YOU’RE STILL LOOKING FOR YOUR FIRST WIN THIS YEAR. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE SPEED IN YOUR NO. 1 CAR EACH WEEK?
“I feel really good. I feel the continued evolution of the car as the whole garage continues to find ways to take the same piece that we started with last year and make it faster, handle a little bit better and a little more forgiving. I feel like we’re on the leading edge of that and that showed yesterday. One of the few times we’re looking at a 50 minute practice, we go out and we plan making a nice 20 lap run if it’s good. If not, we’ll stop and work on it. We ran 20 and then we ran until the caution came out. We were going to run 30. That was a good sign that we didn’t have to change much. We’re unloading really close; it’s just those fine details and we’re tuning on it. I feel good.”
FOR A WATERMELON FARMER, WHAT’S IT GOING TO BE LIKE TO DRIVE THROUGH THE CITY OF CHICAGO IN A RACE CAR?
“It’s going to be new. It’s new.. it’s totally different. Not like the roads in Alva, for sure. It’s a way to move the needle with our sport. I think over three-quarters of the tickets already sold are new fans, and I’m sure a lot of people are just going to walk-up when they hear the engines fire up. I think there’s signs all over town so they’ll at least know about it. And then when we go roaring down through there, there are going to be so many new fans. I’m bought-in. It doesn’t matter, for me, how my personal race goes or my weekend goes. I could very easily drive it into the tire barriers about every corner if I’m not careful. I’ve done that on the simulator quite a bit. You make the brake zone by just a few feet and there’s no run-off. Yes, I want points and I want to win, but I’m more looking at it from the big picture of us as a whole and if it elevates all of us, it’ll pay off for me in the long run.”
THIRD YEAR HERE AT NASHVILLE SUPERSPEEDWAY. PRACTICE YESTERDAY.. HOW DID THE TRACK FEEL AND HOW DID YOUR CAR FEEL? WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR GOING INTO QUALIFYING LATER THIS AFTERNOON?
“It felt just as unique as I remembered it. This place is unlike any other. When I go down the straightaways, I feel like I’m on a 1.5-mile track, and then I get to the corner and I brake like I’m at a short-track. Like I’m braking for the corner and overdriving. I have to consciously get myself to slow down early enough. Slower on entry really is faster.
I don’t feel great making laps. And then we’re quick – we show good in all measurable aspects. The car isn’t really doing anything too crazy, but it just doesn’t feel good because there is so little banking and such tight corners. It’s not pleasant to drive. I feel like I’m not hustling it because you’re on a flatter track, even though to me the way it’s laid out – the garages, media center – it’s a 1.5-mile foot print that’s shrunk. So every lap, I have to consciously remind myself of that. I’m ready to hustle it like I’m at Kansas (Speedway).”
JUSTIN (MARKS) MADE THOSE VERY PUBLIC REMARKS AFTER DARLINGTON. IS IT A COINCIDENCE THAT SINCE THEN, THERE SEEMS TO BE THE ROSS CHASTAIN THAT WAS PRE-DARLINGTON AND MAYBE, FROM THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN, YOU’VE BEEN A LITTLE BIT MORE CONSERVATIVE SINCE THEN?
“Well I think it’s exactly that.. it is the outside and what we do at Trackhouse Racing – say, talk about and plan for is what’s so cool about sports is that we’re enclosed in our own world of 140 men and women, and it’s up to us to go about our business however we see fit. I’m definitely going to learn from Darlington (Raceway). I don’t want to wreck myself. I want to win races. Whatever I can do to wreck less and win more will definitely be top of mind and priority. I take what people say to heart though, especially my boss, my owner. The guy that hires me and guides me. He’s a racer himself, so we’ve talked as just racers and buddies just as much as we’ve talked as owner and driver. People can think what they want. I know what our path is, has been and is currently in what we’re planning, and I’m totally comfortable in the spot we’re in.”
CAN YOU SHARE WHAT IT’S BEEN LIKE THE LAST COUPLE OF WEEKS? ARE YOU TRYING TO FIND MAYBE A DIFFERENT RHYTHM OR A DIFFERENT WAY TO APPROACH THINGS ON THE RACE TRACK?
“I’m trying to find victory lane. I found it.. it’s right here. I was there last night with Carson Hocevar and I’ve got to get back myself.
Yep, that’s all we’re trying to find.”
