WHAT IS THE KEY TO GETTING TO THE DAYTONA 500?
“I wish I knew exactly, because I would do it every time. I think a lot of it is fast car, track position, and instincts. I would say those three things. I think there have been multiple times where you look at the guys that are always at the end of the speedway races, its instincts of ‘hey, things are looking bad so’ and you back out of it. I think that helps, but mainly just keeping your track position.”
DOES IT MAKE YOU NERVOUS AND YOU ARE RACING WITH A LOT OF GUYS WHERE ITS THEIR FIRST TIME EVER IN THIS RACE?
“Yeah, definitely. Do I think they will figure it out, yeah, they will figure it out pretty quick. But, I feel for them because going from the Duel and having to make it in, that is a lot of pressure. And the way these cars are…..I feel like our old cars, you could kind of do things on your own and make some passes, but with this car, you definitely need two or three buddies to kind of help propel you past someone. You know, if the car that they are racing is in front of them, in our old school cars you could kind of lag back and get a run or side draft them and probably clear them and pull back in front of them. Now, I feel like if you do that, you are going to have to have some people behind you to help propel you past them. Man, I don’t know. Its going to be nerve-wracking for them and you know, we are pretty comfortable doing it. We have done it all last year with the second Daytona, the Talladega races; and just showed up, qualified and raced. Our crew guys are definitely used to it, but it is wild for those guys that haven’t ran this.”
HOW COOL IS IT FOR YOU TO SEE ALL THESE NEW PEOPLE LIKE CONOR DALY, TRAVIS PASTRANA, JUST TRYING THEIR HAND AT THIS?
Yeah, I think its neat. I think this car gives one-off teams and opportunity to show up knowing ‘hey, we have the same chassis, same body, same parts and pieces’, right? Obviously you still have to put it together, still have got to have a good engine and things like that. But, it definitely opens the door for more one-off type starts from people to give our sport a shot. I think that is a good thing, definitely a good thing. I know Pastrana, it might not seem like he takes things serious, but he takes things super serious when he does it. Its cool to have him back and you know, I was at Roush when he was there in the Xfinity Series. So, I know he loves racing…he loves it. It will be cool to see him out there.”
IF YOU HAD TO PITCH THE DAYTONA EXPERIENCE TO SOMEONE WHO HAS NEVER WATCHED A RACE OR HAD NEVER SEEN ONE IN PERSON, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO THEM ABOUT THIS EXPERIENCE?
“Well, I know a lot of people use and say its like our Super Bowl. Which it is, but I think we hold quite a few more people than the Super Bowl. Which is nice, around here at Daytona. So, I think it’s a week-long experience basically. It’s a full week of you get races Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. It’s not just one thing, right? It’s not like you are hanging out all week and then you get a race on Sunday. Its prestigious qualifying tonight and we have a lot riding tonight on who gets the front row. And then we have our qualifying races on Thursday. Its our biggest race of the year and one that everybody wants to win and I don’t think you will see……I like to think we take every race seriously, but it seems like with the crew guys the intensity level, the laser focus, is always a step or two higher here at Daytona for the 500. We come back now in August, and everybody is a lot more relaxed. Everybody is tensed up here knowing that you have one shot to win the Daytona 500. You look at the careers of people in our sport that accomplished a lot, but never won the 500. It shows how tough it is.”
WHAT IS THE MINDSET AND INTENSITY WHEN YOU COME DOWN TO THE FINAL 25 LAPS
“The final 25 is important. Looking back at stats, looking back at running positions, stuff that we study, right? Your track position from about 30 laps to go on, doesn’t change a whole lot, other than a crash. So, you are not going to drive through the field to get the lead. So you have to….our mindset going in is with 30 laps to go you have to be in position to where you need to be with five to go. Last year we put ourselves in that position. We were leading within 20 to go. I don’t know what lap we took the lead on, but I know the lap we got crashed on was like four to go. Those laps leading were nerve-wracking. We were inside 20 to go and we were leading the race, actually we were inside 10 to go and still leading. Like we were riding around in a single file line, but I was nervous. Knowing somebody is going to make a move and you have got to be ready to defend. Or if they do successfully get by you, like what happened on the restart with four or five to go, the 2 and the 12 got by us, and the 6 was behind me. So I went from being on defense, to being on offense and I was like, ‘how am I going to get back to the lead’. The scenarios change so fast, and you have to be able to adapt and go back and forth and make those right moves. But it’s tough, it’s fun.”
WHERE DO YOU STAND AS FAR AS IF ITS LUCK OR SKILL TO SUCCEED HERE?
“Yeah, its both. You definitely have to have luck. But I feel like you can create your luck and you can use your gut instincts which help with those lucky breaks. I remember a few races here, and even a few races that we won at Daytona and Talladega, where we lost our track position and we were trying to get back to the front and there was a point where I was like, ‘man, I don’t feel good about this’. I back out of it, and I was up to about 20th and I back out of it and go to about 35th or 30th or something and get myself away from the pack and sure enough there is a big crash a lap or two later and we miss it. Was that luck? I don’t feel like that was luck. Kind of saw that coming, right? But you have got to have both.”
ARE THERE SOME VETERANS THAT YOU SEE AHEAD OF YOU OR IN YOUR REAR VIEW MIRROR AND YOU SAY THAT YOU DON’T NEED TO BE NEAR THEM?
“No, I don’t feel like there is one certain person where I am like, hey, don’t get around them. We are all capable of winning these races and we are all capable of doing the job. We can make mistakes, but I think every situation is different. And depending on who is behind them, and who is pushing who, middle lane, top lane, kind of what the scenario is, even how their car is driving, you can take somebody that is super good at speedway racing and if their car is not handling and its super loose, then you don’t really want to be around them. Because its tough to control. So, yeah, I don’t think there is one person where you don’t want to be around them but at the same time you kind of have to….the car you didn’t want to be in front of last year, was the 6. He spun the 21, flipped him, he spun us. But then again, we are all learning a new car. I would take the same scenario that we had last year where we are on the front row of a restart with five to go and the 6 behind us. I would still take that, even though he spun us last year. I don’t think he is intentionally going to do that again, right? So, I think its just circumstances. How somebody’s car is driving, and how yours is driving when you are getting pushed.”