Ford Performance NASCAR: Media Day Morning Session

CHASE BRISCOE, No. 14 Mahindra Tractors Ford MustangHOW DOES IT FEEL TO WALK THROUGH THAT DAYTONA TUNNEL EVERY YEAR?  “I think it’s special for sure.  I don’t think it ever is not gonna be special.  I think if you’re at that point, then you’ve either won a ton of these races or you probably need to retire.  For me, it’s super special.  Even last night, I took my son to do the hauler parade and rode in the hauler coming in.  It’s just a special weekend.  I feel like it kicks off our season.  It’s the biggest race of the year and, literally, it can change your life in one day, so this is one of those races that I feel like even non-race fans always sit down and watch.  The Daytona 500 and Indy 500 are always two races that if they watch one race all year long it’s gonna be that race.  I think that’s one of the things that make this race so special is just the amount of eyes on it and it’s always so special coming down here and being a part of it.”


WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE KEVIN’S TEAMMATE IN HIS FINAL YEAR?  “It’s been a huge thing for me.  I can’t think of a better guy for me to be a teammate with.  Any question I’ve ever had on the racetrack or off the racetrack, business related, racing question, he’s always my first phone call.  For me to be able to be teammates with a guy that’s obviously gonna be a first ballot hall of famer and to see how he ticks and what he does behind the scenes has been big for me, especially coming through the ranks.  I’m gonna be sad that Kevin’s gone, just because I’m not gonna have that easy access to him daily, but I think to be able to see what goes into making Kevin Harvick what he is has been huge for me.  As he steps out and Aric is probably not gonna be around much longer either, so I’m gonna be the longest tenured guy at SHR, so as weird as that sounds I definitely have been trying to take in as many mental notes as I can of how Kevin takes that leadership role.  For me to be teammates with a guy that, I really don’t think it could have worked out any better for me.”


HOW DO YOU PREPARE TO BE THAT GUY FROM A LEADERSHIP PERSPECTIVE?  “I think you figure it out, but I still think you, at least for me, I pay attention to how Kevin does it.  Me and Kevin’s personalities are two totally different personalities and how Kevin gets a point across is totally different of how I get a point across.  It’s something I’ve talked to him about.  I’m not like how he is in certain situations, so, for me, how can I get the same point across that you’re trying to get across.  He’s told me things and, for me, just being able to be behind closed doors with him in meetings and things like that, and just to see how he operates.  I think he does such a good job of always circling back to the point.  He might go 100 different directions, but he always ends and gets his point across, so just trying to take as many of those notes as I can of how he does it and how he leads because he is the leader at our company and has been able to steer the ship for a really long time.  When he’s gone, somebody is gonna have to take over that role, whether that’s me or not.  If it is me, I want to be prepared for that because it’s gonna be a crucial point for our organization of what way it goes.  When you lose a guy like Kevin, who is a hall of famer, you can kind of get spiraled off pretty quickly when you don’t have his leadership there, so I’m just trying to figure out what I can do to try to steer the ship in the same direction that we’ve been going.”


HAVE YOU DONE ANYTHING FROM A FITNESS STANDPOINT THAT’S DIFFERENT?  “No, not really.  I worked out a little bit in the offseason, but nothing crazy by any means.  I met a state trooper and started working out with him.  I threw up a couple times, but, other than that, not a whole lot, but, yeah, everybody keeps asking me if I’ve been losing weight, but I think I just shave and it makes me look skinnier.  My suit is way bigger, but that was just a mess up.”

NOW YOU HAVE A BIGGER SUIT.  “Yeah, I have a bigger suit, so that helps, too.  We’re working on it.  We washed the other ones and it made it way better, but this one was brand new and it’s huge.  I think if I was even 240 pounds it would still be pretty loose, so this one is definitely big.”


LOOKING AHEAD TO FONTANA.  THOUGHTS ON THAT TRACK AND POSSIBLY BEING THE LAST ON THE TWO-MILE OVAL?  “I know everyone says the plan is a half-mile, but it’s gonna kind of be like the old Atlanta was.  I think it’s gonna be bittersweet for all the drivers because that’s like the last true track that we have, well, I guess Homestead a little bit, but Auto Club is just so fun from a driver’s standpoint because it’s so slick.  It’s wore out.  It’s rough.  You just bounce around.  You literally run wherever on the racetrack, especially with the Next Gen car.  I thought that it was just a really well put together racetrack for those cars, so I’m bummed.  It’s one of my favorite tracks for sure to go to just because I feel like that’s one of the tracks where you as a driver can make quite a bit of a difference.  But, yeah, a half-mile, the west coast doesn’t really have any half miles either, short track stuff for us, so if we go that route, I guess we go that route.  I’m sure land out there is quite expensive, so if they can sell off a lot of that land that a lot of that racetrack takes up, that probably helps too.  I think for the driver’s we’re all gonna be sad to see it go, if it does go away, but hopefully the fans come out.  Hopefully, we put on a really good race and, who knows, they pushed Atlanta back a couple years.  Maybe we can do that to Auto Club, too.”


WHEN DO YOU KNOW WHO IS RUNNING WELL?  “I would say when you get done with the west coast swing, but then last year if you look at us we were really good the first four weeks and then we were kind of non-existent.  I feel like when you get eight, nine weeks in you typically have a pretty good idea of who the guys are, and I think you get a general idea the first four weeks when the west coast swing is over.  By the eighth or ninth race, I feel like you have a big enough pool to look at.  You can typically tell who has it figured out and who doesn’t have it figured out, but with the Next Gen car I feel like it is a little bit trickier than the old car just because it’s such a tight window.  The old car, really after four weeks, you probably knew who the teams were that were gonna be good, but this Next Gen car just goes in so many swings.  You can be good one week and then be terrible the next week.  It’s a little bit harder.  I think it’s not gonna be as hard to pick out the guys this year just because everybody has it a little more figured out than last year, but I would say after COTA I feel like you would have a pretty good idea.”


