Your car pays tribute to your boss Tony Stewart’s Indy 500 / Coke 600 double in 2001, and you’re now in a position where you’ve run the Coca-Cola 600, one leg of that feat. Knowing how physically demanding that race is, are you able to put into perspective just how tough of a driver you have to be to compete in both races and complete every lap of each on the same day?
“Yeah, I couldn’t imagine just the physical side and also the mental side of running both races. Indy cars are, from what I’ve been told, physically demanding. On the mental side of that, I can’t imagine what you go through. A 600-mile race is definitely a long one. Mentally, it’s tough to kind of stay in the game for 600 miles, and physically it’s hot and wears you down. To run 1,100 miles in one day is tough, and then you add in all the stress that comes with the Indy 500 and the stress of traveling to make it back to the (Coca-Cola) 600. I couldn’t imagine doing both, and there aren’t many who have done both, but to do it at the caliber and the level Tony did it was impressive.”
Do you think there are many drivers today who could do that?
“There’s definitely very few that I think could do it. Kurt (Busch) did it a couple of years ago, but I don’t think he finished both of them all the way. Just to be able to go back and forth between the two types of cars and tracks takes a special kind of person to be able to physically do it and mentally handle just how different the two disciplines are. You go from driving an IndyCar at Indianapolis to driving a stock car at Charlotte. It’s two totally different types of disciplines, and to be able to do both of those in one day and doing both really, really well, is something that’d be hard to do. I think there are very few people who can go do it, and to do it at the level that Tony was able to do it and finish well in both races is just a testament to the kind of racecar driver he was and still is.”
You’re a pretty tough driver yourself, so what does it mean to have this scheme for the throwback race?
“It’s super special to have this paint scheme on the car since I grew up a diehard Tony fan. But there are many reasons I love it, like the connection to Indianapolis. Growing up in Mitchell, Indiana, an hour and 10 minutes south of Indianapolis, the month of May was always special to me because of the Indianapolis 500. Every year, I watched the Indianapolis 500 and then I’d watch the 600. Even last year, I stayed home until the very last minute to watch the finish of the Indy 500 before I headed over to Charlotte to race those 600 miles myself. Then, to think about how tough Tony had to be to get it done, and how we have the Official Tractor of Tough on Tony’s car, the No. 14, it just all comes full circle. To run both of those races, you have to be incredibly tough and it’s pretty cool to take that to another track where you’ve got to be tough to get the job done.”
Darlington is a special place for you, and you not only get to honor your hero, but also honor your mom and your wife on Mother’s Day. That has to add more significance to this weekend and what it represents.
“It definitely does. Darlington is one of those tracks that everyone wants to win at and I’m thankful that I’ve had that opportunity. That (May 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series race) was a tough race to win with everything we had gone through during the break with the pandemic and the news we got during the rain delay that first day back. Coming back to the track a few days later with a heavy heart and being able to get the win over one of the all-time best NASCAR drivers is something I’ll never forget. I guess that win can be added to the reasons why this paint scheme makes sense and the ‘tough’ theme for this weekend. Kyle (Busch) is tough to race against and even tougher to beat, and Darlington is a tough track to do it on. But, overall, I’m glad this race falls on Mother’s Day. I’m excited to have my family there and to get to spend Mother’s Day at a place that means so much with both my mom and Marissa. Obviously, having Brooks there with us will add that much more to how special this weekend will be and I can’t wait to try to take them all to victory lane.”