YOU ARE HIGH UP IN POINTS. I UNDERSTAND YOU WANT TO WIN EVERY RACE YOU COMPETE IN, BUT YOU ARE HIGH UP ENOUGH IN POINTS. IS THERE A LITTLE BIT OF THAT GIVES YOU SOME COMFORT ANYWAYS? IF NOT, ARE THERE CERTAIN TRACKS THAT YOU REALLY FEEL OPTIMISTIC ABOUT SCORING A WIN AT BETWEEN NOW AND THE PLAYOFFS?
“Chicago is a huge question mark, so I don’t really know where to rank that one, even though we’ve been really good on road courses.
No.. there’s none that I really put above the others. Gateway, we weren’t that good in the race, but I thought if we were slotted in 10th, we could run 10th. I just got kind of beat up on restarts and that’s just part of it.
There’s none that I really hold any higher than the others. With this car, it’s the same car every week. Like we literally change a few settings of the geometry and the body, but it’s so small that you can’t even see the difference. Where with the old car or any other race car, you bring it to a superspeedway, you can tell in the fenders, the body lines and the way the car sits that it’s built for Daytona (International Speedway). And then when you take it to Martinsville (Speedway), you can tell it’s a totally different built race car. Ours look the same, to me. I can’t see the differences. So with that, it shrunk the window for highs and lows of tracks that seem to be better or worse because we’re running truly the same car.
Yeah, I don’t have any higher or lower, really.”
“I want to grab, scrap and pickup any points anybody drops.. anytime and all the time. The most points will be better. But no, we want to win and that’s the focus. That’s the goal. That’s the objective and that’s where our sights are set.”
CAN YOU GIVE US A SENSE OF PERSPECTIVE ON CHICAGO? YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE 50 MINUTES OF PRACTICE, BUT A LOT OF PEOPLE EXPECT THAT THERE WILL BE MULTIPLE CAUTIONS POTENTIALLY IN THE PRACTICE SESSION, SO YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE LIMITED TIME AND MAYBE GET TWO OR THREE RUNS, IF THAT. AND THEN WHEN YOU GO TO QUALIFY, YOU’LL HAVE TO BUST OUT A REALLY STRONG LAP BECAUSE TRACK POSITION IS GOING TO MATTER. WHEN YOU GET IN THE CAR FOR QUALIFYING NEXT WEEK, HOW NERVE-RACKING IS OR HOW MUCH DO YOU EMBRACE THAT OPPORTUNITY FOR A BIG MOMENT?
“That’s NASCAR racing.. that’s every week. That’s what’s so cool about this series and this level is that there’s so much pressure involved with everything. I do wish that we did focus more on the cool factor of driving the car and how on-edge we are. You see a champion of our sport spin out in practice yesterday. If you watch the in-car, it looks innocent all the way to the point that it snaps. We’re all on that edge and we’re fighting that every lap, especially with the bump down in turn four there at Nashville (Superspeedway). There’s one big bump here. We have no idea at Chicago. They’ve repaved some, but we’ve all driven on repaved roads – sometimes it’s worse than it used to be. So I have no idea what to expect, but yeah when we go out, it’s going to be who can learn the fastest. We’re all logging laps in our simulators, but until you actually get on the surface - we don’t even have the most accurate renderings in for the walls because it’s going to be evolving as they put them in. A big ask of the operations team building the track because they’re just figuring it out as they go.
A lot of times, I wish this room could ride with me physically in the car because it’s incredible what’s happening in there. And I remember growing up, just watching and viewing these drivers as these larger than life figures because if you can ever see the car wiggle, it’s crazy inside for the driver. And if you were in there, you could feel it. More two-seaters need to be available to give rides. When we do that, I’ll gladly signup to drive everybody in this room around these tracks.”
FIVE, SIX, SEVEN YEARS AGO AS YOU’RE TRYING TO WORK YOUR WAY UP INTO NASCAR – NOW A FEW YEARS LATER, YOU’VE DRIVEN INSIDE A STADIUM, A CUP CAR ON A DIRT TRACK, DRIVEN AT NORTH WILKESBORO AND NOW YOU’RE GOING TO BE DRIVING ON A STREET COURSE. THE IDEA, THAT CONCEPT AND HOW QUICKLY THINGS HAVE CHANGED – WHAT COMES TO MIND IN TERMS OF THAT YOU’RE IN A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT ERA THAN WHAT YOU WERE FIVE YEARS AGO AND WHAT YOU THOUGHT YOU MIGHT BE IF YOU REACH THIS LEVEL?