ANYBODY YOU HAVE CIRCLED AS THE ONE TO BEAT THAT YOU USUALLY DON’T THINK ABOUT?  “I think everybody.  I think it’s such a wide-open pool right now that anybody can show up on any given week.  You don’t know in the offseason how everybody was and then this car.  There’s really no advantage to be found, at least a big advantage, so that’s what makes the field so tight.  That’s why one week you can see guys up in the front and the next week they’re not up in the front.  I don’t think there’s any one team that you can even say is the team to beat because it’s wide-open.  Hendrick Motorsports and Rick Ware have the same car, same parts, same pieces, so it’s kind of hard to say who is gonna stick out.”


HOW MUCH DIFFERENT WILL THIS YEAR’S 500 LOOK FROM LAST YEAR’S?  “I think you’ll definitely see more aggressiveness.  Last year, we were so timid, I felt like, not knowing what we could get away with, not knowing how hard we could push.  I felt like we still pushed, but nearly like we did if you go look at the last Talladega or even the last race here.  I think it will definitely be more aggressive because we know what we can get away with to a certain extent now and know what we need our car to do, too.  I think it’ll definitely be more aggressive, especially at the end.  Maybe early it still won’t be because everybody is trying to get to the end, but at the end, for sure, you’re gonna have guys pushing and shoving because we know what we can get away with now.”


DOES NASCAR NEED ANOTHER SHORT TRACK?  “I think that’s a good point.  If you would have asked me three years ago I would have said we need all the short tracks we can get just because I felt like that was what put on the best product.  Truthfully, right now, the intermediates are putting on the best product.  I would say the short track and road course package, the road course races haven’t been very good either, at least from the driver’s seat.  It’s really hard to pass.  It’s just a struggle to get by anybody, where before it was fairly easy if you were one of the faster road course guys.  I think the package is the top priority right now and then if you figure out the package and it starts racing good, then we can start trying to find more short tracks.  Right now, going to more short tracks hasn’t been the best answer for good races, so I think the package is top of the list and I’m curious to see what they end up doing with the package and how it races.”

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT HAVING RYAN PREECE AS YOUR NEW TEAMMATE?  “I feel like Ryan is fairly similar to Cole upbringing-wise.  Cole ran a lot of short track stuff, a little bit of dirt stuff, but I think Ryan brings a lot to the table when it comes to those tracks.  Look at the L.A. Clash.  That’s pretty similar to what he grew up doing and was really, really fast there, so I feel like there’s a lot he can bring to the table when we go short track racing for sure, places like Loudon and things like that.  It’ll be good to have that and I feel like these Next Gen cars are probably more similar to a modified or a late model or things like that, so I think his background and one thing about Ryan is he knows a lot about setup stuff, too.  That’s gonna be a little bit different, more similar to Kevin where he can bring a lot from that side of things and just technical, so it’ll be good.  I thought he did a really good job at the L.A. Clash, obviously, so it’ll be fun to see as the season goes where he progresses.”

HOW WOULD YOU ASSESS WHERE SHR IS NOW AS AN ORGANIZATION?  “It’s definitely been weird, truthfully.  For me, going into ‘21 that was gonna be my rookie year and the year before I think they won 13 Cup races and then you have all these high expectations of what to expect and our cars just weren’t fast.  We’ve been trying to play catch up and I thought we came out last year really strong as an organization and I think just with how quick we were so early, at least on the 14 car specifically, we just started trying stuff and figure and trying to figure out what we could do to maybe find an advantage since we were already in the playoffs and it almost came back to bite us.  I think as an organization in the playoffs Kevin obviously didn’t get past the Round of 16, but he was really fast and had a lot of good runs.  Our stuff was pretty good, but I would say we’re not where we want to be by any means, but we’re in a way better place than we were in ‘21 when we didn’t even know what to do from a speed standpoint.  Now I feel like we have a pretty good direction.  We have fast cars.  Our cars could still be way faster, but we’re at least in the ballpark.  I feel like we can go to the racetrack and win on any given weekend when we put it all together, where in ‘21 I felt like even as a company when we did everything perfect we were still struggling to run fifth, so I feel like we’re in a much better place now.”


HOW MUCH HAS TONY BEEN INVOLVED THESE DAYS?  “He’s obviously here this weekend and even last year and even the year before that when we were struggling really bad he would call into our competition meetings quite a bit and just because I feel like he’s not a face at the racetrack, Tony is pretty competitive.  He hates not running good, so he’s always trying to figure out what we can do to run better and visually try to give input.  I think Tony is one of those bosses where he doesn’t want to make you feel pressure, at least from my side as a driver.  He’s not one of those bosses that’s like, ‘Hey, you’ve got figure this out right now.’  He kind of lets you figure it out on your own, but you know he wants you to run good.  That’s the competitive side of him, but Tony is still involved.  I don’t know how he does it with as many things as he has going on between NHRA and the World of Outlaws, the All-Star Series and things like that, but I feel like any time that we get to where we’re struggling he’s always right there to call or whatever.  He’s still involved, but you don’t see him at the racetrack as much because he’s so busy with everything else.”


HOW DOES IT FEEL TO HAVE A CONTRACT EXTENSION?  “It’s weird for me, truthfully, to be in that situation where I’m not year to year to year and trying to figure out what I’m gonna do come July already, so I think that will be, honestly, the confidence comes along with that is big and then just the confidence from last season towards the end.  I finally felt like I was a Cup guy. I felt like I belonged in this series.  I felt I had proven my worth to that point, so I feel this is the most confident I’ve ever been.  I feel like as a race car driver this is the best I’ve ever been.  Every Cup race I learn so much, just racing around these guys and especially when I get up front I feel like I learn a ton, so every race I run I feel like I keep getting better and better and better, so I feel like from where we start today qualifying to where I’m at at the end of the season is gonna hopefully be the same way.  I feel like I’m gonna be a way better driver at the end of the year at Phoenix, so I feel like this is the most confident I’ve been and the best I’ve ever been in my career, but I still have a long, long way to go.  I feel like I’m in a really good place right now.”


