YOU HAVE A WIN HERE AT TALLADEGA SUPERSPEEDWAY. TALK ABOUT WHAT IT’S LIKE RACING HERE AGAIN THIS WEEKEND?
“It’s cool to be back at the site of your first win, especially after starting your season off with a win on a superspeedway. Just bringing some confidence in that hopefully we can do it again. Always love being at Talladega and being able to race the sprint car across the street last night and tonight. Just getting extra racing in.
This race track is really wide. It’s four lanes wide pretty comfortably, so it’ll be interesting to kind of see if we can get more than two lanes going. At Daytona and Atlanta, it seems like those two lanes were about all we could get going. Hopefully we can get at least three so we can start making moves and get up through the field when we need to. But feeling really confident coming in.”
WHEN YOUR TEAM LEASES A PIT CREW FROM ANOTHER ORGANIZATION, WHAT ARE THE EXPECTATIONS AS FAR AS YOU KNOW IF THEY DO WELL, I ASSUME YOU KNOW THERE’S A CHANCE YOU CAN LOSE THEM?
“Yes, that is the case most of the time and a case we’ve been in my first two years at JTG Daugherty Racing. We signed on at Roush with a two-year deal with the outline that specified that we did not want our pit crew taken. We would commit for two years if we could keep our guys together. We did that last year, all year long. When it came down towards the end of the season, we were really happy with all of the guys we had last year. We felt like our fuel guy was a little bit slower than where we needed to be at the end of last year, and so we had kind of requested a change there. But wanted to keep all of our guys in-tact for this season because I feel like that chemistry is really important when you’re kind of choregraphing those pit stops. We were really happy with all of our guys. At the end of last year, they let us know they were changing one of our guys. We weren’t really thrilled about that, but they kind of guaranteed us that the guy they were going to replace him with was going to make our pit stops a lot faster. We started the season off and we actually were struggling on pit road quite a bit. We kind of asked – hey, I thought this new change was going to be good. And they said – well, we actually put him on the No. 6 car, so we didn’t actually get the one that they were going to replace one of our guys with last year. So that was a little bit of a bummer. We did get a new guy last week going into Martinsville and our pit stops were great. And then Monday morning, they took the whole team.
I hate it for my guys. Obviously we went to battle with them and won Daytona with them. We had most of them all last year as well and just felt like we really had that good chemistry of a solid team together, and now that’s kind of all mixed up and gone away. So I hate it for those guys having to switch teams, but I know a few of the guys on the team coming in that were on the No. 17 car and Mike Kelley (crew chief) has worked with some of those guys obviously with us both being over there. They had a really good pit practice this week. I feel really confident that I know Mike Kelley can get the most out of guys. Those guys have a little chip on their shoulders, so that never hurts anything, as well. They want to show their worth and what they can do going over the wall. I think we’ll be fine as a race team, but I do hate it for my guys that started going to battle with us last year. That’s the biggest bummer. But yeah, I think the expectation going into it was that would not happen to us. I don’t really know what all the contracts and stuff look like, but that was kind of the mindset going in. I guess that’s what you get when you have the people over there running that place.
But I am not worried about our over the wall guys. I know those guys will get it done.”
THERE’S BEEN A COUPLE OF TIMES WHERE YOU GUYS WOULD GET THREE-WIDE AT VARIOUS TRACKS WITH THIS NEW CAR. AND THEN EVERYONE GOES – SEE, THE DRIVERS CAN DO IT IF THEY WANTED TO. IT SEEMS LIKE THE OTHER SIDE OF THAT IS – PHYSICS, THE NEW CAR JUST DOES NOT ALLOW YOU GUYS TO RACE THREE-WIDE VERY OFTEN. WHICH IS MORE OF THE TRUTH IN THERE, OR IS IT A MIX?
“It’s definitely a mix. You look down at the end of the races and we all just kind of take any gap that we can. At Atlanta, I should have shot the middle. I think I saw an onboard video of Erik Jones kind of running up through the middle there and he gained a lot of spots. I was kind of committed to the No. 48 and the No. 1 that were on the bottom at Atlanta. But it works for a few laps, it seems like. And again, it could be somewhat driver-driven. You watch when cars get single-file on the outside line at Daytona – the inside lane, you start making a run and as soon as one of the cars finds a gap close enough to the front where they’re comfortable being in that ninth- or tenth-spot in line on the top, then they bail and all of a sudden you start hurting the energy of that bottom lane. So I do think that’s driven by the drivers. But for sure, two-wide, you can get it working as long as you have enough guys to stay committed to it.
