TELL ME YOUR EVALUATION OF LEGACY MOTOR CLUB SO FAR AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO MAKE THINGS BETTER?
“We’d be on here for an hour trying to answer the question (laughs). We have a massive effort on our hands to grow in many ways as a club. I think we’ve had some high spots with performance during the season. I think Erik’s (Jones) run last weekend in the All-Star Race would be an example of that. I think there have been some other highlights, as well, through the season. But certainly some areas that we know that we need to improve and we’re working hard to do so. A lot has changed in the course of a year on the competition front from this car being introduced last year. The big teams really capitalizing on the assets they have to become stronger. I think there’s a bit of a gap separating through the field that we’re now starting to see. I mention that just trying to paint a picture of the everchanging environment that we’re chasing. With all the changes we’ve had as a team through the off-season and changes that are out in front of us, especially through this coming off-season, there’s just a lot of work and a lot going on. I’m certainly proud of everybody at LEGACY MOTOR CLUB; their tireless work effort and the hours they’re putting in. I wish that we had some stronger performances and maybe a little more consistent with results than where we are, if I was to wish for something. But I can’t ask for anything more from the effort and energy put into the program. Everybody is doing an incredible job.”
AS FAR AS YOUR TEAM, ARE YOU INVIGORATED WITH THE CHALLENGE? WHAT’S YOUR MENTALITY AT THE MOMENT?
“Man, I’m excited, invigorated, exhausted.. all of it. It has been a really exciting adventure that I’ve embarked on here - to learn from Maury Gallagher, to be a part of this great team and learn from everyone that I’m surrounded by. I’m in a whole new element here and it’s very exciting to be in a new element. At the same time, there are some foundational pieces coming together, decisions that we’re making, that will really help the team grow in the future. And then we have our job at hand – the situation and environment that we have at hand to deal with in the 2023 season. Depends on the hat that I’m wearing, in some respects. There’s been a lot of work, but a lot of excitement and a lot of fun. I truly feel like I’m a part of something that’s really going to be a force in the future of NASCAR.”
YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO LEAVE FOR FRANCE ON MONDAY. WHAT DO YOU DO IF THIS RACE GETS PUSHED TO MONDAY?
“Yeah, we’ve been talking to the ACO. The reason I need to arrive early is to run in their simulator and learn their procedures and protocols. It’s much different than anything else I’ve done before. We’ve notified the ACO. They’re aware of the potential rain delay and the fact that I might arrive to Paris later than my scheduled session on Wednesday morning. It appears that they’re willing to work with us and try to figure out how to get me some simulator time on Thursday or Friday, or even Wednesday evening if my flight just gets in late and has me behind schedule. So we’re actively working on that and feel really good about our options.”
BEING BACK HERE RACING AT CHARLOTTE MOTOR SPEEDWAY AND A PLACE WHERE YOU’VE HAD A LOT OF SUCCESS, WHAT WENT INTO THAT DECISION AND WHAT HAVE YOUR EMOTIONS BEEN HEADING INTO THE WEEKEND IF WE DO GET TO GO RACING?
“For me, it’s really been about identifying marquee races around the world and trying to figure out how to run in them. Le Mans is a great example of that. Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600.. these are the marquee events. I’m very thankful for the opportunity I have to race this weekend. I feel about as ill-prepared for a race than I ever have in my life, though, with the threat of rain and not getting any seat time in a Next Gen car at this particular track. I ran a couple of hours out in Phoenix before the season started to get a feel for things and that’s about the only oval experience, comparable oval experience, although it’s still pretty different. I was hopeful to get some laps today. The way that sim time works out and what’s available to the team – I think I made 30 or 40 laps a couple of weeks ago and was very hopeful that today I could be on track and develop a feel for the car and an idea of what to expect. I don’t think that’s going to happen and it appears that I’ll go in green. Thankfully it’s a 600-mile race and I’ll be able to get some reps – get through that first stage, regroup, get to the second stage and work my way forward.”
HOW HAS THE DYNAMIC CHANGED WITH CHEVROLET SINCE THE ANNOUNCEMENT THAT LEGACY MOTOR CLUB WILL BE GOING TO TOYOTA NEXT SEASON?
