Describe the intensity of racing at Talladega.
“You have to be aggressive just for the fact that if you’re not aggressive, it always seems like you’re not going to be where you need to be. Nine times out of 10, the aggressor is going to be the guy who comes out on the good side of things just for the fact that you’re making things happen and you’re not waiting for something else to happen. When you wait for something else to happen, that’s usually when you get in trouble because it’s usually someone else’s mess. You can still get in trouble if you’re aggressive, but with this rules package and the way things are, it’s best to stay aggressive and try to stay up front.”
Blocking seems to be a necessary evil at Talladega. What’s your take?
“I don’t like blocking, but it’s a necessity. Blocking is something that has evolved over the years as people have figured out trying to time the runs, and people have figured out when you can block and when you can’t. It’s just a matter of putting yourself in a position where you think you’re making the right move, and sometimes you make the wrong move. It’s just a game of inches. It just really is a high-speed chess match that you have at 200 mph – and this week will be absolutely no different. There will be a big crash. There will be mistakes made. There will be pit errors made. There will be strategy played. But I can promise you we’re all going to race in a pack – and that’s the way Talladega should be.”
What are your expectations for Talladega?
“For me, it’s been a destruction derby over the last couple of years. We’ve run really well at Talladega, but that’s just kind of the phases you go through when you go to Talladega. I’m doing worse than 50-50 on whether you crash or finish the last few years, but it’s one of those places where you want to race up front and race hard all day because you have to try to win stages. I believe you have better odds at the front of the pack when it comes to staying out of a wreck if you can keep that track position all day. You’re going to race in a pack – three-wide at times – and you’re going to get pushed and have to push at times. You just never know what’s going to happen because Talladega is its own animal. It’s hard to finish a race there. As we’ve seen over the past however many years, you try to put yourself in the right position and hope you have a little bit of luck on your side that particular day. I know our Busch Dog Brew Ford Mustang will be fast enough to contend for the win, but you just have to get to the finish.”
Talladega and its sister track, Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, are often mentioned in the same breath, but there are differences between the two venues. What are they?
“Talladega is a lot bigger. It’s a lot wider. The track itself is bigger. The shape of Talladega is different than Daytona because of the track being wider and the way the tri-oval is shaped. The start-finish line is almost all the way down into turn one, which seems to change some of the outcomes of the finishes because you have to go all the way down the front straightaway before you get to the finish line. Talladega’s tri-oval is a little bit different than Daytona’s. That bottom groove has a little less banking than the rest of the racetrack, so it’s almost like you’re dipping down into a hole. Sometimes you see guys get loose down into the tri-oval and spin out, so it ends up being where some of the wrecks are caused. It’s really hard to push through that tri-oval, especially as you’re heading down into that bottom lane. It’s tough to know exactly where you need to be at the end of the race. I’ve only won one of them there. In that particular race, we were tandem racing and I was second coming into the tri-oval and was able to get past Jamie McMurray. But I would still rather be leading and in control. If I’ve made it to the white flag, then I’ve made it a lot farther than I’ve made it lately, so it’s a chess match all day. You have to have a little bit of luck on your side, but you can also put yourself in a good position by making the right moves, having a good day on pit road, and not making any mistakes.”
You have a rookie teammate and drafting partner in Chase Briscoe. What kind of advice or encouragement do you have for him as he prepares for his first NASCAR Cup Series start at Talladega?
“It’s a dog-eat-dog world, that’s what I tell him all the time, and you have to make sure your voice is a part of the equation. You get to this level, you’ve shown that you can do it, you’ve raced a long time, and you understand the things that you need to do. Jumping in a new car your rookie year and not having any practice is a tough scenario. Being a part of that equation to solve that problem is going to be very rewarding for him as he goes forward, and it’s also going to be great experience. Chase is one of the best humans that you’ll ever meet. I think his personality is good for people and it’s good for teams.”