AFTER WHAT HAPPENED AT THE CLASH, HAS RYAN BLANEY REACHED OUT TO YOU?
“No, he hasn’t reached out to me. So I guess it’s resolved. I don’t know… if I had a problem with someone I would talk to them. So I guess it’s over.”
WHAT WAS IT LIKE LAST YEAR NOT HAVING A TEAMMATE AND HOW HAS THAT CHANGED THIS YEAR?
“It’s good. Last year was a totally different year for me, going from a four-car team to a single-car team; plus with a new organization, a new manufacturer and everything. We kind of worked through that and learned every side of it. Working through the year on our own was a good experience. I felt like we learned a lot. We had some good runs, but we just didn’t have the consistency. We went to Las Vegas early in the year and ran ninth or 10th; then we went back to Vegas later in the year and ran 20th or whatever. We just struggled with that consistency and keeping things where they needed to be.”
“GMS coming on board is going to be good for us. So far it’s been good; merging with them. Ty (Dillon) coming on board on that side, it’s nice to have someone to bounce ideas off of. For me, it’s nice in some ways being a single-car team. You can kind of do what you want and lead your own direction, but there’s no one there to have a stop-check for you. You can go down the wrong path pretty easily. Having someone there, especially with a new car, to try different stuff and see what works and what doesn’t work – and maybe you can go in a different direction – is pretty helpful. Hopefully it pays off.”
LOOKING DOWN THE ROAD TO PHOENIX WITH THE NEXT GEN CAR, SOME DRIVERS SAID THE CAR IS MORE NIMBLE AND MORE SHORT-TRACK FRIENDLY. DO YOU SEE THAT, AND WILL IT CHANGE THE RACE AT PHOENIX?
“I see it, for sure. I look at the Coliseum specifically – and obviously that is the shortest of short tracks we’ve been to – and I think about what the old car would have been like there. I don’t think the race would have been nearly as entertaining as what it was. Number one, it wouldn’t have raced very well in general around that track. Number two, the durability and body and stuff, it wouldn’t have held up nearly as well through that track. I think the short-track stuff is going to change a lot. You’re going to be able to push the car way harder. Drivers are going to be able to drive a lot harder and get there around a lot quicker. I watched the Phoenix test – I didn’t get out there to run it but watched it from afar – and I was encouraged. I think it’s fun. I enjoyed the way the car drove the way at the Coliseum. If it drives anything at Phoenix like it did there, it’s going to be a fun race.”
YOU AND TY HAD GOOD RUNS AT L.A. IS THAT A RESULT OF A LITTLE MORE FREEDOM WITH A NEW OWNERSHIP GROUP, AND ARE YOU ABLE TO APPROACH THINGS A LITTLE MORE AGGRESSIVELY?
“I don’t think so. There was nothing last year that was holding me back or saying I couldn’t be aggressive. I think it was the nature of the track – the quarter-mile Coliseum and the way the track was laid out. Tempers were high, guys were getting frustrated and things were happening quick. It reminded me a lot of growing up racing. I did a lot of Super Late Model racing growing up, and a lot of those were quarter-miles or three-eighths miles. The racing we saw at the Clash at the Coliseum, I immediately thought of all those nights of that racing… jack handles flying after the race and angry people. That’s what I thought of. I thought it was great. When I think of short-track racing, that’s what I think of and that’s how I remember it growing up. I think that’s kind of what it was.”
HOW DO YOU ANTICIPATING THE DUELS BEING? YOU’RE BALANCING KEEPING THE CAR IN ONE PIECE BUT GETTING A GOOD STARTING SPOT. DO YOU EXPECT THINGS TO BE A LITTLE MORE CHILL THAN PAST YEARS?