“Yeah, we’ve had a lot of conversations on both sides. Working very hard to close out 2023 as strong as we can. We have a relationship with Chevrolet, and then also a relationship with Richard Childress Racing. LEGACY MOTOR CLUB and those other two entities, there’s a lot going on, but everybody is truly putting their best foot forward and trying to provide what is to be expected for the contracts and for LEGACY MOTOR CLUB in 2023. It’s not ideal by any means, but we really felt like it would be important to announce early. Rumors were starting to circulate about our potential involvement with Toyota in the future. The way that Maury (Gallagher) likes to handle things, as for myself – let’s just pull the cover off this and address things head on. That’s what we’ve really done and I’m really proud of our group, and also everyone at RCR and Chevrolet.”
AM I CORRECT THAT JOE GIBBS RACING PROVIDES YOUR PIT CREWS, OR YOU HAVE SOME SORT OF AGREEMENT WITH JGR FOR YOUR PIT CREWS CURRENTLY?
“Yes, we did not elect to have our own pit stop program for the 2023 season. We went out, shopped and found what fit us better from an over-the-wall standpoint at Joe Gibbs Racing. I guess that decision was probably made really before my time last year coming onboard. So that was a decision made toward the end of 2022, and now as it turns out, we’ll essentially be in the same camp next year.”
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT ERIK (JONES) AND NOAH (GRAGSON) SINCE COMING ONBOARD AT LEGACY MOTOR CLUB?
“I think Erik (Jones) continues to show me just how good he is. He’s been in some challenging circumstances this year and keeps his head on; focuses, executes and gets the job done. I’ve really been impressed with his ability to stay calm and execute and just how good he is.
With Noah (Gragson), from watching him before, I wasn’t sure how serious he took his job in the sport. I knew that he was fast and I knew that he liked to have fun. I can say in the short time that I’ve really worked with him closely, he still has those two elements, but his desire to be as good as he can in this sport has really impressed me. So I guess ultimately, his commitment to his craft is what’s impressed me the most.”
YOU WERE TALKING EARLIER ABOUT BEING ILL-PREPARED FOR THIS RACE. AFTER TWO YEARS AWAY AND YOU COME BACK, IT’S A NEW CAR AND JUST THE TIME AWAY – WHEN YOU COME BACK AND RUN THESE RACES, THE FEW THAT YOU’VE DONE SO FAR, DO YOU FEEL LIKE JIMMIE JOHNSON – THE SEVEN-TIME CHAMPION – DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE A ROOKIE AGAIN AND WAY BEHIND EVERYONE ELSE?
“Well Daytona was nice where we had a bit of practice and had a qualifying race to work through and feel things out. I got into the rhythm and I started to feel much like myself. The package for plate racing, even with the Gen 6 car versus the Next Gen Car, is pretty darn close. A lot is the same, so that wasn’t all that different. I rolled into COTA thinking – alright, it’s going to be like Daytona – and I was mistaken for that. These cars really do drive much differently – the mechanical grip level versus the aero-grip is much different. The shocks and the way the internal bump stops work, in addition to the external bump stops on the car. None of that was taking place when I was in the car last and the car drives so much different as a result. So I’m really under-prepared, or ill-prepared, for this weekend’s race. It is sad to me that in today’s world, we can’t go test to get ready for a race. And then a practice and qualifying session rains out and you get zero track time, you have to depend on the simulator. We’re very low on the totem pole with resources and sim time – I get 30 laps of sim time to get ready for a race. It’s a 600-mile race and we’ll make the best of it. But just logically, as I think through how big our sport is, how big this race is, how big the opportunity is – it’s just crazy that I can’t get properly prepared for this race.”
YOU’VE SPOKEN BEFORE THAT YOU’RE TRYING TO RACES AT EITHER TRACKS YOU ENJOY OR BUCKET LIST ITEMS. IS THERE A BALANCE BETWEEN YOUR COMPETITIVE NATURE AND ALSO JUST TRYING TO HAVE FUN AND MAYBE LEARN SOMETHING TO HELP THE ORGANIZATION?
“Yeah, I really do find that I’m thinking more about what’s best for the company than what’s best for me as the racer, especially coming back to NASCAR. My last two years in INDYCAR and sportscars, I was much more selfish and much more in that traditional headspace as a driver – ultimate speed, ultimate fun, how can I do all of those aspects. Where now, when we take the No. 84 car to the track, is it hurting our program or is it helping our program? And if so, in which ways. When you think about crew personnel, inventory of parts and pieces, that’s one conversation. Notoriety, popularity, sponsorship dollars, all of those other aspects are another conversation. We’re always weighing the pros and cons out, and here before long we’ll start thinking about 2024 and what races make sense for me.
