THOUGHTS ON BEING IN CHICAGO AND OUTLOOK THIS WEEKEND
“It’s a little different than Nashville, that’s for sure. Being out at the racetrack, it’s wild. I think we are all kind of experiencing it and whether you grew up in a city like this or not, it’s different when we are coming here and the thought of racing a NASCAR race. For me, it’s a bit different than Alva, Florida, and I am embracing it. It’s been an incredible feeling just knowing this is where we are going to work this weekend. When I strap in on Sunday, it’s right here, in the buildings. It’s going to be different and I am proud to be one of the drivers to be a part of this history-making moment.”
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR IN THE COMPETITION THIS RACE MIGHT PRODUCE?
“For me, it’s still about naturally driving the car and attacking the track. But there is just no runoff. In practice on these road courses is that I can overstep, spin out, and it’s okay in practice. Get the clutch pushed in, don’t let the engine turnover backwards, don’t lock a tire up and drag the car coming back in the pits, and don’t hit a tire barrier. Its usually far enough away that there is room enough to stop and slide and learn the limit. Here that is not the case. There is no runoff and no room for error. In talking with drivers that have run street races before with these tight walls, that is the biggest difference. Virtually you can go and prepare, and still attack and crash on our simulators, but when you get in a car, its going to all close in. And that is what they all keep saying. I have just taken the approach that I know its going to feel terrible as far as wall proximity and knowing that I know the penalty in practice, qualifying, and the race and its really big. The moment that I break traction, I am not going to wonder if I am going to hit the wall for very long, because the wall is right there. So, that has been the biggest thing mentally is trying to balance aggression for lap time and penalty of overstepping that aggression and hitting the wall. That has really been my focus all week.”
CAN YOU GIVE US YOUR ANALYSIS OF WHERE YOU ARE FOCUSED ON THE COURSE RIGHT NOW?
“Yes. On a normal track I would have…..turn four bump at Nashville is a big spot that I was focused on. I knew it was going to be a problem and it was a problem all weekend. Here I have 2 point some odd miles and 12 turns that I am really focused on. I really am not putting any corners above the others until I drive the car. I am not having preconceived notions, I don’t want to proactively think ‘oh turn four is going to be tough’, I know they are going to be tough. There is not going to be an easy turn on this track because for me, because of no runoff. No room to run off, slow down and slide. So, no, I don’t have anything right now. After practice, come back to me and I might have some, but I am not putting any corners of any higher priority right now because of the others because I don’t know.”
HOW MUCH WILL YOU BE ABLE TO LEAN ON YOUR TEAM OWNER WHO IS RACING THIS WEEKEND, AND WHAT WILL IT BE LIKE WORKING WITH JUSTIN THAT WAY?
“Yeah, I offered to spot for him. Politely no one really took me up on that. It was really cool that the first time he drove the track at the simulator at GM, I was able to be there with him with Kaulig. We both drove and we got to compare to each other and compare our feedback of what we were feeling in the car as far as our driving styles. I leaned on Justin in the Xfinity Series starting in 2015, when he was still racing part time, for road courses. So that is where our relationship really grew were the years before that when I was getting into the truck, he was getting out of it in 2011. We were just kind of acquaintances that I bought some seats from. I still remember the first time I met his wife Erin was knocking on their door to pay. I had an envelope with cash to pay for the seats and Justin wasn’t there to going to texting him and asking him for advice over the years on tracks. Then going to him when he was in the 42 Xfinity car, that has continued to in our boss/employee/employer relationship to the point where now we are back to just that driving relationship and we are buddies. So, it was a crazy sim session with a lot of bouncing and not great driving and they evolved after that and I wasn’t there for those sessions. That was a really cool moment for me to get in and drive and then have him get in and drive. He is a racer. That is the Justin Marks I know. Justin Marks the team owner, I am still learning to adapt to in knowing him as that. I know him as the driver. He is a highly renowned road course racer and the guy that I went to for advice. Never knowing that he was going to own a dang Cup team and I was going to drive for him, and we were going to win three races together. So, yeah, right when he gets on track, I will be right there at his window net when he gets out to debrief with him and Alex Yontz, his crew chief, and the Kaulig bunch. It’s a group that I have worked with before and I know that group well. I talked to him a little bit about the dynamics over there and helped him get up to speed with them.”
