How would you assess this season?
“That’s a good question. For us as a group on the 4 car, I think we’ve worked through things pretty well. We’ve been in position to win two or three races, but one thing or another didn’t let that happen or didn’t make it happen, however you want to look at it. But I’ve had a lot worse seasons, I know that for sure. I’ve lived through a whole bunch that were way worse than this one. This one has been a bit of a struggle to get the finishes that we have, but in the end, I’ve raced like that for years in my career. You know, a lot of people that watch and cover the sport in this particular period forget about 20 years ago. It’s hard to explain to people some of the things that you’ve been through. I feel like my first press conference was the biggest one I’ll ever do, the first year was the most stressful I’ll ever have, 2002 was a horrendous year, and somehow we won a race that year playing the track-position game and put ourselves in the right spot. I’ve personally been through some pretty tough years and this one has just been a struggle because you had to work so hard to get everything you have. I think from a team standpoint, we’ve also learned a lot about the other side of the fence as far as having to dig your heels in and do things that you haven’t had to do. And whether you like it or not, that race is coming up next week and you’re going to have to participate, whether your car is slow or fast, and you’ve got to figure out how to make the most out of that. For us, I know we have 23 top-10s, and you look at the top-fives, they’re not where we want them to be. But when you look at the overall picture and the grind that we’ve been through this year, I think everybody’s done a good job and I think a lot of that comes from the maturity and the experience of this Busch Light team and being together so long.”
After a nine-win season in 2020, was there added pressure to perform this year because of how high you set the bar last year?
“It’s really no pressure. We know what we can and can’t do, and we go out and do those things. The noise from the outside never really affects anything that we do just because there are so many things that everybody doesn’t know or understand about the situation, and I think that’s really what’s kept us in the game. You can’t take an eighth- or ninth-place finish and turn it into a 30th-place finish. That’s really, in the end, what’s kept us going and put us in the playoffs and put us in a points position to do what we need to do and put us through the first round and kept us in it the second round. You can’t exceed the limits of your racecar because it wrecks or put yourself in a position to get wrecked. That’s really by not listening to, ‘You need to go faster, or you need to do this or you need to do that.’ You do what you know you can do and that’s really what our team has done well throughout the year.”
Twenty-three top-10 finishes so far this season, with seven of them coming in the last nine races. Have you been able to be more consistent as you return to tracks you competed on earlier this year?
“For sure. I think we had less problems with our cars than we really thought we had at the beginning of the season. I think a lot of it was just the process of making the right adjustments on our cars and getting the balance closer to where it needed to be. We have made the cars better, but our guys have done a good job of just really putting everything together to make sure we’re not in right field to start these races. We’ve been able to adjust on our car to make it better because we’re closer at the beginning of the race. And just getting what you can out of the day and going to the next one. It’s not the way we usually race, which is you’re always on offense and going forward and trying to do those things. You have moments and time periods during the race that you can do that, but you have to be very methodical about the things that you do on pit road with changes on the car. We’ve all done a good job of that.”
Did the team’s development of the racecar get curtailed this year because there was a parts freeze as teams began the transition to the NextGen car in 2022?
“I think our team is good enough to where we could’ve alleviated some of the headaches we experienced if we would’ve had practice and those types of things throughout the year, just because of the fact we would’ve known, ‘Whoa, our balance is way off on where we need to be this weekend.’ And I can relate to Rodney (Childers, crew chief), that it’s not just off a little bit, it’s off a lot, and we need to have a massive reboot in the trailer to get the car closer for the race. You get to a certain point where you’re so far off that when you start adjusting on things like we were in the beginning of the year, you’re never going to get it right until you put it back on the scales and set the heights and do the things that it takes to get it close. Last year, it was the opposite. You had everything where you wanted it and didn’t have any issues and it didn’t matter if you practiced. This year, you wish you had practice and you wish you had some of the things to alleviate the stress of the start of the races and where we’ve been on the balance at different times. That’s been a lot better the last couple of months. We’ve made ground on it, but we’d have made ground on it a lot faster if we’d have been on the racetrack. We always do well at development stuff and making changes, but you couldn’t do that this year. We all knew that game going in. Unfortunately, we were on the wrong side of it and had to grind away at it and do the best that we could.”
What has carried the No. 4 team this year?
“It’s really been a group effort and, honestly, the group that’s carried us the most this year has been the pit crew. Those guys have been just on point all year and helped with gaining track position while making huge changes to the racecar. It’s really been a combination of a whole bunch of things. I feel like I’ve made a couple of mistakes in the seat, but I think overall in the car, we’ve done a good job. Rodney’s made some great pit calls. All those things just add up, and I think the pit crew has been the shining element of our season and has really helped us stay in a lot of races.”
Your crew chief, Rodney Childers, announced a few weeks ago that he had re-signed with SHR. How important it to have him locked up longterm to where you know he’s going to be your crew chief?
“Rodney is a key element of everything that we’ve done and the nucleus of the team. He’s done a great job and, as we go forward, it’s very comforting to know that you have the same voice and the same person with you, and I think the guys on the team feel the same way. Obviously, he and I talk about those things on occasion when they pop up and, as we go forward here over the next couple of years, I think he and I are definitely on the same page as far as where we’re both at. We’ll move forward and keep doing the things that we’ve been doing.”