Thursday, Mar 23

Ford Performance NASCAR: Media Day Afternoon Session

AUSTIN CINDRIC, No. 2 Discount Tire Ford Mustang HOW DID THE KEYS GET LOCKED IN THE COACH TO BEGIN WITH AND WERE YOU WORRIED?  “The danger of what we were doing didn’t set in until a little bit later, but I’ll get into that.  To clarify, the Airstream isn’t mine, it’s my parents.  My dad brought it down here for the Rolex and organized it with the track to let us keep it here so we don’t have to go back and forth.  It’s only two or three weeks away, so in between miscommunications, there’s really only one full set of keys and that full set of keys ended up begin locked into the trailer on purpose.  I didn’t quite know that at 8:30 at night. I had a partial set, but it only does the dead bolt and a few other things, which the door was locked, so trying to figure out where the keys are.  Nobody knows where the keys are, so the sleeping bed is in the front of the trailer and I know it’s on a hinge because last year I was having to find fuses under there.  I was like, ‘All right, if I can crawl in there and get enough leverage to push up on the bed, I should be able to crawl. out.’  That’s when I called Harrison.  Harrison comes over and I’m trying to figure out how to lift myself in without breaking the latch and all this other stuff because my dad would kill me.  I had Harrison pick up my legs and shove me in and, from there, I realized I didn’t have near enough leverage to pick up a bed because the hinge is here and there’s about a foot gap I would be able to get in if I lifted the bed up all the way.  I was doing more to pick up all of the other structure around me than the actual bed, so that was a problem.  So then we decided it was a good idea to take off the panel that separates the bed, so we took out like 20 wood screws and that couldn’t pull off because it was stuck on something else.  About that time, enough people on the team and pops had called me and said, ‘Look, the keys are inside, so whatever you’re doing to break in, just keep going.’  So, any means necessary.  Confirmed.  So, I tried to take up the panel and couldn’t do it, so we tried to lift up on the whole thing to see what was keeping the panel from coming off and as I lifted up some of the panels kind of moved and shifted the bed forward and there was a bit of a hole.  I’m like, ‘All right, Harrison is there enough room for you to crawl in if I keep lifting up?’  So I lock out my arms and Harrison shimmies through the hole on the side of the bed and the test is history.  Harrison brought out the keys.  The bed is still stable.  I kind of halfway put it back in position, had to take some stuff off to make sure it wouldn’t move around, but that’s how Speedweeks has started.  I was gonna go to the grocery store and have yet to do that.  I don’t normally do the whole D/O lot, motorhome thing just because logistics – you have to pay somebody and I’m cheap. I also like standing up in the shower.  I sit down in the shower in the Airstream because I’m tall, so all those things add up to me not doing it very often, but Daytona 500 weekend, a lot of logistics and we’re here for a while.  A bit more fun that I thought I had bargained for yesterday after my rental car was two hours late to getting to the airport, so I was already behind.  It’s a good start.”


HOW HAVE YOU LIKE THE DISCOUNT TIRE VIDEOS THAT HAVE COME OUT LOOKING BACK AT LAST YEAR?  “Discount Tire has done the Defending Daytona series and it’s not just talking to me or any of my family members, it’s everybody on the team and what everybody’s individual experience has been.  Through looking back on all of it, even directly after the race, those are the moments that adds gravity to that accomplishment because I get to know what that race and what that moment means to other people within the team. Obviously, I know what that means to me, but I think further than that, even driving in last night and it’s Tuesday and seeing how many campers are already packed in.  That has shown me how big of a race this is and not that I don’t think I took it for granted, but I’ve had a whole year to reflect on the experience and how far reaching the Daytona 500 goes outside of the motorsports community, so I think this year will probably understand how big of a day and how big of an achievement that was, so I’m looking forward to the rest of the weekend and getting my eyes opened a little bit and a little bit of perspective.  But here and any events from within the team or what that means is special for me to hear, for sure.”


HOW HAS THAT WIN CHANGED YOU?  “For  me, I haven’t changed in the slightest.  Even after winning the 500 I had to take my trash out on Monday and I got a jury summons two weeks later.  That was the second edition.  Different story. Different time.  OK, I got a deferral and then I told them they could send me one from the weeks I have off.  I had Roger’s attorney send a letter and everything to make sure.  This is the busiest week of my life.  I just won the Daytona 500 and so they followed up and they sent me one in December and I had to serve on a jury for a week-and-a-half in December on a criminal murder trial.  It was a good life experience, horrible timing.  How does it change Austin Cindric?  It doesn’t change Austin Cindric at all, but it does change how I’m introduced and perceived.  Some people will only and forever know who Austin Cindric is because he won the Daytona 500 and I’m totally fine with that, but it does change and it did change throughout the entire year last year.  It’s not rookie Austin Cindric, it’s Daytona 500 winner.  I mean, even when Sam announced me, it almost seems normal now, which is kind of weird because all of last year it’s like, ‘Oh my God, I did that didn’t I.’  I think how I’m viewed or what people know me as or what people know me for, for sure, I think that changes, but, for me, I approach this weekend just like any other race because I think you need to mentally because it is the start of our season, but, otherwise, it’s certainly something fun to reflect on and kind of gives you perspective on big moments of your life and how you go about them and how you perceive yourself.  Certainly a lot more reflection than just any other race, for sure.”


AT WHAT POINT DID YOU LOOK AT WHAT THIS EVENT IS?  “It’s hard not to compare the two, especially when I had been going to the Indy 500 since I couldn’t even comprehend what I was watching.  The Indy 500 has always been a massive part of my life, a huge part of my family on both sides, so I don’t think there’s really any replacement for that, but, for me, it’s how is the Daytona 500 different and what makes it its own unique event, and it is.  I think that’s fun to watch and fun to be a part of and understanding what this race means to motorsports versus what the Indy 500 means to motorsports and I think they’re two different things.  I think after last year and some of my success, I guess if you look at the Cindric family as a whole, we’re no longer defined by Indianapolis and I think that’s kind of cool to think of my impact on that just throughout our family and as much as racing has influenced everybody else’s path in life under the Cindric name, it’s cool to know that I’ve had that influence and maybe made things a little wider reaching.”


SO YOU DON’T STAY IN MOTORHOMES ON WEEKENDS?  “Not most races.  I’d say I made a list actually last year.  There were about four or five that I picked out last year and ended up doing three or four of them, but I made a list of all the ones that are logistically challenging, like Michigan.  It’s a two-way road all the way up to the racetrack and I cannot be late to the racetrack because the way the garage opening times and opportunities for sponsor appearances work now, it’s flat-out from the time the garage opens to driver intros for a driver now you are going.  So making sure that you’re on track at the track early enough and being in the right place and proximity.  Places like Pocono or Michigan or Talladega, you’re not staying close enough to the hotel for race day, so it’s more just a logistical thing for me than anything else.  I don’t mind sleeping in the camper, but, like I said, I’d much rather somebody else make my bed and stand up in the shower and all the other things I described.  It’s fun, but I see the motorhome life, the D/O lot life as if you have a family, if you have a bunch of friends coming every race.  Those people do need somewhere to be and hang out.  You can’t just bring your girlfriend and your mom and they hang out in the hauler with the pit crew guys before the race.  These guys are here to do their jobs, but I do think I’m probably a bit unique because my dad has somewhere to go when he’s here.  He’s not just a fan or a bystander, and kind of the same with my mom, honestly, so I feel like I’m a bit unique in that respect.  I understand the need for it, but I wouldn’t see me doing it full-time for quite a while.”

