Justin Haley, No. 31 Celsius Camaro ZL1, Press Conference Transcript -
Q. You got your first career NASCAR Cup Series pole here. Talk about that advantage heading into tomorrow.
“It’s obviously key. We fired off here last year and we were pretty good. Obviously, we had some trouble during the race.
I felt like we had a pretty good No. 31 Celsius Chevy in practice. I just felt like I wasn’t getting the full potential out of the race car, and then obviously in qualifying, our lap was just dominant.
I feel pretty confident about where we are. It’s a good place to start the season. I’m not sure why we’re so good here. I wish I had this much talent at all of the races, but I’m pretty thankful. It’s pretty cool to get Kaulig Racing their first NASCAR Cup Series pole; my first pole as a driver in my second year here; and get Celsius their first pole.”
Q. Any difference in the track? How it handled, characteristics?
“No, it’s the same. It probably doesn’t look fast, but yeah it’s pretty similar. I wouldn’t say anything is noticeably different.”
Q. Did you come with the same setup that you started with here last year?
“No idea. They do not let me know any details on setups. I couldn’t tell you a single air pressure or a single spring. That comes from Chris Rice. He just wants me to drive the race car. I have no idea if I have four tires on the race car or three.
I would assume we’re close. We’re obviously pretty good. I wish I had a better answer for you, but I honestly don’t know details like that.”
Q. What do you think suits you about this track?
“I don’t know. I’m terrible at Martinsville (Speedway). Martinsville might be my worst race track.
I just feel like we’ve been good. Obviously, the car is a lot of it. It’s cool that we’re good here. We just have to figure that out everywhere else.”
Q. Did you ever end up having a conversation with (Kyle) Larson?
“Yeah, I did right after the race.
Right after the race, I went up to him when he was getting out of the car. I was pretty calm and I was just like, ‘hey, what was that’. We just had a conversation, he said he messed up. I said ‘cool’ and that was it. No reason to hold a grudge or anything. Obviously he’s an excellent race car driver and we’ve been good ever since. Today at our seminar we had, I asked him what kind of jeans he bought because we’re pretty similar in fit and leg length in jeans. Yeah, we’re good friends.”
Q. I was talking to Chris (Rice) earlier today about the amount of coverage you get, or lack thereof. How important was it for you to beat out a lot of more high profile drivers during qualifying?
“Yeah, that’s a tricky line to say. Obviously the better we run, the more coverage we’re going to get. There was a race last year in the Playoffs at the (Charlotte) ROVAL where we ran in the top-five all day and didn’t get an interview afterwards. I think that he’s always been pretty upset about that. We weren’t a playoff car and we have to run better week in and week out to get talked about.
We’re also a young team. Matt Kaulig is building this thing from the ground up. He didn’t buy a race team that was already pre-built. He’s done it all from the ground up and you have to respect that about him. We have to earn our name in the sport, earn my name in the sport. I have to feel like I belong, which has been tough for me. It was a very humbling year last year trying to figure out if I belong at the top or not. Yeah, it’s been hard, but having moments like this solidifies it a little bit more.”
Q. You said no grudges held with Larson, but is there still payback owed?
“No, it’s terrible to intentionally wreck another race car driver.”
Q. Is there a chip on your shoulder with the strong showing you had here last year?
“I feel like I have to prove myself every week and we have to prove ourselves as a race team. We have to go out there every week and prove that we’re a team worthy of being here, and that I’m a driver worthy of being in this field.
I think the biggest thing last year was just respect. I think towards the end of the year, I gained a lot of respect from other drivers. I started talking with a lot of them a lot more. It’s hard being a new driver in a top series. It’s tough, but I kind of feel like I’ve earned that respect now and I’m pretty good friends with a lot of the other drivers.”
Q. Talk to us about how the track changed between practice and qualifying, and what does that tell you about tomorrow between the heat races and the main event?
“I think it was pretty similar. The tough part is obviously just getting heat in the tires. You see us all playing all kinds of weird games to do so. Honestly, I felt like we were better on the long runs. I thought we were going to struggle in qualifying and I told AJ (Allmendinger) that. I thought we were going to qualify around the 20’s.
But I don’t think the track really changed. It being new asphalt, it definitely had some oils and grease in it. But I honestly can’t say that I felt like it was any different.”
Q. Talk about your crew chief and your team.
“I have the exact same team as I did last year, with Trent Owens as my crew chief. Darren is my car chief and Garrett is my engineer. The only change we had this year was an interior guy.
The No. 16 team helps a lot. We all go to the simulator together and we all share very similar setups at Kaulig Racing. We usually go to the race track identical. It’s very important to have AJ (Allmendinger) on full-time this year. He was professionally racing when I was born, so just to have his expertise, all of his knowledge and everything he’s been through.
I feel like we’re pretty strong. We’re still a very little team. Our pit crews are still leased out from Trackhouse, so we don’t have that in-house, and we have an alliance with RCR.”
Q. How important is it to just focus on what is at hand, focus on driving?
“Usually the cool part about this race is that there’s nothing to lose. We’re just out here not points racing or anything, and just putting it all out on the line. That’s definitely a different mentality going into it. I think the heat race format is cool. Still haven’t lost a heat race. I don’t want to jinx myself, but I won both of them last year. So we’ll try to keep that streak going. Tomorrow is going to be a long day and I’m excited for it.”