FIRST OFF, HAVE YOU SEEN ANY OF THE MEMES THAT HAVE COME OUT THIS PAST WEEK ON TWITTER OF YOUR CAR BEING PHOTOSHOPPED INTO IMAGES WITH THE HASHTAG ‘BLAME ROSS’ OR ‘THANKS ROSS’?
“Yeah, I’ve looked at all of them, or as much as I could. There are some awesome, some not-so-awesome. But a lot of fun looking through all of that. I got a lot of good laughs out of it.”
WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION TO DENNY HAMLIN’S PENALTY BEING UPHELD BY THE APPEAL COMMITTEE?
“That doesn’t really involve me. I don’t really have an opinion on it. Not really my deal.”
CHRISTOPHER BELL GETS OUT OF THE CAR AND CALLS YOU A WRECKING BALL AND THEN LATER SAYS HE REALLY DIDN’T DO ANYTHING WRONG. HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH A GUY SAYING THAT AND THEN SAYING IT WASN’T YOUR FAULT. YOU SEEM TO ALWAYS BE TAGGED WITH THINGS THAT MAYBE YOU SHOULDN’T BE.
“I do think looking at it – being as real looking at this whole situation as I can be – I do think it’s easy for a lot of good reasons for guys to point a finger at me very easily and just assume that I’m at fault. But I do think we should probably, as racecar drivers, hold ourselves to a little higher standard and maybe put in a little more effort to get the full story when we get out the car.. ask for a video. I do that with my team, even something as silly or simple at Martinsville last fall, I asked to see it. But we can also get information during the race and I think that spotters, crew chiefs, whoever is talking to us, can tell us honestly what happened from their point-of-view.. not biased as we all are.
But then again, I want Phil Surgen (crew chief) and Brandon McReynolds (spotter) to be the most biased guys in the whole facility here at Bristol this weekend; be on my side and back me up no matter what. I think there can be a lot more facts given to us as drivers. We’re probably self-appointed alphas in our groups, where we’re always right. When we say our car is tight, the car is tight. If your crew chief believes you, then he’s going to loosen the car up. That’s kind of a whole spinoff, but I think we could just do a better job of holding ourselves accountable to finding out all the facts before we go stay stuff on cameras and microphones that we have opportunity to get to quicker than we actually have the opportunity to get to the facts.”
LOOKING AHEAD AT TALLADEGA – THAT WIN LAST YEAR, WHAT DID THAT VICTORY MEAN? WHAT DO YOU RECALL FROM THOSE LAST LAPS?
“Just an incredible career-changing win. To win at one of the superspeedways is just such a crazy lottery to get it done. Thought I would have to pay a lot more dues and will probably have to pay even more dues now and pay it back for many years to come to get another one. But I really remember speeding on pit road; getting freaked out and hitting the gas with a car exiting his stall to my left. And then trying to get the lucky dog and making a very crazy move to try to split the pack up, and then to get the lucky dog and fight back up there. At the end, I just remember them all turning right – like one after another, they just kept pulling to the outside lane and I just stayed on the bottom.”
CARSON HOCEVAR LOOKED AT YOU AS A MENTOR AND HE GOT A WIN LAST WEEK. HOW HAVE YOU SEEN HIM EVOLVE OVER THE LAST FEW YEARS?
“Yeah, a lot. I’ve seen a lot. I got to know Carson (Hocevar) when he came to Niece Motorsports. He was something that Al and Cody believed in early on, and with a little bit of sponsorship, they’ve raced him for two years. And then coming into this year, for Worldwide Express to come on full-time on his truck and take every race, as well as the No. 41 truck that I split with several other drivers. I know every step along the way – from talking about race trucks to pitching him to Worldwide Express to Rob Rose in his motorhome at Martinsville a year ago and initially Worldwide saying ‘no’. And then going back to him - Niece fighting some more and me helping where I could with just my opinion of getting behind him early and support him. We have equal conversations about business as we do about racing. He doesn’t need my help driving a race truck fast.. that’s came natural to him. It’s hopefully helping these younger guys with what not to do. They’re going to have a lot of decisions in their lives and in their career, and if they’re around long enough, they’re going to make the wrong decision a lot. And that’s OK, as long as you keep going.