HAVE YOU HAD ANY KIND OF RELATIONSHIP WITH KEVIN HARVICK AND WHAT’S YOUR TAKE ON HIS CAREER?  “My most recent encounter with Kevin was at the Coliseum and I got dumped twice in one heat race, but past that, it’s been fun to get to know him.  I would categorize him as a polarizing figure just because I feel like he speaks his mind and I feel like that does a lot for the industry. I have gotten an ass chewing from Kevin at COTA last year and that was an interesting experience, but I feel like understanding where he sits and where his career is at and I think it’ll be fun to see how he races this year.  By that, I mean I don’t think he’s gonna care about anyone else all year, and I think the Coliseum was a good gauge of that.  I feel like probably one of the cooler experiences I had with Kevin is my go kart garage is in proximity to the guys who kind of take care of his stuff and I got to see Keelan go out and drive for the first time and kind of see how he reacts and just understanding that.  Keelan coming back in another time and having a donut on the side of his go kart and he was so excited about it, and I can remember the first time I got a donut on my Bandolero and I thought it was the coolest thing ever, so just kind of almost parallel paths in some way and seeing how having a kid driving, I would never want that, but I’m sure he can’t really avoid it.  I would say that’s probably one of the cooler experiences I’ve had with him, but, otherwise, I expect him to be full throttle all year, for sure.”


DID YOU FEEL YOUR PEERS HAVE TREATED YOU DIFFERENTLY AFTER WINNING LAST YEAR?  “That’s hard to say.  I guess you’ll have to ask them because it was the first race for me really as a full-time driver and I’d only done a few other Cup races, so with a whole group of competitors that I don’t know or hadn’t raced against before, I don’t really know if I had a baseline of what racing Austin Cindric would be like beforehand, so I guess I did it early enough to where there was an effect I didn’t recognize it.  It was probably just more normal for me, I guess.”


WAS THERE EVER A POINT IN YOUR LIFE WHERE YOU WEREN’T GOING TO BE A DRIVER?  DID YOU WANT TO BE LIKE YOUR DAD?  “I never looked at racing as like a job, I guess when I was growing up. Obviously, being around my dad with what he does and the access we had, I knew enough at a young age that the access we had to go to races and hang out with all these drivers like Helio and shake hands with Roger every race day, I knew that’s not a normal experience for someone coming to the racetrack normally.  But it was never something that I really wanted to do as far as within management.  I always loved cars.  I don’t think I really ever thought about it, to be honest.  As I have grown up and become a driver and I know what my dad does and I’ve worked with a lot of people, with a lot of different race teams, and I can certainly see how challenging his job is.  I’ve gotten a lot more perspective on what it takes to be running three or four different race programs in an elite motorsports organization, so I think I’ve gained a lot of respect for what what he does and what’s on his plate as I’ve grown up driving race cars, but it was never really something that I envisioned.  I think about, man, if I was in his spot how would I do that?  Like, oh my God, this guy’s got so much going on, but I always just wanted to a driver, maybe just do something else, but I can’t really think of what anything else would be at this point in my life.”


HELIO CAME CLOSE TO A RIDE HERE AT DAYTONA.  WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO RACE WITH HIM?  “Helio, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Helio was my hero growing up.  He’s such an interesting personality that you can’t not love the guy, especially if you know him personally.  I feel some people might think he’s fake or putting on an act, but he’s genuinely the same high energy person that you see on TV at the racetrack in person or whatever else it may be.  I love the guy and I think his background coming in doing the Daytona 500 cold turkey certainly would be a challenge, but I think he wants to do it.  I’ve talked with him about it before.  It’s something he wants to do and I think just finding the right opportunity.  I mean, the guy has won four Indy 500s and countless races, especially for Team Penske, so I think the guy deserves a genuine shot at running well and not just participating.  If he gets to do it, hopefully I’m there with him.  It would be cool to give him a push or two, but, otherwise, definitely something that would be really fun for everybody to watch and observe and see how well he does.”

KEVIN HARVICK No. 4 Busch Light Ford MustangNO PRACTICE THIS YEAR BEFORE QUALIFYING, WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THAT? ALSO, AUSTIN CINDRIC INSINUATED YOU GAVE HIM A GOOD ASS CHEWING AT COTA LAST YEAR AND A DIFFERENT TYPE AT THE COLISEUM:  “Well, I think the practice thing, I am not necessarily in agreement with having our biggest and first race of the year and having no practice. I am sure there is some sort of thought behind why and what the reasoning is. Not a fan of that especially for what I consider and what I think everybody would consider our biggest race.”


“The other situation -- we all learn as we go. Each week we have things we learn and sometimes you learn them in a conversation and sometimes you learn them on the track. It is all in how you take it and proceed from there. It is part of the process.”




LAST YEAR YOU MENTIONED YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE RYAN PREECE GET A SHOT WITH SHR AND YOU WERE ON THE RECORD OF SAYING YOU WOULD HAVE LIKED TO SEE THE TEAM GO AFTER KYLE BUSCH. IF YOU WERE IN CHARGE NOW AT SHR, WHO WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE IN THE 4 CAR NEXT YEAR? “Here is what I can explain to you on that scenario having been a team owner in the past. There are conversations that are beyond me and the thought processes and things that I am not involved with on a day to day basis. I have learned that speculating on what I would do if it was mine is really irrelevant because it isn’t. I have probably made some comments here and there about if it was mine, but I don't know if that is really fair because there are so many scenarios that play into the decisions that get made from the team owners and managers and manufacturers and stipulations of who you can put in the car and who you can’t put in the car and what you can pay them. There are a lot of politics that go into the decision making as well and politics are just a part of racing in every form and level of racing that there is and each organization has those politics and good things and bad things of what they are trying to accomplish. Look, if it was mine I would do a lot of things differently. But it is not mine. For me, I have had a great place to race for going on 10 years now that fit my situation and hopefully whoever comes in next it fits their situation and aligns with the goals of Stewart-Haas Racing and that particular driver and things that have happened in the past. It is not that I think that they have done or are doing anything wrong, it is just part of the process and just not a process that I am involved in to know the details of where they are headed or going. I have known what I was doing and the process that I was working towards and the things that I was working towards and I think that as you look at those processes, I haven’t been involved in them and I don't think it is fair to be involved in them from a sponsor or driver standpoint or anything like that. I have tried to just do all of this as professionally as possible and let the new processes take place that are fair for the new organization and drivers and crew chiefs and all the personnel involved and the people and sponsors. There are so many things that it affects and I want it to be right and it to be successful for that group of team owners and people and personnel and the driver. Me being in the middle of it isn’t going to make it any better because I just am not a part of every piece of the puzzle like I was when I owned the teams and I am not in a position from the drivers standpoint to say I want this, this and this or things should go this certain way. I had a lot of control of being a part of those conversations when I did it. What I want and what everybody else wants are two different things. That is a long winded answer for that I am irrelevant to the conversation.”


WILL YOUR TOLERANCE THIS YEAR BE A LITTLE BIT LESS IN YOUR FINAL SEASON? “Dale Jr. summed it up for me by saying it was my NFG tour. If we have to settle scores we will settle them immediately. We aren’t waiting until next week. If it rolls, we are settling them.”


YOU TOOK OVER FOR DALE EARNHARDT AND A LOT OF PEOPLE SAY YOU ARE THE CLOSEST SINCE HIM IN THE WAY YOU RACE. DO YOU TAKE GREAT PRIDE IN THAT? “I like to look at it as I race like myself. Everybody tries to make comparisons and I think for me it is really trying to stay -- and I have always tried to stay true to myself and do the things that got you to this point and made your own path and fight for what you think is right. Do the things that it takes on the race track that put yourself in a position to be competitive and win and do all the right things. It is really not about -- I don't want to drive myself into that conversation personally because I have just always tried to do the right thing. Sometimes it hasn’t been right and sometimes it has been wrong. You learn from those situations and try to do better next time. It has taken me a long time to do that.”