WHAT’S IT LIKE GOING FROM XFINITY TO CUP WITH HAVING SO MUCH SUCCESS AND THEN TRYING TO FIGURE IT OUT?  “I think, for me, and I think a lot of guys, I can’t think of very many guys that came to the Cup Series and it’s easy right away.  It’s a struggle and you don’t realize how hard it is, and not that the other series are easy, but I feel like the top guys always find their way to the top, just like Noah last year.  You go to the racetrack literally all 33 weeks and you know you’re gonna have a good chance to win every single one of them, where when you come to the Cup Series you might only have one race all year long in your rookie year where you even have a shot to win.  It’s a challenge mentally for sure, but I feel at the same time it drives you to get better because if you don’t get better, you’re spit out in two years and you’re not running Cup anymore.  You have to get better pretty quickly and it’s a hard thing to do and I think, for me, I didn’t realize how good everybody in the Cup Series was – even the guys running 25th to 30th.  You kind of think it’s like Xfinity or Trucks, where those guys are not the greatest and they’re not holding their own sometimes.  In the Cup Series you’re racing so hard for 25th and you quickly realize that everybody that’s in the Cup Series is here and they’ve won races their entire career, where in the other series you don’t have that as much.  You have guys who are paying to be there.  In the Cup Series, you’re a really good race car driver if you’re here and, for me at least, and I think every other guy, it just makes you learn really quickly what it takes to win at this level and appreciate what it takes to win at this level because you have to work way harder than anything you’ve had to do before.  I’m sure for every other guy that’s in the Cup Series, the Xfinity wins and the Truck Series wins are hard, but they still come easy, where in the Cup Series I feel like nothing comes easy.  You have to earn every bit of it and just have to work so much harder and do all of the little details right, where in the other series you don’t have to do that as much.  You can still make mistakes and win the race, where here you have to do everything perfect to even have a chance to win a race.”


NOAH AND TY WILL GO THROUGH THAT PROCESS THIS YEAR.  WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THEM?  “I think Ty is in a little bit different situation because he had to run a lot of races last year, but I think you could ask Ty – that first race I think he ran 17th-18th area and then I think he ran top 10 the next week and then he didn’t really run inside the top 20 the rest of the year.  You don’t realize how good the Cup guys are.  Even to run 20th is hard and I think that’s something that, going into my rookie season, I thought a top 10 or top 15 would be fairly easy to do and then you realize I think I only had four top 10s my rookie year and it’s like, ‘Man, these guys are good.’  It’s a whole other ballgame.  I forget who I was listening to the other day, but they were talking about the difference between college football and the NFL.  It’s way different.  The college guys are good, but the NFL guys are great and they’re just really, really good.  Everything happens quicker.  Everybody is always one move ahead of you, and I think that’s the biggest thing I realized from my rookie year is when I got to the Cup Series, Xfinity I thought I was a pretty decent superspeedway racer.  I felt like I was aggressive and could make moves, and the Cup Series they’re like four steps ahead of you.  Every time you try to make a move they’ve seen it so many times they kind of know what to expect and, for me, in my rookie year I felt that was the hardest thing was superspeedway racing.  Everybody talks about how it’s luck and there’s not a lot of skill involved, but these guys mentally have seen so many different scenarios that it’s just hard for a guy that doesn’t have the experience to normally make those moves.  There are guys that make it happen, but, for me, that was probably the biggest struggle my rookie year was superspeedway racing because it happens so much faster.  The moves were more aggressive and it was just hard to outsmart guys because they have seen so many different scenarios.”


WHAT COULD YOU HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY IN LAST YEAR’S RACE AT THE END?  “I felt like if I could have done anything different I would have tried to probably position myself better before the final green flag pit stop.  I feel like whoever comes out controlling it, and that’s where I think Cindric had the lead after green flag pit stops, and from there it’s hard to get shuffled once you’re up there that late in the game because the guy that gets shuffled, even if you’re in the lead, you typically fall back in line and you’re third or fourth in line, where if you’re in the back, especially with this Next Gen car it’s so challenging to drive through the field.  I was talking to Corey LaJoie about that yesterday that with the old car you could get such big runs, kind of go wherever with them, where this car there’s just not that big surge of energy or that big run, so you have to position yourself with 40-60 laps to go.  I kind of got lucky last year with how the cautions fell, a couple guys wrecked and I’d pick up two or three, or a restart I’d pick up one or two and found myself restarting fourth on the green-white-checkered.  That’s one thing I feel I need to do better this year is just position myself better.  When you get within 25 to go, for sure, you need to be towards the front because if you’re not, it’s just gonna be hard to get up there.”


THERE ISN’T A THIRD LANE LIKE THERE USED TO BE.  “And I feel like the cars get stuck in this one big pocket of air and you can’t really surge past it or break away from it, where the old car it seemed like you could at times run 10-15 miles an hour faster than the field if you would lay back and get big runs.  This car doesn’t do that as much, so it’s really hard to pick and choose your way through the field, where before I felt like you could start 25th with 10 to go and you could still get up there, where this car it’s nearly impossible to do that.”

RYAN PREECE, No. 41 Ford Mustang – HOW DO YOU USE WHAT YOU LEARNED FROM THE CLASH FOR DAYTONA: “What you can use from The Clash is chemistry – team building. We unloaded fast, had a great car and we really didn’t make many adjustments. We thought about it overnight, and we made some small tweaks that made the car better. At the end of the day, when it comes to racing, it’s about relationships, people and fast race cars. I know that I have the team to turn the knobs in the right direction and tune us in. We’re going to go do that. We’re going to see where we are after qualifying, get through the Duels – contending for the win – and make the adjustments to have an even better [Daytona] 500. [The Clash] was good for our team from our point of view. People can say that it’s a quarter mile and totally different. But passing race cars and speed is still a thing, and that’s what we had. I have confidence in the people around me –when I show up at the race track and drive through that tunnel, I know that I’m going to war trying to win this race. I don’t show up thinking that I can’t.”