“I hope so. I feel like we’re in a spot where we need to race this car in the 500. I think most people are in that spot, but I think we’re a little more than some with the parts and pieces and the cars we have lined up going forward from here onto Fontana and on from there. We’ll have to race a little bit in the (Duels). From what we’ve talked about, we’re not too concerned where we start in the 500. You can race your way to the front in the 500 if you need to, especially with seeing how these cars draft, the way you can move through the field and things you can do to pick up a lot of speed. I honestly don’t know totally what my approach is going to be yet. It’s going to depend on where we start and where we qualify. There are some pretty fast guys in single-car runs that are going to have a shot for the pole. I don’t know if we’re quite in that mix. We’ll see where we stack up. I think we’re going to be timid for sure.”
YOU’VE RACED WITH TY A LOT OVER THE YEARS AS A COMPETITOR. AS A TEAMMATE, WHAT’S THAT RELATIONSHIP LIKE?
“I didn’t really know Ty. I knew Ty as a competitor but I never talked to him too much or worked with him obviously on the competition side of things. We came up at a similar time and raced together a lot. We just never worked together. I’m kind of learning him right now… going into the simulator and seeing what his driving style is like and him going in and vice-versa. That’s a big thing as teammates – seeing what each guy needs out of the car, respectful of each other and working through that. That helps too with feedback and the comments on the racecar of what you’re looking for. If the driving styles are a bit different, guys are going to want different stuff. So that helps working through the competition side of things. That’s a big thing now that I’m trying to learn. I’ve been talking with him a lot about what he’s looking for in his racecar and how he’s looking to approach the year.”
DOES HAVING PARTNERSHIPS WITH TEAMS ON THE RCR CAMPUS GET A LOT OF FEEDBACK FROM A LOT OF DIFFERENT TEAMS RATHER THAN BEING OUT ON ISLAND?
“It does. This year, we’ve actually moved off campus. We’re in the GMS shop now but we still have our alliance with RCR. That communication always helps, right? We just don’t have the engineering power that a team like that does. We don’t have the people working consistently on one piece of the car at a time to try and develop it to make it better. That’s where the alliance with RCR is just huge for us. It’s important. I don’t think without it that we could do nearly the things we could do so far with the racecar and learn about the Next Gen car as much as we have. We have great people at GMS. Dave (Elenz) our new crew chief and Danny (Efland) our engineer do a really good job, but they still need the information to put the pieces together. Having that to go back on and look at is pretty big for us.”
WERE YOU SURPRISED THAT RYAN BLANEY GOT TICKED OFF ENOUGH TO THROW HIS HANS DEVICE AT YOU?
“I don’t know. The way I look at it, if I’m racing somebody and I brake-checked them then I guess I’d expect to get wrecked. It’s not like I meant to take the guy out of the race. I didn’t just intentionally right-rear him into the wall. Moving up the track, he got into the wall and broke a piece unfortunately that took him further out of the race. He was probably upset about that, for sure. He was having a solid run and we were moving forward together. I wasn’t shocked to see it at all. I knew he’d probably be mad about it. I was just kind of waiting on it.”
YOU’VE GONE FROM HAVING MULTIPLE TEAMMATES TO NO TEAMMATES AND NOW TO ONE TEAMMATE. HOW DOES THAT ROUTINE PREPARING FOR A RACE CHANGE?
“It changes it. Last year, we kind of had our own program. It was just us so I’d go into the shop Mondays or Tuesdays and meet with the guys, then go up and run the simulator and go through our week-long preparation with what we were looking for on the racecar. We’d run through our setup and run through some changes and figure it out. It’s changed a bit now. Ty and I both have to split the sim time and get on there to run different packages and different stuff. It’s like I said earlier about learning each other’s styles and what we want from the racecar. Eventually it would be great to get to the points where we could run setups for each other and know either he’s going to like that or he’s not going to like that change. That’s the goal to get to. It’s nice having two people working out what we need from a racecar. Every driver wants something different, right? Even something that I don’t think I need in a racecar that Ty is calling for could probably help me at the end of the day. That’s the nice part about it. You can work through a lot of different stuff and probably end up with a stronger racecar than you would have with one person working on it or developing it while asking for changes. I’m excited about it. Ty’s a good driver. He’s shown that and he’s worked through a lot of different organizations through his career. I think this is one of the better opportunities he’s had at the Cup level.”