HOW MUCH WILL DRIVERS BE WATCHING THE XFINITY RACE FOR INFORMATION?
“Yeah, it would have been for sure at track, and it will be radios on and listening. I normally don’t do that, unless I am listing to a specific driver that maybe I am paying attention to more and I want to listen to how their dialogue is with their crew chief. And see if they yell too much or something. SMT will be rolling and I will have a tablet up and watching different cars and seeing their lines. In the race for sure, but with practice, that will be highly focused for me. The cool part of Justin, and adding that in was the sim work that I just talked about and the prep work. Just listening and getting his feedback of how they are approaching it. It just helps a small sliver. Small percent, couple percent, five percent, of my prep is guided by how he is doing it. I take everybody’s opinion and I form my own. I take their prep and I form what I think is my best prep. So prep work has been the biggest thing as I have been able to listen to him and that team talk that day at the simulator at GM. It was really crucial, and I have gone back to that day and how they are approaching it and we evolved it on the Cup side for the 99, 1 and 91 cars. Project 91 with Shane (van Gisbergen). Everybody has their different philosophies and we are all going to ultimately put our best piece of paper on come Saturday and Sunday.”
ARE YOU GETTING A GOOD SENSE OF THIS RACE BEING A BIG DEAL NOW THAT YOU ARE HERE?
“Yeah, for sure. I mean I am looking out of all these windows in this incredible art institute, and you can’t see the sky. It’s only buildings. I see a couple of trees, and from my point of view, I am not used to that. I am used to wide open farm fields and two-lane roads in south Florida. So, to be here now and know that when I strap in, I am probably not going to see much of the sky. It’s going to be buildings, walls, fences and tight confines. It’s real, it’s here and I get to be a part of it. I am just thankful for that and then we go to work. Once we get on track, it will be just another racetrack, another 12 turns, try to beat my competitors and my heroes come Sunday.”
GOING THROUGH THE SIM, CAN YOU NAME A COUPLE OF TROUBLE SPOTS THAT YOU SEE AT THIS POINT?
“Yeah, 12 of them. I wrecked in every corner, okay. But that is what is so great about modern technology is that you just stop, they hit reset, and you fire right back off. Now, I rein that in. I don’t attack like I did in there. I bring that down and I will be working up to it. So, if you don’t see super-fast laps right off the bat from me, that is not an accident. Now do I want to go out and be the fastest and win everything and win the pole like last week? Of course. I am a competitor. But I am not just focused on lap times and firing off, because I know the penalty and it has been my main focus this week is keeping that aggression level down in practice.”
SPEAKING OF LAST WEEK, BIG WIN. BIG PARTY TOO?
“Yeah. Man. Look, Trackhouse was formed in Nashville, the thought. Justin was living there and that is where the leadership group still is with Ty (Norris) and Dean and Steve Smith. And Tootsies was one of the first groups to really get on board. And so got out of the car and when I saw Ty in victory lane, not on the front stretch, I said look…..we always talk about we are going to stay and we haven’t in any of the other wins. We haven’t stayed yet, but if we are ever going to do it, its here. So, fortunately they kept the plane and they flew everybody home at 10 am Monday. It was great. It was just…from taking over the stage at Tootsies and having Phillip get on the drums, to just embracing having more time and personal time up there on the third floor to see everybody. To talk and enjoy the night was awesome. Everybody made the plane and got to work the next morning.”
REGARDING BEING CONFIDENT LAST WEEK FOR THE VICTORY
“Yeah, obviously they were high. I couldn’t believe I said it, even after I walked away from you. I thought, ‘oh’, and then it kind of left my mind. Then on Sunday morning I saw some of the tweets about it and I thought, ‘okay, mental note, don’t ever do that again’. I know we are fast, and we have a shot to win, but there is so much that can go wrong. Let’s not be that confident, overconfident and I felt like it came across wrong. And then we won and I was like, ‘hot dang, glad I said it’. I don’t know why I said it, because it just rolled off my tongue and we were just casually talking walking out. A fast car will give you that confidence as a driver. When they pointed at the guitars hanging on the wall and said that was for the winner and I was like ‘I will come back and get those tomorrow night’. I am not normally like that. Y’all know me and I am not normally like that. But with a car like that and being able to tie together…..I was so proud of those two laps, mainly the round two lap. To be able to go a few thousandths of a second faster when we were expecting a half of a tenth fall off. Truth be told, it means I could have gone a little bit faster in round one, but I won’t get into that. To be able to back up the lap time was incredible. So, I was super proud of that. Aside from winning on Sunday, that second round lap in Saturday’s effort will always be a memory of mine now and something that I am proud of.”
