Michigan has been a place where you’ve been very consistent but haven’t quite been able to break through with a win. What are your thoughts heading into the weekend?
“Michigan is the fastest track we go to. It’s really hard to hold your foot down going into turn one. Your brain is telling you that you need to start lifting, but usually the car can take a bit more. It’s super, super fast and the commitment level is very high. And the groove is not really wide, which is different than, say, Fontana, where you can go really fast but the groove is very wide. You miss it by a few inches there you will be OK. At Michigan, not so much, especially when the traction compound is live, it’s very sketchy and on edge. We’ve been very consistent there in my time with JGR, but James (Small, crew chief) and the guys have been bringing fast cars. Hoping Michigan is another place we add to the win list this weekend with our Auto-Owners Insurance Camry. Really would love to get Auto-Owners a win at their home track. They’ll have a lot of people at the track cheering us on Sunday and hope we can make them proud.”
Is there one thing you can point to explaining why you are more successful this season?
“I think just better cars, in general. Better cars, better understanding of what we need on the racetracks. Last year was a big learning curve. We were trying to figure out what direction we needed to go at races with this car and, with having 15-minute practices where you opt in on what you show up with, there is no real time to recover if you show up with some bad ideas, or things that didn’t work. You have to wait till you go back to that track again. Just all of that learning process and figuring things out has been a big factor for us. I think our cars are better this year, as well. Toyota did some work in the offseason and everybody at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) worked hard to try to put the pieces together, so I think overall we just have a better platform to work with and a better understanding of what we need.”
You have brought home six top-five finishes in the last 10 races. How difficult is that with how close the competition is these days?
“It’s so important to execute in the race these days with how close the field is and how hard it is to pass at certain tracks. You have to do everything right. You have to do all of the little things right. We’ve been able to do that pretty well the last couple of months, for the most part, but really feel good about what we’ve done all year as far as the speed of our cars, and how we’ve able to race. I feel like we’ve had winning cars three or four races this year, already, and we’ve been leading a lot of laps and running up front each week. It was nice to get three of them, but we would like to have more, so we will keep working on it.”