Monday, May 16
Speedway Digest Staff

Speedway Digest Staff

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Ross Chastain has enjoyed a career year in 2022.

The 29-year-old Alva, Florida native has led 269 laps, finished in the top-three in half the races, and earned his and Trackhouse Racing's first two NASCAR Cup Series victories - Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas on March 27 and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway on April 24.

What he has yet to do in 2022 is take long time sponsor AdventHealth to victory lane with him.

Sunday at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City might be the perfect time to check that box.

The Florida-based healthcare provider is sponsoring Sunday's Cup Series AdventHealth 400 event.

"AdventHealth sort of owning the weekend, if you will, at Kansas Speedway is a snap shot of how they've supported me from 2020 until now," said Chastain.

"I go back to the beginning and think how they took a chance on me and have supported me and how neat that is."

Before hitting the track in his No. 1 Chevrolet Camaro, Chastain will make slower laps around the 1.5-mile Kansas track.

"I'm excited for the AdventHealth track walk on Friday evening to benefit the AdventHealth Foundation," said Chastain. "It will be fun to talk with some fans and walk the track. I'm used to doing track walks at road courses, but at oval tracks, we take it for granted that we know the track. I know there's a bump in Turn 1 that changes every year, and I'm looking forward to seeing how much that has changed too."

AdventHealth is also sponsorsing Saturday's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, Heart of America 200. The name was selected through an internal employee contest.

After more than 600 submissions, Jeff Sluder, laboratory director at AdventHealth Shawnee Mission in Kansas, submitted the winning entry with Heart of America. Last week, Chastain visited Kansas Speedway to meet with AdventHealth representatives and unveiled the Heart of America 200 logo with Sluder.

 

Ross Chastain, Driver of the No. 1 AdventHealth Chevrolet

How important is Kansas to your career?

"Kansas brings back so many memories. I think back to my Truck Series win there in 2019 and winning is the ultimate goal. I think that win saved my career, honestly. Everything went away with my Xfinity Series ride and Chip Ganassi kept me on as a reserve driver and just to be nice is what it basically came down to. Doug Duchardt told me to just race whatever I could and we would figure it out. When things got serious about the No. 42 car going into the 2021 season, Doug brought up the fact that even though they didn't have anything for me to drive and Niece gave me the opportunity to drive their truck and we were able to win, Doug said it told him more about me than anything else, and I put a lot of stock in what Doug says. If I didn't go win those races with Niece, I don't know if I am in the Cup car where I am today."

What do you find challenging about racing at Kansas Speedway?

"It's wild because it is a mile-and-a-half and it has some of the same bones that most mile-and-a-half tracks have but there are intricacies at each intermediate track. The progressive banking at Kansas really rewards running higher on the track. It's windy at Kansas and when you run up high you're almost hidden from the wind a little bit and blocked from some of the cross winds."

Now that you have a couple of wins under your belt and you've checked off getting that first career win, what do you think of your season so far?

"This year has been incredible. I feel grateful, but I also realize that we deserve to be where we are at. We've put in the effort and this car has been the greatest reset this sport has ever seen. Never before have you been able to take a car raced at a road course and change some suspension parts, run the same chassis and same body, and some of the same suspension, and pass tech and compete for wins."

Trackhouse Racing PR

Alan on making his debut at Kansas Speedway: “Another first time track for us, but that’s one of the challenges of being a rookie, so you have to embrace it. Our AUTOParkit Niece Motorsports Silverado should be pretty good at Kansas this weekend. The intermediate package seems to be really fast – we had a lot of speed at Las Vegas – we had a lot of speed last week at Darlington and it’s exciting to go back to that same style track. Our overall performance has been good so far, I just have to figure out how to stay out of other people’s messes. Once I get that part figured out I think we’re capable of getting the No. 45 up front. I wouldn’t count us out.”

Alan at Kansas Speedway: Alan makes his first career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start at Kansas Speedway Saturday night.

