“I think the mentality of the No. 99 team hasn’t changed in the last couple of months. We have to continue to focus on one race at a time - try to maximize the potential of the race car and try to win a race. We had a couple of weeks that were pretty rough on us, and then we had Michigan (International Speedway) and I was pretty happy with that result, especially with the car that my team was able to bring to the track. I told my team last week – this was exactly what we needed. Just a little bit of momentum heading into road course season because we have two in a row, and here we are right now. The energy has been great. The guys have been working very hard. I’ve been working very hard and it shows. We have to continue to work and execute tomorrow.”
“We spent a little bit of time in the simulator working together, but honestly, we didn’t spend as much time together working as we did for Chicago. But we did spend some time together in the simulator. It was good. I think that – between the No.1, 91 and the 99 teams – they work together to bring similar setups to the race track based on what we learn in the simulator. It was good, it was very helpful. For Shane (van Gisbergen), he’s new at this race track, so I feel like he’s been learning a lot. We’ve been here before, so he’s been learning a lot – understanding what he needs from his car to be able to go fast.”
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO WIN A POLE AT A PLACE LIKE HERE WHERE TRACK POSITION WILL BE KEY?
“Yeah, you know I was rewatching the race again actually last night and track position was unbelievably important. So you have to get it anytime you can and try to keep it. I knew that Saturday was going to be extremely important for this race, and I’m glad we were able to show up with a good balanced race car and have good speed. I’m happy for that.
With that being said, we still have some work to do. I feel like our race pace actually was pretty good. I was pretty happy with the race pace. I have to meet with my team right after here and talk about what we’re going to adjust for tomorrow, but overall, I feel like the potential for our race car is pretty good. I’m happy for where we’re at and we just have to make sure we make the right adjustments and we execute tomorrow. Tomorrow is going to be about execution.”
HOW DID TRACK CONDITIONS TODAY FAVOR YOUR SETUP – WERE THEY WHAT YOU EXPECTED?
“Yeah know, I thought the race track was getting faster and faster. I noticed that in practice when I went out, the race track was actually getting a little bit better. But I wasn’t 100 percent sure because also the tires were getting some temperature and wear. And then the second group went a good amount faster than the first group; I was in the first group. And then at that point, I realized – you know what, maybe we’re at a little bit of a disadvantage because the race track is going to continue to get better and better.
And then we went to qualify in the first round – I put down what I thought was an OK lap. It wasn’t great, but it was good. And then in the second round, everyone was faster than that. The second round was so much faster, so I knew that the second group was just getting more speed for track positions. But then in the last round, once everyone went at the same time, I felt like that was an even field for everyone and I felt like at that point, we were able to show up in the same circumstances as everyone else and that benefited us a little bit.”
TOMORROW, THE THREE GUYS THAT ARE RIGHT AROUND THE BUBBLE ARE ALL GOING TO BE STARTING IN THE TOP-10. ARE YOU GOING TO WANT TO KNOW WHAT THEY’RE DOING THROUGHOUT THE RACE?
“I don’t care (laughs).. they have to worry about the No. 99.
I mean I say I don’t care, but in reality, I care like .5 percent (laughs), so I care very little. I knew that we were going to be good. (Michael) McDowell is a great road course driver. (Ty) Gibbs, I think he’s pretty good. He’s still learning, but he’s pretty good. I’m actually surprised AJ (Allmendinger) is not up there, as well. But no, in reality, once the race starts, I have to make sure I don’t care because I cannot control what they do or don’t do. I can only control one car, and that’s the No. 99 car. I have to put all my energy and focus into the No. 99 car, and everything else has to take care of itself. Obviously if I’m racing with them at one point in the race, I have to make sure I get them because I know one point can be a difference when we go to Daytona (International Speedway). But hopefully I can stay away from them.”
YOU HAD A TREMENDOUSLY FAST CAR LAST WEEK. IT WAS FUN WATCHING YOU, AND YOU COULD DO REALLY AMAZING THINGS. JUST CURIOUS, HAS IT PULLED YOUR TEAM TOGETHER? HAS IT MADE YOU STRONGER BECAUSE YOU HAVE BEEN FACING ADVERSITY OF LATE TO KIND OF BATTLE THROUGH THIS AND GET TO THE OTHER SIDE SO YOU CAN GET BACK TO WHERE YOU WERE?
