IVE US YOUR FIRST IMPRESSIONS SINCE YOU’VE ARRIVE IN CHICAGO?
“Yeah, I’m pleasantly surprised with just the lay of how everything is operating. The track looks really nice, I feel like. I’m excited about it. My laps and time in the simulator – I had a lot of fun. I thought the track actually had a nice flow to it, so that was cool. We’ll see how that translates. It’s been interesting watching these guys run.
Overall, I think from my end, super impressed with all the logistics and things that go into this stuff. So props to NASCAR and all the people that put this place together – built the walls, built the fences and have done all the work over these last handful of weeks because a lot went into it. We’re all just kind of showing up here this weekend, but there’s a lot of work down there. Just excited to be here and hope we can put on a good show.”
WHEN YOU WATCH THE XFINITY CARS ON THE TRACK AND WALKING THE TRACK, WHAT APPEARS TO BE THE MOST CHALLENGING IN YOUR MIND OF THIS STREET COURSE?
“It’s very difficult to look and know versus being on the track and feel and see it. What your eyes are seeing and how you’re receiving that information when you’re out there running is just different than it is when you’re walking. Watching these cars run – the track content, to me, is really high in some areas and it’s really smooth in other areas. So finding that balance I think is going to be really important. It’s obviously narrow in sections. I think that’s going to be a hot topic of things to talk about. I do think it’s going to be difficult to pass once everybody gets up to pace come race time, but I hope that we’re able to mix it up and do different things. For me personally, just making laps. I want to just go make laps and try to find a rhythm and go to work from there.
A really important 50 minutes coming up and then we roll right into qualifying. I think qualifying well is going to be paramount to having a shot to win tomorrow.”
WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE START OF THE RACE, YOU TALK ABOUT MIXING IT UP. WHEN WILL FOLKS MIX IT UP? AFTER PRACTICE AND QUALIFYING, WILL YOU KNOW ENOUGH TO MIX IT UP INITIALLY OR NO?
“Well I think it totally depends on who you’re around and where your strong suits of the track are, if you have any, and where the other person differs in front of you or behind you. So I think that can change from car-to-car or person-to-person. I think that’s going to be different for every situation.”
HAVING GROWN UP IN AN ERA WITH YOUR DAD RACING WHERE THE SCHEDULE WAS PRETTY MUCH THE SAME EVERY YEAR, IT WAS KIND OF SET BEING WHAT A NASCAR DRIVER WAS – OVAL TRACKS, SAME PLACES EVERY YEAR. DO YOU FIND IT EXCITING AT ALL TO BE IN THIS ERA WHERE WE’RE GOING DIRT RACING, STREET RACING, ALL THE DIFFERENT THINGS WE’RE DOING.. IS THAT EXCITING TO YOU AS A RACER?
“Yeah, I commend NASCAR for trying. I think a lot should be said for that because for many years, nothing was really changing and it was working to a pretty large degree there for a long time. And that’s great, they didn’t need to. But this leadership group at NASCAR – I’ve said this over the last few years, I feel like more has changed in the last five or six years, or at least in my time that I’ve been here, than it probably changed in the prior 15 or 20 years. I think it is a good thing, just from the standpoint that they’re willing to try new things. What I think is really important and I’ve said this before too, you’re going to have to look in the mirror some days and know and be willing to be honest with yourself that - hey that didn’t work, and we don’t need to just keep beating that horse. So I think coming and doing events like this are important for us to go try new things. It may go great and it may not, and that’s totally fine. I’m good with that either way and I think the rest of the garage is too. We’re all excited to be here and we want to put on a good show. I hope it goes well and if it doesn’t, that’s fine too. We tried and we’ll look for the next event or the next thing that we can go and do as an industry to switch it up.
Yeah, I am excited to be a part of it. It’s been fun. I think this weekend has a lot of potential.”