On the Truck: Alan will pilot the No. 45 AUTOParkit Chevrolet Silverado Saturday night at Kansas.

Last Time Out (Dead On Tools 200 – Start: 19th / Finish: 26th): Alan and the No. 45 team faced early adversity Friday night when he was sent for a spin in turn three on lap 20 to bring out the caution. Alan rebounded to secure a 24th-place finish in Stage One.

On lap 72 with the end of Stage Two looming, Alan had a right front tire go down and was forced to pit under green for four tires. Fortunately, the caution flag waved two laps later and Alan was awarded the free pass to get back on the lead lap before crossing the line 23rd in Stage Two. Alan continued to battle his way through traffic in the final stage of the night, resulting in a 19th-place finish.

With another top-20 finish, Alan remains the Sunoco Rookie of the Year points leader heading into Saturday night’s race at Kansas.

Niece Motorsports PR

Wright on making his return to Kansas Speedway: “I am super excited to have Big Dog Energy back on the No. 44 Chevrolet Silverado this week. The paint scheme looks amazing. 

“Kansas Speedway is one of my favorite tracks – super fast and wide-open, where drafting will be a huge component. We had a lot of potential at the Darlington Raceway, and we are taking the same Chevrolet. So, everyone is positive this weekend. Hoping for a top-ten finish.”

Wright at Kansas Speedway: This weekend marks Kris Wright’s second NASCAR Camping World Truck Series appearance at the Darlington Raceway. The Wexford, Pa., – native has one start at the Kansas Speedway, with a 33rd-place finish on May 1, 2021. 

In addition, Wright has two (2020, 2021) ARCA Menards Series starts at the Kansas Speedway with two top-seven finishes. He posted a career-best sixth-place finish on October 16, 2020.

On the Truck: The Big Dog Energy paint scheme returns to the No. 44 Big Dog Energy Chevrolet Silverado Saturday night at Kansas.

Last Time Out (Dead On Tools 200 – Start: 21st / Finish: 32nd): Wright and the No. 44 team made up critical track position at the halfway point of Stage One when the team elected not to pit under caution on lap 22, positioning them in sixth-place on the restart. Wright battled to hold track position the rest of the way in the stage on old tires, resulting in a 26th-place finish.

After running to a 25th-place finish in Stage Two, Wright restarted 21st for the final stage and was narrowly collected in a multi-truck incident in turn four on lap 98, causing right side damage. The No. 44 team worked to make repairs but was forced to take its Chevrolet Silverado behind the wall under NASCAR’s damaged vehicle policy, resulting in a 32nd-place finish.

Niece Motorsports PR

Hocevar on Kansas: “We have a lot to look forward to at Kansas this week. Producing consecutive second-place finishes is big for not only myself, but Niece Motorsports and the No. 42 team, too. It’s really good to show the improvements we’ve made and to have a lot of points in the bank that we did not have three weeks ago. The ability to show our speed at three completely different race tracks over the past month is encouraging and I have a lot of confidence in our intermediate program.”

Hocevar on honoring the Flint Police Department and National Police Week with this week’s paint scheme: “It is a great privilege to be able to honor Captain Collin Birnie during National Police Week this Saturday night at Kansas with Premier Security Solutions. Our No. 42 Chevrolet Silverado will carry the names of 12 fallen police officers in the Flint, Mich. community and we’re looking forward to paying tribute to them. I really appreciate all of Premier Security Solutions’ efforts to bring this scheme to the track as well as their commitment to the Flint community. Hopefully we can make them proud with a strong run Saturday night.” 

Hocevar at Kansas Speedway: Hocevar makes his second career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start at Kansas Saturday night. He ran to a 23rd-place finish in his Kansas debut last season after starting 11th.

On the Truck: Hocevar’s No. 42 Premier Security Solutions Chevrolet Silverado features a new look this week at Kansas, honoring the Flint Police Department during National Police Week. The navy blue truck proudly displays the Flint Police Department on the hood and the names of fallen Flint police officers on the bed top. Captain Collin Birnie’s name will be displayed above the driver’s side door.

