HighPoint.com returns as the primary partner on the No. 98 Ford Mustang this weekend at Pocono. The company is headquartered just 90 minutes away in Sparta, New Jersey, so it’s a hometown race for them. How special would it be to win in their backyard?
“It would be a huge to win at Pocono, not only for our team, but for HighPoint. Anytime you can go to a racetrack that’s close to a company’s headquarters that sponsors the car, it’s always a special weekend. It’ll be different with them not being able to be at the racetrack, but there’s still a lot of pride in winning at your home track and, for them, that’s Pocono. So, there’s definitely a lot of emphasis on getting it done. It’s nice that we race on Sunday and I’ve got a chance to go up Saturday afternoon to spend time with Mike Mendiburu (HighPoint President and CEO) and his family, so it’ll be a fun weekend and, hopefully, we can get the HighPoint.com Ford Mustang in victory lane at their home track.”
Pocono is a very unique track with only three corners, each one different than the other. How have you been able to find success at the aptly named “Tricky Triangle” in the ARCA Series, the Truck Series and Xfinity Series?
“It’s definitely a challenging track, but it seems like I’ve always had really good speed no matter what I’m in. That speed, along with the ability to adapt if the car isn’t driving well, and just being able to figure it out, is the biggest thing. I think no practice this weekend is going to be an even bigger factor than it’s been over the last month or so. I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of Pocono and trying to get the car to work as good as it can in all three corners. I’ve had success there, which certainly helps with confidence whenever you go to places that can be tough to figure out. We had a really good Ford Mustang there last year and were able to run third with it, so we’ll try to build on that. We should be way better. I feel like I’m a lot better than I was at that time last year, and the team is better too, so we should be able to go and compete for a win.”
You mentioned the third-place finish last year. You’ll be the highest returning finisher since the top-two finishers, Custer and Reddick, both moved up to the NASCAR Cup Series. Is that something you think about as you prepare for Sunday?
“You’re aware of it, but it doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Having the best car behind the two guys who are no longer going to be in the race is nice to know confidence-wise, but it doesn’t change the approach of how we go into the weekend.”
Because you have done so well at Pocono, is it easier to move on from the result at Talladega?
“Any time you leave Daytona or Talladega, you’re looking forward to the next race – unless, of course, you won. There are so many things that are out of your control when you’re at a superspeedway, and while there are still things that are out of your control at Pocono and other tracks, the race is more in the driver’s hands and you control your own destiny. The driver makes more of a difference and the car makes more of a difference. I’m definitely ready to move on from Talladega. It could’ve been a lot worse, but we were able to get some playoff points with a stage win. I’d like to go to Pocono and get another race win and get back to the next stretch of really good racetracks for our team.”
Nearly four years ago when you were in ARCA, you were headed to Pocono in July 2016 with three wins. You dominated the race for your fourth consecutive ARCA win, and then won two more races and the championship. It was major turning point in your career. Can you draw any comparisons to your ARCA championship season and what you’ve been able to accomplish so far this year?
“There certainly are some similarities. We were going for four-in-a-row and, truthfully, winning that race at Pocono is what elevated me to the Truck Series. It was right after we won that race, the following week actually, when the conversations started about the following year and the potential of moving up. There’s pressure to win every race – mostly pressure that I put on myself – but I think Pocono is one of those tracks where if you can win there, it says a lot. I don’t know if it’s because every corner is different and shows your ability to adapt, or that it’s a fast racetrack that’s kind of on edge and you need to show that you can handle that level of racing. We could definitely go into this weekend comparing, but we’re trying to win every weekend regardless. With that being said, it would be pretty neat to get our fourth win of the year at Pocono and for it to come back full-circle to what it was like in 2016.”