DOES THE SEASON START WITH DAYTONA: “My season started in November when I got the job. Personally, I look at this race as an opportunity to lock yourself into the playoffs. Certainly, somebody can luck into it once, but not two or three times. I’m ok if I luck into it once, but I know I’ve done a lot of preparation to make sure we put ourselves in the right spot at the right time – typically going into Turn 3.”


HOW’S YOUR CHEMISTRY WITH THE TEAM: “I’ve already been there for a year, so outside of just my race team – whether it’s the fabrication shop, paint shop, the floor guys or parts room, they see me around. I feel like I already earned their respect. I’m there pretty much every day, and they see it. I’m right there with them. I met Chad [Johnston] in 2021 when I won that race in Nashville. So that was the start of that relationship, and I personally feel like we’re already a year and a half ahead of where we would’ve been if this all just came about and this was a new job. I already feel comfortable there, and the foundation – especially after L.A. – is solid. It’s just continuing to build the house and going through the steps.”


HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE KEVIN HARVICK’S IMPACT ON THE SPORT: “Kevin: He’s awesome. His influence on not only me since I was a kid, but also how he represents himself and how he’s been. I’ve been with KHI Management, and really, who knows where my career would have been in 2018? He’s been someone who has really helped me navigate through the waters. I’ve been really lucky and fortunate to be with a guy like him, and to have the opportunity to be there now in his final year of Cup. I know he’s a hard racer and so am I, but I know at the end of the day, we’re going to race really hard and have a lot of fun doing it.”

HARRISON BURTON, No. 21 Motorcraft/DEX Imaging Ford MustangDO YOU HAVE ANY INTRA-TEAM RIVALRIES WITH YOUR BUDDIES OVER AT PENSKE RACING? “For sure, we definitely do. I actually helped Austin Cindric last night. He got locked out of his motorhome so we broke into that. Other than that, I am all for the 21 car. We are all in.”


DO YOU EVER GET TO MOORESVILLE WITH THE INDYCAR GUYS? “Yeah, so the Penske shop, the IndyCar shop are kind of separated. I don’t spend too much time with the IndyCar guys but I did ask Scott McLaughlin for a lot of help on road courses. He is a really cool dude and has helped me out a lot and is a good friend of mine for sure.”


YOU ARE ONE OF THE FEW GUYS THAT CAN SHOW UP HERE HAVING ALREADY WON AT DAYTONA THIS YEAR. GOING INTO THIS SEASON, HOW MUCH DOES THAT GIVE YOU A LITTLE BIT OF A BOOST? “Yeah, winning anything is cool. Those IMSA guys are no joke. It is a tough field. Getting a win with my buddy Zane (Smith) was really cool and it is a good confidence booster for sure. You come in and win a race and winning anything is good. It makes you feel good. As a competitor it was fun. I don’t know how much it will translate where now I feel like I will win the 500 because we won that, but everything you do kind of builds to something else. There is some of that. The skills are very different and all of that. There is confidence for me on my next road course though, I think that is the biggest thing. I am excited to try to apply the things I learned in that car to the Cup car.”


WHEN YOU COME INTO A SEASON, DO YOU SET SPECIFIC GOALS FOR TOP-FIVES, TOP-10’S, IMPROVEMENT IN CERTAIN AREAS? “I think every team is different. Our team we have a goal system for everybody. The crew guys can strive for something and I can strive for something and we all are kind of working in the same direction. We have some writen goals. Nothing like wanting to have 20 top-10’s by the end of the year, but more along the lines of overall goals and how do we kind of approach each race weekend. What are the results from each race weekend. Obviously there are some broader goals like making the playoffs, things like that, that we want to do. We like to have bets in our team. I remember Bristol, my crew chief and I had a bet about if the front bumper had more damage he had to buy dinner and if the rear bumper had more damage I had to buy dinner. I won that bet. Things like that keep it fun. We kind of do a little bit of both. Serious goals and then other goals, like one goal this year is to not flip in the Daytona 500. We are going to try to keep all 4 on the ground.”


WHAT DID YOU LEARN THROUGH YOUR ROOKIE SEASON LAST YEAR THAT YOU LIKE ABOUT A SETUP OF A CAR. SOMETHING THAT WILL MAKE A CAR GOOD FOR YOU. “I think the Cup cars were really kind of wild at first because nobody really knew what they wanted. I remember there were a few races where I thought we would be good and the car was feeling good in practice but it didn’t translate to the race as well as I wanted. The way things work out, this car is really nervewraking to drive when it is loose but that is the fastest way to drive it. Understanding how to drive a loose race car is really important and that is something I liked more at the end of the year. As loose as I could drive the car and still feel good about it made me pretty happy.”


OTHER DRIVERS HAVE TALKED ABOUT THE LEARNING CURVE OF TRANSLATING WHAT THEY NEED IN THE CAR. HOW WAS THAT PROCESS BEEN FOR YOU? “Yeah, it was weird. The driver inputs changed a lot with the NextGen car which I didn’t expect. I expected to show up and drive a car like I would and Xfinity car and it would be fast. But it really wasn’t. I feel like the driver inputs changed a lot with this NextGen car. The diffuser in the back of the car really changed it a lot and then that changed your priorities on setup. Your inputs and setup really revolves around your splitter and trying to keep that low to the ground and the rear grip in it. Then get it away from the ground when you want front turn, right? There are little thoughts in your head now when you are racing. It used to be the splitter was the biggest thing and how to keep the splitter down. Now when I am driving I am trying to imagine I am driving a diffuser and understand what I am doing to the most important aero part of the car.”


YOU ALSO HAD A MANUFACTURER CHANGE GOING INTO LAST YEAR COMBINED WITH THE NEXTGEN CAR. HOW MUCH OF A CHALLENGE WAS THAT? “It was tough. The first few weeks I didn’t know everyones names yet and I had been on the Toyota side of things for a long time. I kind of knew how that side of everything worked and was pretty deeply engrained in that. Then I came to Ford and they welcomed me with open arms but there were things that were different. It wasn’t super different. The biggested difference is the people and how to interact with each person and who my go to guy is for this and that. I had learned that for five years on the other side and then I came to Ford and re-learned that last year and felt at home pretty quickly. Now it is a well running machine for me as a driver and I have everything I need. That is all you can ask for. You guys get that I am sure. If you go to a new job or whatever it might be, those first few weeks you are the new kid at school sort of feeling. You want to introduce yourself and not be a dummy and make mistakes. That was definitely on my mind for awhile but as the season went on I felt right at home.”