Last Time Out (Dead On Tools 200 – Start: 6th / Finish: 2nd): Hocevar quickly made his way into the top-five Friday night and was a mainstay at the front of the field. Following a four tire stop under caution on lap 20, he made his way back into the top-10 and ultimately crossed the line third at the end of Stage One. The No. 42 team put together one of its best stops of the night during the stage break to position Hocevar on the front row to begin Stage Two and ran behind race leader Ross Chastain for much of the stage. After another four tire stop under caution on lap 76, Hocevar made the pass on Chastain with three to go in Stage Two and went on to claim his first career stage win.

After making adjustments to remedy a loose handling condition under caution on lap 116, Hocevar made his way back up to second-place in the final laps of the race but was unable to chase down race winner John Hunter Nemechek as an electrical issue plagued the No. 42 on the final lap.

Hocevar led twice for nine laps en route to his second-consecutive runner-up finish this season.
 

Niece Motorsports PR

Petty GMS announced today a partnership with RV Retailer, LLC, a leading recreational vehicle retail company with 97 stores in 30 states, to become the “Official Motorcoach Partner” of its NASCAR Cup Series team for both sales and service.

“RV Retailer is proud to be associated with one of the sports all-time winning legends in Richard Petty along with his winning team in Petty GMS,” said Jon Ferrando, Chief Executive Officer and President of RV Retailer. “This relationship deepens our roots with our enthusiast base of customers we seek to serve in and around NASCAR.  The engagement level of RVers at NASCAR events is incredible to see, as races have seen thousands attend NASCAR events live in their RV from race to race for a great family experience.”

Whether visiting a state-of-the-art RV repair and service center or shopping for a new or used motorhome or towable trailer for your next grand adventure, RV Retailer strives to provide an exceptional experience. No matter where the journey begins, RV Retailer is ready to help get you on the road and ready to explore. 

“Partnering with RV Retailer allows our front office team to have a place to base operations from while at the track each weekend,” said Mike Beam, President of Petty GMS. “In addition, we will utilize the luxury motorcoach to host and entertain our partners. RV Retailer looks to provide an exceptional experience for all of their guests, and this partnership will allow us to do the same in return.” 

The NASCAR Cup Series season continues this weekend at Kansas Speedway, with Petty GMS drivers Ty Dillon and Erik Jones taking to the Kansas tri-oval on Sunday, May 15 at 3:00 p.m. ET. Watch live television coverage on FS1, while the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90 carry the radio broadcast. 

Petty GMS PR

Thompson on making his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Debut at Kansas: “It’s a big confidence-booster to go to a track for the first time this year that I’ve already raced at. Our Niece Motorsports No. 40 Worldwide Express team is excited to keep the momentum rolling into Kansas with our sights set on a top-10 finish.”

Thompson at Kansas Speedway: Thompson makes his first-career start at Kansas Speedway in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Friday night.

Thompson ran to an eighth-place finish after starting 12th in last October’s ARCA Menards Series race at Kansas.

On the Truck: Thompson and the No. 40 Chevrolet Silverado will have the Worldwide Express/GlobalTranz/Unishippers paint scheme on display for Saturday night’s Heart of America 200 at Kansas. 

Last Time Out (Dead On Tools 200 – Start: 33rd / Finish: 14th): Thompson and the No. 40 team’s strategy of staying out while the leaders pitted during the second caution of the night positioned them in ninth-place at the halfway point in Stage One before holding on for a 21st-place finish in the stage on old tires. Thompson continued to battle in the middle of the field in the second stage, crossing the line 26th.

The No. 40 team continued to make adjustments throughout the night and steadily made its way up the leaderboard over the course of several restarts, culminating in a 14th-place finish and his third Sunoco Rookie of the Race honor this season.

Niece Motorsports PR

Notes of Interest

 

● Chase Briscoe, driver of the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Cummins Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) is 13th in the driver championship point standings, 166 points out of first. With just 12 races complete, he currently holds a spot in the 16-driver playoff field by way of his March 13 win at Phoenix Raceway.

