The first of your 47 career NASCAR Xfinity Series wins came at Gateway on July 29, 2000. You beat Jeff Purvis by 1.338 seconds. What do you remember about that win?
“The thing I remember the most was that week, Richard (Childress, team owner) brought me into his office and told me that we needed to stop crashing cars and that we needed to figure out how to finish races. I think it was the 12th or 13th race of the season and he was tired of tearing stuff up. And then we go out and win that week and I remember what a relief it was to finally get that first one out of the way. We built a team and had our good moments and bad moments – we missed a race at Rockingham (North Carolina). So we had gone through a lot of things at the beginning of that season and, to finally get that first win, it was really the momentum that finally kicked off all the things that happened after that. From that point forward, Gateway was always a great track for me and we’ve had a lot of success there.”
You made a total of five Xfinity Series starts at Gateway, winning two of them. What does it take to be good there?
“Well, it’s two drastically different ends of the racetrack. I know, for us, the thing that we always concentrate on is trying to make your car turn really well to and through the center of the corner on both ends, and being able to do that is difficult at Gateway because the two ends of the track are so different, and you wind up probably downshifting in turns one and two. With what they’ve done with the track – it’s different pavement than what I raced on a long time ago – it’ll be interesting to see if they put resin down or PJ1 down to make that top groove go. But, for the most part, you want to be right next to those curbs and carry as much speed as you can through the center of the corner, and as much partial throttle until you can get the car rotated enough to be wide open. But you have to get through the center of the corner there.”
Is Gateway applicable to other flat ovals like New Hampshire or Phoenix, or is it an entity all its own?
“I think you can apply a lot of things there that you do at those racetracks, but it kind of has its own nuances that are different than those two. But I think the same general things will apply.”
When you last raced at Gateway in 2010, the only drivers currently racing in Cup who competed in that Xfinity Series race were Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Brad Keselowski. Martin Truex Jr., also competed there back in his Xfinity Series days, and there have been other drivers like Bubba Wallace and Cole Custer who competed and won there in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Does that history give you guys a leg up at Gateway, or is it so long ago that it doesn’t really matter anymore?
“A lot of the tendencies are still the same. I think that really has never changed because of the unique layout of the track. Those same basic characteristics will still be there and the things that you need to do will still be very similar. I think just adapting that to the new car will be the biggest thing and what makes it tick.”
You’ve represented Anheuser-Busch since 2011, which means you’ve made a lot of trips to St. Louis over the years. What are some of the experiences you’ve had in that city and what are some of your favorite parts of that town?
“Going to watch the Cardinals’ World Series game with them. I don’t remember which game it was, but it was probably one of the best experiences that I’ve had at a sporting event just because of the atmosphere and the way that they support their team there. It was pretty awesome.”
You’re a two-time Busch Series champion too. Did those titles back when Busch was the series sponsor (before Xfinity) send you to St. Louis for some promotional activity?
“I remember going to the brewery and going down into the basement where they first started a lot of the deliveries after Prohibition, and just taking a complete tour of the whole thing was pretty cool.”
Do you have a sense of pride racing in St. Louis again knowing your history with that track and with Anheuser-Busch?
“I know it’s an important place for A-B, obviously, being their home. But for me, personally, it’s a cool place because of the history that it has with my first win in the Xfinity Series and everything that goes with that. So, yeah, I’m excited about going there for a number of different reasons.”