WERE THERE ANY TRACKS WHERE IT WAS EASIER TO GET THE HANG OF? A LOT OF PEOPLE STRUGGLE WITH MARTINSVILLE, BUT WERE THERE ANY THAT WERE GOOD OR BAD FOR YOU? “The places it started to click for me the most was like Darlington. The first Darlington race I felt like that is when my gears started to turn and I ran pretty decent and finished 13th or 14th. It was nothing spectacular but it was a good decent race and I started to understand what made that race good and what we were looking for. I felt like I started to improve after that. I feel like that was one where Darlington is my favorite race track in general and I felt like I can focus more on the car at a place I know like Darlington well or a short track like Richmond or places I have been a lot before. Where I can just focus on the car and not learning the race track as much. I think Darlington was probably the first one that seemed to click for me.”


WHERE IS YOUR MINDSET RIGHT NOW? ARE YOU FEELING PRESSURE? CONFIDENCE? “I feel comfortable with where I am at. I guess I accept where I am at. I am at a point where I need to run better than I did last year, no doubt about that, not only for my race team but for myself. The beginning of last year was not good. Not good enough by any means. I think there is not a single person in the room that would say it was and I am a part of that group. So how do we improve that and make that better? I feel like this year there isn’t pressure because of that, it is almost less pressure because I understand the scenario and what I have to do. I know the series now and I know the cars now and now I can just go to work. I can understand that I have notes to go rely on instead of just showing up to the track and guessing. To me it is honestly that I feel less pressure right now. I don’t know if that mathematically makes sense but it is just how it is. I feel more confident that I can go out and make things happen and understand the right things to do.”


WHAT WOULD BE A BENCHMARK OR GOAL FOR THIS YEAR IN TERMS OF WHERE YOU SET THE BAR? “We want to continue to improve off of last year and you want to set goals that are steps along the way. The goals at the end of the year might be different than the goals at the beginning of the year but the overarching goal is that I want to win a race and make the playoffs. I think those are two attainable goals for our race team. We have great guys and I believe in myself as a driver. The pieces are in front of us, we just have to go do it. Those are my two goals that by the end of the season I really want to have done. If not, obviously you can say you want to do it but it is a matter of if you do it. we will see how it goes. For me as a driver, that is what I want to do.”


WHAT RACES DO YOU HAVE CIRCLED THAT YOU THINK YOU HAVE THE BEST CHANCE TO GET THAT WIN? “I have gotten in trouble in my past circling these races. Maybe I won there previously or whatever it may be. Then you put all your eggs in one basket and you prepare for those maybe a little different than the ones that you don’t have circled and all of a sudden it stacks up on you when you don’t win that race. You can’t just pick when you are going to win. At this level of the sport it is a pretty big feat to win one of these Cup races. For me, I think the best thing I can do is take it week by week and give myself a fair shot at every racetrack. Last year I would have not expected a road course to be my best finish, but it was. Trying to just maintain that next week is the most important week mentality is really big. Especially in a season this long. You neve know what can happen with this many races.”


LAST YEAR YOU FLIPPED HERE. YOU WERE RUNNING UP FRONT IN THE RACE. WILL YOU STILL TRY TO RUN UP FRONT OR LAY BACK? “I think there is a balance there. It is tough because it didn’t work for me last year. I want to maintain track position. I think that matters more than people give it credit for. You look at the guys that run up front and they are normally up there for a reason. You see guys like a Denny Hamlin or Joey Logano, guys that win a lot of superspeedway races, what are they doing? They are being aggressive and making runs and showing people that their cars are quick. They have a lot of experience to do those things and make good things happen. I don’t know. There is a really tough balance there of risk versus reward early in the race. Obviously we stepped over that boundry last year and flipped and all that. I don’t know that your mindset has to change after one crash in these kind of races because of the fact that I feel like you could try the same strategy five times and get five different results here. We have to make the best decisions in the moment that we can and then move on.”



RILEY HERBST, No. 15 Sunny D Ford MustangHOW DID THIS DEAL COME TOGETHER?  “It came together a couple of months ago with Rick Ware Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing.  There were some fine lines because Stewart-Haas doesn’t have that relationship with Rick Ware anymore.  They’ve moved on to RFK, but this was more put together by the management group at KHI and just to get good experience in a Cup car and to go out there stress free without a charter and just get as much experience as I can and go take it all in because this is the Daytona 500.”


HOW DOES IT FEEL TO NOT HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT QUALIFYING YOUR WAY IN ON SPEED OR THROUGH THE DUELS?  “I think myself as a young driver who has never driven a Cup car before and when NASCAR doesn’t really give you much practice before qualifying and the Duels it takes a lot of the pressure off because I don’t have to go put in a fast time tonight and I also don’t have to race my way in tomorrow night.  I can just go out there and learn the car, learn how these drive on superspeedways and get ready for the 500 on Sunday.”


THIS IS YOUR FIRST 500, RIGHT?  “Yeah, and my first Cup start as well.  I’m nervous, but I think that just comes with the Daytona 500.  This is the biggest race in North America.  This is what every kid dreams of racing, so I’m excited.  Obviously, there are some nerves, but more excitement.”


DID YOU THINK AT THE AGE OF 23 YOU WOULD HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY LIKE THIS?  “No, obviously not, but I’m just super thankful and blessed to be here and able to run a childhood dream, for sure.”


