How about your first Daytona 500?
“I don’t know what to expect yet, but it’s just super cool to be here. I’ve done the Rolex twice, I raced go-karts here when I was 12, 13, 14, so I’ve spent a lot of time here growing up and I’m just excited for the chance; just to take in a lot of learning at a very high rate of speed. It’s going to be tough. It’s the biggest uphill battle that I’ve probably had to make a race. 2018 Indy 500 was going to be tough for me to make that race, but we made it fine so that was good. But this one is going to be a real challenge. Lot of good drivers, lot of good teams that are also trying to qualify so we’ll see what happens.”
What has been the reaction from people about you doing this?
“It’s been very cool. Honestly, I have an incredibly supportive fan base that’s been with me for a lot of my career but even a lot of folks that have been new to following me since I’ve been with 31 Media and Dale Jr.’s company and the podcast that I’ve had, so there’s been a lot of really nice people that are like ‘we didn’t really know about you but we like what you say about racing and we like what you do.’ That’s been cool to be a part of and I just love this sport. There are a lot of fan bases that are like we’re only NASCAR, we’re only INDYCAR, we’re only F1. I like them all, so I don’t know why we can’t do more of that and hopefully there is a little bit more of love spread to all of them as we try to do a little bit of both NASCAR and INDYCAR at the same time.”
Have you discussed racing at this place with Dale Jr.?
“He has been a great resource. He is on my team of supporters, which is really nice. Him and Tony Eury Jr. my crew chief has been a great resource to lean on. He’s got so much experience in this world and at this track specifically. It’s great to be where I’m at even though it is a massive challenge ahead. I still feel very lucky to be here with this group around us.”
As a kid growing up in snowy Indiana, how cool was it to turn on the TV every February and watch the Daytona 500?
“The Daytona 500 means that the race season has started. Thankfully, that means we’re going INDYCAR racing very soon after – March 5th in St. Pete – so it also means that everything is finally going again. Football is over sadly; we love football. But it’s time to go racing. I’m excited.”
What do you anticipate the nerves being tonight?
“I’ve had the qualifying described to me multiple ways. One way was it’s easier than driving down the highway, so that’s good. And the biggest learning experience with be with all the other cars me. The qualifying will be very much about feeling the platform of the car into one for the first time, into three for the first time, obviously running high to generate momentum and low obviously for the qualifying runs. So kind of feeling just how the track is and after the checkered flag continuing to drive hard all the way around to the pits so you get an extra half lap of practice. Anything will help, anything will matter. There’s a lot where these cars efficiently run in the draft, where they don’t efficiently run behind other cars, so it’s figuring that out on the fly because I can be told all of that but until I literally physically feel it in the seat you won’t really know how to best react to it.”
How much of a bummer is it not to have that practice before this year?
“It sucks, honestly. Practice sounds great but honestly all of my NASCAR stuff – actually all of it – both my truck races, the Cup race, the Xfinity race I did have practice and qualifying and that went well. But there’s been no practice for the roval for me; there’s been six laps before it broke and the truck races there’s been no practice either. I guess I’m kind of used to it in the NASCAR realm, but I will always take practice.”
There’s not much that translates from your only other Cup start on a roval to this place.
“There’s not a lot but there is when it comes to the systems of the car and like the gearbox and feeling how that works, the brakes. The brakes will be different obviously for the oval, and the pit speed. The pit speed was something I had to get used to because we have a nice, handy dandy pit speed limiter in INDYCAR. That is something that I do have experience with and that is good but it’s all at a different place now.”
Did you have to take this opportunity now because it may never come around?
“Exactly. We have a sponsor, which is the only reason this is happening. There’s a lot of business that goes into motorsport. BitNile.com has been a huge supporter of mine and they love motorsport, what racing is doing in general. I think everyone is seeing how big motorsport is right now, whether it’s NASCAR or INDYCAR or F1, everything seems to be all tides raising all ships. So we’re using it and a lot of other companies are using this sport to do great things. This was an opportunity that was presented to me and it was debatable for a little while. You never know if you get another shot at it so why not. It’s a great upside and the downside is really not big because we’re still going to have our sponsor, we’re still going to go to COTA to race there.”
How did it present itself to you?
“Helio (Castroneves) will have an opportunity to do this race pretty much any time he wants, so when he looked at it he was like ‘well, you know, that is going to be tough to make it, maybe I don’t need to do it,’ which is fair because he’s Helio. He has plenty of rings and trophies to lean back on. For me, it’s a bit of a different scenario. I’m also a bit younger than he is so I don’t know what’s going to happen but I could just take this opportunity and run. But it did happen quickly.”