YOU SEEM TO BE THE GUY IN THE GARAGE THAT OTHER GUYS RESPECT AND LOOK TOWARD: “Yeah, that is probably my fault that I didn’t try to, instead of just stepping back out of that over the last four or five years, not in the last year-and-a-half, but the four or five before that, step back because it was just frustrating and felt like it was a waste of time. It really wasn’t. It really probably wouldn’t have been a waste of time but I think when you start seeing your colleagues get hurt, then it really lit a fire to me to make sure that you didn’t leave them hanging before you left and you tried to establish something that was better for them before we left. For all of us it has been eye opening to have to establish relationships and talk to each other in the same room because it just hasn’t been that way in 15 years. When Dale and all those guys were coming up through the years, those guys all traveled together and were really good friends and it has kind of evolved away from all of that with the way that today's industry works. For us to have to sit in rooms and talk to each other and learn more about each and get to know each other, I feel like I have gotten to know more of the guys over the last year-and-a-half than I have in the last 10 years. Fortunately for me it is a really good thing and good timing to try to help, but it is also great timing in transitioning to the TV booth to know every single one of them when I get up in the booth. Other than the new guys that are coming in one or two at a time, I will know them all and be able to talk about them because I know them. It is important for those guys to continue that and get to know each other more because in situations you are going to be in it again where you need everybody to be able to collaborate and get the things that you want and fight for the things that are the right thing for the drivers and not the team and what costs less. There has been a lot of very productive conversations and I think we are in a very good place with where we are as a group and I think we are in a good place with our communication with NASCAR and the things that we talk about and the progression that we are moving forward and doing the things that we need to do. Sure, it all came to a head but most good changes and situations all kind of come to a head. The thing that everybody did was say, okay, we need to stop and we need to sit down and we need to figure this out. That is when you get the adults in the room and you figure things out. We all stopped bickering at each other and tried to be productive and that is where we are today.”


FOR THE NEXT 38 WEEKS OR SO, AS YOU GO FROM TRACK TO TRACK TO TRACK, DO YOU THINK THEY WILL ALL GIVE YOU AN OLD MAN GOODBYE GIFT LIKE A ROCKING CHAIR OR SOMETHING? ALSO, DO YOU THINK YOU WILL SOAK IN EACH WEEK AS YOU GO ON THIS FAREWELL? “Well, I don't know how good I will be at soaking it in because I just get too competitive and get too locked in to what is going on. I feel like we have done everything that we can do to put things in place with logos that everybody can use and giving the fans a chance to come back to the race track and be at the races that they want to be at and do the right thing for the people and the sponsors and the team and everybody involved to go and do the tour one more time and have fun with it but also be competitive. For me, it is going to be a balance between taking all of that in and not being grumpy because you are in the competitive mindset. I explain that to people all the time. There is a difference between a meet and greet at the car or one away from the race track. They are two different people. Yeah, we have put a lot of things in place to just try to make it simple. As simple as possible. But I also understand that it is important. I feel like your last year is important and I feel like Tony and his group was really good to have in my corner because of the fact that they have already been through this. Having a few years to sit back and say, “I wish I would have done that.” And listening to Tony and try to take as much in as possible is important. It will take me a little bit to really try to find the balance of that and remembering that and also being in the competitive mindset. Some weeks I will do good with it and some weeks I will not do so good with it. We have had great leadership from him and his group and SHR to know what he would have done different. I think that is why you see it has unfolded the way that it has and everything has a proper plan. Everything was done beforehand so that we didn’t have to do it twice. There was a lot of different things and for me, I have been involved with every piece of  it every step of the way to make sure we tell the story. We are telling a story of 30 years of racing through helmets and paint schemes and social media and interviews and special interviews. I am prepared for the extra time because I know there is a responsibility to help tell those stories and relive those situations and it is a part of what you have done. You have to take a little bit of pride in presenting that correctly and that is what we have tried to do.”


DOES THE START OF THE SEASON FEEL ANY DIFFERENT TO YOU RIGHT NOW, KNOWING IT IS YOUR FINAL SEASON? “For me, I have always been a planner. I always feel like when I start the season I know what the plan is and I know what I am trying to accomplish and what I am working towards. From the racing side it is the same. But, this year is just a different plan. You go out and execute the plan and start working on the next plan. As we go through the year, there are obviously things that will have to be executed and we will have to change some things along the way as special opportunities pop up. Whatever the scenario is, I think we are all prepared to change course and do things that pop up. But as you see the Fox booth stuff announcement and everything that goes with Fox, it is important to know we are going to get started with that this year. We are going to be in the booth and on Race Hub and work towards all the things we are working towards on that side of it. There is a lot more to do this year than a normal year. It is still less to do than there was 20 years ago. It is still a pretty light load compared to how I came up and the things that I had to do and appearances and things like that. You just have to be a good multitasker.”


IS IT AWKWARD TO HAVE PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT YOU AND YOUR CAREER AND WHAT YOU HAVE DONE AND CONTRIBUTED TO THE SPORT? “It was really awkward in the beginning before the day that the announcement came out that it was going to be the last year. It was very emotional up to that point doing all the videos and things that came with that. But I think after the announcement came out and you saw how it was received by people and just the way that it all went, that was a relief. You feel like you did a lot of the good things along the way and you tried to do the right things and race hard and do the right things for people and try to help people along the way because it isn’t easy and not everybody has the opportunity to just do it. You have to have some help along the way. I think the response that day and since then has made me relax a lot more. I always worry about what people think and some people may not think that, but I think as you go through this you worry about what people think because your reputation is really all you have.”


SPEAKING OF BALANCING, YOU HAVE SPENT THIS WEEK WITH KEELAN RACING ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STATE. WHEN YOU DO THAT STUFF WITH HIM, HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO BALANCE EXPLAINING TO YOUR KIDS THAT PART OF YOUR RACING STORY IS COMING TO AN END BUT ON HIS SIDE IT IS JUST BEGINNING? “Yeah, well he doesn't want to hear anything from me about advice. So that is always interesting. For me, I spend a lot of time coaching through the coach and twiddling my thumbs at the race track trying to get everything established from what he drives and things he can compete in with the people he is competing with and trying to put him in the right environment and cause as few wars as possible between the two of us. For me, with all the things that are happening with the tour and the ownership group and going to all these short tracks and learning how things work and the Legends Cars and seeing different short tracks and different races and different streaming services and things you are dealing with, that has all been good for me. There are a lot of things I can accomplish just being at those events and understanding how those things work and how they go. Talking to the short track racers or Legend Car guys, there are a lot of them that race late models or super late models and bleed over into all kinds of different racing series. There is a lot there. Being that it is your kid, you take a lot of pride in what is going on, but there is also a lot of life lessons and things you want him to learn about being a good person and it isn’t always about going fast, a lot  of it is about life. I think racing teaches your kids well and this is a great group of people that I have grown up with my entire life and he has been around it his whole life but there are a lot of great life lessons that you can be taught and learn no matter where you are racing. That part has been fun because you look at it from a much different perspective and you see it from a different angle and you see it from the grandstands and see the parents and the pride and the fights and all the things that go on. You get to step back and really look at those things from a different perspective. Keelan racing is really the reason that I have raced longer than I had planned because there was so much that I remembered that I loved about racing when he started racing because of the fact that you remember why you go to the race track. You remember the pride your parents took in what you did. Seeing that and feeling that was really rejuvenating for me to really go and keep doing it.”

BRAD KESELOWSKI, No. 6 Nexlizet Ford Mustang – THERE HAS BEEN A LOT OF TALK THAT THE FORDS MAY BE REALLY FAST IN QUALIFYING TONIGHT. HOW CONFIDENT THAT EITHER YOU OR CHRIS [BUESCHER] CAN MAKE A RUN FOR THE POLE? “Oh, I have no idea… literally no idea what to expect during qualifying. I know the Hendrick cars have been on the pole… I don’t know, the last 25 races here? It feels like every year we come to Daytona one of those cars ends up on pole. I wouldn’t count anybody out there. We’ve worked on our stuff, but so has everyone else. Everyone has worked on their cars to be better. I don’t know what to expect, but hopefully it’s a great result during qualifying. Outside of qualifying: The front row… it doesn’t matter. When the Duels get started, you kind of laugh to yourself, ‘Why did I worry so much?’ So, we’ll see.”


