. All that stuff is crucial for my launch off of pit road, so to be able to feel that in real life and not in the simulator was really big.”
“I drove [the car] around and stuff. The steering rack I’m really familiar with because it’s what we run in Super Late Models, as well. It honestly - the fundamentals, the feeling with your feet and all of that stuff - it all feels the same. Even though everything is completely different, in my opinion it all felt the same.”
Do you think you will have any nerves or be calm?
“Oh, I’ll have some nerves. It is the Daytona 500 and it is my first Cup series debut. It’s a really big deal. Considering that I’m going up against the guy who got me started, Jimmie Johnson, it’s pretty surreal. Also, at the end of the day and the fact of the matter that I got the opportunity to come do this, I’ve been busting my butt; praying for this opportunity all off-season, been putting in the work. I know everyone at Kaulig Racing has been too, so we’ll give it our all.”
Is there anything aside from making the Daytona 500 that you or Kaulig Racing attribute as a success?
“I think that’s just the first step. I think our honest expectations for us as the No. 13 group is to make the race and to finish all of the laps. I’ve been watching this race for so many years now, and everybody knows about half of the field will end up finishing. For me, at least, I just want to finish the race. Wherever that plays out, that’s where I end up. If I’m able to finish the race, all 200 laps, I’ll consider that a win in my book for my first rodeo here.”
What if you wind up like a Trevor Bayne (and win on your first race)?
“Oh, I’ll go for it. Kaulig Racing has a really good reputation for plate racing and I know if I make it in, I’ll be working with my teammates. Like I said, we have a good reputation with staying with each other and working together and that’s been prevailing on the Xfinity side. Looking for that to transfer over here and there will be a lot of success that comes with that.”
How much race strategy have you talked?
“The biggest thing that’s been emphasized to me is pit road.. how hectic it is and whatnot. I’ve done some studying on SMT; digesting how hectic it really is, how brake spikes and what people do. The little things that each driver did with this Next Gen car last year. Granted, this was the first place they came to and had a heavy brake on pit road, so everyone didn’t really know how deep they could go. There were some things I picked up there; getting everything you could out of it that and some drivers were able to do.”