GIVE US A QUICK OVERVIEW OF RETURNING HERE AS THE WINNER OF THE SPRING NASCAR CUP SERIES ATLANTA MOTOR SPEEDWAY RACE AND HOW YOUR TEAM PLANS TO APPROACH THIS WEEKEND.
“Yeah, it’s pretty straight forward for us. We do our pre-race meeting on Thursday and talk about strategy stuff, lane choice and things of that nature. But there’s nothing really at the track that we can prepare for besides qualifying, which is really just trying to hit your shift points and trying to make sure I do everything on my end to keep the car wide open and cut as much distance as possible. Pretty straightforward day as far as that goes. We know that this race is going to be its own beast and there’s going to be a lot that happens, and just try to mentally and physically prepare for that. Make sure that you’re studying the things that happened in the last race here because I do think it will be a really similar race. I’m kind of interested to see how the hash marks in the corner change things and see if that changes anything, handling-wise, or if that’s just a visual reference.”
ABOUT THE HASH MARKS.. ARE YOU SAYING THAT THEY MIGHT BE SLIPPERY OR SOMETHING, OR THEY MIGHT NOT HAVE AS MUCH GRIP?
“Yeah – so typically, anywhere you have paint in the corner, typically it adds some front grip sometimes. It could make the cars move around a little bit more maybe in the banking, so I’m just kind of interested to see if that’s the case. Like at Talladega (Superspeedway), there’s one and then there’s a space, and then there’s another. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKES YOU A GOOD SUPERSPEEDWAY RACER? HOW HAVE YOU EMBRACED IT TO GET GOOD AT IT IN A SHORT TIME IN YOUR CAREER?
“When I was starting out, like going back to the first truck race on a superspeedway; I was really nervous, timid, didn’t make a lot of moves and I ended up getting into someone else’s crash. So I was just like ‘man, this just doesn’t make any sense. I feel so timid, I feel so nervous the whole time.’ So I just started to take a more aggressive approach to try and learn. Knowing that the outcome might be the same – maybe I’m going to crash or whatnot at the end of the race – but at least I’ve learned something throughout the race and don’t feel like I’m just a passenger in the pack. I hated that feeling of just feeling like I was going to ride around and hope for the best. That didn’t set well for me throughout the race, so I just took a more aggressive approach.”
IF YOU DO END UP STARTING THIRTEENTH IF THERE’S NO QUALIFYING, FROM WHAT YOU LEARNED IN THE SPRING, WILL IT BE EASY FOR YOU TO GET IN THE FRONT? IS IT STILL DIFFICULT TO GET TO THE FRONT CONSIDERING IT’S A 1.5-MILE SUPERSPEEDWAY-TYPE RACE?
“Yeah, it won’t be super easy by any means. The outside lane is pretty dominant. Trying to pick my way through different battles will be critical. I’d like to get some stage points in stage one, so yeah we want to try and get towards the front and gives ourselves a chance at points.
This weekend is important to try and go for those stage wins. That’s what everyone is after, is those playoff points right now.”
YOU WON THIS RACE AND THEN WENT AND WON MARTINSVILLE A FEW WEEKS LATER. IN THE TEN RACES SINCE MARTINSVILLE, I THINK YOU HAVE ONE TOP-10 AND ZERO TOP-FIVES. WHAT ARE THE REASONS FOR THE SLUMP? IN COMING HERE WHERE YOU WON ALREADY, ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO TURNING IT AROUND FROM HERE?
“Yeah, certainly looking forward to turning it around. It’s been a rough stretch. It’s not been from a lack of effort. I feel like for a couple weeks there, you’re still riding the high from winning Martinsville (Speedway) and getting your second win.. all those things. So we kind of went to Bristol Dirt, which is its own beast. And then Talladega (Superspeedway) is it’s own beast and still had a good run there. We just got on a rough patch there.
We’ve had speed. Like Darlington (Raceway), we obviously had speed. Kansas (Speedway), we were leading the race and had a flat tire, damaged the whole underbody of the car and had no speed after that. That showed us how important that was. There’s been a lot of other races, like Charlotte (Motor Speedway) – qualified fifth, ran in the top-five for the first half of that race. We made a strategy decision to short-pit that stage. Given how many cautions there were at Charlotte, we were running out of tires. We restarted 18th and unfortunately got in that crash that took out 10 plus cars.