WHAT’S BEEN THE COLLABORATION BETWEEN THE RCR DRIVERS AND THE ENGINES YOU HAVE WITH THIS ALLIANCE?
“We’ve talked about and what our plan is for the 500… not so much the Duels or just practice. I think you’ll see us probably trying to work together in the 500. It’s always tough. I’ve done it with two different manufacturers trying to work together in the race and what you do there and what the plan is. It’s hard. It’s never easy to actually work together once you get in the heat of the battle, trying to stay connected and stay with each other and work your way to the front. If it does work, then it works great. I’ve seen it work great and been part of it working great. It’s just hard to get everyone together. We have talked about it and what we want to do for the 500.”
HAVE YOU TALKED ABOUT SOME OF THE OPEN TEAMS IN THE RCR ALLIANCE AND HELPING THEM MAKE THEIR WAY INTO THE 500 ON THURSDAY NIGHT?
“We haven’t specifically talked about that in our group. For us, we’re just really focusing on racing this car in the 500. Unfortunately we’re in a spot where we cannot wreck this car before the 500. We have to get it into the race and start it. As much as it would be nice to help those guys out and get some more help in the 500 from those guys – because obviously they would be on our side – I don’t think we’re going to be able to do much for them.”
WITH ALL THAT SAID FOR THE DUELS, DOES IT MAKE SENSE TO RIDE IN THE BACK? WHERE’S THE LINE BETWEEN BEING SAFE BUT PICKING UP AND LEARNING THINGS FOR SUNDAY?
“It’s a fine balance. From what we’ve talked about, you obviously have to race in the Duels a bit. You like to learn, like you said. We just haven’t been in a big enough pack even at the test to know what these cars are going to do and how they’re going to drive in the draft. There is going to be some point where we have to race in the Duel, learn about the car and go from there. It’ll be an eyes-wide-open type of deal. If anything gets really dicey or out of hand, we’re going to have to be extra cautious. I don’t think us riding around by ourselves is going to be an option just because we do have to learn a little bit. But we definitely are going to err on the heavy side of caution.”
YOU HAVE SOMETHING LIKE HALF THE FIELD IN CHEVROLETS THAT YOU COULD WORK WITH. HOW DOES THAT AFFECT YOU AS A DRIVER KNOWING THAT YOU HAVE MORE POSSIBILITIES WHEN IT COMES TO LATE IN THE RACE?
“When it was only a few cars, we’d always complain that we didn’t have enough people. That was always the issue of pitting by ourselves or doing that kind of thing where we don’t have enough cars and we couldn’t maintain the speed we need to. Now over here it’s almost the opposite issue. You’ve got so many cars, how is everyone going to work together? It’s just not possible. It’s a struggle either way. You have to find the right balance and settle in with the group you’re going to really work with and what you’re going to do to make that work. There’s just no way you can have that many cars working together. You have to keep your eyes open. If there’s a time where you can help a guy out that’s with your manufacturer, you kind of have to do that depending on the point in the race. It just goes both ways. It’s funny when you’re on both sides of it that there is such a different mentality each way. You have to do what you can do help out.”
SEVERAL DRIVERS HAVE TALKED ABOUT THE LACK OF PARTS FOR THE CAR. IF THERE ARE A COUPLE THAT ARE WRECKED, CAN YOU SEE A TEAM LENDING PARTS OVER TO ANOTHER OPERATION TO HELP GET THEM PUT BACK TOGETHER?
“Depending on what it is, yes. Some parts and pieces are harder to get than others right now. I’d say we have a good chunk of parts and pieces here to put a bit of a car back together. If we were to completely destroy a car, it’s not possible. We’d have to go back home, get a car and bring it back down, which would be very unfortunate. I could probably see that in an alliance situation depending on the part and piece. I don’t think the chassis is necessarily the struggle as much. It’s the parts and pieces to put it together. Depending on what it is, you could probably see that happen.”