Three lanes is tough because you’ve got guys that want to either be on the top or the bottom. The middle works really well for a while, but it is a little bit more risky, at least at Daytona and definitely at Atlanta. Here at Talladega, three-wide is super easy to do.
It will be interesting to see. The bottom lane here gets so flat in the tri-oval that I do feel like the middle or top lane can make its way up to the front because you end up running the bottom here more than you do at Daytona and Atlanta. It’s hard to do. The car has a lot of drag and you really have to stay in line to do it. But it’s a little bit of both.”
IS IT YOUR UNDERSTANDING THAT THE PIT CREW CHANGE IS FOR AWHILE, OR WAS IT JUST FOR THIS WEEK?
“No, it’s for the rest of the season. Or I guess until the new ones start doing well on our team (laughs).. I don’t really know how it works now, but I know everybody wasn’t really thrilled about it. But like I said, I know that Mike (Kelley, crew chief) has talked to the new guys coming in and they’re super committed to showing what they’ve got, so I’ve excited about that.”
DO THEY HAVE THE LUXURY TO DO THAT BECAUSE YOU’VE GOT A WIN ALREADY?
“That’s above my level. I don’t know. I’m not sure of their understanding of why they feel like that was the best move. Normally when something happens like that, we’re requesting something different or whatnot. But I think our guys last week averaged first on pit road. We were thrilled with that obviously, and then we kind of got the rug pulled out from under us.
But like I said, I think it’s going to be great for our team. I think Mike Kelley will get our guys dialed in like he always does. I just hate it for the guys that have to leave our team.”
DID THEY GET THEIR RINGS BEFORE THEY GOT TAKEN?
“We haven’t yet, but I’m sure they will. We won’t leave them hanging.”
HOW DID YOU FIND OUT ABOUT THE PIT CREW CHANGE? I THINK I HAD READ ON NASCAR.COM THAT IT WAS AN EMAIL?
“I did not receive an email. Jenn received an email of talking points, but I don’t think I followed those (laughs).
Yeah, it goes through our Competition Director with Ernie (Cope) and those guys, and then I get filled in. Mike Kelley actually called me Monday night. He kind of waited all day Monday, trying to figure out if they could change what was being done. But he called me at probably 9:00 p.m. on Monday night.”
YOU TALKED ABOUT HOW YOU DIDN’T WANT TO LOSE YOUR GUYS.. YOU’VE BEEN ONE OF THE BEST ON PIT ROAD. WHEN A CHANGE LIKE THIS DOES HAPPEN, DOES IT UPSET THE CHEMISTRY A LITTLE BIT?
“Definitely. There’s a lot that goes into this sport – not just over the wall. We have a brand-new pit box this year that the guys have been working on during the off-season; getting it setup, getting it put down, getting it put back together and getting it ready to go. There’s just a lot of different little things that the pit crew guys have to kind of manage, and I know our pit boxes are totally different than the pit boxes that they’re used to. So just little things like that. Now I’m sure this weekend, our road crew guys are going to have to go out there on pit road and kind of walk through the whole scenario of our pit box with them. There’s just a lot more work for some of our road crew guys and then obviously our pit crew guys have to kind of figure that out, as well. But the actual – I’d say choreography going over the wall and stuff is the same. They practice at the same place. They’ll have to get used to me coming in and out of the pit box, which is obviously a little bit different. Our guys have been with me for over a year now. You can go to pit practice and kind of practice that, but it’s nothing like when you’re actually on pit road. It’s really easy to pull in your pit box at pit practice; a little more chaotic in live time. So things like that are definitely going to be different for them.”
HOW WILLING DO YOU HAVE TO BE IF YOU WANT TO BE A GREAT SUPERSPEEDWAY RACER, WILLING TO CRASH, TAKE THOSE CHANCES ALONG WITH WINNING, AND HOW YOU HAVE TO BALANCE THAT OUT?