“I’ll have to quote one of my guys, David, when I got in the No. 42 car in 2021. We were super excited and then we happened to be on the phone one day and we looked at the schedule together, and he’s like- ‘there’s seven road course races.. I didn’t know this. Why did we signup to drive a Cup car the first time that there’s seven when there was always two.’ And we were honestly a little scared and I had to go to school. I still go to school to learn. It is what it is. I wanted to be a Cup driver. I sacrificed a lot to get here, and whatever it means to be a Cup driver, I want to be that. This level, this garage – I want to be in there with the other teams and competing at this level. This is all I’ve wanted.
Yeah, wherever we go – we go across the world, it doesn’t really bother me. I signed up for this and I’m here for it.”
WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR SUNDAY?
“After driving the rocket ship I had yesterday in practice, my expectations are high. We’ll have a shot. We’ll be able to go and wherever we qualify, we’ll be able to race throughout tomorrow night’s race and put ourselves in position.
Yeah, expectations are to go compete. We have fast cars. We have good support. Trying to tie up all the little loose ends. We just want a shot.. that’s it. It’s going to come down to restarts throughout the final stage and adjusting our car throughout the night. I feel like that’s been a bit where I struggled. I feel like when we’ve been better throughout the weekend or early in the race, I get kind of complacent because I’m not sure what to tell them. I’m pushing the car; I have good balance. And then somebody nails their balance - it’s been a little bit slower and they’ve nailed it because they kept firing changes at it. I’m a little more reserved in my desire – as long as it’s close, I’ll go get the rest. But at this level, at the end of these races, it has to be pretty darn perfect. I feel like we’ve been beat there, so I’ve worked on just mentally, how do I push myself past where I’m comfortable with the car. I feel like I’ve got everything I need to go win. There’s probably something else I could ask for to make it a little bit better. The risk is that it could be worse, but let’s work on it – whether it’s air pressure or wedge. Our options are pretty small in the race, so what I’m looking for is small, little crumbs at the end of the race to be able to go fight for it.”
WHAT TONY STEWART SAID HE’S LOOKING FOR IN A DRIVER IS WORK ETHIC. YOU REALLY DIDN’T GET YOUR FIRST SHOT UNTIL 28 WHEN YOU GOT WITH A BIG TEAM AND YOU’VE MADE THE MOST OF IT SINCE. DOES WORK ETHIC STILL MATTER IN THE GARAGE? DO YOU STILL HAVE TO PAY DUES AND SHOW THAT YOU’RE COMMITTED?
“I’m so happy for Josh (Berry). I hate that we’re going to lose him at GM. I’m not going to be able to go to the gym in the morning and see him next year. But gosh, being friends, its been so cool to see his emotion as it’s come through and got done. There were times where I could tell he was working out a little extra because that carrot was out there, and it’s everything he’s ever wanted and worked for professionally. And same with me – it’s my life, it’s what we wanted. I’m sad I’m going to have to race against him, but I’m happy for the guy and his family.
What the owners look at, I’m not sure. I’m not a race team owner, so I don’t even begin to think that I understand how their brains work. I don’t own race cars, I drive them. Everybody had to pay something.. everybody had to write a check. The amount might have been one or two zeros different, but it’s the dark side of our sport that not a lot of people like to talk about. Yes, I had to spend money, my family had to spend money, to get me into the sport. Somebody had to pay for every driver that’s racing a car anywhere – I don’t care if you’re running a rental go-cart race. The $20 for the 10 minutes you run in a rental go-cart, you have to pay for it.. somebody has to pay for it. Whether it’s that or to the Cup Series, yes – I don’t know everybody’s details, but I know mine. Yes, we had to spend money. I’m not going to hide from that. I’ve been able to pay that back now and I’m proud of that. The thought that people are here on zero dollars is not true. Whether it was truly you or your family or somebody that was like family – they had to be like family if they’re going to spend the money it takes to get into any kind of racing. If you race local late models these days, it’s a lot of money. It’s the dark side of our sport. I live in it; I work in it. I’m in the trenches on it for me and other people trying to figure out how to pay for this stuff. I’m not a sponsor finder.. I don’t want people to think that. I don’t find money for anybody. But the dark side is – everybody pays, it’s just a matter of if it pays off.”