“Yeah, it was fun. It was a really good time over at Boat Yard Eats. We had Fast Cars & Guitars with Matt Stell and Dee Jay Silver. It was just a fun night to get everybody together. Had a few industry people, as well as some KBM people and some outsiders that we met for the first time. Had some great sponsors for the event. It was really a great kick-off to the weekend. We had KBM fan day in the morning and then closed it out with the concert last night. So all around, great cause for the Bundle of Joy Fund and raising some money and awareness for the infertility issues, and what we’re able to help with Samantha (Busch) and myself. Samantha did a great job being able to orchestrate all of that and put it all together, so hopefully it was a good fundraiser for us.”
HOW WOULD YOU SAY YOU GUYS ARE STACKING UP RIGHT NOW VERSUS THE HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS AND JOE GIBBS RACING CARS?
“I would say the 1.5-mile stuff, I feel like we’re really close. We’re right there. Kansas (Speedway) was a really good look for us. I felt like we had a good top-five, top-three speed. Anything can happen in the end of these races and you can contend for a win. Obviously our short-track program is a far miss right now and we’re all trying to figure out what exactly is going on there and why. We can look at all of the sheets and see all that stuff, and try to correlate it as close as we possibly can and copy, but it’s not relating to the race track in our cars at all. So there’s a disconnect there somewhere.”
WHEN YOU LOOKED AT THE SCHEDULE PREVIOUSLY, ESPECIALLY GOING INTO THE SUMMER, THERE ARE A LOT OF THE SIMILAR-TYPE TRACKS.. 1.5-MILE, INTERMEDIATE-TYPE TRACKS. NOW, IT’S ALL OVER THE BOARD WITH ROAD COURSES, SUPERSPEEDWAYS, ETC. IS IT HARD TO BUILD CONSISTENCY WITHIN A PROGRAM TO STRING TOGETHER GOOD CONSISTENT RESULTS BECAUSE IT’S SO DIFFERENT NOW ON A WEEK-TO-WEEK BASIS?
“Honestly, I kind of feel like it would be harder to build – like out of six weeks and you had four short-tracks, we wouldn’t have time to breathe because we’d be sucking so back. But when you have four out of six weeks with a 1.5-mile track, it would feel pretty good. We’d be excited about that, ready for that. I think it’s a matter of your program and how that’s looking for you in the particular moment. We kind of know our weaknesses and know that we need to get better on those and continue to evolve the whole organization.”
IF YOU DON’T GET ANY PRACTICE AND QUALIFYING, ARE YOU IN MORE OF A DISADVANTAGE IN THE FACT THAT YOU’VE NEVER RACED A RCR CAR HERE AT THIS TRACK?
“Yeah, certainly that could kind of be a little bit of a stance. I would just hope that the simulator stuff that we did, as well as the sheets that we’re able to see and the notes that we’re able to see from the Hendrick Motorsports’ guys and whatnot - what they’ve done because Kyle (Larson) tested here. He tested here a few months ago or whenever it was for the tire test, so we kind of relied heavily on that and what those guys did, and through our key partner relationship with Chevrolet. If we don’t have any practice or anything like that, that’s what we would base off of.”
GATEWAY LAST YEAR WAS AN INAUGURAL EVENT AND EVERYBODY WAS UP ON THE WHEEL BECAUSE YOU WANT TO WIN THE FIRST ONE. BUT OTHER THAN THAT, WHY DO YOU THINK IT RACED MORE LIKE A SHORT-TRACK, WHERE IT WAS EXTREMELY AGGRESSIVE, EVEN FOR A TRACK OF THAT SIZE?
“Yeah, I guess probably more so because of the shifting than anything. You’re able to go into the corner and downshift, and come out of the corner and have the torque, engine and everything else. If you kind of slip up or you bog the center of the corner down a little too much because your car is too tight, you’re going to lose that momentum and you’re not going to have that speed, so you’re just going to be slow. I feel like everybody can kind of bounce right back coming out of the turns in relation to their center of the corner speed. But overall, yeah I thought it was quite an interesting race. I feel like the line really moved around a lot. I could not run the bottom at either end of the race track – I was kind of a top guy. So that was kind of fun to see the place really have some character.”