WHAT’S THE DIFFICULTY LEVEL WITH THIS CAR OF TRYING TO GET BACK UP-FRONT AFTER GETTING SHUFFLED BACK? “I think it’s a little bit more difficult to get back to the front than the old car, that’s for sure. I have to really be meticulous and make all the right moves. The car doesn’t side draft like the old one did. It reminds me more of when I ran a truck here — when you fall to the back, it’s really a dog fight to get back to the front. I think that just means that you can’t lag in the back. The Gen 6 car: I think there were a lot of times when you could just run in the back and have no issues. This car, you can’t do that.”


HOW MUCH OF A DIFFERENCE DOES NO PRACTICE MAKE? “I don’t know. I think having no practice is different, but I’m not sure exactly how to feel about it. I think for qualifying, it puts more of an emphasis on the team. Because if there’s something not right with the car, you don’t get a chance to fix it before the ‘big lap’ or even before the Duels. Normally, you come here and practice… you’d come back and the guys would put the car on jackstands to look underneath it if there was a leak or vibration. They’d quickly address it to be ready for the next event. Obviously, that’s not the case without practice. So, it puts a lot of emphasis on the mechanics to be right. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.”


IS THERE A LOT OF PRESSURE ON YOU WITH NO PRACTICE? “No, I don’t feel any more pressure without having any practice before qualifying. It’s just different.”


DENNY [HAMLIN] SAID YOU WERE ONE OF THE BEST SUPERSPEEDWAY RACERS IN HIS OPINION. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO HAVE ONE OF YOUR PEERS SPEAK SO HIGHLY OF YOU? “It’s flattering, but candidly, I’d take his resume over mine at this time. He has three Daytona 500s, and I have six Talladega wins – which is great, but I’d like to have a Daytona 500 win to go with it. I’ve been fortunate. I’ve had some good races and bad races on plate tracks – and everything in-between. I’m just really hungry to bring this one home. I’ve been so close the last few years, it’s been painful to walk away – not so much empty-handed – without the trophy. I guess in my own eyes, to make that list you have to have a Daytona 500 trophy.”


WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU NEED TO GIVE YOU THAT “EXTRA EDGE” TOWARD A DAYTONA 500 VICTORY? “Some of it has been a coin-flip, some of it has been a different move. Candidly, I think all the scenarios have been a little  different. It just feels like Daytona is a harder race to win… or a harder race for me to win. You need to be willing to make bolder moves here at Daytona. Generally speaking, I think drivers are willing to do more for the 500 than anywhere else. That tends to lead to a lot of accidents you can’t control.”


LAST YEAR, YOU GOT OFF TO A REALLY GOOD START HERE AND LEFT HERE WITH A LOT OF HIGH HOPES. HOW DISAPPOINTING IS IT THAT YOU TAPERED OFF AT THE END? “Daytona is just not a good indicator for anyone as to what to expect for the season. It never really has been. For us, we had a great Speedweeks, and we all wanted to believe that we were going to have a great campaign for the entire season, but that just didn’t materialize. It just doesn’t connect to what most tracks take to run well. That’s not necessarily a good or bad thing. It’s just a reality. For us, we didn’t have the year we wanted last season, and we were in a significant rebuild process – I don’t like to use that as an excuse. But, it’s the reality. We’ve done things to go backwards in order to go forward, and I’m hopeful that it’ll bear fruit here this year.”


DO YOU THINK YOU’RE ABLE TO OFFER MORE OF YOUR THOUGHT PROCESS TO THE TEAM THIS YEAR? “I hesitate to build-in any excuses, but I’ve kind of lived this ride before – once or twice to be honest – with teams I’ve been with. There’s just no lightswitch. There’s no, ‘ Hey, we’re going to do this.’ You don’t get beat by one thing. You get beat by a thousand little things that aggregate to one big thing. So, the process of fixing a thousand little things is daunting. It’s very time-staking. We fixed a lot of them, but we’re nowhere near perfect by any means.”


WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A PART OF SUCH AN ICONIC TIME OF THE SPORT, BEING THE 75TH ANNIVERSARY OF NASCAR? “It’s just a number at the end of the day – let’s just remember that. It’s no different than your age or my age. But, it’s a reflection point and it’s important from time-to-time to take it. My immediate thought when I hear ‘75th Anniversary’ is just remembering the 50th. I remember watching an awards show where Bill France Jr.  walked Ben Kennedy out on stage and him saying that he was the future of the sport at that time. He was definitely right – he nailed that one. I remember all the stuff with the ‘50 Greatest Drivers,’ the special logo and all that. It does not feel like 25 years ago.”


IN THIS SPONSORSHIP CLIMATE, YOU DON’T HAVE A PRIMARY SPONSOR FOR ALL THE RACES LIKE YOU’D USUALLY HAVE. HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU NEED TO TAKE TO LEARN YOUR SPONSOR? “A lot. The reality is in NASCAR, the teams need money to compete. You need money to acquire the talent and the resources to be competitive. It will always be a challenge for not only motorsports, but also all sports. For us and NASCAR, the money really comes from a couple different buckets: It either comes from sponsors, which is the primary bucket, a little bit of the purse and charter agreements, or it comes from an owner willing to put their own money in and lose a lot of it. Those are really the three main revenue drivers, and in that sense if you want to have a sustainable business, you can’t be reliant on owners that make contributions. That will run its course – it always has and it always will. So if you go to the next bucket, it’s the sponsorship bucket. We can’t exist without it. In that sense, it becomes a primary focus to the detriment of other things – your time or interest of the sport, which takes a backseat. I suppose that’ll remain the challenge for years to come, and it’s certainly the task and challenge of being, with respect to one another, a team owner or driver. There were parts that were easier [before], and there were parts that were harder. But I wouldn’t say cumulatively it was easier.”


HAS YOUR LEVEL OF OPTIMISM INCREASED FROM THE OFFSEASON REGARDING THE RELATIONSHIP OF NASCAR AND ITS TEAMS? “It certainly feels like there are some good things going on in our sport with respect to the media landscape and with respect to the team owners and NASCAR holding hands. I feel pretty optimistic.”


WHAT WOULD BE THE NEXT STEP FOR TEAMS AND FOR NASCAR TO MAKE SAFETY ADVANCES IN THE SPORT? “I feel pretty good that NASCAR has made some really good steps with the cars this offseason. Do I think it was everything that could be done? No. But I think there was significant progress. I suspect this conversation will be one that doesn’t go away for quite some time. The level of severity and the frequency we discuss it may perhaps diminish overtime. I look at the NASCAR Next Gen car – it really comes to mind here in Daytona – and I think to myself that the car was really built around the worst case survivability crashes… like here in Daytona and what we’ve seen with Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman and some others. We have definitely taken a step forward with those types of crashes and the car’s ability to protect the driver. The trade-off for that, to date, is the car is more prone to medium impact severity hits that cause injury. It’s hard for me to judge which is better or worse – I don’t know if that’s fair. Ideally, it would be equally better in all scenarios, but that hasn’t been the case so far. The changes that were made have real potential to move the needle forward – I think they have and will. It’s fair to say we are not where we want to be with the medium to low severity impacts compared to the Gen 6 cars. Hopefully, that will be just a quick footnote, and we’ll find some ways around it. I think it’s fair to say coming out of The Clash that there wasn’t a lot of positive sentiment.”


ARE COLLISIONS MORE CONTROLLED HERE AT DAYTONA THAN AT THE CLASH? “I think that’s fair to say. The bump drafting here tends to be when you’re within two-three miles-an-hour of the car in front of you, and generally when you hit somebody at a speed discrepancy greater than that is when you have a crash – generally but not always. A lot of what you saw at The Clash was probably more within the five to 10 miles-an-hour range, which is a more significant impact by a good bit. I don’t know if I have any major concerns this weekend. I don’t personally but don’t want to speak for everyone else. I think there’s opportunity for improvement. We knew when we built this car that it wasn’t going to be perfect. We’re learning where the gremlins are and playing a little bit of whack-a-mole with them in some ways. And in some ways, there’s a sentiment of, ‘Man, I wish I would have had that from Day 1,’ and in others there’s a reality that it’s impossible to do that without getting out on-track, racing, and finding out. Each individual case you drop in those buckets. I feel like the car has delivered on some of the things we’ve hoped for as an industry. I think right now, there’s a lot of conversation around safety, and not to say they’re not merited, we always tend to focus on the things that aren’t where we’d like them to be and not the things that are where they need to be. I’d say there’s some things I really like about the Next Gen car. I like the fact that I can go to a mile-and-a-half track and run side-by-side with somebody, and not lose the air off the right side and immediately spin-out and wreck. I think we’d see a lot better mile-and-a-half racing with these cars. That’s been a big win. I think there’s been a whole lot of other wins. The arms race of building the car has seemed to have somewhat leveled off for now, and that’s been a win for the car. The safety one is the most alarming, and where we were last year wasn’t good. I think NASCAR did a great job pivoting to the best of their abilities given the size of our industry – it’s hard to do – and we’re on a much better path than we were. But, there’s still some work to do.”