 

● Briscoe racked up a pair of top-20 finishes in last year’s Cup Series races at Kansas with a best finish of 19th in the October event. Before he arrived in the Cup Series, Briscoe scored several strong runs at the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway in NASCAR’s Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series. Among his four Xfinity Series starts there, he has a pair of top-three finishes, including a win in opening race of the Round of 8 in the 2020 playoffs. He also placed fifth in his lone NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start at Kansas.

 

● Kansas is also the site of the last of Briscoe’s six ARCA Menards Series victories in 2016, which propelled him to the series championship. He totaled 14 top-fives and 18 top-10s in 20 ARCA races that year. In the October 2016 Kansas 150, Briscoe started from the pole and led twice for a race-high 67 laps to secure the victory by 1.464 seconds over Austin Cindric.

 

Rush Truck Centers returns to the No. 14 Ford Mustang for the first of several races this year.All of the SHR cars travel from race to race in haulers from Rush Truck Centers, the premier service solutions provider to the commercial vehicle industry. And those haulers are supported by the RushCare team of parts and service experts, who also provide concierge-level service and maintenance, technical support, schedule mobile service, dispatch roadside assistance, help locate the nearest dealer, and more. Rush Truck Centers is the largest network of commercial vehicle dealerships in the United States with 139 locations, and takes pride in its integrated approach to customer needs – from vehicle sales to aftermarket parts, service and body shop operations, plus financing, insurance, leasing and rental, as well as alternate fuel systems and other vehicle technologies.

 

Rush Truck Centers is also a leader in all-makes parts for the commercial vehicle industry, and has released its third All-Makes Parts Catalog. The catalog features 16,000 parts from more than 125 manufacturers, the most common parts needed for commercial vehicles. No matter what brand of truck you drive, you’ll find what you need in this catalog. It also is filled with product and technical tips to help keep you up and running.  Contact your local Rush Truck Centers location to pick up a copy today. 

 

Indiana-based Cummins, from car owner Tony Stewart’s hometown of Columbus, is also along for the ride at Kansas. Cummins is a corporation of complementary business segments that design, manufacture, distribute and service a broad portfolio of power solutions. It is best known for its diesel truck engines. Since its founding in 1919, Cummins now employs approximately 61,600 people and serves customers in about 190 countries and territories through a network of some 8,000 wholly owned and independent dealer and distributor locations.

 

Before heading to Kansas, Briscoe will climb behind the wheel of a Kent Robinson Racing super late model at the Dirt Track at Charlotte to compete in The Colossal 100 on Wednesday and Thursday, May 11 and 12. The Charlotte events are the third stop on the Chase’n Dirt Tour, a schedule of dirt racing events that Briscoe will run through July. In addition to super late models, the third-generation dirt racer will compete in 360 sprint car, 410 sprint car, micro sprint, and midget events leading up to the start of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

 

Chase Briscoe, Driver of the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Cummins Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:

 

The last few races haven’t gone as planned, so is this Sunday’s race at Kansas a chance for the No. 14 team to turn things around?

“I’m excited to get to Kansas. I think we’ve shown a lot of improvement on the mile-and-a-halves this year and we’ve definitely and speed. If we can put everything together and get a good starting spot I think we should be able to turn things around. The last few weeks haven’t been the best but we’ve got a good group of guys who don’t give up and I know we’re capable of more, we just need everything to go right to put ourselves in position for another win.”

 

Does your past success at Kansas help with confidence after a few tough races?

“A little. It helps to know I have been successful at Kansas, but the Cup Series is a whole different level of competition. Now, I got the win earlier this year and we’ve been up front more in these first few races than in all of last season, so I think mentally I’m more prepared for what’s coming than I was last year. We can’t really compare what we saw last year to what is coming because of the new car. I’m used to adapting, that’s something you have to do a lot in dirt racing, and we’ve had to do it a lot with this new car. Once we get on track for practice and see what we’ve got I think I’ll be better able to judge what I need to be comfortable and then I can start thinking about how I can use what I know about Kansas to run my best race.”