SINCE YOU’VE BEEN INVOLVED WITH RCR AND THE WINERY, HAVE YOU BEEN DRAWN INTO THAT WORLD? HAS HE TAKEN YOU THERE AND MAYBE DONE SOME MEETING OR EVENTS?
“Well that was actually our first meeting that we had after Austin (Dillon) called me, and when it was time to have a discussion with Richard (Childress), that is where we met. That was pretty cool. It was my second time being there – my first time being there was for Dale Jr.’s wedding, and then that was my second time there. And then we’ve had a couple meetings since. I invited everybody from RCR’s management team and whatnot all out to dinner to do a dinner for them and I wanted to take them somewhere. Richard insisted that we went to the winery, so we ended up going back up there again for that function. It’s a super nice place. It’s really pretty up there. They’re doing some expansion right now, so he’s well-vested in that and it seems to be a really good business form.”
IT'S BEEN A NUMBER OF YEARS NOW SINCE THE ELIGIBILTY RULES CHANGED WITH TRUCK AND XFINITY. YOU’RE BACK IN THE XFINITY CAR THIS WEEKEND. WITH HOW MUCH WE KNOW YOU LOVE TO RACE, THESE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS BEING LIMITED SO MUCH, DO YOU STILL FEEL FULFILLED WITH THE RACING THAT YOU CAN DO, OR HOW MUCH DO YOU MISS NOT BEING ABLE TO RUN AS MUCH AS YOU WANT TO?
“Yeah, definitely miss being able to run as much as I want to a lot. I would love to have way more Truck races, especially. I thought we started out strong and we were going to have a good year with winning at Las Vegas (Motor Speedway) with the KBM Chevrolet’s, but unfortunately we’ve been terrible since. We’re missing something somewhere and we’re trying to figure out why and what. We have an idea, but we haven’t necessarily conquered it yet. That would be one that I would really like to get back into would be the Truck Series and running my own stuff a little bit more.. having some more races to kind of just build the program and make sure that we are where we need to be with our younger drivers. Not necessarily having that experience to be able to dictate and tell exactly what’s wrong with our vehicle dynamic and stuff like that.
The Xfinity side, I could take it or I could leave it. I enjoy racing anything as much as I can. Maybe because I haven’t done them as much lately, the triple in Vegas was a little bit much. But if you’re back to doing them again more periodically, your body gets used to it. That’s how I was early on when I first starting doing triple’s. It was hard and then I got used to it, and then it was easy. Now you’re kind of back out of it, so it’s no different than a workout regimen. You just have to get back in.”
ON THE FLIPSIDE OF THAT, IT SEEMS LIKE THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS, YOU’VE DONE MORE AWAY FROM NASCAR WITH THE DIRT STUFF.
“I have to.. what other choices do I have (laughs).”
HOW MUCH HAS THAT HELPED THAT YOU CAN AT LEAST STAY BUSY SOMEHOW, WHETHER IT’S WITH BREXTON OR TRYING DIFFERENT TYPES OF RACING?
“Yeah, I mean that’s just kind of it, right? Like (Kyle) Larson, I think he’s going to run 100 shows this year, and that’s just insane. I think I’m only going to be about 20. But the key reason, or the main reason, why I do what I do on the dirt side is just with Brexton. He gets to go run his go-kart stuff or his junior sprint stuff, and I’ll run the micros. We’ll run on the same night, so we’ll be together. We have a big week next week coming up, where we’re going to go to St. Louis and run at Tri-Cities on Thursday, Doe Run on Friday and Wayne County on Saturday – him and me both. It’s going to be a lot of fun to be able to go up there and race those three tracks on three separate nights, and have a good time running, him and I.”
HAVE YOU DONE ANY SIM LAPS FOR THE CHICAGO RACE AT ALL YET?
“No.. not in sim, but on iRacing. We did some stuff on iRacing.”
WHAT WERE YOUR IMPRESSIONS?
