Talk about re-signing with Hendrick Motorsports.
“It means a lot obviously to have Mr. Hendrick and Ally have that much faith in me for that long is really special, so glad it’s signed and done before the season started and we can get that out of the way and just focus on going and winning races. The constant questions about it every week definitely are not my favorite thing, so glad to have it done and over with and excited for what the future holds.”
When you were injured last year, did you have any concerns on what’s going to happen next in your career?
“Absolutely. You go through days when you feel like I did you just want to be able to live your life normally let alone driving a race car for a living. Wasn’t a lot of fun; was a lot of hard work to come back but glad I’m feeling good now and ready to go.”
Did anything at the Clash bother you at all?
“Nothing bothered me as far as my concussion went but definitely those stack-ups like you may as well be crashing and hitting walls just how stiff the cars are on those small impacts. I don’t know what the answer is there.”
Were you disappointed that here you were first race and it wasn’t any more improved?
“It’s hard to say; that’s such a unique environment the way we run into each other there and the way everybody stacks up it’s tough. Yeah, you’d like it to be better. If you took the old cars there, I don’t think half the guys who finished would have finished. It’s just different and part of adapting to this race car.”
Is it more controlled here? The nature is to push each other, but is it more controlled than the Clash?
“You certainly don’t have the stack-ups and those impacts as hard as you did at the Clash, so definitely different and hopefully it’s better here.”
What do you have to do to finish?
“If I knew the answer to that questions we would have finished already so I’m going to do my best to make it happen and hopefully we can. It’s been tough. We’ve had a lot of really fast race cars down here and hopefully we can put ourselves in a better position to finish the job on Sunday. Some guys have been able to figure out how to be really good at speedway racing and consistently be there at the end, so obviously there is something to it. Just have to figure that out on my end as well.”
How nice is it to have Ally along for another few years?
“It’s really cool. For Ally to have that much faith in us to sign back up for that long is really cool. Excited. Just have to go win some races now.”
Will there be any extra bragging rights if you qualify or finish ahead of Jimmie in his old number?
“No, I don’t think so. It’s just the same deal, racing everybody. It’s really cool to see Jimmie come back but just focus on our deal.”
Talk about this season and being ready to get behind the wheel.
“I’m excited, ready to go. Have done enough media days already so ready to get behind the wheel of a race car and do my real job.”
Does it seem strange to not have practice before pole qualifying?
“I think the hardest part for me is going to be getting the launch right. You definitely don’t have an idea of what you actually have before qualifying, but I think it will be fine. It’s the same for everybody, so I don’t think it’s an advantage or disadvantage.”
What if you were one of these six non-charter teams trying to get in?
“Obviously, it’s stressful. I came down here not locked in twice and it’s really stressful to be part of that, but it’s the same for everybody. We just have to go do our job.”
How much pride do you take in your five front-row starts here?
“It’s really cool. I’m not a huge part of that, I just have gotten to drive some really fast race cars down here. It’s cool to be part of that and have my name attached to that and we’ll make it six tonight.”
What does it take to change your luck on Sunday?
“A lot of times I feel like we just put ourselves in bad positions. Hopefully we can do a better job of staying out of the mess and make it to the end for once.”
Do we need another short track?
“It depends on how the short track package is. Our intermediate racing is the best racing we have right now, so why take one away?”
What does your extension do for Hendrick Motorsports as a whole?
“We obviously have a really good group between the four of us. We all bring something different to the table and I feel like having that and building on that for the foreseeable future is really cool. It’s a great group and I think it’s a positive thing.”
What has been your relationship been like with Kyle (Larson) especially since he’s been in house for three years?
“It’s been fun to get to learn with him. Obviously, I’ve leaned a lot of him with the sprint car and the midget stuff, so just trying to do the best job I can there and learn quickly. Also, just being friends with him; we’ve traveled a lot to different places. It’s been really neat.”
What does NASCAR’s 75th anniversary mean to you?
“It’s just cool to be a small part of it. Obviously, so many great moments, great drivers, great history of the sport. It’s just really cool to be a small part of it. My common answer for favorite moment has been the Terry Labonte-Dale Earnhardt stuff at Bristol.”
How do you view racing in the Daytona 500?
“Speedway racing is tough. I think a lot of the time the guy that causes the crash doesn’t end up in the crash, which is kind of interesting. So you’re almost better off to be that guy than not be. It’s hard to make it to the end. I haven’t figured out how to do it yet. I’ve been caught up in a lot of crashes. The magnitude of the event is really huge. It’s cool to be a part of it and hopefully we can end up toward the front.”
What would a win mean to you?
“It would mean a ton. Obviously, it’s the Super Bowl of our sport so we’re going to do all we can to make it happen.”
Is there a priority at Hendrick Motorsports to get a spectacle win like this?
“For sure. I think it’s been a long time since we’ve won a 500 so just trying to get that trophy back at Hendrick Motorsports means a lot.”
The team had to most wins last season. How do you keep that up in ’23?
“The biggest thing is everything is developing and changing pretty constantly, so just trying to stay ahead of the curve on that. A lot of things are changing going forward so just trying to learn quicker than the next guys. Can’t take what you took the last time at a racetrack and think you’re going to be competitive. It’s changing pretty rapidly.”
What has the process been working through those changes from last year to this year with a new crew chief as well?
“It’s been really cool working with Blake (Harris). It’s been fun to see a new perspective and I’m looking forward to this year.”
Is it easy to get a negative mindset about this race when you don’t win it?
“I don’t think I really have a negative mindset. It’s just a tough race to make it to the end of, so just trying to figure out how to make that happen is the hardest thing for me and it’s not really black or white. It’s trying to figure out what works for you, what areas of the race to push in, it’s really subjective to how you feel on the ebbs and flows of the race. Trying to figure it out better than the next guy.”
How is it working with Blake, meshing with each other’s styles?
“Working with Blake has been really cool. He’s all-in on everything. Excited to get kind of normal races going and see how it goes. Just getting communication rolling has been important to us. It was good to get reps in (at the Clash). Obviously, that’s a unique event but to have it go well and the communication be going well was really important. We made the right adjustments at the halfway break and we were really strong for the second half of the race. Having that communication lead to the right adjustments was good and a good confidence-builder going forward.”
Is there any one race besides Daytona that you have your finger pointed at?
“Phoenix. I’m really excited for Phoenix. It means a lot to me and hopefully we can go have a good run there.”
What are you looking for in the Daytona 500 when you’re getting down to those final laps?
“It’s tough. I haven’t made it to the final laps clean. I’ve typically been in a crash. I feel like the big one can happen at any point. Just trying to put ourselves in position to have a chance at winning. It definitely gets pretty intense and we’re typically caught up in it, so hopefully we can avoid it this year.”