It seems drivers either love racing at superspeedways or they hate it. Which side of the fence are you on?
“At the start of my career, I dreaded superspeedway racing. I talked to Dale (Earnhardt) Jr., last year before Daytona and the things he told me about the mentality of how to race these tracks and how he’s found speed really made me change my entire style of superspeedway racing. I truly enjoy going to those tracks now. I look forward to it because that perspective has made it more fun. In the past, my mindset was whatever happens, happens, and if I get in the wreck, I’m in the wreck. Now I feel like I can somewhat determine my own fate. We had a really good run at Daytona this year, but Talladega is so much wider than Daytona, and that creates more opportunity to move around and make moves. The more you can move around, the more chance there is for something to happen, but that extra space also gives you room to avoid some of those situations. We’re going to go there and be the aggressor and try to stay up front. We’re also running for the Dash 4 Cash, so we’ll keep that in the back of our mind that we’re racing three other guys for that, but we’re still aiming to win the race. Hopefully, we can keep our Ford Performance Racing School Mustang out of the big wrecks and we’ll be back in victory lane.”
Typically when we race at Talladega, it’s in the relative cool of spring. This time, you’re racing in the heart of the summer when it’s hot and humid. Does that change your approach?
“I think it will have more of an impact. When it comes to superspeedway racing, it seems like it’s always hotter inside the car. On top of that, you almost feel like you’re holding your breath every lap because the racing is so intense. It’ll be hot, there’s no question about that, but sometimes having a good race can put that out of your mind, and I’ve got all the confidence in our team that we’re going to go down there and have a good race.”
Last weekend’s doubleheader at Homestead was a great display of the No. 98 team’s strength and that of Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR). We saw the comeback from seven laps down on Saturday, and a hefty penalty that resulted in the suspension of three crew members, including your regular crew chief, Richard Boswell. Greg Zipadelli, a two-time championship winning crew chief in the NASCAR Cup Series who is SHR’s vice president of competition, ended up being your interim crew chief, and he’s back on the box for Talladega. What was last weekend like for you and how special is it to be able to work with Zipadelli?
“First of all, I hated the circumstances, but this is a team sport. We all make mistakes, and I made a mistake the week before that cost us the win at Atlanta. We’re a team that believes in each other and we showed that we’re a team to beat even when we’re three guys down. The great thing about SHR is we have so many high-quality people when it comes to what they do. Overall, having Zippy on the box is super cool for me. Growing up, I was a diehard Tony Stewart fan and a Zippy fan, so being able to work with him and get the win with him was really exciting for me. I don’t think people understand how big of a Tony fan I was growing up, and Zippy was a huge part of that team and Tony’s success. I’ve always looked up to them. I had no idea that it was Zippy’s first Xfinity Series win, so to be able to share that success with him was really special, and I hope to be able to add to it this weekend.”