ELTON SAWYER MOVES INTO THE ROLE SCOTT MILLER HAD LAST YEAR IN THE COMPETITION DEPARTMENT AT NASCAR. WHAT’S YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH HIM, AND WHAT DO YOU THINK HE BRINGS TO THAT ROLE? “Elton’s got a cool head on his shoulders. I respect the hell out of him. I think he’s seen this sport through a lot of different lenses – a driver being one of them, and at one time I think he was a team president or something to that effect. He understands the competitive element from the drivers and team side, and he’s been at NASCAR for at least a half-dozen years. I think he’s a really well-rounded person who has the ability to see a bigger picture than most anyone else in his shoes. I think he’s earned his opportunity. It’s a big hire for NASCAR – a big gain. If you would’ve challenged me to sit down and find five or 10 names to put in a hat for that position, given Scott Miller’s semi-retirement, he would have certainly been one of the men I’d put in that hat. I thought it was a really good move.”


HOW DOES IT FEEL TO SHARE THE GRID WITH SOMEONE WHO HAS INFLUENCED THE MOTORSPORTS WORLD LIKE TRAVIS PASTRANA? “Travis has done a lot for motorsports. He brought it to a different group of fans, I think, the audience NASCAR wouldn’t normally bring in. He’ll probably bring a different group of fans and eyeballs to our race this weekend here at the 500. He’s a good dude, and I’ve had fun getting to know him… five… ten years. I’m sure he knows the 500 is going to be a big challenge, but I’m happy for him.”

JOEY LOGANO, No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT NO PRACTICE?  “I don’t have much thoughts on it, if I’m being honest.  I’m OK with it.  If I’m being honest, if we had practice, we’re gonna run single car runs.  That’s kind of boring for me.”


WHAT IF YOU WERE ONE OF THE OPEN TEAMS?  “If we were one of the open teams, it would probably be nice, especially if you haven’t driven one of these cars before.  I’m sure that would be nice, but it is what it is.  Does adding a practice make the race better?  I think that’s a question you’ve got to ask.  As a competitor, do we want to practice?  Yeah, we like practicing because it’s something you can work on your car and evolve and kind of move along, but everybody gets to practice too, so there’s no advantage to do it and at the end of the day if you’re the sport as a whole, whether you’re the RTA, or NASCAR, or whatever, you look at it and say, ‘Did practice make the race better?’  You’re probably gonna say it didn’t.  That’s why we don’t have any practice anymore these days because it just doesn’t seem to make the racing any better.”


ARE YOU SURPRISED THAT THE TEAMS WILL BE AS CLOSE AS THEY WILL BE TONIGHT WITHOUT ANY PRACTICE?  “I mean, there’s not much you can change these days.  We all have the same parts and pieces on these things, so you’re racing engines and maybe some body stuff, like how you hang the body, but there’s not much you can do in that either.  You kind of maximize what you can.  Everyone is pretty much the same in that department, so you’ve got some setup stuff you’ve got there, but, outside of that, it’s gonna be ridiculously close tonight in qualifying just because you don’t have many areas to race anymore, especially at a track like this.  You set your heights and go.”


DENNY HAMLIN HAD YOU ON HIS TOP FOUR OF SPEEDWAY RACERS.  DO YOU AGREE?  “Yeah, I do.  What am I supposed to say?  Thanks, Denny.”


DO YOU HAVE A TOP THREE?  “Yeah, I definitely do.  I’d say Denny is definitely up there.  Brad is pretty good at it.  Erik Jones has actually gotten good here recently.  I’d say he’s become a pretty smart one out there.  Blaney has gotten pretty good at it lately.  It evolves to the point that what used to work doesn’t always work anymore, so it just kind of evolves because the drivers change, the cars change, all of those things kind of change.”


THERE ARE FIVE CUP CHAMPIONS WHO HAVEN’T WON THE 500.  HAVE YOU SEEN THE DYNAMIC OF HOW YOU HAVE TO RACE THIS EVENT CHANGE OVER THE YEARS?  “The cars have changed.  That’s what the difference is.  They don’t have a bubble behind the car anymore on the superspeedways, where you can just get to the guy’s back bumper whenever you want.  I don’t see anybody purposely hooking anybody.  I haven’t seen that, but I’ve seen very risky moves and it’s just closer quarters because you don’t have that bubble behind the car anymore.  The bumps become more aggressive.  The bumpers are curved, so you get off centered a little bit and it sends that car.  The cars don’t have as much mechanical grip in is as they used to.  They used to have a pair of 400s in the back.  Now, we’ve got train springs in these things.  They’re as stiff as you can get it.  It’s all about getting the ride heights right.  You have no mechanical grip.  You can get to each other easier and you have round bumpers, so you’re gonna wreck.  Not one of those things is good.  It’s a recipe for disaster and then you add what the Daytona 500 means on top of that, the value of winning it as a driver, as a team – not just from a money standpoint, but just having your name on that trophy and what that means.  It’s a big deal and it’s for everybody, not just for four drivers like the Championship 4.  It’s for every car out there, so now you have cars that can get to each other, that don’t handle well, round bumpers, and a lot on the line.  You’re gonna wreck – 100 percent chance.  The weatherman will actually get this one right – 100 percent chance they’re gonna crash.  You just hope you’re not in it.”


YOUR PATCH SAYS CHAMPION 2X ON IT.  DO THINGS LIKE THAT REMIND YOU OF WHAT YOU ACCOMPLISHED LAST YEAR?  “It’s cool.  I still look at it and say it should say four.  That’s the way I look at it, which may just be the way I think through things.  I mean, it’s nice, don’t get me wrong.  It’s a cool accomplishment to have, but I also feel like it was last year and it’s over.  The championship stuff is over to me.  In my mind, it’s over.  It’s nice to run out the season as you can say a reigning champion or previous champion, whatever it is, but it’s over in my mind.  We had our moment to enjoy it, to celebrate and now it’s back to work.  We’ve got to do it again.  The goal is the same again this year.  We can’t do the same things.  We’ve got to find more.  We’ve got to adjust again, so nothing changes.”


HAVE YOU SAID ANYTHING TO BLANEY ABOUT HIS SEASON LAST YEAR AND COMPARED IT TO YOU LIKE IN 2017 WHEN YOU MISSED THE PLAYOFFS AND THEN WON IT ALL IN 2018?  “We don’t really talk about that specifically.  He knows his stats.  He knows he had a solid year last year.  It just was one of those years where you’d be in position to win and something happens.  It’s just sometimes you have those years and sometimes you have years where you don’t think you should win and you click off five of them.  There are years where you say, ‘I wasn’t fast, but I won today.’  Sometimes it just goes right for you and sometimes it doesn’t.  You put yourself in position enough times and it does work out, so I would assume he’s gonna have another solid year.  He’s fast.  Blaney is a fast driver, so if you’re that fast eventually things work out for you.”


HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO GO FROM BEING THE NICE GUY IN AND OUT OF THE CAR TO BEING MORE AGGRESSIVE IN THE CAR?  “I’m naturally this guy.  That’s who I am.  I was 18 years old when I started here, so I got pushed around for two years before I started pushing back.  When you put me in a competitive environment I click to a different gear.  That’s a good thing.  The fact I can shut that off is very important for my happiness, for my family’s happiness in this case, but if we sat down and played a game of Monopoly, I’m out to get you.  I’m there to win and I’m not gonna be that nice about playing the game, either.  No one wants to play games against me at home.  I’m that guy, but when we’re done, I laugh and joke around and have fun, but game night always turns into an argument at home – every single time.”


