Todd Gilliland, driver of the No. 38 gener8tor Ford Mustang Dark Horse, and Chris Buescher, driver of the No. 17 Fifth Third Bank Ford Mustang Dark Horse, both came into the media center and held Q&A sessions before today’s practice and qualifying session. Here’s a transcript of both interviews:

TODD GILLILAND, No. 38 gener8tor Ford Mustang Dark Horse – WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT YOUR THROWBACK SCHEME? “It’s always really cool, for me being one of the younger guys in the Cup Series still, I would say I’m still kind of seeing what the past is kind of like brought onto a present race car and all that stuff. For me, going back to my first late model win, it’s cool. That’s where it all started. It was my first CARS Tour race ever, kind of a cool tie-in there too. It definitely brings back a lot of memories, back when I was just trying to learn and doing a lot of stuff wrong and working really hard. I think all of that stuff is really cool to kind of revisit and rethink about.”

WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER FROM THAT FIRST CARS TOUR RACE? “I don’t remember a whole lot. It’s kind of just a blur of how the night went. Looking back at stuff, it seemed like we had speed most of the day. I think we were the fastest in practice and I think we were pretty much third the whole race. I’ve watched the finish of it a million times and racing against Deac McCaskill, all bunch of those guys that are still racing on the CARS Tour and are kind of like the veterans that you have to beat. I think I kind of moved him out of the way on a restart and was able to just barely get away for those last few laps and win the race. That was an awesome finish.”

IS THERE OPTIMISM IN THE 38 CAMP THAT WITH A LITTLE LUCK GOOD FINISHES ARE COMING? “Yeah, I would definitely say that’s how we feel running-wise, but at the end of the day you only have results to go off of and they don’t look good, for sure. I definitely do feel like we’ve been running better. We’ve been starting the weekends much closer, faster in practice, all those things that are helping us set up better. On the plus side, we’re faster, but on the downside I feel like we had such a long ways to go at some of these mile-and-a-halves. We still have a long ways to go, but we’re in the race now, where before we had probably on average just three-tenths to get to the back of the racing pack. I feel like we’re there. We can race hard. I feel like Kansas was one of our best mile-and-a-halves yet, and it was nice to be able to get out of there with a good finish, whether it’s strategy, restarts or whatever. Our car was still pretty fast, so that was definitely a big confidence booster.”

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHETHER YOU’RE SURPRISED MCDOWELL IS LEAVING AND HIS CONTRIBUTION TO THE COMPANY? “There are definitely two sides to that one. Part of me is surprised that he’s leaving, just because the same as what you guys see – he’s been there for a long time and really built the organization up to where it is today, in my opinion. He’s been a huge part of that, so, yes I am surprised he’s leaving, but at the same time he’s been doing so well you would have to think there are gonna be opportunities. I’m definitely sad to see him go, for sure, just based off how much he does, his leadership within the team. The day he told us was kind of the day they announced it that morning to our whole shop. We were talking about it after that. I did some interview or I said that hopefully one day I can take the torch of the leadership deal and I joked with him that I didn’t want it to be this soon – ‘you didn’t need to leave this early.’ But he’s been such a great teammate to me. I feel like he’s just been an open notebook when he doesn’t need to be. I really have nothing but great things to say about what he’s meant to me and meant to our race team.”

HOW DO YOU BUILD MOMENTUM WITH THE TEAM WHEN YOU’RE ALWAYS ON A ONE-YEAR DEAL? “It’s definitely nerve racking throughout the years, but I feel like Front Row is making so many steps in so many areas. That’s another area we’re working in, whether that’s crew chiefs or personnel that are gonna be under longer term contracts. That’s really the next step. We’re getting to a point where we have a lot of great people and you have to really take care of your great people or else they’re gonna get other opportunities. I think we’re definitely working on that and working in a good direction, whether that’s with drivers, crew chiefs, anyone in the whole company. I think that’s going to continue to get better over the years.”

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW TEMPERAMENTAL THIS TRACK IS? “Like you said, I feel like I can do 10 laps in a row and feel like I’m doing good, and then slip up by like one tire width and you’re in really bad shape and stuffed in the wall. To me, it’s always a super fun place. You do have to be super technical, super on your game all day, whether it’s today during practice or qualifying. I think qualifying here is one of the craziest things we do. Even sitting on the end of pit road waiting for your turn to go out, you see other guys go out and it’s unbelievable the speed and the throttle that you carry into turn one up the hill. All you can see is that wall turning right in at you. It’s a lot of commitment, a lot of trust, but also these cars make a lot of grip nowadays and that’s what makes it so much more fun. I’m excited. Darlington is always a tough place. And then on the flip side it’s one of the most high commitment places, but then after 10 laps you’re just hanging on and trying to baby the thing around here to make it another 40 laps or so. I think just the multiple layers to it makes it super fun.”