HOW DO YOU MAKE THE MOST OF SUNDAY?  “I think just getting all the experience I can.  This is a very tough race, not only to make, but to run up front, so we’re gonna try to complete all 500 miles and be there at the end.  The goal for me is simple, I want to become a better race car driver after Sunday, so when I strap into a car at Talladega in my Xfinity car I’ll know more tools in my toolbox, I’ll have more experience on superspeedways and I’ve raced with the best here on Sunday, so I can take that to the Xfinity Series and hopefully up my game there as well.”


HAS TONY GIVEN YOU ANY ADVICE?  “He’s told me to just take in the moment.  Obviously, you only get to do one first.  This is my first 500 media day.  This will be my first qualifying, so take that all in because if I am fortunate enough to do it again next year or another time it won’t be my first, so that’s the biggest message I’ve had – enjoy the moment and obviously try to go perform at the highest level.”


WHAT IS IT LIKE AS YOU KEEP GOING THROUGH THESE DIFFERENT STAGES AT SHR?  “It’s hard.  You have to be focused on yourself and understand that at some point you’re not gonna succeed where you want and transitions are hard.  It was a tough first year at Stewart-Haas, but last year I feel like we stepped up our performance at a very notable level and hopefully we can do the same thing again this year to a higher standard and compete for wins.  Obviously, we have a teammate in Cole Custer and we’ll use him all we can.”


HOW MUCH DIFFERENCE DOES NO PRACTICE MAKE FOR QUALIFYING?  “For qualifying, not really much.  As a rookie, if I was greedy, I’d like to have a little bit of practice today and a then another one before the Duels, but I can get away with no practice for qualifying.  I do wish we had a session before the Duels tomorrow because that’s my first time ever racing in a Cup car, but we’re locked in and I don’t really have to worry about that.  I can use the Duel as a practice session.”


HOW HARD IS IT TO TAKE WHAT YOU LEARN TOMORROW NIGHT TO SUNDAY – NIGHT VERSUS DAY – AND THE XFINITY RACE TO FOCUS ON AS WELL?  “There’s a lot of information and also I’m very focused on the Xfinity Series.  This is a huge year for my career in my Xfinity car, so I’m extremely focused on that aspect so I can’t let this whole Xfinity deal get lost by the wayside with this Cup race.  We’re gonna try to compartmentalize each day and take it one step at a time.  Obviously, the Xfinity race is important to me and we have to excel there, but when it comes to Sunday and racing there, I can learn a lot from tomorrow’s Duels on Sunday, just be able to see how these things draft and how they race against other people.”


WHAT ARE YOU HOPING TO LEARN THE MOST?  “The biggest thing I’m hoping to learn come Monday would be how much better of a race car driver I learned and became over the course of these next five days, and how I can take that into my Xfinity car and go perform at a high level there.”


DO YOU FEEL THERE’S AN OPPORTUNITY FOR YOU TO MOVE UP TO CUP NEXT YEAR WITH KEVIN RETIRING?  “I would love to, but the biggest thing is to perform at a high level and to go execute in my Xfinity car and go be a contender when Phoenix comes around.”


WHAT IS THE PRESSURE LIKE IN XFINITY FOR YOU THIS YEAR?  “There’s definitely pressure, but I’m excited.  I’ve never been this excited for a full-time racing series in my life like I am for this year in the Xfinity Series, just because I feel like Stewart-Haas Racing’s Xfinity program is at a high level right now and obviously having Cole Custer come down will only elevate my team as well, so hopefully we can use that to our advantage.”



RYAN BLANEY, No. 12 Menards/Blue Def/Peak Ford Mustang DESPITE NOT WINNING A POINTS RACE LAST YEAR, YOU HAD A STRONG SEASON. HOW MUCH DOES NOT WINNING WEIGH ON YOU? “It was unfortunate not winning all year. I thought we had a strong year, it is just the wins weren’t there. That was because of multiple things. I made a bunch of mistakes and we made some mistakes on pit road. We could just never close. So this whole off-season, you just point out the things that you thought you struggled with. From my side to the other sides and you just try to get them better. How can we improve these things and make sure we can close out these races. We always had speed at the beginning and then have something happen and kind of fade. It is one of those things that you are just always trying to figure out how to get better. It is something where we had to sit down and try to figure out how to change that stuff.”


WHEN YOU WERE SELF-REFLECTING, WHAT AREAS DID YOU COME UP WITH TO IMPROVE FOR YOURSELF? “I feel like something big for me is trying to look ahead more. Being prepared for the last third of the race. That is something that I have kind of always struggled with a little bit in my career. That is one thing that Jonathan and I tried to work on and how we can communicate that stuff better. That was the biggest thing. There are others, but that is the largest one.”


HAVE YOU THOUGHT MUCH ABOUT THE CRASH AT VEGAS? “Oh yeah, I took us out of Phoenix by making mistakes. That is on the driver at the end of the year. Our cars were fast enough to make Phoenix, even without the bonus points from wins and stuff like that. Running where we were before I wrecked was going to be enough to get there and I just made a mistake and that is something that I have to work on. I don’t really usually make those mistakes and wreck like I did at Vegas. You just subcounsciously bonehead downshift from second to third and third is not forward. We have done it all year and then I went and did it at Homestead subconsciously. It was just crazy.”


DID YOU BEAT YOURSELF UP? “At the time I did. At the time you are beating yourself up about it. I have tried to do a good job of just learning from things and moving forward and just focusing on what is ahead and the next task at hand. Beating yourself up for a little bit is healthy and good because you need to learn from your mistakes but you can’t dwell on those things for too long. It is over and done and you have the next job to figure out.”


IT IS THE 75TH ANNIVERSARY OF NASCAR AND YOU ARE A BIG PART OF THAT. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN TO YOU? “It is really neat. Growing up around the sport and growing up into it, it is really all I knew. It was cool to see it and neat to see it evolve from what it was when I was a kid to what it is now and now for me to be a part of it. I talk to my dad about him watching it from being a part of it from the late 90’s to early 2000’s and now watching it from an outside perspective. It is cool to have those conversations with dad and I am really curious to see what the next decade is going to be like in this sport and where we are going to be at. It is special to be a part of it and special to be a part of something that has been around for so long and doing some neat things right now. You wan to be successful in the sport but you also want the sport to be successful as well because that means all of us are doing well. It is neat to be a part of it for sure, especially growing up around it. I just wanted to do what dad did and now I am lucky enough to be able to do it.”