“Some of the corners were really, really tight. And how they have the walls coming out of the corners – on the sim, it had cones. You’re coming down this straightaway and there’s another straightaway there, but the ground, the road, is separated with a wall in the middle and there’s cones that are blocking off where they don’t want you to go. So I thought that was weird.. I’m like just extend the wall. But maybe they don’t want to extend the wall because they need areas for safety crews to get out. I’m not the scientist on that, but anyways it just seemed weird when you’re coming around a corner and you have to miss the end of a wall.”
JOHN H. NEMECHEK WAS IN HERE EARLIER AND A LOT OF PEOPLE WERE ASKING HIM WHAT HIS NEXT STEP IS AND IF IT WAS INVALUABLE FOR HIM TO GO BACK TO TRUCKS AND WORK HIS WAY BACK UP. IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT DOES HE NEED TO GET THAT NEXT STEP TO BE A FULL-TIME CUP DRIVER?
“This isn’t to be mean or rude or a bad word.. but he needs six million bucks and he’ll be in a JGR Cup car next year. That’s all he needs.”
“It’s not a success game anymore.. it’s a money game. So if he can find the cash, then there will be a seat for him I’m pretty sure.”
“Oh yeah. I mean we wouldn’t be racing the stuff that he’s racing right now, as much as he’s racing right now, if it wasn’t for the Serv-Pro sponsorship that we have on Brexton. There’s no question that you have to have funding behind you because these owners anymore – there’s not enough money in the sport that they’re making money that they’re willing to reinvest it into their talent pool, into their driver pool, and put it out there. I think Rick (Hendrick) is probably the only one with (Kyle) Larson. Everybody else is all sponsorship driven and fortunately for me, I’ve got some great sponsors this year behind me with RCR. Our program has been building and we’ve been continuing to expand forward on the sponsorship side, so that’s good.”
“Yeah, I mean I felt like he (John H. Nemechek) was really good at KBM. He was engaged. He did a good job. He was always reliable. We could ask him to do sim and he would be there. I feel like on the Xfinity side, he’s been running up front. He’s been fast and he’s been doing a good job. He’s arguably in the series’ best equipment, but when you’re able to excel in that and go out there and win races week in and week out, that gives you that chance or that notoriety to say – hey, I can move up to the next level.. I’m ready for it.”
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO HAVE A COCA-COLA 600 WIN ON YOUR RESUME AND WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO ADD ONE MORE?
“Yeah, I love this race. I remember watching this race as a kid when I was growing up. May or may not have fallen asleep during it, at least at some point.. it’s just really long (laughs). But it’s got the history of 600 miles and man versus machine and all that sort of stuff. Equipment in this day in age is entirely different than what equipment used to be, but it’s a cool chance for us to go out there and run the longest race of the year, and then also kind of feel what that’s like. There’s been a couple times here when you get to mile marker 500 and you’re like – damn, there’s still 100 more miles to go. It will wear on you, for sure, if you’re not made or it or ready for it. But this place is really, really rough over the years and has gotten a lot of character back into it since the repave in I think 2007 maybe, 2008. It’s pretty rough and bumpy, so the 600 miles around here will definitely wear on you.”
WHAT’S YOUR ATTITUDE COMING INTO THIS RACE AFTER COMING SO CLOSE LAST YEAR? ARE YOU STILL FIRED UP ABOUT THAT FINISH, AND WHAT’S YOUR MENTALITY?
“Yeah, we had a really good car early in the race, and then I spun and kind of ruined it. We had a bad race through the middle and we just missed all the wrecks and were in a good spot at the end. We got lucky to actually finish second. It would have been really fun, yet lucky, to win and beat out my teammate Denny (Hamlin) last year. His car was still in good shape and mine was not. Overall, yeah just want to get out on a 1.5-mile track again. Like I said, Kansas was a really good run for us. We got in a bad spot and we crashed, so it would be nice to come back out here and have a good, strong run. Get a top-five and some good points out of this race. There are four stages this week, so that’s going to be a big point reward. Hopefully we can do a good job.”