It’s just been tough. There’s been maybe one or two races where we just didn’t have any speed. Gateway, we were really bad. That was a wakeup call, for sure. And then there has been a couple like last week – we had a loose wheel and fortunately it didn’t come off. We were running eighth at the time after starting way deep in the pack, so it’s been circumstantial things.
The results don’t look good at all, but we know that the majority of the time – I’d say 75% of the time – we’ve had the speed to compete. It’s just been a lot of circumstantial things; some in our control and a lot out of our control honestly. Parts failures.. Nashville (Superspeedway), we had a steering rack. I wouldn’t say that we’re not trying; it’s just been tough to put a smooth, solid weekend together, which is what was making us win races. We were a top-five car and executing the way we needed to put ourselves up front.”
NEWS BROKE THIS WEEK THAT THE CHICAGO STREET RACE COULD BE A REALITY NEXT YEAR. WHEN YOU THINK OF A STREET RACE, DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEAS OF HOW NASCAR SHOULD APPROACH THAT?
“I’m very skeptical. I drove it on iRacing and iRacing does a great job with the tracks. If it’s anything like that, it’s very, very narrow. So we’re going to have some work to do to create a passing lane. I don’t think it’s a matter of just making the track super wide so there’s room for error, but there has to be a passing lane. So we have to be able to get inside of somebody under braking and not just hit the wall. There is some work to do there to get the track a little bit wider, a little bit more room to race each other.
I think it’s a cool idea. The atmosphere should be great and it should be exciting. I’ve not been to Chicago much, but it should be exciting.”
YOU WON THE TWO RACES PRETTY QUICK OUT OF THE BOX AND DESPITE THE CIRCUMSTANCES AND DIFFERENT THINGS YOU JUST TALKED ABOUT, ARE YOU SURPRISED YOU’RE RETURNING TO ATLANTA (MOTOR SPEEDWAY) FOR THE SECOND TIME AND IT’S STILL JUST TWO WINS?
“Yeah, definitely surprised. If you would have summarized our first half of the season to me and told me we had two wins, but our results were nowhere near that. Like last year, I think we had 10 races in-a-row that we finished in the top-10, so we were a really consistent team. It’s not like we’re doing anything different. We don’t really have any different pieces on our team than last year. I think we’ve got a better pit crew than we had last year. Those guys are really fast. We just had a misfortune and issues, so we just have to keep showing up and putting the effort in. After the first handful of races went poorly, we started to put more effort in and started to focus even more on details. Unfortunately, that stuff hasn’t shown up yet, but eventually that work that we’re putting in is going to show up. Hopefully it’s this weekend. New Hampshire is a big test for us to see how competitive we are there, too.”
SPEAKING OF NEW HAMPSHIRE, GIVEN WHAT HAPPENED AT GATEWAY WHICH IS A SIMILAR TRACK AS FAR AS THE RACING IS CONCERNED, WHAT KIND OF RACING DO YOU SEE UP THERE?
“I think it all depends on what the track looks like; what they do with the PJ-1 and how they set it up. Luckily, I’m going to be able to run the Xfinity race that weekend, which I’m excited about. I’ve ran one Xfinity race so far this year and finished second. It was a lot of fun at Texas (Motor Speedway) in those cars, so I’m excited to see how the track plays out there. In the Cup car, this car requires different lanes, but it’s really good if there’s multiple lanes. I think it should be a good race. You’re able to get air on the nose at New Hampshire (Motor Speedway) in a lot of instances, so it should be a good race.”
YOU MENTIONED EARLIER COMING BACK TO ATLANTA AFTER WINNING. WHAT’S YOUR COMFORT LEVEL HAVING RACED HERE ALREADY?
“I think everybody is going to get better, so it’s not going to be near as easy as it was the first time around. I think everybody gets a chance to look at the data; look at what worked, how I kept the lead and stuff like that. So it’s not going to be as easy to fend people off, for sure. It’s just going to be adapting as the race starts. It’s kind of the same thing as we did last time. You just adapt and learn as we go. I’d like to lead a bunch of laps like we did last time, but it’s going to take a lot of learning in the first stage to get there.”