Is this a one and done for you?
“I never do anything one and done. I’d love to do more as much as I can, but obviously you never know when those opportunities come about. My goal would be to learn a lot this race and learn a lot in the Dual to use in the race we get to do on Sunday top then hopefully come back next year and feel way better. Who knows? I can’t tell the future, but I’ll do anything anytime any place.”
This team did qualify for the race last year. How helpful is that?
“It’s great, for sure, and it was a crazy scenario for them last year with the pit road speeding penalty and having the help of Kurt Busch, too. I talked a lot with Kurt last week at the Clash and he’s been a helpful resource as well. I’ve tried to find some friends to hopefully help me in the Duals as well. We’ll see what happens when the qualifying decides who’s in what Dual.”
Will you be in COTA?
“As far as I know. It was announced that we’ll do COTA, too, so that will be cool.”
Do you know how many race you will do this year?
“Definitely we want to do four with the potential to maybe do seven. But I think that all depends on how the scheduling works out and how everything is going as well. We want to do the Indy road course double. The others we aren’t really set on yet.”
Does making this race play into the other races?
“Honestly, whether we make this race or not doesn’t affect the rest of our schedule, which is why we’re doing it. It’s like massive upside, low downside.”
What have you been able to do to prepare?
“Thankfully, Chevrolet has been really helpful. To be part of that team, we use that INDYCAR simulator a lot and right next door is the Chevy NASCAR simulator. I basically just went from one door to the other last week and Kyle Busch is on the simulator before me but I got in at the end of the day with Tony Jr. there, too. It’s cool to be a part of that Chevrolet Racing team. I’ve been with Chevrolet now for years. Helpful to get in, but like Kyle told me ‘you’re not going to learn much on this simulator for Daytona,’ which is understandable because again I think a lot of what makes this race so challenging and so difficult is what happens in the pack, what happens in the dirty air, in the movement of the cars that affects each side of the car and affects everything. That’s something that’s impossible to simulate.”
Learning those launch points for qualifying in the sim must have been helpful?
“That’s what we worked on most – leaving pit lane and shift points and then kind of the process of how that is going to work. Because, again, the shift points were something that I guess I didn’t know needed to be different and certain rev ranges, so there’s a whole lot that will be new to me but it was nice to get in that rhythm of how we’re going to leave pit land and here’s how it’s going to happen.”
Any tips for Kyle Larson for the Indy 500?
“I think he’s going to be really good. He’s going to be with a really good team, which is super important. I think he’s going to love it but it’s going to be hard. I don’t think he’s going to be bad at all. I think he’s going to be in a good position. I think the best part about that is that we do have a week of practice. That week every single day of Indy 500 practice is so important because it is so hard to get that car I the right window for qualifying and a completely different race car as well. I think he’s going to enjoy the process of it because who doesn’t enjoy driving race cars more? That guy does because he drives race cars every day. It’s really cool and I hope to be a part of it as well.”
Have there been individuals that have given you advice?
“AJ Allmendinger was the first guy I called. He’s been helpful and really honest with me. Corey LaJoie and Chase Briscoe, those have been guys that I’ve leaned on a lot. Denny (Hamlin) I’ve spoken to a little bit. I also don’t want to bother people. You can get advice but until you actually feel it though the seat that’s what will adjust how that advice filters through my brain.”
Has the cross pollination of drivers from one series to another helped rise the tide of motorsport?
“The funny thing about the cross pollination is I don’t think I’ve seen anyone – whether you’re Jimmie Johnson going to INDYCAR or Kyle Larson going to try the Indy 500 or even me coming to try the Daytona 500 or Fernando Alonso coming from Formula One to try the Indy 500 – I haven’t seen anyone say I actually didn’t want to see that. Of course you want to see that. Especially if you’re a passionate NASCAR fan, why would you not want one of your guys go try to fight with some of the best in the world in the Indy 500 or wherever it is? It’s got to help every sport because it’s fun to watch, it’s something different. We’re always craving something new, something different to be entertained by and that’s pretty cool to watch and I’m a race fan.”
The Daytona 500 qualifying is different from the Indy 500.
“It’s a different program in general. There’s a couple of different ways of making it whereas Indy you’re either fast enough or you’re not. It’s very challenging but there’s one process. This is going to be a new experience and hopefully you end up on the right side of it.”