And then I honestly feel like getting through this weekend is going to be a big step in me deciding – we choose a lot of road course races for me in 2023, trying to help LEGACY MOTOR CLUB get better on road courses. We feel like we’ve seen some gains from that, especially the time I’ve been able to spend with Noah (Gragson) and Erik (Jones) – going to the sim, going to a driving school, driving some other cars and really just spending time together and honing that craft. This will be my first proper oval and depending on how that experience goes, I think it will give us a better place to decide from looking at 2024.”
HOW DIFFERENT IS THAT TO BE THINKING ‘BIG PICTURE’ THAN YOUR COMPETITVENESS? WHEN YOU WERE HERE FOR SO LONG, IT WAS ALL ABOUT WINNING RACES AND CHAMPIONSHIPS.
“Yeah, it’s different. I’m evolving mentally, maybe a little quicker than I give myself credit for I guess in probably six months since stepping into this new role. In six months’ time, I’ve been able to really transition into the thought process that I’m in now versus that selfish driver.”
NOW THAT LE MANS IS RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER, ARE YOU STARTING TO GET ANY BUTTERFLIES YET?
“Yeah, I’m excited. I’ve been busy packing my suitcase before we jumped on this call. It’s feeling very real. It’s here and I’m very excited for the opportunity. I honestly don’t know what to expect. I know once I get to the race track and pick up the energy and the vibe of the race weekend, the butterflies will kick-in. But right now, there’s just great excitement and curiosity with what’s ahead.”
WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE YOU AT THIS POINT.. TO BE A MENTOR TO SOMEBODY AND GIVE YOUR KNOWLEDGE TO OTHER DRIVERS AND OTHER MEMBERS OF NASCAR?
“It’s surreal, but it’s hard for me right now because I don’t have a lot of time in the Next Gen car, so I don’t know how relatable my advice is. I’ve been careful to not overdue it and I’ve kind of spoken to Erik (Jones) and Noah (Gragson) around more of the track – how I’ve seen a track evolve and how I would attack certain corners. And of course, preface with – hey, I don’t have a lot of time in these cars, but this is what I look for.. these are the trends that helped me at this particular track. And then not only at the track, but away from the track and knowing what their roles and responsibilities are – what their work load is during the course of a week and trying to offer advice that helped me deal with a long, long career in NASCAR. To that effect, I’m very thankful that Amy Stock is involved, John Lewensten, people that worked so close to me through my 20 years in this sport. We can all mentor and help. Noah, probably a little bit more. Erik is certainly a veteran at this point. But we are able to mentor as a group and I can as an individual on a much broader spectrum than really just in the car at the track.”
WHAT’S YOUR BIGGEST WORRY GOING INTO LE MANS? WHAT’S KEEPING YOU UP AT NIGHT, IF ANYTHING?
“For me, I am concerned about the top division surprising me in the car somewhere in one of these corners. All the sportscar racing I’ve done to date; I have been in the fastest car. I’ve only had to worry about looking out the windshield and really not, on a consistent basis, being passed in the GT category. Plus you look at us in our Garage 56 category, our car is going to create a lot of its lap time on the straightaways; we lack in the corners. So I’m nervous about traffic, in general. I’m nervous about one of these prototypes going up unexpectedly as I’m committing to a corner.. I’m not sure they’re going to be there and they’re shooting for a gap that’s closing. My fears really are about awareness in mirrors and getting a true understanding of how quickly these cars approach. And then you add the night element and from what I understand, the prototype headlights are so bright and really all the cars have such bright lights because there’s very little track light. So you don’t have a great sense of depth of when a car is approaching because the lights are so bright. So it’s all kind of in that traffic phase, certainly at night in traffic. I’m eager to get there and get a sense of it. And then they have some night running, and within that, I can get a much better idea, as well, and work through that.”
WHERE DOES IT COMPARE TO GOING INTO THE DAYTONA 500 OR THE INDIANAPOLIS 500?
“It feels really special. My thoughts have really been on this weekend and the 600-mile race here in Charlotte (Motor Speedway) with Club Wyndham onboard. I’m extremely excited about that relationship and hopeful to have a good run – run a top-10, top-15, would be an awesome goal for us in the 600. So I’ve largely been focused there. There’s this great excitement in the back of my mind that I know I’m going to jump on a plane Monday or Tuesday and fly across the pond and get into it. But it’s just really exciting, but with so many unknowns. It’s hard to really quantify what I’m going to go embark on.”