SO YOU WILL BE THE NEW LEADER AT FRONT ROW? “That’s not what I said. I hope so. I don’t know. That’s definitely the goal for me, for sure. I definitely feel at home at Front Row Motorsports and they’ve been nothing but good to me, so we’ll see, but that’s definitely my plan.”

YOU SOUNDED LIKE IT WAS A DONE DEAL FOR NEXT YEAR. “I wish it was all done, but we’re working on it and I’m definitely excited for the future.”

WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO TAKE AWAY FROM WORKING WITH MCDOWELL? “I think everything. I think a few moments that really stick out to me, I think at one of my first Next Gen tests, like from the very beginning, I think we were testing Phoenix and he had tested the whole first day. I hopped in the second day and we were relatively fast and we were laying down some really good laps, but then I spun and I nudged it into the wall. I was obviously super disappointed, but he’s just a guy. He’s been such a good role model and just kind of put his arm around me and said, ‘It’s gonna be alright. It’s not the end of anything.’ It’s just super nice to have somebody like that. I obviously have a great support system with my dad and my whole family, but I feel like MIchael is kind of that same figure, but almost like within the race team. He’s just way more involved in the day-to-day stuff, so I would really compare it to how I talk to my dad or how he talks to me. It’s maybe not a good comparison for him, but it’s definitely the kind of relationship that I feel.”

YOU’VE BEEN AROUND THE FRM SHOP FOR YEARS. WHAT HAS IT BEEN LIKE NOW DRIVING FOR THEM? “Yeah, that’s definitely true. I think one of my favorite pictures is there’s a picture of me on one of the Front Row pit boxes when I was probably 12 years old or something like that. I’ve been around the team for a long time, whether that’s a good relationship with Bob Jenkins, the owner, their whole family. It’s cool to have the roots for that, but at the same time the team has changed dramatically since my dad was there. They were struggling to maybe even get to the racetrack at times, where now we definitely feel like we can be a competitive race team in the Cup Series. It’s changed in a lot of ways, but at the same time it’s definitely great to have a good relationship with the whole team and kind of just build my own building blocks on top of that.”

YOU GET A LITTLE BETTER QUALIFYING POSITION THIS WEEK. HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO BREAK OUT OF THAT WITH THE QUALIFYING? IS THIS STILL THE FAIREST WAY TO DO IT? “It definitely can snowball, for sure. If you have a bad race finish, you’re first out to qualify in Group A and then you’re probably gonna be in the back half of the field for the next Sunday. I feel like momentum, you could say it’s real or not, but that’s kind of our momentum is if you get a good finish and now the track is gonna be cleaner when I go out this week and I can get a good starting spot and you really just start rolling the ball in the right direction, but, at the same time, it can definitely go the other way. I do feel like the qualifying format is much better now that it’s the inside row and the outside row. You even look at last week. I think my lap time would have made the second round in Group A, but I was probably 12th or 13th in my group, so the track just changes so much with these cars for whatever reason that I think it’s definitely better off having the bottom lane and the top lane. I think that’s made it a lot more fair, but it definitely is tough. From our side of it, we get bad finishes and we’re legit the first ones out, where Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, those guys have enough points, have a fast enough lap that if they have a bad finish, it doesn’t hurt them as much. I think, to me, it just shows that we need to be more consistent and need to be better on our end and it won’t be as big of an issue.”

HOW QUICKLY WERE YOU THINKING ABOUT A BETTER QUALIFYING SITUATION FOR DARLINGTON AFTER LAST WEEK’S FINISH? “I don’t know that’s something you think about initially. You’re just kind of excited about the finish, but I will definitely say that Tuesday afternoons when the qualifying order comes out, I’m probably the first one to look at it, just because I don’t love being in Group A. I feel like there’s no advantage to that. It’s nice to be in Group B and see your teammate go out and get some data. You can look at the SMT for a long time, know what lap times are gonna be, and you can just be so much more prepared, but, at the same time, it’s the same thing really. I definitely feel I start the weekend off better when I’m in Group B.”