 

TSC PR

With his confidence boosted by the speed he and the No. 21 DEX Imaging team found at Darlington, Harrison Burton is headed to Kansas Speedway with renewed determination to step up his and the team’s performance.
 
“I think there’s been some growing pains there, and I feel like now we’re getting rolling in the right direction,” Burton said on a call with reporters Wednesday morning. “So I’m excited to get back to the race track and hopefully be in that spot to try and contend for wins and just take it one step at a time and get some top 10s, get some top fives and build there.” 
 
He said last Sunday’s Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway, which saw him have his best Cup run to date, leads him to believe he and the DEX Imaging team are on the verge of a significant improvement in performance. 
  
“It’s like the first time where I wasn’t uncomfortable in this race car, which is pretty wild when you think about it,” he said. “This [Next Gen] is a hard race car to drive, which is great for our sport, I think.  
 
“When you hit it right, it drives really well, so we had some notes to build off of now, things that I like…and hopefully that can carry over.  
 
“For me, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can finally get be aggressive in this car.’  I hadn’t felt that yet, and now I kind of feel like we’ll be able to replicate that and go get after it more.”
 
Burton said that having been to several different kinds of race tracks this season gives him and crew chief Brian Wilson some notes to use in preparing for upcoming events.
 
“Now we’re going to places that you can relate to other places and when we first started with the car it was Daytona, California, Vegas, Phoenix, all different tracks,” he said. “Every time we went there it was kind of a guess."

“Now we have a notebook of every kind of race track that you could think of, and we can go try to build off of that and show up off the truck closer than what we have been in the past.”

And he said that he, Wilson and the rest of his team members, who are rookies at their positions in the Cup series are trying to start to benefit from the experiences they’ve had so far.
 
“I think the first few weeks were pretty eye-opening for us about what was so different about Cup from Xfinity,” he said. “Then you look at us now, and we feel like we’re in a rhythm of we know our jobs. We know what we’re responsible for. We know what the other person is kind of thinking before they say it now, and so that’s really good.
 
“As a team, I think we’ve really grown.”
 
He also said it’s been good to know for the team to know that their car owners, the Wood Brothers, have had their backs through the early season struggles.
 
“The biggest positive for me has just been getting to know the Wood family and learning about their history and trying to represent them well has been really cool,” he said. “Something that I’ll always remember is their support in us and belief in us as a group has never wavered, and the same with our relationship with the Penske organization as an alliance team.  
 
“That group has been really helpful for us and believes in us.”
 
Practice for the AdventHealth 400 at Kansas Speedway is is set for Saturday at 3 p.m. (4 p.m. Eastern Time) to be followed by qualifying at 3:35 (4:35 Eastern).
 
Sunday’s 267-lap, 400-mile race is scheduled to start just after 2 p.m. (3 p.m. Eastern Time) with TV coverage on FOX Sports 1.
 
Stage breaks are planned for Laps 80 and 165.

WBR PR

AdventHealth 400

Kansas Speedway

NASCAR Cup Series (NCS)

Sunday, May 15 at 3 p.m. ET on FS1

 

Noah _61_ copy.jpg
 

Noah Gragson, No. 16 Chevy Accessories Camaro ZL1

 

  • This weekend’s AdventHealth 400 will mark Noah Gragson’s first start at Kansas Speedway in the NCS

 

“I’m really excited to get to Kansas. It has been a track that I have been successful at in the other series, so hopefully that experience will be beneficial to me. This will be my first traditional racetrack I’ve been on in the Cup Series, and I have a great opportunity with this team. I’m just looking forward to getting back to the racetrack and having a good day with this No. 16 team.”

