FIRST TIME WE’VE SEEN YOU SINCE DAYTONA. HOW EXCITED ARE YOU FOR THIS WEEKEND AND HOW ARE THINGS GOING THIS YEAR AS A TEAM OWNER?
“I’m really excited for this weekend. I’ve personally always wanted to race at this track. To have an opportunity to come back and compete on this track, it’s so technical and really a lot of fun to drive around here. Thankful we ended up with a few more laps of practice this weekend with rule changes to the car that led to a practice session today that we’re taking advantage of. I had a great time out there. I’m trying to figure the car out. It has a lot less grip than I remember a Cup car having and certainly a lot less grip than what I’ve been driving over the last two years. Trying to dial that all in and also understanding what this car might respond to from an adjustment standpoint. So there’s still a ton of learning going on but a great experience today and excited about this weekend.”
ARE YOU GETTING MORE INTO THE COMPETITION SIDE OF THINGS NOW OR ARE YOU STILL DOING MORE OF THE BUSINESS MARKETING?
“My focus point still really has been on the business marketing aspect of the team. I sit in on plenty of meetings and debriefs and have a pulse of what is going on in our competition department. If you would have asked me four or five months ago where I’d probably spend most of my time I’d think naturally on the competition side, but there’s really been more on the business side.”
CAN YOU EVALUATE WHERE THE COMPANY IS SO FAR THIS EARLY IN THE SEASON WHERE THE GROUP IS RIGHT NOW?
“So much changes from year to year. We’re trying not to overreact to the first couple of races and performances. You go to Daytona and we all feel like we all had good cars and were competitive. California is after that. We had some weird stuff go on with the splitter and all that dirt and rock and all the debris that was at the track that the splitters delaminated on our cars. It’s really easy to look at that and say that’s the reason why our performance wasn’t where it needed to be. Vegas, Atlanta, Phoenix… we’re at a point now where we have enough styles of tracks that we can better evaluate where we’re to start the year. We’re not where we want to be, but there’s endless work going in the shop. I’m very thankful for the crew chiefs, for Joey Cohen (VP, Racing Operations) and his hard work and focus that’s gone into it and all the engineering that’s behind it. We’re digging along. We haven’t hit our peak for the season yet and I think we now have an idea of where our short-track cars are, what we need to work on – mile-and-half stuff and certainly the restrictor-plate tracks.”
“Much less, without a doubt. I think there’s almost 400 pounds of weight out of the Garage 56 car and around double the downforce. Much bigger tires. Carbon brakes. The Garage 56 car has a lot more grip than a Cup car does around here, to say the least. Just looking in the rearview mirror and seeing how big the spoiler here is this weekend compared to the Garage 56 car, it’s got to be a foot difference in just rear downforce alone. It’s just a much different experience.”
OTHER TRACKS YOU’D BE INTERESTED IN GOING TO THAT HAVE BEEN ADDED TO THE SCHEDULE.
“I will go to the Chicago race. I want to be a part of that. In the last two seasons racing in IndyCar and racing on so many street circuits… I grew up around a street race in Long Beach as a kid and just loved that energy and environment and what street racing’s all about. I want to be a part of that this year. Honestly looking at the Chicago race… Nashville, you’re talking about the oval, right, because they aren’t doing downtown. I raced there a long time ago in a Busch car and I really enjoyed the track and had a lot of testing laps there back when we were allowed to test. I’d love to go to Nashville. It’s not on my radar as of now, but fun cities, fun places and great energy… that’s where I can really help our race team is to help our team shine in those bigger markets to bring in more eyeballs, more corporate dollars, more partnerships. I think that’s somewhere I can really help.”
HOW FUN IS IT THAT YOU GET TO RACE WITH JORDAN (TAYLOR) AND JENSON (BUTTON) THIS WEEKEND AFTER WORKING ALONGSIDE WITH THEM ON GARAGE 56?
“I’m excited for it. It’s going to be fun. We've been talking trash like crazy on text so it’s been a lot of fun already. If we could just have Rocky (Mike Rockenfeller) out there somewhere, it would be nice having all four of us bouncing around.”
“I think international attention for any form of motorsport is super-helpful. I think the regulars in NASCAR knew that they needed to lock it down from a driver standpoint and car standpoint to get their cars right. There’s still points on the board. Stage racing and championships and how they’re determined now are more important than ever. Ringers could come in and take the money pretty easily in the past or at least take the podium spots away. The regulars are just buttoned up now. It doesn’t matter if it’s the team, the car or the driver. That doesn’t mean having ringers come in or very well-accomplished road-course racers and drivers from different disciplines don’t bring a ton of importance and star power to it. To have the names we do in the field and in the starting lineup is super-impressive and I think it’s going to bring more eyeballs to the sport. It’s harder now to be a ringer and show up and expect to be on the podium, but they’re in the field and their fanbases will be watching.”
WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO GET READY FOR LE MANS AND WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS?
“Thankfully we’ve had a lot of simulator time and a lot of testing time. We’ve been able to work through our driver changes, which are pretty unique in a stock car vehicle versus sports cars; having a door is a big difference than climbing in and out of a window and a window net and all that goes to it. Hendrick has done an amazing job. So has GM to give us all the simulator time that we need. We still have another test session or so out there for us and some more sim time. I’m spending time in my home sim. All the racing I’ve done in sports cars, I’ve always been in the fastest category and didn’t have to worry about many cars approaching from behind. It’s going to be a much different experience, especially with headlights. So in my home sim, I’ve been loading up as many prototypes as I can in the session and just have them in my mirror all the time and trying to get used to where to look, why I should look in certain areas and where I should expect those cars. That would be the only twist to it – spending a lot more time on iRacing and also on rFactor 2 getting used to traffic.”
WITH THE VARIATIONS OF RACECARS THAT YOU’VE DRIVEN, DO YOU THINK ONCE YOU’RE BETTER ACCLIMATED TO THIS CAR THAT IT WILL BE ONE THAT YOU REALLY LIKE TO DRIVE?
“I love a car that turns. I love a loose racecar, and I had a lot of that today. I was surprised that the lateral rear grip of the car was as low as it was, and that could certainly be on us and what we’re trying to do with the racecar. I was sideways more than I was ever straight today.”
ARE YOU CONSIDERING GOING TO NORTH WILKESBORO FOR THE ALL-STAR RACE?
“I’ve thought about it, but it’s too close and we’re not prepared for it. Maybe next year.”
“It depends on the crash. That one, there thankfully wasn’t much to it. I got home and back to the swing of things. Physically, the act of recovery is something I’ve believed in. Cold plunges help quite a bit and just trying to work out areas that are sore and just getting the blood circulating and pumping through there. Certainly more severe injuries require proper physical therapy and other aspects of that. Thankfully today, most impacts you just have a sore spot or something that you need to work out. It’s not too bad.”