IS THE KILLER INSTINCT SOMETHING YOU LEARN OR IS IT INNATE?  “I think it’s just something, if you watch races of me when I was a kid, you see the same tendencies.  So, to me, I want to win really, really bad and I try really, really hard.  Sometimes I get over my skis a little bit and that’s part of it at times, unfortunately.  I screwed up two weeks ago.  I made a mistake and got over my skis, so it stinks.  I didn’t mean to.”


SO BLANEY IS AT THE RIGHT PLACE?  IS THAT WHAT YOU’RE SAYING?  “I don’t know.  Everybody has their own place that’s right.  What works for Joey Logano doesn’t work for the next guy.  You can’t model yourself after somebody.  You can maybe look at what they’re doing and try to add the good things to what you are, but the bottom line is I’m not Jeff Gordon.  I’m not Tony Stewart.  I’m not Dale Jr.  I’m not any of these other guys I’ve ever raced against, but I’ve looked at every one of them and seen what they’ve done and tried to add some things to what I do on top of just learning naturally and having experience and learning who you are and what your make up is.  You just have to kind of figure it out.  It’s different for everybody.”


DO YOU SEE AS MANY WINNERS THIS YEAR AS LAST?  IF YOU DON’T, WHY?  “I see a lot of winners again, but I don’t see as many.  I think there was a few teams last year that should have won six or seven that were leading the race and blew a tire or leading the race and something went wrong, the caution came out, bad pit stop, wheel falls off.  There were a lot of times where the fastest car did not win last year, and I think as we evolve there will still be more winners than we typically have had in the past if you look over that, but I’m not sure you’re gonna have to win to make the playoffs.  I think it will be close, but I don’t think it will be as much as last year for that reason.”


WHAT’S IT LIKE WHEN YOU KNOW THAT YOU’VE DONE GOOD FOR ROGER PENSKE?  “It’s great.  I guess I kind of had this moment last week.  Penske has a Heritage Center.  It’s the most badass place you’ve ever been, where all the helmets, trophies, suits, archives of pictures – anything that’s gone through Penske is in this place.  It’s the coolest museum ever and for a race fan like myself and someone that has worked at Penske for over 10 years now, that stuff is really cool.  Then when you see your stuff there it’s special.  It’s not just, ‘Oh, I drove the car and they’ve got a picture up there because I’m the current driver there.’  It’s like stuff and you go back and look at it like, this is part of Penske history and that’s a huge brand.  You think about what Penske means to motorsports and business in general on top of that, it’s a big deal and to have your name involved with big victories together is neat and we’ve been there for so long now and will be for a while ahead of me, and all of it with Shell and in a Ford.  That stuff means a lot to me.  That continuity.  That team.  That loyalty to each other and actually valuing some history is really, really cool.  There’s not many other teams in this garage that can really speak on the amount of things they’ve done in motorsports compared to Roger.”


CAN YOU SEE IT IN HIS EYES OF HOW HAPPY HE IS WHEN YOU DO SOMETHING LIKE THAT?  “No.  It’s the next thing.  That’s why I don’t think he’s ever really been to the Heritage Center.  I don’t think he’s ever been there.  He may have been there for 10 minutes once, but he ain’t there often, I can tell you that much because you hear what he says.  He says don’t trip on your press clippings.  He doesn’t really care about what you did yesterday, it’s, ‘OK, go do it again.  Go win again.’  Great.  Next.  It’s a great mentality if you think about it.  Not many people are wired that way to not be content.  That guy is not content.  Our team motto this year is ‘Never Enough’ for those reasons.  You can always do better.  You can always do more.  You can’t be content and be OK that you won two championships.  As a team, we can’t do that.  We can’t get stuck into a post championship slump.  We can’t get in that.  We’ve got to keep fighting.  It’s not enough.  You’ve got to keep going.”


HOW LONG DO YOU GIVE YOURSELF TO CELEBRATE THE CHAMPIONSHIP?  “Not very long.  You’re kind of working throughout all of it because you’re doing so much media stuff, but we had some great parties and enjoyed it a whole lot as you should.  If you don’t take a second to enjoy it, it’s hard to get everyone to keep working for it, so we definitely took a few minutes to enjoy the championship, but, in my mind and in my team’s mind it’s over.  We’ve got a cool parking spot this week. That’s all it is now.  I’ve got a cool little badge and I’ve got a great parking spot for Daytona.  That’s it.  It’s over.  We’ve got to do it again.”


DOES IT FEEL DIFFERENT BEING A TWO-TIME CHAMPION?  “It feels good.  I still should have four.”


IS THAT THE 22 TEAM MOTTO, ‘NEVER ENOUGH’? – “We’ve got shirts and t-shirts.  I did it with the 22 team.  We thought that was something cool to get behind.  It all came from, I’ll tell you guys the story.  We went to the Ford headquarters and we met with Jim Farley, their CEO.  We go up in his office and it’s me and Paul.  He sits down and the first thing wasn’t, ‘congratulations, you won the championship, this is great for Ford.’  He goes, ‘Well, it’s good you guys won.  You probably are not going to win next year because you’re probably a little bit more comfortable and you guys already did it.  You’re probably not as hungry.  You feel like after ‘20 when you got beat you were probably really hungry to win a championship, but probably not now.’  And I was like, ‘What?’  I was instantly pissed off.  LIke, ‘What did this guy just say to me?’  And after letting it set in for like a month I realized what he was doing.  He’s really smart and now I’ve got a chip on my shoulder because now it’s to prove a point.  I actually sent him an email with a picture of the hats we got printed up.  I said, ‘I’ll send you a hat with some trophies.’  That was where it was, so he found another way to fire me up, so I’m appreciative of it.  At the moment, I was kind of mad at him, but it kind of made sense at the end, so that’s where it all comes from.”


DID YOU LEARN FROM ROGER NOT TO BE CONTENT?  “You’re a product of your environment.  You are who you hang out with and I’ve been there for a while now, a majority of my career.  I’ve seen it.  I’ve lived it.  He doesn’t tell me this.  Roger doesn’t go and tell me anything.  You kind of just know, and I don’t know how much of that was just inside of me already because I can’t really say I’d seen success before I worked for Roger, so it’s hard for me to say what that means, but I will say being around him I’m sure isn’t a bad thing to have that mindset as well.”

ARIC ALMIROLA, No. 10 Smithfield Ford MustangWHAT DOES THIS RACE MEAN TO YOU?  “The Daytona 500 means a lot to every single race car driver.  This is the World Center of Racing and the Daytona 500, when you win it, it’s the only race that you become the champion of the race.  If you win Dover, you don’t become the Dover 400 champion.  When you win the Daytona 500, you become the Daytona 500 champion for the rest of your life, so it is a really big deal.  For me personally, it’s huge.  I grew up two hours away in Tampa, drove across that Interstate of I4 and watched races here in the grandstands and just dreamed about being a racer here at Daytona, so to win the Daytona 500 would be the ultimate.  I’ve had opportunity and I’ve been super blessed to win at Daytona and other races, just not the Daytona 500, so I’d like to get that one checked off.”


HOW JACKED UP ARE YOU FOR THIS SEASON?  “I’m pumped.  I keep saying this over and over, but I feel more like I’ve won the lottery than I have ever before being a race car driver because I announced to the world that I was done, that I was gonna walk away, and here I am.  The only way I can explain that is that it was a gift.  The race team wanted me to keep going.  The sponsor wanted me to keep going.  My wife and kids were excited for me to keep going.  Like, all the stars aligned for me to have this opportunity and still be here in racing and continue to chase my dreams, so, for me, I want to make it count.  I feel like I’ve been blessed and gifted this opportunity and I want to make the most of it.”


