Does your preparation change between the regular season and the playoffs, or do you keep doing what got you into the playoffs?
“Several years ago, if you were going to compete with the 48 car (seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson) on a week-to-week basis, you had to playoff race every week, and that’s always something Rodney (Childers, crew chief) and myself and the team have prided ourselves on. The preparation is no different. You prepare and do all the same things you do on a weekly basis to be able to compete at a high level. There’s obviously a lot more chatter about playoffs and first-round races and third-round races, and in the end I know those are great stories, but all that stuff is irrelevant to us. We’re week-to-week racers and we’ll prepare the same, win or lose, every week.”
The Bristol Night Race always has an electric vibe to it, but is that vibe heightened with it being a cutoff race to make the Round of 12?
“The vibe at the Bristol Night Race is always over the top. It’s always a great event. You really never know what to expect at the Bristol Night Race. It can go completely smoothly or it can be complete chaos. Usually, it’s somewhere in between those two and you just have an exciting night. Bristol is intense every lap. There’s just a lot happening every single corner to make good lap times at Bristol. There’s always something happening in front of you, so you try and look as far ahead as you can to keep yourself out of trouble. But the best way to keep yourself out of trouble at Bristol is to be on offense and going forward, so hopefully we can do that.”
Bristol is fast and loud. That means entertainment for the fans, but it can pose problems when it comes to communicating with your crew chief. How do you handle that aspect of Bristol?
“Bristol is definitely loud and hard for the teams to hear. One of the hardest things at Bristol is just to see what’s going on. I have crashed at Bristol and gone back to watch it on TV and you’re like, ‘What in the hell were you doing? You just ran into four or five cars that have been sitting there for two seconds.’ But, Bristol is a very demanding racetrack. It’s very hard because things happen so fast, communication is hard. It’s easy to make a mistake or pile into a wreck. It’s easy to wreck somebody or to get into a fight. It’s easy to do a lot of things because there is just so much happening. It’s a tough place to race, to put it all together, and it’s mentally and physically exhausting.”
Bristol marks the second short-track race in as many weeks. When it comes to short-track etiquette – what’s OK and what isn’t in this day and age?
“It depends on how mad you are. I think a lot of that just depends on the situation. When you’re not running well, there’s a lot more that’s OK in your mind because the day’s screwed up anyway and you feel like you want to run into somebody just to take your aggression out on the day. A lot of that just depends on who you’re racing and how that guy’s raced you that day, if you’ve had trouble and you’re trying to get back to the front and it’s late in the race, or at the end of a stage – it’s just different things at different times that are OK. In the end, it’s just like every other race, you’ve got to somehow be able to get to the finish with the best result you can get that day.”
Where did you learn short-track etiquette, and is it still applicable today?
“It’s applicable, and a lot of times there are still a lot of guys who don’t apply it and they wind up getting themselves in trouble – tearing their cars up and putting themselves in a bad spot. I think part of our success is being able to race like that when we need to race like that and understanding how that works. In my book, it’s just being smart. In today’s day and age, a lot of it is just go as hard as you can go and screw the other guy. In the end, there are a lot of guys who think that way, but there are a lot of guys who tear their stuff up, too. So, it’s a fine line, but you have to go on the restarts in today’s world. You have to just throw caution to the wind on the restarts because that’s when most of it happens. Once we get strung out and get to the racing part of it, that’s usually when you have to apply some of that and there is some give-and-take. But on the restarts, I would say all those rules go out the window because of how important the restarts are in today’s world.”
Who were the elder statesmen you learned from when you started racing in the NASCAR Cup Series?
“A lot of that I would credit to Richard Childress just because of the fact he put so much emphasis on finishing races. I think most of that comes from the RCR mentality when I started of you have to finish the race, no matter what the cost or what you have to do, you have to finish the race.”