“Yeah, I think we all strap-in willing to crash. Going out there, we all know that a major, high probability is that we’re going to crash. For me most of the time, the wrecks I’ve gotten in or when you lose track position, you’re trying to come up through the field and something generally happens. Back when I first started, it seemed like everything kind of happened in the center of the field, and now everything happens at the front of the field. You want to be leading, you want to be at the front of the field. But when we’re throwing blocks on each other like we do now, those crashes happen a lot further forward in the field and collect way more cars. I know there are a lot of drivers that come in here and don’t really care about any of the stats and just see how it works out.
I wouldn’t say that I have a style here that is different than anybody else’s. (INAUDIBLE).. things like that, you have a better shot of winning. For me, that’s all we really focus on.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW YOUR QUALIFYING POSITION CHANGES HOW YOU THINK ABOUT YOUR RACE ON SUNDAY?
“Qualifying, I feel like it’s important, obviously. A lot of people write it off at superspeedways, but I think for me, it kind of dictates that first stage of the race. So at Daytona, we didn’t qualify well. You don’t push to get stage points in that first stage, unless things just work out. Like I was just saying, going up through the field is generally at some point when (a wreck) happens and you don’t necessarily want that to happen in the first stage. For me, qualifying up front, it’s a lot easier to keep your track position with this car than it is to gain your track position, at least out on the race track. You have a bad qualifying effort, then you’re looking at different strategies – two tires, no tires, things like that – to get your track position so that you can get to the front and try to keep it from there.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF THE CHEMISTRY WITH THE PIT CREWS AND HOW YOU PLAN TO BUILD THE CHEMISTRY NOW THAT WE’RE ALREADY INTO THE SEASON?
“Yeah, I think for us and our team, it might be a little awkward for our guys that left because I don’t think they wanted to leave, so it might be a little worse for them. But I think for our team, like I said, Mike Kelley (crew chief) is one of those guys that can really bring the team together and make sure he gets the most out of everybody on our team in every position. The chemistry – at least we didn’t insert one guy and take one out or whatnot.. the whole team basically swapped. I’m confident that when I come in the pit box and I get stopped, those guys are going to be able to get the job done. They’re not learning each other, which is a good thing. They’re going to have to learn Mike Kelley talking on the radio of what adjustments to do and kind of how we go about our business on race day. But like I said, Mike Kelley has worked with a few of those guys – some of them have been on Mike Kelley’s pit crews for a long time. The team captain over there, a long time Roush guy and known him for a long time. He guaranteed Mike that they’d be up to par, so we’re really to rip with them.”
FOR THE DAYTONA 500, YOU KIND OF CAME FROM THE THIRD POSITION AND WORKED YOUR WAY UP AND MADE THE PASS IN THE CHAOS OF THE GREEN-WHITE-CHECKERED. IN ORDER TO WIN HERE AT TALLADEGA ON SUNDAY, DO YOU NEED TO BE IN THAT POSITION WHERE YOU’RE THE THIRD CAR IN LINE AND HAVE THAT BIG RUN TO TAKE THAT LEAD, OR IS THIS MORE WHERE YOU CAN WORK FROM FARTHER BACK OR BE UP FRONT IN ORDER TO WIN HERE?
“I would take leading in race on a green-white-checkered. You control the race. I think the biggest issue that happened (at Daytona) – the No. 8 was leading the race and their mistake was trying to do the teammate restart where the No. 3 backed off a little bit and let the No. 8 pull down. That killed all of their momentum. I think if they would have just lined up together, the move that (Joey) Logano, (Kyle) Larson and I made down the backstretch, I don’t think that happens if they would have started in the same lane together. But for me, I would definitely take leading over anything. I think that’s your best shot to win.”
HOW DOES YOUR FAITH AFFECT THE UPS AND DOWNS OF RACING?
“Yeah, the ups and downs are tough. That’s part of this sport. I know that our purpose isn’t always for what we do every weekend; it’s more for what we do before the race in chapel. I grew up going to church at an early age with my family. If I wanted to race on Saturday nights, mom made sure that we needed to be at church on Sunday morning. That was always a big thing throughout my life and I still do that today. I know we race on Sunday’s, but we got to chapel on Sunday mornings. I think it really just puts into perspective how important your priorities are in your life. Racing is important, but it’s not the top priority. It’s been a journey. My career has been up and down, and I think you could probably talk to a lot of people in the garage that they’ve had ups and downs in racing. You just have to keep pushing through and have the faith that you can get it done. I feel really confident in where I am right now.”