WHAT DO YOU WANT TO SEE EVOLVE IN THE NEXT 10 YEARS? “We have done some out of the box things the last few years. This car is a massive change. Going to race on the dirt at Brstol, going to the Colliseum, going to race the streets of Chicago. That has all happened really fast, in the last three years, and we continue to change things up. I think that is good, to an extent. I don’t think you can go all in on that stuff. You have to remember where your roots are and what got you to this point. I would love to see us back racing internationally. Not even only just Canada or Mexico. Go overseas. I think that would be a great expanse for us. I could definitely see it going there and I hope it goes there because it gets more eyes on the sport. You get more culture in your sport by going to new countries that don’t know much about it. I think that is really good for the sports longevity. That is the biggest thing that I think I see, going international.”


AUTO CLUB NEXT WEEK BEING THE LAST TIME ON THE 2-MILE TRACK. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS? “I definitely care. I wish they would leave it. I think you talk to any driver who is going to come through there and they will tell you the same thing. That place is one of the funnest, coolest race tracks that we go to. We all said the same about Atlanta. We all said the same about Chicago and Texas. And they have evolved and changed. So, I hate to see that place go. I am sure the half-mile is going to be fun and it will be different but that place is so unique and the drivers have so much fun there and it puts on great racing. It is just a shame that something like that is going to have its last year next week. There will be a big emphasis on trying to win the last one.”


WHAT MAKES IT SO FUN? “It is a big, slick, multiple lane groove race track. It is bumpy and rough and drivers love that stuff. The reason why all of us loved Atlanta before they repaved it. Why all of us loved Texas before they repaved it. Chicago, we don’t even go there anymore but all of us loved that place. Old worn out tracks with a bunch of grooves and lanes are what drivers like. It is challenging and you are sliding around and there is room to race. Drivers enjoy that. We don’t like running in a straight line any more than anybody likes watching it. We don’t like that either. It sucks when that stuff happens but it is kind of the way it is and we don’t have much pull on it obviously. We have failed at every attempt.”


GIVEN THE ENTERTAINMENT VALUE OF SHORT TRACKS WITH THIS NEW CAR, IS THIS REALLY SOMETHING THEY SHOULD JUST INTO BEFORE THEY FIGURE OUT THE SHORT TRACK PACKAGE WITH THE NEXTGEN CAR? “I don’t know how the decision is made. Who makes the call? We delayed them doing it to Fontana for a couple of years. They wanted to do it a couple years ago and it kind of got pushed back for some time. The short track package with this car is okay. Hopefully it gets better with the new rules on it. I didn’t get to test it at Phoenix but hopefully it gets better with a smaller spoiler on it and you would like to think so. I don’t know what even the banking or the way that Fontana track is going to look. I don’t know if it will be more of a Martinsville or a little more banked, I don’t’ know. It is happening either way. No matter what car we have, even if we had the old car, it would still change. Hopefully the new package on this car helps out on the short tracks.”


DO YOU LIKE RACING IN THE DAYTONA 500? SOME PEOPLE LIKE THIS RACE AND SOME DON’T. WHERE DO YOU FALL? “I like it. I have always enjoyed speedway racing in general. I didn’t the first couple of years that I did it and then I just came to understand that there are things that I can’t control at these places and I might get destroyed in a wreck that I have nothing to do with and I have accepted that. If it happens, it happens, and I can’t be upset about it for too long. I think once I kind of finally came to terms with that I have enjoyed speedway racing and accept the possibility of something happening to you that is not in your control. It is a fun kind of game you play throughout the speedway races. It is so different than anywhere else. I have always enjoyed it. I have enjoyed learning the new things that it takes. Whether the rules change or the cars change, you have to relearn your skillset. Just like any other track but these are so different. I enjoy the 500 and I enjoy racing in the 500 a lot more than I enjoy the buildup to it. The buildup is a lot. It is really special being here. Watching dad do it for so many years it is cool to be a part of it. The buildup is a lot. You finally feel like you are in your safe space when you can finally strap in and finally go run this race and try to win it. Yeah, I always enjoy it. We have been close a few times and it would be nice to finally win one. That would feel good. I think that would feel pretty great knowing you have been so close to something multiple times and then if you can finally pull it off it makes it very gratifying.”


DOES THE ATTITUDE MAKE A DIFFERENCE THOUGH? GUYS USED TO JUST HATE IT AND TRYING TO GET THROUGH IT. DOES HAVING THAT ATTITUDE MAKE A DIFFERENCE? “I definitely think it does. If you have a bad attitude going into something you are kind of failing before you even get there. People ask me what my least favorite race track is and if I hate going there. I might have a track I don’t run good at, but I don’t hate going there because if you are doing that then you are walking off the place defeated and you aren’t going to run good and have no confidence in yourself. Your attitude going into any event, anything, if you are positive about it is way more healthy than if you are upset you are here and not looking forward to it.”


IS THIS RACE NOW ABOUT THE LAST 20-30 LAPS EVERY YEAR? “Yeah, it is. You have to get there. You have to make it to the end. That is something I feel like Denny (Hamlin) has done great in his time of winning this race. He makes it to the end and he understands that. I have tried to have that mindset that to win it you have to make it there. You want to be aggressive and set yourself up towards the front to be there at the end, but you are kind of setting yourself up, honestly, with 30 to go to try to get yourself to the front. Especially with this new car because you can’t go forward like you did with the old car. You can’t go from 25th and pull a lane and get to the front. This car just won’t do it. It is just too draggy. You have to position yourself a little ahead of time than you normally would but everything comes down to the last 10 laps of this thing and making sure you are in a spot. You would like to think you need to be in the first three rows to try to win it but you could miss a couple wrecks and then you are up in the front two rows. You just never know.”