“You know, I think that my racing has come through a lot of adversity this year. We have had a few mistakes on execution. I have made some mistakes. In the first quarter of the year, we were extremely fast, but we were making a lot of mistakes – in execution and myself. We were not having clean weekends. And then we started getting cleaner and then the speed wasn’t there anymore. You have to have everything together and it’s not easy. It’s not easy to put everything together. I can tell you in the last few weeks, it’s been tough at Trackhouse. I say that they’ve been tough because we’ve had long meetings – we’ve had difficult conversations to be better because we showed up a few weekends and we were not good at all. Pretty much after Nashville (Superspeedway), if you look at our results, they were not very good.. besides Atlanta (Motor Speedway) where we finished second. But overall, we needed more speed. We were lacking some speed, so we had to go to work and we had to get out of our comfortable zone. We had to get out of that box. I’m really proud of how we’ve been reacting to that and it’s definitely showing the last couple of weeks.”
I EXPECT YOU TO BE FAST. YOU EXPECT TO BE FAST IN THE NEXT TWO RACES ON ROAD COURSES. YOU HAD A CAREER-BEST SEVENTH-PLACE FINISH AT DAYTONA INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY TO KICK-OFF THE SEASON. CAN YOU KIND OF REPEAT THAT TYPE OF PERFORMANCE, OR DO YOU THINK THAT RACE BEING THE CUT-OFF WILL BE SO CHAOTIC THAT IT’S GOING TO BE EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF?
“Honestly, I’m not thinking that far ahead. But I think Daytona (International Speedway) is going to be a little bit more crazy than before because there’s so many good drivers, good teams, good cars that are on that bubble. I mean you have the No. 48 (Alex Bowman), the No. 9 (Chase Elliott), myself, the No. 54 (Ty Gibbs) – you just have too many. We talk a lot about manufacturers working together, and I’m pretty sure we’re going to work together. But if I can beat the No. 9 and the No. 48, that would be nice too because they’re right there in the fight. It’s one of those things where we’re going to have to wait and see. Hopefully, knock-on-wood, we execute tomorrow and we don’t have to worry about it. That would be the plan. I would love to kiss those bricks downstairs.”
YOU LEAD THE FIELD TO THE GREEN ON THE FIRST START WITH THE NEW ZONE AND THE RULES OF WHERE PEOPLE CAN CHANGE LANES AFTER YOU EXIT THE ZONES. DO YOU HAVE A GOOD FEELING OF WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN, OR IS IT STILL A LITTLE BIT OF A MYSTERY?
“I think I have an idea of what is going to happen, but the reality is that I’m really looking forward to watching the Xfinity Series race and see how that works. That’s going to give me a better idea of how things are going to work, even though the cars are very different. We’ll see.. we’ll see how things work. I can tell you that there’s one place to be to try to figure it out and it’s in the front, so I think I’m in a good position to be able to go out there and try to take advantage of things. Hopefully we can learn and adapt as quick as possible of that new restart zone.”
THIS RACE OFTEN COMES DOWN TO THE RESTARTS AT THE END. HOW DO YOU REALLY GET PREPARED FOR THAT AND ALL THE CONTACT THAT USUALLY HAPPENS WITH THAT HARD RIGHT-HANDER INTO TURN ONE?
“Yeah, I mean it’s difficult because I feel like in the past, in my opinion, we’ve done too much of that. I was rewatching the race last night and like I said, it was a little bit too much – too much contact, too much bumping cars, in my opinion. That’s why we had some good conversations with NASCAR, and we were able to together come up with the idea of moving the restart zone to provide better racing. The fans – they love action and they love excitement, but there is a line, too. I felt like last year, in the last couple of races, we crossed the line. It was a little bit too much.. it wasn’t real anymore. But I’m glad we did it and we’ll find out how things work out. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be much cleaner than what we’ve seen in the past. How much? We’re going to find out, but I think it’s going to be much cleaner.”