IT SOUNDED EARLIER LIKE YOU WERE FIRED ABOUT DARLINGTON.
“Whether I was driving in the Southern 500 this weekend or not, I would be going down there to watch. I love that track. I love the drive down. I definitely love driving on it. I just get excited about it. I get excited watching clips of racecars going around that track.”
YOU’VE HAD SPEED AT DARLINGTON WHETHER THE FINISHES REFLECT IT OR NOT. WHAT IS IT ABOUT THAT TRACK?
“I don’t know. It’s humbling when I’m on it, and it’s definitely been humbling to me. I don’t know how to describe it. I feel natural when I’m out there. I don’t feel natural running up next to the wall. I just love it up there. It’s been its fair share of mean to me, for good reason. We definitely haven’t gotten the finishes we want. But no matter what, I usually drive out of there with a smile.”
ANY BONZAI MOVES TO GET INTO THE NEXT ROUND?
“No sir, no more up these sleeves! It’s just go scrap up as many points as we can and see what we’ve got at the end of each elimination race.”
HOW WOULD YOU SUM UP YOUR SEASON TO GET TO THIS POINT?
“I don’t know if we have enough tape! I think there’s a lot of things I could have done better. There’s a lot of things that I’m grateful that went the way they did. And I learned from all of it. So how do I think it went? I think it went exactly how it was supposed to. Now we have a shot for 10 weeks to go fight for this thing.”
YOU’RE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE PACK GOING IN. DOES THAT IMPACT HOW YOU APPROACH THE FIRST ROUND?
“It does not affect how I drive off into Turn One at Darlington during qualifying or on Lap 30 of the race or Lap 230 or 330. It’s what do I need to do to put my car in the best position to win, get as many points as I can, run as fast as a lap as I can. I can’t think of any of that other stuff, and I don’t have the bandwidth for it. I think about the lap I’m in, what does the next corner need from me, and it’s a very repetitive process of 367 times plus maybe a little overtime of repeating that process of what does the next corner need from me.”
EVERY TIME YOU GO TO WORK, YOU SEE THE SPACE PAINTED OF HOW SHORT YOU WERE LAST YEAR. IS IT OVERWHELMING OR IS IT A GOOD REMINDER?
“It was overwhelming at first. The first couple of times I drove over it, I didn’t really care for it. I actually parked on the other side of the building the first week because I didn’t really get it. By the end of the first week, I thought through everything Justin (Marks) said, and he talked to me a little bit more about it. I just started driving across it like everybody else. Now I look forward to it. It’s a little grip of the steering wheel, a little pump of throttle, then a quick memory and right back to what do I need to do today? That’s really all I can do, is try to be better the next time.”
HOW HAS BEING IN THE PLAYOFFS LAST YEAR CHANGED YOUR MINDSET?
“There’s definitely things we’ve learned. It can be something as simple as my schedule, how we go about the 10 weeks and on the raceday what we build into my calendar. Fundamentally from a large point of view, we don’t have to do anything different. We didn’t do anything too crazy last year – the Hail Melon and some of that stuff was crazy – but in our preparation and our execution when we got to the track for all these playoff races, we can’t reinvent the wheel this week for Darlington. We can’t reinvent it for the Roval or anything. We need to go race. That’s what we’ve done for two years and really three since a lot of us were at CGR together. We didn’t get here by accident, and it’s OK to go win some of these things. Somebody is going to.”
DO YOU PAY ATTENTION TO WHO SAYS IS GOING TO THROUGH THE ROUNDS, WHO IS GOING TO MAKE IT TO THE FINAL FOUR?
“We don’t put it on a bulletin board, no. I see it, but I’m not looking for it. Social media has given everybody’s opinion a platform. I know that about it. If you have access to a device that will post on social media from anywhere in the world and you have the service to get it out, you can say anything you want. I accepted that a long time ago, probably when I still had a Blackberry. From then to now, it hasn’t changed. Social media is what it is. If you have a platform to be on the broadcast team or a platform to have a Twitter account with one follower, you have the same platform on social media. Post what you want.”
WHAT COULD HAVE CHANGED THE END OF THE SPRING RACE AT DARLINGTON?
“It was a decision to take the lead back from the 5… take that Turn One entry, run up the hill, with the throttle commitment and steering wheel commitment I had, it was a decision to take it. And I didn’t need to take it. I could have raced him off Turn Two. I put myself in the wall and we were out of the race. And it took him out, too. Definitely could have changed, and it started with a decision under caution to take the spot on the ensuing restart.”
DO YOU FEEL MORE CONFIDENT COMING BACK TO THE PLAYOFFS THIS YEAR?
“I’ve got 140 employees at Trackhouse that are going to battle for Daniel (Suarez) and I. Whether or not we have a playoff banner on the window or not, it doesn’t change the caliber or rocketship they are about to put on the track for Daniel and I. We just go about our stuff, and we don’t hide from anything. I don’t have a higher or lower confidence level. I know that I learned a lot last year.”
WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST THING YOU DID LEARN?
“That it was OK to just be OK. There were some races where guys are blowing tires, issues are happening and motors are blowing… just be OK and it’s going to be alright. There were times where I could have pushed harder and maybe we could have won. It would have been a high-risk of crashing, and at that moment we didn’t need that so we just ran second and moved on.”
HOW WOULD YOU SUM UP THE FIELD THIS YEAR COMPARED TO PREVIOUS YEAR?
“The points currently with the reset is tight for most of us. Going to Darlington, you don’t know who is going to show up and be the fastest. You don’t know who is going to be fifth-quick and who is going to be 25th-quick. Any of us 16 could easily be either of those on the practice sheet. That will dictate ultimately who transfers on… who is the bottom-four speed-wise, and it might be the same cars who get the least amount of points. You could easily run 25th right now in Cup, and you could easily run fifth.”
WHO ELSE STANDS OUT IN THE PLAYOFF FIELD?
“I don’t have any of them that I’m not focused on as far as who could be getting more points by the time we get to Bristol, but I can only control my destiny. I can’t control the past and I can’t control the future. I’m going to go to work on my stuff and go through our processes at Trackhouse and Chevy, and all those other guys can do whatever they would like. It’s just about me and my group, and what we need to do to transfer through.”