With the repaving and reconfiguration of the Atlanta oval before last season, would you qualify it as a speedway race, and what are the new challenges there because of those changes?
“It’s definitely a speedway race, no question about it. Last spring, we led some laps and we were leading there and had a late caution and restarted on the front row. We got a good shove down into (turn) one and (turn) two, and (Corey) Lajoie was leading the inside lane and got up inside of me, and Chase Elliott was stuck up in the middle of us and got us three wide and got into me and shoved me up the hill and got me out of line, and that was it. Sort of what happens at those types of places – you can be in the best spot possible, but you have to count on other guys to help you and sometimes it just doesn’t work out. We saw that this spring, too, got some damage and we just weren’t able to be up there at the end of the race. All I can do is hope we are in the same position this weekend with our Auto-Owners Insurance Camry TRD and maybe things will work out a little bit better in our favor and we can bring home the win.”
How much has superspeedway-style racing changed with the NextGen cars?
“Certainly, I count Atlanta among the speedways now, but I would say that the superspeedways haven’t changed as much as the other tracks with this car. Just the way you can bump draft with this car and the way it drafts is completely different than the previous-generation car. I think right now there are a lot more options as far as how lanes work. Used to be that you would never want anyone on your outside, and now you can pass guys on the bottom a bit easier. So it creates opportunities on the speedways, but you also have to be really aggressive.”
Is there one thing you can point to that shows why you are more successful this season?
“I think just better cars, in general. Better cars, better understanding of what we need on the racetracks. Last year was a big learning curve. We were trying to figure out what direction we needed to go at races with this car and, having 15-minute practices where you opt in on what you show up with, there is no real time to recover if you show up with some bad ideas or things that didn’t work. You have to wait till you go back to that track again. Just all of that learning process and figuring things out has been a big factor for us. I think our cars are better this year, as well. Toyota did some work in the offseason and everybody at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) worked hard to try to put the pieces together, so I think, overall, we just have a better platform to work with and a better understanding of what we need.”