OBVIOUSLY MANY OF US HAVE SOME NATURAL SORT OF SKEPTISIM SHOWING UP FOR THE FIRST TIME HERE OR LIKE THE LA COLISEUM. BUT THEN TO COME HERE AND SAY LIKE – WOW, THEY PULLED THIS OFF. DOES THAT GIVE DRIVERS AND PEOPLE IN THE GARAGE MORE FAITH IN NASCAR MOVING FORWARD WHEN THEY’RE SAYING WE MIGHT WANT TO TRY OTHER STUFF SOMEWHERE ELSE OR ANOTHER CITY. ARE THEY BUILDING UP SOME CREDIBILITY WITH YOU GUYS?
“Yeah, for sure. I think the (Los Angeles) Coliseum was a good thing to go try. I think it’s probably run its course, in my opinion. But I look at this event and I think this type of thing really has a lot of potential because as I’ve said, in my opinion, you’re not going to get inside city limits, aside from the Fairgrounds, ever again with the actual facility. So if you’re going to come to a city and race, this is going to have to be how it happens. I think the way that this was put together and just me looking at the track, walking out there and seeing just the fab work on the walls and just how nice it is – that really speaks volume to everyone involved, in my opinion. I’m really impressed with that, so yeah, it gives me a ton of confidence going forward that if other cities are interested in having us if things go well here and it gets received well, absolutely – I think that we can go and pull this off somewhere else, too.
I will say, this part of the city is really nice for this type of course. We’re not racing in between buildings. There’s a big enough open space with the roads to make it work. We’re not driving in between two skyscrapers, so it’s a little different and it fits just this part of town very well.”
I KNOW IT’S HARD HAVING NOT BEEN ON THE TRACK YET, BUT WAS THERE ANYTHING THAT YOU AS DRIVERS SAW ON THE TRACK WALK THAT YOU WOULD POTENTIALLY ASK NASCAR TO TWEAK FOR TOMORROW?
“No.. I mean again, haven’t been out there yet. The only concerning thing that I saw was just the manhole covers. I know they had welded them, but there was a couple places that looked like the welds – whether it be from equipment running across them – like they need to be redone. I think a couple of them are going to get really used up more than others, so I would look at that. If one of those things pops up a little bit, you’re going to destroy something pretty bad. Outside of that, no. There’s not a lot of run-off room, which I would like to see that if you were to blow a corner or something. From experience, it would be nice to have somewhere to go if you’re not going to make it. But at the same time, I get it.. they’re out of space, what do you do. So I totally understand that.
Yeah, I honestly didn’t see a lot out there. Hopefully everything stays togethers. There’s a lot of transitions in between asphalt to concrete and vice versa. So as long as those transitional patch areas stay together, I think it will be totally fine.”
WERE THERE ANY TIRE BARRIERS OR THINGS THAT YOU ANTICIPATED BEING THERE OR NOT ANTICIPATED BEING THERE THAT YOU SAW COMPARED TO THE SIM?
“No.. the only section that really looked any different to me was, it would be like (turn) four and five. Whatever the numbers are, the right-right before the long straightaway in the center of the track. That visually looks different. Like where they had the wall placed on the sim versus here is just a little different visually. But outside of that, the visual representation of the track content and things walking it looked really close. I’m curious to see how the bumps and stuff how different they are. But that was the only part of the track that I thought looked any different. The rest of it – like on iRacing, they had the right sponsor signage in the right corners. They had done a lot of work and I’m sure NASCAR uses them to help them make these places, too. And they should.. that should go both ways to be able to replicate things over and over again because they have such a really nice scan of the road.”
LOOKING FORWARD TO NEXT WEEK, YOU HAD SUCH A DOMINATING PERFORMANCE AT ATLANTA MOTOR SPEEDWAY A YEAR AGO. WHAT DID IT MEAN TO HAVE SUCH A CONVINCING PERFORMANCE AT YOUR HOME TRACK?
“Yeah, that was a really nice weekend obviously. I guess it’s a little different than having like a dominant performance at not a speedway. It is a speedway race, but we were.. we were really solid. And it’s not like you’re getting out to a four or five second lead. We just had a car that had the ability to be on offense all day. And when you’re on offense and you can be that guy to make lanes move forward and make a difference and pushing somebody to the front – it just puts you in a different league. It really puts you in a really, really nice position to have a good day. Certainly been on both sides of that fence. We’ve been on the other side of the fence since then with our speedway program. Obviously I missed Atlanta (Motor Speedway) the first time this year, but hopefully we can go back and have a good run again like we did last year.