 

 

- Noah Gragson on Kansas Speedway

Justin _40_ copy.jpg
 

Justin Haley, No. 31 LeafFilter Gutter Protection Camaro ZL1

 

  • Justin Haley is coming off his first top-five finish with Kaulig Racing in the NCS (third)
  • Haley has six top 15s, one top 10 and one top-five finish in 2022
  • His third-place finish is Kaulig Racing’s first top five at a non-superspeedway/ road course track
  • Justin Haley has led 20 laps in the 2022 season, 19 coming at Dover Motor Speedway and one at Atlanta Motor Speedway
  • Haley has an Average finish of 34.5 across two starts at Kansas

 

“We’ve always been really competitive at Kansas as an organization and have been fast at the 1.5-mile tracks this year, so I am feeling optimistic for this weekend. We had a great third-place run at Darlington and really had a shot there at the end. I hope to carry that momentum into this weekend.”

 

 

- Justin Haley on Kansas Speedway

Kaulig Racing PR

HARRISON BURTON, No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Mustang – A LOT OF TALK AFTER THE LOGANO-BYRON THING IS KIDS SEE THAT AND THEY KIND OF LEARN HOW TO RACE.  AS A YOUNG DRIVER, DO YOU KNOW HOW FAR YOU’RE WILLING TO GO OR WHEN YOU SEE THINGS LIKE THAT DOES IT INFLUENCE HOW YOU REACT TO THINGS IN THE FUTURE?  “I would say that a lot of people probably, you have your mindset about how you race kind of made up.  It’s a personal thing and I think, for me, it is definitely predicated on how I’ve been raced by that person, or how I’ve been raced by people around me.  Think about the Clash Last Chance race I was in, turned into I took the lead, got spun out and all kinds of stuff.  I just kind of got ping-pong balled there and so in that race my aggression level was turned up really high.  I started laying the bumper to people because I felt like I had been wronged in that race multiple times, and so then I got more aggressive and kind of matched that level.  Obviously, in the Joey and William thing I think Joey feels that he got put in the wall beforehand and that changed how he would race, and William probably sees it another way.  Every incident is pretty personal, I would say, but I don’t think I let other people’s racing influence how I would race.”

 

IF YOU DO GET IN A POSITION WHERE YOU ARE BATTLING FOR THE WIN, AND YOU KNOW A WIN CAN POTENTIALLY PUT YOU IN THE PLAYOFFS, HOW DOES THAT CARROT SERVE AS AN INFLUENCE ABOUT HOW YOU WOULD GO ABOUT RACING AT THAT POINT?  “It’s been a rough start to say the least.  Fourteenth place is our best finish, so that’s not good.  There’s no hiding that.  I think there’s been some growing pains there and I feel like now we’re getting rolling in the right direction, so I’m excited to get back to the racetrack and hopefully be in that spot to try and contend for wins and just take it one step at a time and get some top 10s, get some top fives and build there.  But it does definitely change it.  I think if I get in a spot where I’m racing for a win, I’m gonna be pretty aggressive for a multiple amount of reasons.  Obviously, it would really change my whole life.  I think it would be amazing for the Wood Brothers to get their 100th win.  I think there’s some pressure to that, especially with the start we’ve had, that if I do get there, I’m certainly gonna be aggressive and go try and take it from those guys, and I think also we saw at Darlington that it’s hard to pass.  It’s really challenging to complete passes.  I think the side-by-side racing has been good because the outside guy can’t really get you too loose anymore, so you can go side-by-side, but it’s really hard to complete passes.  If you get a chance to make a pass, you better take it.”

