We’re back to the dirt at Bristol. With a year of reflection, how did that first dirt race at Bristol go for you?
“You know, Bristol Dirt was much easier than I anticipated it being because it wasn’t like a normal dirt race. I was expecting a normal dirt race, but when you look at Bristol Dirt and the way the cars drove, it was a lot of the same tendencies that you had with a normal Cup car. Being able to have all my stuff and all of the same tendencies just made it a lot better for me, even with all differences of racing on dirt.”
Will the racing be aided by having a 7 p.m. EDT start?
“It’s definitely going to help with the racetrack. I think the track conditions will be less dusty and, hopefully, the track will keep more moisture in it a lot longer than it did last year.”
Prior to last year’s dirt race at Bristol, your last time on dirt was back in 2009 at the Prelude to the Dream dirt late model race at Eldora Speedway. Was there some muscle memory that kicked in when you first got on the dirt there at Bristol, or was it a whole new experience all over again?
“I’d say there was more crossover from the IMCA modified than there was from the dirt late model just because of the way the car drove. The part that I struggled with in the dirt late model was just how violent and fast everything happened, and that was just something that I’d never done before. With the IMCA car, it was slower and more methodical, with slower throttle control. It wasn’t ‘romp and stomp,’ it was pretty methodical about the way you drove. Our cars were kind of that same way. For a dirt race, it was about as enjoyable as any dirt race I’d ever done.”
How helpful was running the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on dirt the day before the Cup race?
“I think it definitely helped, and I think just getting over that anxiety of worrying about what it was going to be like, how it was going to drive, what you were going to do – it just allowed me to get through all that and then the rest of the weekend was fine. I don’t have those same, big worries that I had last year because you kind of know what to expect. Obviously, the car is different, but I still think it’s going to have a lot of the same tendencies that we have on a week-to-week basis.”
How do you think this NextGen car will handle the dirt?
“I think it’s going to be different, but it’s still going to have a lot of the same nuances that you currently have at the racetrack. I don’t know what we’re going to do with the back window with the car filling up with dirt, but we’ve worked through all these new issues before and none of that stuff has been as big of a deal as we had anticipated it being.”
Do the guys who have a dirt background have an advantage at Bristol, or is the style of racing so different compared to a sprint car or midget or dirt late model that it really doesn’t matter?
“It’s just not as much like what those guys do. Obviously, they can look at the racetrack and tell easier when it’s ready to move up a lane, and they have a little more confidence to pass. But in the end, a regular won (Joey Logano), so I think that tells you how much more it’s like what we normally do than what a lot of people thought it might be.”
What was your dirt-racing experience prior to last year’s dirt race at Bristol?
“I ran Tony Stewart’s Prelude to the Dream at Eldora four times, and the last one was in 2009. I actually ran a lot of races on dirt around that time. The only one I ever won was at Dave Blaney’s track (Sharon Speedway in Hartford, Ohio) and that was in an IMCA car. But I ran the IMCA car several times that year, probably four or five times. I’m fairly certain I ran in my hometown of Bakersfield (California), I ran at Blaney’s track in Ohio, I ran at Macon in Illinois, I ran in Minnesota – all that stuff was around the time when I raced in the Prelude.”
When you ran those IMCA races, who did you drive for?
“I had my own car that I ran at three or four of them, and another owner’s car in Bakersfield, and at that time I was teammates with (Clint) Bowyer. Most everything was done by Mike Dillon with their dirt team. They had everything in place and they built the car for me and everything. So, Team Dillon was doing everything for us on that side of it.”