LOOKING AHEAD TO THE ALL-STAR RACE NEXT WEEK, DO YOU LOOK FORWARD TO IT WITH IT AT TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY SINCE THAT WAS THE PLACE WHERE YOU LAST WON? ALSO, DO YOU WANT TO SEE THE ALL-STAR RACE MOVE AROUND SOME; OR WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE IT FIND A PERMANENT HOME?
“Yeah, I think it’s good to move it around. It’s not bad also to give it a permanent home. It was pretty awesome when we had it at Charlotte (Motor Speedway) for so many years because you knew where you were going to be.
I like it when it was at Charlotte because it was close to home; you knew what it was. Texas (Motor Speedway), it’s cool going there for one year. I think you should move it around a couple of times. Plus, Texas hasn’t provided the best of racing yet. So, I would be voting for another track, possibly. But you never know. I think as the surface wears out, Texas could be a better race for the All-Star race. It just needs to lose some more grip and then maybe that will create more of an exciting All-Star race.”
HAVE YOU LOOKED AT THE FORMAT AT ALL; OR IS THAT SOMETHING YOU START PAYING ATTENTION TO THE DAY OR TWO BEFORE?
“The week of, probably. I’m focused on Kansas (Speedway) this week. I’ve been in the simulator a lot. Hopefully we get through Kansas and get a win so that we’re locked into the All-Star race. Then, I’ll really focus on the format. Other than that, I know we have to race our way in or get voted in. Right now, I’m focused on Kansas.”
LOOKING AHEAD TO THE COCA-COLA 600, YOU’VE HAD THREE TOP-10 FINISHES THERE IN THE LAST THREE COCA-COLA 600’S. IS THAT A TRACK THAT YOU GUYS ARE CIRCLING THIS YEAR AS ONE OF YOUR POTENTIALLY BEST RACES WHERE YOU CAN LOCK-IN A WIN? WHAT HAS MADE THE NO. 3 TEAM SO STRONG THERE?
“I don’t know what it is about Charlotte (Motor Speedway). I’ve always had really good success there. I enjoy the track. I understand what it takes to be fast there in a race car and I have a feel for it. Obviously, I won my first Cup race at Charlotte, so I definitely circle it every year as a place where we go and compete well at. Last year, we were really fast. One of our pit crew members went down leading into that race, so we kind of struggled on pit road that week.
I’m really excited about it and taking the Next Gen car there. We did get one test there this off season when it was really cold. I’m always excited to go to Charlotte. It’s a good place for me.”
LOOKING BEYOND THE RACING AND THE EVENT OF THAT WEEKEND, THERE’S BEEN SO MUCH CHANGE IN THE CUP SCHEDULE AND SO MUCH INNOVATION. WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE BENEFIT OF KEEPING SOMETHING LIKE THE COCA-COLA 600 A CROWN JEWEL EVENT ON THE NASCAR SCHEDULE? DO THEY TAKE IT OFF THE SCHEDULE AT SOME POINT?
“I hope not. To me, it’s an iconic weekend - being Memorial Day weekend and seeing all the different military branches; the men and women that protect our country out there. I always get excited for that race – the national anthem, the show that goes on before and really paying homage to all of those that have fought for this country. To me, I hope it doesn’t change. It is a crown jewel. Being 600-miles, your preparation changes a little bit because you know you’re going to be in the race car for such a long period of time. I think it’s a very special race and I hope it never goes away.”
I THINK THERE IS A FEELING THAT THE ORGANIZATION THIS YEAR IS STRONGER AT THIS POINT OF THE SEASON. BUT LOOKING AT WHAT YOU DID LAST YEAR COMPARED TO THIS YEAR AT THIS TIME, LAST YEAR YOU HAD SIX TOP-10’S AND YOU WERE A LITTLE HIGHER IN POINTS. FIVE TOP-10’S THIS SEASON AND SOME RUNNER-UP FINISHES. HAS MUCH REALLY CHANGED? ARE YOU GUYS REALLY THAT MUCH STRONGER?
“We were pretty strong last year and we kind of got overlooked because we didn’t make the Playoffs. We were a consistent team all of last year. This year, I do feel like we’ve had way more opportunities to win races. I think the disappointing part is that we’ve had more bigger catastrophes at the race track, like getting wrecked at Phoenix (Raceway) and finishing 21st in that race; getting wrecked at Atlanta (Motor Speedway) coming to a stage end for a possibility of top-three points there; and blowing up at Daytona (International Speedway) and Bristol (Motor Speedway).