 

CAN YOU LOOK AT LAST WEEKEND AS A SMALL VICTORY OR AS A SIGN THAT THINGS ARE GOING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION?  “Absolutely, and more than the finish I think the speed we had in that race, there was a part of that race where we came out and had a pit stop and had been really not very good to start the race, and then the car woke up.  We made the right changes on pit road and Joey and Denny I think were second and third and I ran them down and caught them.  I think Joey had one lap older tires, so pretty even to him there and I caught them, and I was like, ‘OK, now we’re rolling.’  Looking at the lap time data, that was our strongest race, for sure, compared to the leaders and in that particular segment we matched the leader’s lap time, so it’s like, ‘OK, we’re going in the right direction there.’  We had the speed at times to be a top-five car.  We just have to go and execute a whole race now.  We had one segment where we were kind of really good, and then tuned ourselves out of it some, so I think that was a big victory was to run with those guys, catch Denny, catch Joey.  Obviously, I was in a different track position scenario, where I was racing with Brad for the lucky dog, but to be able to catch them and show that we had that speed was the biggest victory of that day, and then the finish was actually probably worse than what we had for lap times.  That probably wasn’t representative of our best runs.  We had the flat spotted tires after the big crash and had to pit and lose some track position there.  The finish number is not that exciting, but I think the speed we had was more exciting.”

 

DO YOU FEEL YOU HAVE A GOOD FEEL FOR WHAT YOU NEED BEHIND THE WHEEL NOW AND YOU’RE LIMITING ANY MISTAKES?  “Yeah, I told my crew chief Brian that when we ran that run I was talking about earlier that was the most like, ‘OK, I feel comfortable.’  It’s like the first time where I wasn’t uncomfortable in this race car, which is pretty wild when you think about it.  This is a hard race car to drive, which is great for our sport, I think.  When you hit it right, it drives really well, so we had some notes to build off of now – things that I like, especially based off of that run, some changes that I like – and hopefully that can carry over.  For me, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can finally go be aggressive in this car.’  And I hadn’t felt that yet and now I kind of feel like we’ll be able to replicate that and go get after it more.”

 

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT YOURSELF AS A DRIVER THROUGH THE START OF THIS SEASON?  “I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that I won’t quit.  There’s nothing that I will never quit.  I think some of the good things about this start is you build confidence in your work ethic, you build confidence in your desire.  When things are bad that’s when you find out who you are.  You go through adversity in life.  Everyone has it and feel like it makes you better.  It’s just something that, for me, is exciting that I’ve gone through this rough spot and some really hard moments – been in things that were really disappointing, leaving the racetrack with your head hanging low and Monday morning rolls around and I’m as excited and motivated as ever to go to work and work harder than I ever have, and the schedule is as hard as it’s ever been for me personally.  The Cup schedule is pretty grueling, so I’m learning a lot about myself in a work ethic capacity.  My love for this sport is higher than I think it’s ever been because I appreciate what Cup is all about.  I’m getting ready to try and hopefully start succeeding in that and that’s exciting, so I like to take those things out of it and I think that’s what’s really gonna help me grow in the future.  I can never guarantee results, but I can guarantee what I will do before the race to try and be ready and our whole team is dedicated as ever to being good and we know that means work.  We can’t do what we’ve been doing and expect to just pop off a win.  We have to go to work and that’s what we’ve been doing and I’m really proud of that.”

 

IN WHAT WAYS HAS THE DIVERSIFICATION OF THE SCHEDULE TO THIS POINT HELPED AND DOES THIS UPCOMING THREE-RACE STRETCH ON 1.5-MILE TRACKS HELP?  “I think it’s really beneficial to get all of these different track types not out of the way, but you get a notebook on every single type of racetrack.  Now we’re going to places that you can relate to other places and when we first started with the car it was Daytona, California, Vegas, Phoenix, all different tracks and every time we went there it was kind of a guess, and now we’ve hit a lot of tracks that, quite frankly, I think race teams were worried about.  They were really worried about Dover being really hard to kind of get set up right and maybe it was for some guys, I think us included.  I crashed in lap two of practice, so I guess some of those fears were right, but then we got through it and got better throughout the weekend, so the diversity of the schedule early has been, I think, good for the fans because they get to see a lot of different things and see how the Next Gen car performs, and it’s been really good for the teams because now we have a notebook of kind of every kind of racetrack that you could think of and we can go try to build off of that and show up off the truck closer than what we have been in the past.”