CHRIS BUESCHER, No. 17 Fifth Third Bank Ford Mustang Dark Horse – HOW DOES THIS TRACK CHANGE ON A YEAR TO YEAR BASIS? “There’s definitely a notebook to it. It has aged surprisingly fast since the repave, and then we’ve had a handful of patches put in. The patch in turn two is probably the bigger item that we’ve been trying to adjust to the past couple of years. There was a ton of grip the first time we came here with that really dark black patch, but still had really rough transitions in and off of it. The transitions are still there and they’re still pretty rough, but the grip has gone down significantly. We’ll learn little things about it, but I would say that’s the bigger item we look at. The rest of the track has been a pretty progressive aging of the asphalt. It’s not really getting a whole lot rougher as far as ride quality goes. We’re still chasing that last two or there inches right there at the fence, and maybe we’ve been able to get a little bit more aggressive with using that in the Xfinity and the Cup Series with composite bodies, so we’re able to not have as much consequence to find that last little bit. We’re still chasing grip like good old fashioned Darlington, but the patch has just been one of those little things that has definitely changed how we’ve gone about things. It is definitely the limit of what we can get away with for speed heights versus ride quality.”

HAVE YOU WATCHED THE FINISH FROM LAST WEEK OR NOT BARE TO WATCH IT? “Yeah, I’ve watched it. I’ve replayed it in my head no less than 100 times and that’s probably pretty conservative. I’ve got a list of things I would do different going back and I just need to be in that situation again. I’m taking a lot of good things out of it, a couple bad, but ultimately what I look at is that is the most competitive mile-and-a-half that we’ve had, ever in my career with RFK for sure as well. That was a better weekend than we had at Michigan when we won. I take that as the highlight of how it all went down and it kind of gets you through some of the bitterness of it as well. What we’re talking about it is how do we make that our baseline for mile-and-a-halves and see what we’re able to transfer here to Darlington. Obviously, they’re not the same racetrack whatsoever, but you still feel like we have things that we can apply. We’re all doing our best to try and laugh about it after the race and hung out and actually stayed and watched cars go through tech to make sure we were good and the 5 was good, obviously. Just trying to let it all unfold and take a breather. Our whole team stayed and was standing around the truck just trying to ultimately have some peace in the fact that we had a great day and try to laugh about the situation knowing that it was gonna be a tough one for the rest of every one or our careers.”

ARE YOU GOOD WITH HOW NASCAR DECIDES THE FINISH WITH THE CAMERAS? “I’ve certainly learned a lot and some things that I did not know about. We’ve had a couple ways to laugh, but obviously the wavy line across the finish line has been fun to pick at, but ultimately I understand that’s not what we go by. The transponder loops or camera, that’s some of the things I’ve learned is knowing that we use a camera system versus transponder loops. We’ve been, not in such a grand fashion, but a part of some of these races that have ended under a yellow all of a sudden and we’ve been chasing loops and cameras and never really understood how we ended up where we did on a couple of races the last couple of years and I think we have a better understanding now. It’s all good at the end of the day and we’re ready to make the next one easier to talk about as a win and not have to pull up that camera footage again.”

AS A DRIVER HOW DO YOU PUT THAT BEHIND YOU AND FOCUS ON HAVING THAT SAME LEVEL OF PERFORMANCE HERE? “It was bothersome for two days. There’s no way around that. I really just picked it apart. Ultimately, the way we see it is you need to be in those positions to know what you want to do better next time. Someone told me, not about this weekend, but a long time ago that you’ve got to lose some to win some and had a handful of scenarios throughout my career where I felt like we had a race that we were gonna win or finally had and something came up or a mistake being made here or there and got told that you just have to have that knowledge and until you do, you don’t know the right decision. Fortunately, we’ve been in these situations more to have that fight to the end. It’s good to be in that position and, like I said, that’s how we’re gonna learn and how we’re gonna put notes away and be more prepared for it when it happens, hopefully not this weekend. We want to make it a little easier on everybody to celebrate ahead of time, but it’s just a learning experience at this point. It’s something that we need to take in and just make sure our performance stays elevated to the point where we’re able to be in those conversations again.”