Looking forward to it. I know a lot of the people around home are super excited about it being a night race, and getting under the lights down there I think is a really big deal. So I’m looking forward to that next week, but I’m excited about this weekend first. We’ll enjoy next week when it gets here.”
BASED ON YOUR WORK ON THE SIMULATOR, WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU’LL HAVE TO BE IN TURN 12 WHERE THE ENTRANCE TO PIT ROAD IS RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER AND CARS ARE GOING TO BE ENTERING PIT ROAD BASICALLY FROM THE RACING LINE?
“Yeah, I mean the good news is that it’s a pretty sharp corner anyway. Obviously coming to pit road makes it sharper, so you are going to have to be a little slower than you would normally. You’re going pretty slow even at speed I feel like right there, so I think it’ll be fine. I’m not sure how they’re going to police that yellow line because I could totally see you like needing a little bit of that room on exit. It’s really tight right there, so I’m not sure if they’re going to penalize people for running over that or not. I haven’t asked that question yet this weekend, but that was something I noticed in practice where a lot of guys that went to make the turn pushed out. Like not on purpose, they just pushed out and needed a little extra room to get to pit road. Hopefully there is a little leeway there because I think the tighter they make that, the more issues you’re going to cause because you have to be slower. So if you had just a little bit of room to run the corner and get in there, I don’t think it would stack everybody up so bad.”
I WANT TO ASK ABOUT THREE AREAS – ONE, EXITING THE PITS, YOU’RE LIKE RIGHT IN TURN ONE. ANY CONCERN THERE? THERE HAS BEEN TALK ABOUT TURN FOUR.. IT’S LIKE BARELY WIDE ENOUGH FOR LIKE A CAR LINK I THINK ON THE GROOVE. AND THEN I THINK IT’S TURN 10, YOU’RE JUST GOING SO FAST BECAUSE THAT’S THE LOOP. JUST YOUR THOUGHTS ON THOSE THREE AREAS?
“Yeah, I haven’t been out there. It’s so hard having not made a lap.. like I don’t know. Running laps on the simulator, I thought the setup through (turn) three, four, five, the right-right before that straightaway that we were talking about a second ago – I thought that was really fun and it didn’t seem that narrow to me on the iRacing thing, but it might be in the car. It’s certainly very rough. I think the content of the track, in my opinion, is a bigger deal than the width of it.
The other section in 10 – it was actually really fast on there. I was surprised through the carousel today how much elevation there is, so you climb up to the center point of the carousel and then it’s really downhill before that quick right. So I was surprised by that because I visually didn’t see that in the simulator. It kind of felt like it in the car, but I just didn’t really understand why and I’m like – oh that makes sense a little bit more. I just didn’t see it and wasn’t expecting that. That section is fast, but it’s really rough. Like after that quick right going into 11, it’s really, really rough right there. I think you’re going to have to watch that and make sure you really time your braking well to maximize and not get yourself in trouble because that’s obviously a really tight, tight corner through 11.”
WHAT ABOUT PIT EXIT?
“I didn’t think it was that big of a deal.. it’s off to the right. They have you off as far to the right and the corner wants you to be favoring way left. So you’re just going to have to be watching. If somebody is coming, watching these guys run, you want all that run-off to the right. So to me, the guy on track is certainly going to have kind of the right away because you’re going to get fenced if you try to fight that. I think the person coming at speed, when we have those situations, is going to recognize and he’s going to make a judgement call as to how far that guy is going to be next to him, in front or wherever. And then the guy coming off pit road is going to have to judge it, as well. I think once we do it a little bit, it’ll be fine.”
WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE SCHEDULE, HOW WOULD YOU LAY IT OUT WITH THE BALANCE BETWEEN SUPERSPEEDWAYS, INTERMEDIATES, SHORT-TRACKS, ROAD COURSES, STREET COURSES, IN TERMS OF WHAT YOU WOULD WANT IT TO LOOK LIKE?