WITH THE WIN YOU CAN CHANGE YOUR FOCUS NOW A BIT, RIGHT?
“We can but we didn’t change our approach. The only thing we changed this week was we were not productive on Monday. But we all got back to work on Tuesday, and it was a normal week. As we have evolved as a team, last year after COTA, my week after the first win was crazy with more interviews and went more places and did more stuff than I ever experienced. This year after this win was much more regimented. I am thankful my team gave me the time to prepare like I wanted to. They gave me the time to put into the process that we have, and not be so scattered about the country and doing interviews, and flying here, and going there. I am glad we did it the way we did it last year, because it was great, but I wanted to focus on this week and the weeks coming up. So, nothing changes. We don’t take our right rear spring out and change it this week because we want to save it. We go as hard as we can, as fast as we can and try to put together the best weeks because we are competitors. And that is what we do.”
DOES HAVING THE WIN MAKE THIS WEEK LESS STRESSFUL?
“It does. I mean we try and scrap up as many points as we can every week. So, to have a 57-point day, almost perfect, the race last week just feels good. Aside from the win. If we had just got second and 56 points, it still feels………I don’t know if that is how it works up front, 52, it still would feel good coming here and knowing that we piled up that many just week to week. It’s easy to remember last week, but not easy to remember how it was 10 weeks ago and how many points we got. We ultimately want to have the most points and that is a sign of a great team. So, no matter what, this weekend, yes. Last week makes this week easier. But we are still going to put our best foot forward to run the 100th lap as far up as we can.”
FOR THIS RACE, IS IT TRACK POSITION OR TIRES, AND HOW DO YOU MANAGE IT THROUGH THE COURSE OF THE DAY?
“I have no idea. I have heard and been told that it will gain grip and lap time throughout the weekend from when we start. It will gain exponentially, and we are not sure with these cars how much more. But the track will naturally be faster with more rubber as we lay it down. So, I don’t know. Fast cars are going to be up front and somebody with a fast car is going to mess up qualifying and start in the back and have to work their way forward, but a fast car and a fast driver will be able to pass. You will be able to out brake people and you will be able to pass them if you can out wrap them through these 90 degree turns. Have less wheel in the car and drive off the corner to their left rear quarter panel, or right rear quarter panel depending on which corner it is. You will have position and you will be able to pass. So, it’s not going to be pleasant, but it never is. They are some of the best drivers and teams, they are really good at defending, and maximizing their cars. Now with the car, we all have the same parts and pieces. We have the same chassis, body, and suspension parts. We can choose our settings, but we are not manufacturing the stuff. So, from the fastest car in qualifying to the slowest, I don’t know where I am going to stack up in that, but I know I have the same parts and pieces and it’s just about my team’s application of that stuff to make it go fast. And then me driving it. So, I don’t know what will be the key, I just know fast car and fast driver will ultimately prevail.”
REGARDING AGGRESSIVENESS VERSUS WAITING AND PASSING
“Yeah, I know its easy to sit here and say it, but fundamentally I talked about rolling out in practice and being on the reserved side. I will attack my car, but I will not attack the track. I want to feel if I am tight or loose and if I am bouncing too much. I am not going to go two seconds off the pace, but I might be on lap one. But I will work up to it. And then on the restarts and stuff, I just think we have, for me, I have so much more to gain in not being the aggressor….and will pay off. I am not saying I am just going to roll over and let people take advantage of me, but I want to be on the better end, walking out of here, with opinions of other drivers and their thoughts about me. I want to be on the better end than the worse end. If it means a spot or two, I will be honest, I would rather be on the pay it forward a bit. Now that is not to say that I won’t overshoot a brake zone. Some of the brake markers are hard to see. They are a unique design, and they are not really bright. We will see how that goes throughout the weekend and if we change that. So, if I missed my braking and I get into somebody, not saying I am not going to do something on accident, but I am not maliciously go out and bulldoze through there. For me there is a conscious and mental effort to not be on the aggression side on a turn one dive bomb. Now if I think I can pass someone cleanly, I am going to do it.”