ZANE SMITH, No. 36 Wellcare Ford MustangHOW DO YOU FEEL ENTERING DAYTONA: “It feels super cool. Anytime you have the opportunity to race at Daytona, it’s always a cool day. But anytime you could win at Daytona, it’s a very special day you always remember. So, it was a great thing to start our year out that way – a start to hopefully another great year. I’m just ready to get things going.”


THOUGHTS OF QUALIFYING WITHOUT PRACTICE: “Crazy… especially when it’s your first lap is qualifying, and that one is going to go by pretty quickly. Pretty much your second lap is going to be in the Duels. Hopefully we qualify on-time, but who knows? Regardless, I know, FRM has always shown strength on Superspeedways and the Fords have always shown strength with how well they work together. Hopefully we can be in a Duel with a lot of Fords and transfer in.


HAVE YOU SPOKEN TO MICHAEL MCDOWELL REGARDING THE DUELS: “Very briefly. I plan to probably this week as we’re coming up on it, but there’s only so much that you can do. At least for qualifying, our job is done as soon as we get through the gears for the most part. Once the Duels get going, it’s up to us to transfer in. Fortunately, these cars are still tough to get. So even for the guys who qualify in, they will be racing smart. For me, if I don’t, this will be my 500 to try to get in. I’m ready to get things rolling and see where we stack up.


“I’ve obviously asked, but I’ve always just kind of been that way – kind of learning things on my own. If I have a question: Absolutely. Michael is the guy to go to. But, I’ve been just trying to learn and approach it on my training outside of the car and my film work, and everything I’ve done in the past has been successful for me. I’ve raced against Cup guys a lot, and it’s worked. Honestly, Sunday brings a lot more pressure – a lot more everything – but at the end of the day: Same goal.” 


WHAT IS YOUR OUTLOOK ON THE TRUCK SERIES: “The truck series, I feel, has been stacked for years now. It’s cool seeing the manufacturers get really involved again and then honestly, the different teams. It’s a lot of similar faces, but a lot of movement around different personnel on the teams. So, it’ll be really exciting to watch how that goes down. I know there’s a good bit of new rookies, and I’ll be hosting the rookie meetings now. So, I should get to know them some. But I feel like on the truck side, even with all these teams that are growing, I’ve heard a lot of rumors that these Cup guys are going to be doing select starts in the trucks. I am a big fan personally when we get them on the truck side and racing with us on Friday nights.”


HOW DO YOU FEEL YOUR CAREER HAS PROGRESSED SO FAR: “I feel like I’ve lived about five different lifetimes in my three years of truck that I’ve had with the amount of ups and downs there’s been. It’s crazy that I’m sitting here now, thinking back to, ‘Man, we’ve won a championship for one, but now we’re going to attempt to qualify for the Daytona 500.’ I never thought that day would be here – especially at times. I’m just super thankful for all the people that have wanted to be involved in my life and just the sponsor side of the new partners that came in like Ambetter Health for our Wellcare Ford Mustang. It’s super cool to see their involvement pretty much over the last couple of years, especially last year sponsoring the New Hampshire race and now they have a horse in the race. So hopefully I can represent them well, and it’s the start of a great relationship.”


FEELINGS OF BOB JENKINS SIGNING YOU TO A LONG-TERM CONTRACT: “For me to go over there, I had to sign a pretty long-term deal. I was all for it. To get any security in any professional sport, especially in NASCAR, is a really tough thing. So, I’m super thankful for Bob Jenkins, being under the Ford banner and the support from everyone. I’m super thankful for them, knowing I have a job. My first year with them went really great and it’ll be a tough one to back up, but I’m confident that we can. It should be another fun year.”


HOW MUCH EFFORT HAVE YOU MADE IN ATTEMPTING TO QUALIFY FOR THE 500: “A lot – this one pays good. You obviously want to make the Daytona 500. It’s really hard for these open teams just trying to get the personnel. All the good people are taken. That’s something so crazy to realize and hear about, but when you’re racing truck and Xfinity, those guys are off so they can help out on the Cup side. They have their normal job. It’s tough to find people to go out and do the best work possible, but the work ethic Front Row Motorsports provides is just outstanding. I’m excited for it. Like I said, I’m not sure where we’re going to qualify – I don’t think anybody really does – but I’m pretty confident that we’ll race all right in the Duels, and hopefully there are some Fords in our Duels to tag along with.”


DO YOU FEEL PRESSURE OR EXCITEMENT COMING INTO THE RACE WEEK: “The pressure for me is just wanting to one, get into the 500, but also to prove to Ambetter Health and Wellcare that this is something we can do. Obviously, it’s a risk every sponsor takes on an open car trying to get in. The Daytona 500 just brings so much media and so much attention. It’s almost like we end the year with the most attention, and we start it up with the most attention. It’s kind of like the championship for media day all over again, and the pressure is back.”


WHAT DO YOU THINK YOUR EMOTIONS WILL BE IF YOU QUALIFY FOR THE 500 TONIGHT: “Huge. We won the truck race Friday night last year, and I stayed for the weekend to watch some friends that I grew up together with. We’ve all been dreaming of one, racing a Cup car, and better yet, in the Daytona 500. It’s just crazy the amount of fans here, and the atmosphere that Sunday always brings. But the Daytona 500 is just way different, especially rolling through the infield here and the amount of people partying on a Tuesday night. It’s just pretty cool to see how much these fans love it. It’ll be a fun week regardless.”


HOW HELPFUL WAS LAST SEASON’S GATEWAY CUP START: Looking back at that super last-minute Cup start for RFK Racing filling in for Chris Buescher, I am so thankful for it. Especially, once I heard about the first lap being qualifying. I’ve at least driven the thing. I don’t remember a ton of it, but I do remember it. There’s a couple out there that this’ll be their first time getting in the thing, and so, it’ll be entertaining for people. But, I’ve done a lot of studying on what I need to and preparing the best I can for qualifying – for my short time in it – and some preparing for the Duels on what to expect. We’ll do the best we can in it.”

Ford Performance PR