For Carson, it’s just been about me trying to help him minimize mistakes – whether it be on the race track for sure, but on Tuesday at 10 a.m., you can make an equally bad decision. Just try to surround him with good people that help mitigate those mistakes. And going fast, he’s pretty much got that and he’s got a good group around him helping him go fast. I don’t have a whole lot to say there, other than when I’m driving the truck, it’s really good to bounce ideas off each other.”
IN TERMS OF WHAT CHRISTOPHER BELL SAID LAST WEEK AND HE DID LATER RETRACT IT – DID HE REACH OUT TO YOU OR DO YOU HOPE THAT HE REACHES OUT TO YOU AND APOLOGIZE PERSONALLY AS OPPOSED TO SOCIAL MEDIA?
“I don’t really have a thought on if he should or shouldn’t.. that’s up to him. But from what I saw, he didn’t apologize to me. He apologized to William (Byron). No hard feelings here. If you want to say something to me, like say it to me. I was standing right over to his side, so I’m around.”
WITH THE DRAW FOR THE HEAT RACES, YOU’RE LAST IN YOUR HEAT RACE. IS THIS ONE OF THOSE TIMES WHERE DRAWING LAST IS BETTER THAN DRAWING ON THE POLE WITH THE PASSING POINTS?
“I don’t really know what would be the best. I feel like I’m starting south of town in like Johnson City (laughs). I feel like I have a really stacked heat race just looking at it. Definitely if I could choose, I would probably choose a different one. I think I counted six dirt racers and four of us that are not true dirt racers. I’ll probably get to learn the most though, so if nothing else, I’ll get to learn and watch. Like Kyle (Busch) was saying before I jumped up here, it’s so hard to just not spin out. I have so much to learn. I mainly just want to finish the race. I haven’t finished one of these yet for various reason. If on the last lap, we roll across to the checkered flag, that’s goal number one. The heat race, I’m not too worried about where we start.”
BACK TO THE FALLOUT FROM LAST WEEK, AS YOU’VE NAVIGATED THROUGH THE LAST YEAR AND A HALF, HAS IT BEEN DIFFICULT HAVING THIS REPUTATION OF BEING THE ESCAPE GOAT WHERE GUYS KIND OF POINT THE FINGER AT YOU. DO YOU PAY ANY ATTENTION TO IT WHEN YOU LEAVE THE RACE TRACK, OR IS IT A DONE DEAL AS SOON AS YOU GET OUT OF THE RACECAR?
“So what’s so crazy is – we got out and one of my guys, jokingly, said what’s the No. 20 going to say about you. And we laughed because we didn’t think anything. And then we hear about it a couple minutes later, we were jaws on the ground on pit road there. It caught us completely by surprise that we would get blamed for that. But tying it all together to the last year and a half or whatever – last week, that’s nothing (laughs). That’s easy. I think the only person that had more fun looking at those memes was Tyler Reddick. I think he had a lot of fun watching that stuff.”
THINKING AHEAD TO THE COCA-COLA 600, I THINK YOU’VE HAD FIVE STARTS IN THAT RACE. WITH THAT SAID, HOW HARD IS IT FOR YOU AS A RELATIVELY NEW DRIVER, TO GET USED TO 600 MILES AT CHARLOTTE? IT’S A LONG WAY, MENTALLY AND PHYSICALLY.
“It is. The Coca-Cola 600 last year and the Southern 500 were two races last year that hurt the most that we lost. I thought we had real opportunities to win both of those, which is just an incredible thought that we had opportunities to win those iconic races in this sport. I don’t do much different though to prepare. It’s going to be painful a little bit, and it’s going to be mentally-taxing. Those first two with Premium Motorsports and Jay Robinson were a whole lot harder than what it’s been the last two with CGR and Trackhouse Racing. It’s a whole lot easier to run 600 miles in a fast car. It’s a whole lot hard to run 600 miles, or 588 miles, in a slow car.
Look, those races with Jay were so much about just getting to the next caution, getting to the next stage break. Hoping someone crashed or blew up, or whatever, and there were tires on pit road that we could buy at half-price, and we’d run some of those stints on scuffs. And then something would happen and Jay would come on the radio – hey buddy, we have stickers.. get ready to pass some cars. Just mitigating the laps down. Trying to manage those races was so mentally challenging. Knowing that Jay did not and could not afford for us to be crashing cars, where now it’s about going fast and winning races. Those laps and those years have molded me into who I am today. I can say it’s a lot harder to be a slow car in the Coca-Cola 600 than it is to be a fast car like I am in now.”