“Yeah, I mean that’s always a popular debate, right? It seems like road racing was really cool because we only did it twice a year, and now we do it like a quarter of the season. I don’t know what the balance is really, and I don’t know what the right answer to that is. But I am a believer in less is more. I think when you have really special events, I think it’s because they happen once or twice a year.
I don’t know what the balance would be, but I think less is more. I don’t know if that answers your question, but that would be my general approach if I were to be in charge of the schedule. Obviously things have changed a little bit. Our short-track package hasn’t been great, but our intermediate package has. So do you make that decision based on what the entertainment value is like because of the car, or do you make that decision based on the fact that I ran a lot of short-tracks growing up? I don’t know, but I think less is more. I’m not in charge of that, so I don’t put a lot of thought into it.”
BRAD KESELOWSKI WAS IN HERE YESTERDAY AND INDICATED THAT THEY HAD RECEIVED A STRONGER RESPONSE FROM HIS SPONSORS IN INTEREST OF THIS TRIP AND WANTING TO COME HERE. DID YOU GUYS EXPERIENCE THE SAME THING COMPARED TO NORMAL WEEKS ON THE CIRCUIT?
“Yeah.. a lot of times too, you can always tell when there’s an exciting weekend coming up because friends from around home want to come to the race. But yes – the thing for us is Hooter is on the car this weekend and when HMS did their race picks, this was a race that they really wanted and rightfully so. I think there is a lot of excitement around the weekend and I think the short answer is – yes, there has been. A lot of interest, not just from partners, but from friends and people around town asking me about it. That’s going to continue throughout the whole weekend and I think it’ll be talked about for weeks to come, too.”
SPEAKING OF EVENTS, THIS HAS BEEN DESCRIBED AS MUCH AS AN EVENT AS A RACE. IS IT IMPORTANT FROM THE DRIVER’S PERSPECTIVE THAT YOU’RE PART OF AN EVENT AS OPPOSED TO A RACE? IS THAT IN YOUR HEAD AT ALL?
“Well yeah, they’re all events at the end of the day. This is all entertainment at some point, right? So yeah, I do think that has been looked at like that and I think that’s good. There’s nothing wrong with that. Somebody asked me last weekend what it would take to make this a successful race and I don’t think it has to be a last corner pass for the win. If that happens, great.. then yes, somebody hit a homerun. But I think if the environment is exciting, everybody does their job off the race track, it’s a fun place to hangout and everybody here in town wants to be here – we make this the event here in Chicago this weekend, whether the race is a great show or not, I think it’ll be a success. That’s how I’m looking at it. I have an extremely open mind coming into it. I’m excited about it. Ready to get on track and see how it goes.”
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THE RESTART ZONE COMING BEFORE TURN 12? IT SOUNDS LIKE TALKING TO SPOTTERS, NOT REALLY SURE ANYBODY CAN REALLY SEE THAT VANTAGE POINT AND HOW YOU JUDGE THAT. HOW DO YOU ADDRESS THAT SITUATION?
“Listen.. you can’t put that on your spotters. We’re driving the cars, right? At the end of the day, anytime you’re in some of those situations, you have to make those decisions on your own. You can’t ask those guys to call some of that stuff for you because they can’t anticipate some of the things that are going to happen. So I think that’s totally on the drivers.
As it pertains to the restart zone, I wasn’t in the race at COTA, but I watched it and it was embarrassing to watch, for sure. Just strictly as a fan – take my NAPA hat off that day and as a fan just watching, that was not good. That was not a good look for anybody. And I think that falls on the drivers, personally. I think that falls on the drivers to make better decisions and not just run people over getting into the corner.”
HOW SO.. THERE’S NO PENALTY?
“Right, exactly.. there’s no penalty. I don’t know what that fine line is, but I definitely think it’s on the drivers to try and somehow find the right balance with that. I don’t know that we ever will, but I certainly don’t want our events to look like that because we’re better than that. There’s some really talented drivers and teams here that we don’t need our events to end in 15 cautions, overtimes and a bunch of guys that had really strong runs getting spun out for no reason. I don’t know if that will help this weekend. Again, I wasn’t a part of that, but I hope it does and I hope everybody just tries to find a little better balance somewhere in there. I don’t know what it is or how it is, but I just hope there’s a little better balance.”