IT’S LIKE FULL CIRCLE FOR YOU TO END YOUR CAREER WITH BEING WANTED AS OPPOSED TO AT MILWAUKEE EARLY IN YOUR CAREER AND YOU WEREN’T IN VICTORY LANE.  “Yeah, absolutely.  That was just a bump in the road to a long journey and my career has been like that.  My journey in this sport has been long with many ups and many downs and every part of it I’ve grown through all of is, and so here I find myself at the pinnacle of my career and I want to make it count.  I want to make the most of it and it does feel wonderful to feel like you belong, to feel a part of a team, to feel like you’re part of the family, and I have that at Stewart-Haas Racing.”


YOU SEEM MORE INVIGORATED.  “Yeah, and I think some of it comes from the fact that last year I felt like, ‘This is it.  This is my last chance.’  And I put so much pressure on the fact that each weekend was going to be the last opportunity, the last chance to win a race at Dover, the last chance to win a Daytona 500, the last chance like all these last things and they weren’t.  I’ve learned from that.  I’ve learned that life is crazy and you have no idea what to expect.  Even when you think you have it all planned out and mapped out you don’t know.  Tomorrow is not guaranteed.  We all know that, whether it’s tragic or jubilation you just don’t know what tomorrow brings, and so I’ve learned that throughout the course of my career, but I really learned that last year, so I come into this year free – like I just feel pumped and excited and ready to go.  I feel like I’m playing with house money.”


WHAT IS THE VIBE AT SHR WITH KEVIN RETIRING AFTER THE YEAR AND A NEW TEAMMATE IN RYAN PREECE?  “I feel like the vibe is really good.  Everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing has just a relentless attitude to compete at a high level, and we all want to bring the fastest race cars to the racetrack every weekend and we strive for perfection from the top down.  We have great leadership with our boss, Tony Stewart and Gene Haas, and everybody at our organization they just pull together and we all want what's best for each other.  Obviously, once we get out on the racetrack we all go race for our individual teams, but as an organization we’re ready.  I feel like we’re as energized and as ready as we’ve ever been going into a season.”


THE CLASH HAD TO BOOST RYAN’S CONFIDENCE.  “Absolutely.  I think a high tide raises all ships, especially inside an organization, so anytime you start to hit on success and find speed, that trickles around the entire shop, so, yeah, it’s important for all four of our cars and every team to be competing at a high level because we can all feed off of that.”


WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM TONY STEWART THAT HAS HELPED YOUR CAREER?  “I think the number one thing is have fun.  Tony always had fun.  Even when it looked like he wasn’t having fun.  Even when he was mad and pissed off he was secretly inside having fun making all those smart aleck remarks, so I think it’s about enjoying what you do, have fun with it, and then the other thing is to just go race.  Tony Stewart is the epitome of just climb in, strap in, put the steering wheel on and go race, and he’s been so successful at that throughout his entire career, and as an owner he’s awesome to have as a resource, but also as a friend because he gets it.  He understands what we go through as racers.”


DID YOU HAVE A RELATIONSHIP WITH BJ MCLEOD WHEN HE WAS WITH FORD?  “I grew up racing against BJ in the super late model series all around Florida, but especially here at New Smyrna.  He raced a lot at New Smyrna and I raced a lot against BJ.  When you showed up to the racetrack and BJ McLeod was there, you knew you were going to have to race him to win that night.  He is one of the most accomplished Florida racers we have.  People don’t realize that when they turn on the TV and watch him in the Cup Series how incredible of a race car driver, especially a short track racer, that he is.”


DOES YOUR MINDSET CHANGE WHEN THE INTENSITY RATCHETS UP AT THE END OF THIS RACE?  “You feel it.  It’s hard to explain.  There’s not a lap number that everybody is like, ‘All right, it’s time to flip the switch.  We’re gonna go nuts now.’  It really just happens.  It evolves.  It’s very organic and one guy makes an aggressive move and then another guy counters, and then somebody blocks and then the next thing you know it’s gotten really intense really fast in just one straightaway, and so you have to anticipate that.  You have to feel that energy building.  You have to see what’s going on around you.  You have to be aware of your surroundings and when that starts to happen you have a choice to make.  Are you gonna stay in the thick of it and try and maneuver your way through the intensity to put yourself in position, or are you gonna bail?  A lot of that has to do with where are you at in the race?  What position are you running?  Are you six rows back trying to create something or are you three rows back and got a shot at the lead?  All of those things stack up to making the decision, and every driver is different.


SO WHEN YOU GET TO THE FINAL LAPS AND YOU’RE AT THE FRONT, DO YOU HAVE SOMEONE YOU HAVE CONCERN ABOUT THAT MIGHT BE MORE AGGRESSIVE HERE?  “No.  When you get to the end of the Daytona 500 every single driver is incredibly aggressive.  When you get inside of five laps to go nobody is gonna lift.  I don’t care how nice they are.  I don’t care how great of a racer they are.  I don’t care if they have a track record of being mean or not.  Everybody is gonna do whatever it takes to win the Daytona 500.”


WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION TO TOM BRADY RETIRING AND LEAVING THE BUCS?  “Happy for him that he’s accomplished so much, and I was grateful for the time.  That’s really what I took away from Tom Brady announcing that he was retiring is that I’m grateful for what he brought to Tampa.  Tampa had struggled since we won our last Super Bowl in 2002 I think it was and hadn’t really found the success since then, and so Tom Brady coming to Tampa and bringing that nature and that culture from a winning organization and really putting Tampa back on the map as a football team that can win against anybody and to go on and win the Super Bowl energized our city, it energized our fans.  We started having sold out crowds again.  It was awesome.”

TODD GILLILAND, No. 38 Gener8tor Skills Ford MustangYOU AND HARRISON COMING IN HERE FROM THE TRUCK SERIES A YEAR AGO, HOW DIFFICULT IS IT WHEN YOU ARE SO USED TO RUNNING AT A CERTAIN LEVEL AND THEN IT ESCALATES TO A HIGH DEGREE COMING TO CUP? “I laugh at that because people say it is hardest from Xfinity to Cup but I went from Truck to Cup. It is tough. It takes the same things to be successful in all forms of motorsports. Communication with your team, fast race cars and mistake free fast drivers. Those things are easier said than done but I feel confident that it takes time. It is crazy to see Cup Series guys peak in their 30’s. Their mid to late-30’s and me and Harrison are 22 years old. Hopefully there is a lot of growing left to do but it can be really tough your first couple of years of really just surviving.”


HAVE YOU EVER HAD “THE TALK” FROM KEVIN HARVICK? “I don't know about “the talk”, but I did get a chance to talk to him at the beginning of last year. Me and my dad went over there and talked to him for a long time at his house. He is an all-around super nice guy. He really got me along a good line. That is crazy. I forgot about that. I was thinking maybe I am in for another talk after The Clash when we were spinning each other out.”


THAT IS KIND OF THE DIRECTION I WAS GOING WITH IT BECAUSE KEVIN SAID HE HAS NOTHING TO LOSE BEING HIS LAST YEAR AND NOTHING TO HOLD BACK: “I like that mentality. I think this offseason has really shown me that too. Nobody really knows when their last year will be. It will be cool to watch Kevin this year. I think he will do great things.”


WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT COMING HERE TO THE DAYTONA 500, WHAT GOES THROUGH YOUR MIND? “The Daytona 500 is really, really cool. I have a different perspective on it having grown up coming to the Daytona 500 and thinking it was the greatest day ever since I was a young kid. Just to be able to come here and do it for myself last year was probably one of the coolest days I will ever have in racing. My first 500. Now coming back, it is equally as cool but I also have more confidence than I had last year. But just the Daytona 500 in general is an atmosphere that can’t be matched anywhere.”


WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM YOUR FIRST DAYTONA 500? “I learned it is very busy on race day, as busy as everyone says. There is a sold out crowd and so many different people where this might be their one race a year that they go to. Some of the stars that come out. Really cool to just meet so many new people and just enjoy the whole thing. It is really tough out there. It is like any superspeedway race and it takes some luck and some execution. It is about surviving as best you can.”


