What are you look to for this year?
“Offseason was pretty good. I feel physically, mentally, I’m in the best place I’ve been going and prepared for the season. I joined Josh Wise’s group with Chevrolet, so that was cool. I think that’s going to help me throughout the year. I’m already seeing some benefits with that, and thank Chevy for putting that program together too. And for having Kyle [Busch]. Obviously, the Clash went well for both of our cars at RCR and now we’re at Daytona. It’s one of my favorite places that in the past hasn’t been Kyle’s favorite, so we’re going to try and make it one of his favorite places.”
What has been building that relationship like between the two of you?
“I think, Kyle, one of the cool things when we got Kyle was he actually offered me a job to go race for him. He already had a mutual respect for me to give me an opportunity like that. When he came over here, I think that a lot of the things we do in a racecar, obviously his credentials are way higher than mine. We think about racecars the same. Our setups are very close together at the Coliseum, so I’m looking forward to seeing how that goes throughout the year. When we go to different place, I think we’ll be closer together and happy about our racecars. He’s a competitor. I love his drive, his fire. He does not like to lose. He’s all about winning. In that, he puts a lot of effort to do that and a lot of behind-the-scenes things go on to make sure we’re prepared to get to the track. I’m excited. Obviously, we had momentum last year, and it was a good year for RCR. We want to keep that going and bringing in Kyle just does that.”
What’s it like going from a competitor [with Kyle Busch] to now a teammate?
“You feel a little better about racing around him for sure. He takes every inch out on that track and it was nice to help us at the Clash. Obviously, we had a fast racecar and knew that. He was about one thing, and that was getting that win for RCR. It was good to see. I’d say in a points-paying race, it might be a little different, but I want to repay the favor as much as I can because he’s already bringing a lot to our company. People are really excited in the shop, and they want to do well for him and everybody there.”
You’re the only Chevrolet driver to win the Daytona 500 in the last eight years. Is that coincidence or…?
“I like this place. I like coming here. We obviously won the last race here at Daytona, and a lot of it is being there at the right time and right place. Putting yourself in good positions. The good Lord has blessed us with two trophies here and hope we can get some more. I’ve also been in the fence. We stay away from those, and I’ll be happy.”
When someone like Kyle [Busch] comes in, how does that change the pressure you put on yourself?
“I think it, obviously, pushes me. I love the push that he brings. I definitely want to step up our level for the No. 3 team and compete each and every week to push him. I think the cool part about Kyle, everything you can accomplish in this sport, he’s a Hall of Famer. For him, there’s only one thing he looks like, and that’s how he can win a race. He’s not worried about what I’m doing. I’ve had a lot of competition within teammates throughout the years. Now I think it’s organic that we’re both trying to do one thing and that’s make RCR the best we can and bring home trophies and championships.”
Having a teammate like Kyle, does it raise to perform yourself and that expectation?
“I think every year I’ve had to make sure I put out a good level for the No. 3 team. The number alone brings its own pressure. I feel like this year with Kyle, I feel like he’s established so much and for me, I’m establishing and creating that establishment as a pretty solid driver in the sport. More than anything, I want to improve on what we did last year. We both made the Playoffs last year. Kyle obviously, made the Playoffs, but how do we take RCR to the next level, and that’s consistently getting multiple wins, and multiple wins is what it takes to win a championship. You’ve got to win more than once, so for me, that’s the goal.”
In the offseason, you spent a lot of time reviewing tape, and working on things with RCR. How has that helped you prepare for 2023?
“I think more than anything getting ready for the season, preparation-wise, using the Wise-optimization program has been the best thing that I’ve done. Trying to get things kicked off right and be ready for the season. I do feel good.”
Do you think it’s been rejuvenating for [Kyle Busch]?
“I think it’s rejuvenated him for sure. I think he’s excited to get to the track. He knows that each and every weekend our organization is going to deliver. I know he’s pumped to be going to the track.”
It’s been five years since you’ve won here with the Daytona 500. Does it seem like it’s been that long?
“2021 was so close to winning it again, and that sticks out in my mind. 2021 was probably my best Daytona 500 truthfully. Even 2018, we won it, but 2021 I felt like we dominated the weekend. Won the Duel, ran upfront the entire race and I was so close in that one. I’d love to have another one of those but get two spots from there. It’s not like we just disappeared from the 500, and we’ve been up front for a lot of them. I want to go out there and try to do it again.”
Of the ones that got away, is 2021 the Daytona 500 that stands out the most?
“That one just flowed so well. It just felt so good the entire weekend. Things came naturally, and I made some moves that were really good. The car was fast. Some Daytona 500s are a grind from the time you go out on the track; that one just flowed. That’s one thing why it sticks out in my mind. Probably the biggest heartbreak was the Coke 600 last year. That one hurt the most because it was just right there in my grasp. Had four tires and made a good move and then it all came crashing down in about 500 feet. That one hurts the worst, but the 500 was a good race. If you can finish third in this race, second or third, you have to be happy with the situation, I feel like. You’re putting yourself in a great position. Obviously you want to take home that trophy, but you performed well at a high level and got yourself to the end of it, especially in that type of form. It’s not like it came down to the last lap and we were there; we were there the whole weekend.”
As a Daytona 500 winner, you know this place. You know this car. What do you look at in the Duel? What does that mean for you?
“I think this year is a bit different than last year. We’re in a little bit better of a position than last year with cars. I’d like to be a little more aggressive personally, to see what we have. Use it as practice, and I’d say most guys are going to. The hype is gone as far as having the backup. Guys raced hard last year. You take a winter break, and I think the Clash is a good thing where you beat and bang on each other for a little while to kind of soften the Duel a bit, maybe. If you just came to this race and it was the first race of the year, I’d say you’re going to tear a lot of stuff up in the Duel. So it’s kind of nice to get the Clash underway. You have to use it as a testing ground. You can’t just go out there and ride around to get to the race, but I know some guys will. I’d like to know what we have so I know I can race when I have to.”
What is your mind set up when racing doesn’t go your way? When you don’t the win? How do you take it in stride?
“I do a pretty good job of it, keeping my mindset the same. Consistency overtime usually pays off. That’s a big thing with me, being consistent in how I react to things. The [Coke] 600 did hurt. I did lose some sleep over that one, but past that, it’s been pretty good. I usually don’t lose much sleep at night.”
Is that how you’ve stayed even-keeled through changes like teammates, crew chiefs, etc.?
“I think so. If you take the highs and the lows hard, it’s hard to sustain in this sport. You’ve got to be able to stay level, even on the high days. I like to have a good time when you win because you don’t know when your last one is, but you also have to get over it quick and to the next race.”