We didn’t have those types of bad days at this point last year. We had a couple more average days, but we’ve also had some bigger days with two second-place finishes (Auto Club Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway) and a third (Martinsville Speedway). We’ve definitely had more opportunities to win than last year. My teammate (Tyler Reddick) has two or three second-place finishes, as well. If you look at the total of it, we’ve done a good job and should be in victory lane at this point. That’s the disappointing part – I feel like we’ve had some really close calls and not been able to capitalize. That’s why you see us where we’re at in points. I feel confident that we can go to victory lane this year and I think it will happen.”
THREE OF THE LAST SIX RACES, THERE HAS BEEN SOME SORT OF CONTACT AT THE END OF THE RACE AMONG THE LEADERS. WE SAW IT LAST WEEKEND AT DARLINGTON RACEWAY. WITH AS TIGHT AS THE COMPETITION IS AND WITH WHAT WINNING MEANS, ARE BIGGER TRACKS MORE IN-PLAY NOW FOR SOME SORT OF CONTACT; OR IS DARLINGTON A UNIQUE CASE?
“I think at Darlington (Raceway), you’re constantly fighting tire wear and you see guys come and go. So, the ability to make a run is a bit easier. But you’re asking about 1.5-mile tracks and the contact part of it – if you get a run and you can get a guy up the track, you’d probably do it. But it’s much tougher at a 1.5-mile track to not take yourself out of the race, as well. I feel like there’s usually plenty of room at a 1.5-mile. You’ve seen some slide jobs go wrong at 1.5-mile tracks. Those types of opportunities are kind of the only way to make something happen, when it comes to a last lap moving a guy for a win. I think that’s what NASCAR has put together with this Playoff system, that wins mean so much and you do what it takes when it comes down to it to go to victory lane. I think everybody’s organizations would be upset if they didn’t.”
WILL THERE EVER BE A POINT WHERE YOU WIN A RACE AND FEEL BAD ABOUT IT THEN?
“I don’t know – I guess that’s for everybody else to worry about. I’m under the opinion that, there’s 36 to 40 of us out there every weekend - if you have the opportunity to make it happen, you probably will. I didn’t think Chase Briscoe had a shot to win at Bristol (Motor Speedway) and he took out (Tyler) Reddick and himself. If you’re going to do it, you better win. That was a boneheaded move, if you ask me, and it didn’t work out. But he was trying to make something happen. I don’t think he ever had a shot of making it happen, that’s the part that sucks about that kind of a deal. When you’re within range and you’ve got an opportunity with the way it is to pass and what wins mean, you’ve got to do it. It just sucks when it doesn’t work out. It’s part of the game and how much importance has been put on winning races. Yeah, some might feel bad if it comes down to that. But if you take home a trophy to your organization and all the guys that put in hours on hours on hours of time into these race cars, they’ll probably have your back in the end.”
I KNOW IT’S STILL EARLY IN THE SEASON, BUT HOW MUCH DO YOU WORRY ABOUT THE PLAYOFFS AT THIS POINT IN TIME OF THE YEAR?
“I think it’s on your mind no matter what. It stays there because that’s kind of the measuring stick when it comes to your end of the season. You can have a good season and not make the Playoffs. I did that last year. I felt like I had a decent season, but it didn’t matter because I didn’t make the Playoffs. The Playoffs are what starts clicking off those bonuses and contracts. It changes your end of the year for your entire organization. So, to me, the Playoffs is everything. It’s always on your mind. No matter how much you try to conceal it, it’s what determines a solid season, a good season. Getting a win, getting in the Playoffs and making progress.”
IS THAT SOMETHING YOU PAY ATTENTION TO MORE THIS YEAR BECAUSE YOU MISSED THE PLAYOFFS LAST YEAR?
“No – every year I pay attention to it, really push for it and want to be in it. I’ve been able to make it to the next round of the Playoffs a couple of times. Every year it’s on your mind. I definitely know where we are in the points situation, but I truly think that the way this year has gone, you’re going to need a win. I think there could be 16 winners. I feel like it’s important to win.
From a points standpoint, once you get in the Playoffs, I think things change a little bit. Winning always stays important, but points-racing in the Playoffs is more important, I feel like, than right now in the regular season because I do feel like in the regular season, we’re going to have right at 16 winners.”
WHAT IS IT ABOUT KANSAS SPEEDWAY THAT YOU’RE FOCUSING ON TO GET TO VICTORY LANE THIS WEEKEND?
“I think it’s running the top. Everybody is going to be up there running right against the fence and ripping the wall this weekend. From what I heard at the test, the rubber really laid down up there and there was a big difference in speed from the top to the bottom. I feel like I’ve just been focused on making my car in the simulator handle up by the wall. I think the next thing that’s on my mind is where to make a pass; where to attempt to make a pass. When you pull out of line, you have to get yourself clear and then back in line. It will be important to do a good job of making your car have the ability to run against the wall, but also when you need to make a move to slide someone, that it can happen.”