FRONT ROW MOTORSPORTS HAS HISTORICALLY HAD A GOOD SHOWING IN THE DAYTONA 500. WHY IS THAT? “I don't know. I think the Ford horsepower is one thing that has always stood out here at Daytona and the superspeedways in general. It is an iconic thing that goes along with Ford. That is one thing. I think for us, I feel like this is our biggest opportunity to come out and shock everyone. Michael (McDowell) did it two years ago and Front Row has always put a lot of emphasis, maybe not as much nowadays because we feel like we can go out and compete every week, but for me the 500 almost feels like something that I can control in terms of making the right decisions and being there at the right spot at the right time.”


YOU AND MICHAEL BOTH HAD GREAT SUPERSPEEDWAY RUNS LAST YEAR AND WERE IN THE TOP-10 FOR A BIG CHUNK OF THIS RACE A YEAR AGO. HOW MUCH DOES THAT HELP BOTH OF YOU GUYS? “I think it is just an opportunity. Obviously Zane (Smith) won the truck race here last year and he will be great company to have out there and Michael won two years ago. At Talladega last year we both finished in the top-10. We have run up front at certain times but to be able to finish up there was really big for us. I think that was our biggest step of working together. I think adding a third car in that step with me and Michael with what we did at Talladega, we should only be better. I think the possibilities are endless.”

CHRIS BUESCHER, No. 17 Fastenal Ford Mustang HOW HAVE YOU CARRIED OVER THE MOMENTUM RFK GAINED TOWARD THE END OF LAST SEASON THROUGH THE OFFSEASON? “Yeah, we ended on some positive notes last year and we were finding some baselines that were working for us at different style race tracks and we come into this year knowing we weren’t as good as we needed to be at any of the west coast swing last year. Some of the early races last year, like Bristol dirt, I don't think we have a hold on that one necessarily, but I do feel like at most of the different style of race tracks we are in a whole lot better place going back this year and are able to work off some of that momentum we ended with and hopefully built on it even more. I definitely feel like we are in a much better place. We got a lot of chemistry built throughout the shop with all the new employees that came in from different organizations and with Brad coming over into that ownership role and seeing the progress and excitement and mindset of everybody by the end of the year, being able to sit on pole a couple races, win the Bristol race and seeing Jack pumped up and excited again. It has been really neat to see and gives us a lot of confidence heading into this season.”


NEITHER CAR MADE THE CLASH, SAME AS LAST YEAR, HOW MUCH SHOULD WE TAKE FROM THAT? “Not much. I really hope those are just rumors about it being a points race next year. We could go pay two-dollars to get on bumper cars for the same experience. Jokes aside, that was a little bit of a swing and miss for us. We are working on it and trying to understand it. It is the only track that is exactly like that, but if you think to maybe like Loudon, a flat track that was not our strongest race, we probably need to have a little more understanding of it. We definitely got more ideas coming out of it. You get those three sessions of practice but even that being the case you only have about six minutes to work on it in between and really can’t change much. You go all the way across the country and what you took there is ultimately what you have to race with a couple of tweaks here and there. It is hard to get that right off the truck. We obviously haven't done it but we will be just fine going forward.”


WILL WE SEE SIMILAR DUAL RACES AS WE SAW LAST YEAR WITH REALLY SPREAD OUT RACING? “No, the shortest way to put the answer is parts. We have parts now. Last year most of the teams down here had one backup to share across two, three or four teams. So, we couldn’t race essentially. That was the scenario we had at RFK. If Brad went out in Dual 1 and got caught up in a wreck then the 17 car wasn’t going to be able to race in Dual 2. We were going to have to ride around and make sure we had a car at the end. Most of the field was in that scenario and it changed the way that race played out. You don't have that this year and to your point, there is a lot more knowledge of how this car races and a lot more track time and working out of the bugs and we have more confidence in what we are feeling and not getting caught off guard in certain scenarios. I would say don't even compare it to last years duals. I don't think you will have anything remotely close to that. I could be wrong, but I don't think it will be anything like what you saw last year.”


DOES IT MAKE YOU NERVOUS WHEN THERE ARE SOME GUYS GOING TO BE OUT THERE THAT HAVE NEVER TAKEN A LAP IN THIS CAR FOR WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN IN THE DUALS? “Not necessarily nervous, but you do think about it. I think the car is completely different from anything that most of us have ever driven. It is completely different from the previous generation of car that we had really been running for over 30 years. I have to think about that, but it has been the same parts and pieces under those cars for that long. That car behaves different in aero situations and is very different. Those guys have to race in. We are all racing to get to the big show and I am not going to hold anything against them if they are out there trying to get it done, but I do hope that they take that little bit of caution and learn what they can get away with a little bit early so that they can race hard and help us all put on a great show and a good race for everybody.”


HOW MUCH DID YOU WORK WITH TRAVIS PASTRANA 10 YEARS AGO WHEN HE WAS WITH ROUSH? “A decent amount. We were teammates that year. I think that was my partial season. I have told a lot of people that the most incredible saves I have seen in a stock car were done by Travis Pastrana. I can’t tell you how many times I would be staring at what I swear was the left front fender decals of his car from behind him and all of a sudden he would straighten it out and take off. The whole field behind him would be off the gas backfiring on the brakes because we just knew he was wrecked, he was spun out. He would straighten it back out and keep digging and we are all just looking at each other saying, “Crap, we gotta go!” It blew my mind what he got away with in that race car. It was awesome to see. Probably not as awesome for him inside the car at some of those points but he was a blast to have around. A really good dude and I am excited to have him back on the race track with us this weekend and kind of coming back to it. It is a very different car from what he drove and it is going to be a learning curve but it will be cool to see him back around here.”


TRAVIS SAYS THERE IS NOBODY MORE TALENTED THAN NASCAR DRIVERS: “I think he is incredibly humble for all the accomplishments that he has in all the different racing series he has done. Two or four or three wheels, whatever it may be. I agree that NASCAR is hard and it is very difficult to figure this out, but it is also something that I think is kind of specific to asphalt racing and NASCAR in general that when you are out of control, that edge is very small. I have not done enough dirt racing to speak real intelligently on it but the little bit I have done, my opinion is that when something gets out of shape or a little over the edge, you have a little more recovery. Like I said, that is not from a whole lot of experience, but just some of what I have experienced in my handful of races I have done. I have had a blast doing it and love it, but it is on edge at any given point in a Cup car or any NASCAR series on asphalt at the speeds we are going. it is a switch of you are good or you are not.”


YOU GUYS WON BOTH THE DUAL RACES LAST YEAR. HOW MUCH OF A DIFFERENCE DOES NOT HAVING PRACTICE MAKE GOING INTO THE DUAL RACES? “It won’t make any difference going into qualifying. Essentially that is just setting your field for the Duals so we can go out there and figure out what we have underneath us. Even before the Duals, I feel like I would like to have a practice to get a shakedown. But at the same time, no matter how much practice we get, we never organize a group large enough to truly get a feel for what our car is going to do in an aggressive drafting situation like you would in the Duals. Now that we don't have a parts shortage and we have backup cars that we can use, I think this is the best opportunity to to out in a Dual race and go run it hard and see what we’ve got and not have the 85-90% that you would in practice. We can truly get a read on it. If we need to make an adjustment we can change it for practice, but I don't think in those practices you will see massive drafting groups to know. You will just have to make the change and trust it is the right one.”


SO ARE YOU TEAM PRACTICE, OR TEAM NO PRACTICE? “I am team not understanding all of the practice after a race and before a race. It is confusing to me that that is the window, but I guess for me I see it as being okay to fire off into the race without practice. We did it through those COVID years straight into a race and that was hard. After only a year under our belts with this car and only very limited practices through the year, I don't feel like we are fully prepared to do that. It just seems like we could have used a 20-minute shakedown to make sure travels are right and everything is going to be fine before we get out into the Duals but then having all the practice in between the Duals and the 500, I don't quite understand.”

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