THAT’S THREE RUNNER-UP FINISHES FOR RFK IN THE LAST FOUR RACES. DO YOU FEEL THE ORGANIZATION IS CLOSER TO WHERE YOU WANT TO BE ON A WEEKLY BASIS? “Yes. We went through the offseason and obviously we had a really strong last third of the season. I was able to make a really good run in the playoffs and have real potential at tracks that I have not been good at in the past. To me, that was a good measure of the success we were having and the potential when you can take races that you used to try and stay optimistic about, but ultimately dread going into and turn those into opportunities to feel like you had a shot to win and run top five or whatever it may have been. That was big for the end of the season and our offseason was spent talking about, ‘How do we start off the season like that?’ Our first eight races of most every season have just been off. That was very important for us this year was to make sure that we started in a much better spot. We’ve got four runner-up finishes between the two of us on the year now. I guess that’s a really good useless stat for everybody in here. No one is gonna talk about that one except us, but it is a measure for us to say we’re inching up on it or we’re right there knocking on the door. It’s just about sealing the deal at this point.”

DO YOU FEEL ANYTHING NEEDS TO CHANGE ABOUT WHERE THE TRANSPONDERS ARE LOCATED? “No, I mean all of our chassis are built by Technique, so every transponder in every car is in the exact same spot. That’s actually as even as it’s ever been. When it was up to the teams, you’d always have those little gray areas being explored like we’re prone to do around here, but, right now, it’s all coming from single source suppliers, so there’s nothing that puts you in a position to be able to play those games. It is where it’s at, so I think the stuff on race cars is as equal as it’s ever been and really is ever gonna be. It’s where it’s at, so I don’t feel like there’s anything we can do to change that.”

SHOULD IT BE SOMEWHERE ELSE ON THE CAR FOR EVERYBODY? “It really doesn’t matter with the timing line being that offset back off the start-finish line, basically when the splitter trips that typically straight white line, the transponder should be right on the beacon. Just like the end of pit road. We used to have a thought and we’re smarter now and should have been back then, but we used to have a thought that, ‘OK, you have to get that transponder across that line to truly beat somebody,’ and a long time ago we figured out, ‘No, the transponder line is actually set back the exact whatever it may be – call it 15 feet – from that yellow line on the end of pit road, so that we are going off of the front edge of the splitter essentially. I think it’s the same that we use for pit road stuff, for speeds, for timing loops there. I don’t see where moving it is gonna change anything.”

A DIFFERENT RIGHT SIDE COMBINATION THIS WEEKEND AT DARLINGTON. HOW DO YOU THINK IT WILL WORK OUT HERE? “I would say as much as I am not a proponent of change most weeks, I’m a little stubborn and set in my ways as I’ve gotten a little older. Yes, it’s different for Darlington, but it’s what we’ve used at all of these mile-and-a-halves. It seems to have been decent. It’s not something that we’re running into unknowns with. We’re not having issues. We’ve got notes on it that are leading us to be able to be confident in the decisions we’re making for setups going into weekends. I don’t have anything off the top of my head that says it’s gonna change much here for Darlington. It’s had fall off in it. It may be more stair-stepped than just that progressive loss of time, but it seems like it’s been a step in a good direction for us and our bigger track product.”

HOW WOULD THE REPAVE AFFECT NORTH WILKESBORO? “In every way we can and can’t imagine, I’d say. The closest thing I’d ever been to North Wilkesboro last year was Berlin, Michigan in an ARCA car, which is probably still just as bad as North Wilkesboro was. I think we got wide-open two times, not even two laps, two times throughout an entire ARCA race there and that was a long time ago. You’re going from the absolute extreme of lack of grip to what’s ultimately gonna feel like infinite grip. I would say that you’re gonna be talking about exponentially more braking applied. You’re really gonna change up everything you do there. Speeds are obviously gonna be way, way faster. Throttle time is gonna be way more. You’re gonna turn it back into a horsepower war to some extent, and short track racing it’s not as big of a deal, but you’re gonna be wanting it. I hope that we have enough racetrack to be able to move around and be able to make passes. I hope the progressive banking that is in Wilkesboro that was supposed to stay in there and seems like it has, I haven’t seen it in person, but it looks similar from what I can tell right now, so if that comes in and we’re able to have good racing, it’s just going to be a whole lot faster this go-around. I know new paves have not been our friend typically as far as really good racing goes through the years, and I really kind of blame it on technology and new asphalt being too good. I don’t know if that’s accurate or not. I’m not educated enough to even have that argument, but it seems like everything nowadays is too good. It goes down too smoothly. People know what they’re doing and it can suck the character out of a lot of our racetracks for a period of time. I hope that we’re learning that we can have something that comes round and hopefully ages enough to where we’re able to put on some good racing.”

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