 

WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE BIGGEST POSITIVE FROM THIS EARLY PART OF THE SEASON?  “I think just the growth and me as a driver and our race team as a whole.  It’s kind of all of our first year in Cup at our jobs.  My crew chief, Brian, had been a race engineer in Cup before, but hadn’t crew chiefed.  I have never raced in Cup, obviously.  Our race engineer was on the 22 Xfinity car, so I think the first few weeks were pretty eye-opening for us about what was so different about Cup from Xfinity and then you look at us now and we feel like we’re in a rhythm of we know our jobs, we know what we’re responsible for, we know what the other person is kind of thinking before they say it now, and so that’s really good.  As a team, I think we’ve really grown.  And then the biggest positive for me has just been getting to know the Wood family and learning about their history and trying to represent them well has been really cool – something that I’ll always remember is their support in us and belief in us as a group has never wavered, and the same with our relationship with the Penske organization as an alliance team.  That group has been really helpful for us and believes in us, so it’s really cool to go to work and have people that believe in you, especially when you have a bad day to have a group that believes in you.  We’ve learned a lot about each other and we know that our bosses have our back, which is really cool.”

 

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE ALL-STAR RACE IN TEXAS.  WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE IT MOVE AROUND OR DO YOU WISH IT WAS STILL IN CHARLOTTE ALL THE TIME?  “It’s definitely a hike.  I think the fans in Texas are really awesome, so that’s fun to go see them.  I agree that it should move around.  I like that idea.  Charlotte was always really neat for me because I could leave school and then I’d go watch my dad qualify for the All-Star Race.  I think that was like at 5 o’clock on a Thursday, so just stuff like that was neat as a kid growing up.  I enjoyed that, so I’m always kind of partial to Charlotte, but I think moving it around is really cool for the fans of each racetrack.  You see other sports kind of do that, where the All-Star Game will be here and there and kind of all over.  The NBA had one in Charlotte recently, so just kind of roaming around and doing different things, I think, is cool and I’m enjoying that idea.  We’ll see.  I think Texas has been a pretty good spot for it too with the fan base that’s out there.”

 

ARE YOU GUYS DOING ANY EXPERIMENTAL STUFF FOR PENSKE WITH THE NEXT GEN CAR CONSIDERING WHERE YOU ARE IN POINTS?  “Yeah, we’ve done some of that and our group is learning what I like and we’re still trying to build as a group, so a lot of times every weekend is kind of an experiment, but we’ve differed on some things that worked and didn’t work.  I wouldn’t say we’re full experimental mode, just kind of swinging for the fences.  I still think that we’re trying to build off our notes that we’re learning and trying to just learn about the car and learn about what I like in what car.  The whole throwing caution to the wind thing is probably not our position quite yet.  There’s still a lot of season left and we feel like we can get things rolling in the right direction, just kind of taking the steps that we are.  I think Darlington was a big swing for that direction.  We had some changes in our setup that I thought was really positive and kind of came to light in the race that I thought was better than what we had performed, so we’ll try and build off of that and get better and better.”

 

IS THERE ANYONE YOU HAVE RELIED ON FOR FEEDBACK THROUGHOUT THESE FIRST 12 RACES?  “Certainly, Joey and Ryan have been really helpful.  Both guys have kind of been through everything you could think of.  I think back to when Joey started in Cup.  I think his experience is kind of been one where he struggled out of the gate and then turned into one of the best to do it, so I think that’s motivating for me to have a guy that, hey, let’s be honest, I’ve struggled out of the gate, right?  Joey, I think, he would say that he did too and now he’s a champion and a guy that when you think of the most talented drivers he’s pretty high up on that list.  That’s pretty awesome to see that and learn from his experiences and try and understand that it’s possible with turning this thing around.  It’s not inevitable that it will turn around.  You have to earn it turning around and I think that’s something I’ve learned and something that’s cool for me.  And then, obviously, my dad – just leaning on him a lot.  He’s an experience guy who has been through it all as well and obviously I have a great relationship with him, so it’s good to learn from him, for sure.”

 

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