What do you think of the All-Star rules package?
“Number one, the All-Star package, I don’t know. It’s different. I know a little bit about it as far as the splitter goes. It’s going to be a forward aero shift. I don’t know what that’s going to do for racing really. As far as the ducts in the hood, I don’t know if that’s going to change either. It’s hard to know, we don’t really have any data on it yet as a team so we don’t really know what it’s going to change in the cars. We haven’t done a lot of work on it. I don’t think that anybody really has to be honest with you, with it being the All-Star race. It’s interesting and it’s an interesting test. I know NASCAR has worked some with those aero ducts in the hood in the past. As far as that splitter goes, it’s pretty new for us. I think something I think is a positive – the splitter, but we’ll have to see where it plays out.”
What are your thoughts on the new rules package for Homestead, Pocono and Darlington?
“I think it’s a good change. We saw pretty quickly the last few weeks with the brakes, we haven’t seen any issues with cooling. At a lot of places that we ran in the past, last week at Dover we pulled the cooling off and didn’t run any so you’re really not using any brake. You have so much more downforce to slow you down, you’re not going as fast in the straightaway so I think Pocono it’s probably going to be pretty exciting with guys getting bit runs in the straightaway because the straightaway is so long. Darlington and Homestead, I don’t know if it will be as much of an effect just having enough room to do a lot with it, but Pocono it will make it pretty interesting for sure.”
What does it mean to compete for a million dollars in the All-Star race?
“I’m looking forward to it, it’s finally my first year that I get to run it. I missed it the last two years so it’s nice to actually be in it this year and have a shot to race for it. I’m excited for that. I’ve been sitting on my couch back home watching it. It’s great. I love this month coming up just being at home for a couple weeks and not having to get on a plane and travel. You get a lot of friends and family that come and stay in town and that’s always fun. A million bucks, who doesn’t want to win that? It’s a great race. You look at the history of it and some of the shows that have been put on at that race and it’s something that I think we all look forward to as a driver to have an opportunity to go and compete in.”
How would you assess your season to date?
“I think last week was where we should have run everywhere. I look at our season and last weekend was just a day that was quiet, we didn’t make mistakes, we didn’t do anything spectacular, we just ran where we’re capable of and I thought we were capable of even a little better than that. It was just time, it was time to turn it around and it was time to do things right, do what we knew we were capable of and the last month was rough for us. We had a lot of things just not go our way, didn’t play out, had some issues on pit road, off pit road so just a lot of things not going our way. You’ll have times like that in racing, but I knew we had fast enough cars that eventually you’re going to overcome it. When you have fast race cars, you’re going to overcome those odds and eventually run where you think you’re capable of. Hopefully just keep the trend going, it was good to get running where we need to and we need to keep it going here over the summer stretch.”
Who do you turn to when you need reassurance in a bad stretch of races?
“Coach (Joe Gibbs) is really good about it. He’s really on top of it and obviously coaching football, he knows driver and athlete personalities really well and he was always there to make sure that I was staying positive and keeping my head up and know that we’re doing everything we can to fix some of the issues that we knew we had and they did. At this point I think we’ve resolved a lot of the problems we had and we’re able now to move forward on it and start to really focus on what we need to do. Coach is really involved in the program. I think many people know that from the outside, but he’s heavily involved in the competition side and making sure that when things need to be fixed, he’s able to get in there and make things right.”
Is it good to have someone that’s also a spiritual mentor?
“He is and it’s nice to have someone that’s had experience in a variety of different worlds. From football to racing to personal life, he’s really got a lot of experience and knowledge in all of them and he’s able to resolve any issue. I think Joe is there for anything I would need, he’s always told me he’s there anytime if I need to call him and talk about anything. It means a lot because Joe has put a lot into my racing career since I’ve been with him in 2015 and 2016 on. It means a lot to have his support and what he’s done for me has meant a lot. He’s meant a lot in my personal life as well.”
What was your biggest challenge in practice today?
“For me, we were just really loose. We unloaded and I think we missed it a little bit, as a company probably with all four of us. We were able to get it better by the second practice and get where I thought we needed to be, but once you get it driving good it’s just a matter of figuring out what you really need to race, which is tough when you really don’t have any notes with this package at this race track. Obviously a track that you need to focus on coming back here in the Playoffs and trying to figure it out and make things right. It’s a challenge as a driver, you want to do what makes your car drive best and sometimes that’s not always the fastest with this package. It’s a tough balance and it’s tough to figure out sometimes what you really need with this package.”
Do you think the best driver with this package will be the driver that gets the least frustrated working with it?
“I think it’s a part of it. I think the frustration comes from not knowing. It seems like the last two years, we got really used to that package and we all kind of knew what we needed and we knew what was good. If you were fast in practice, you were going to be fast in the race. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if this package in practice where you really stack up and even in qualifying, I don’t feel like we’re going to qualify great today, but I feel like we’re going to race really well. It’s just weird and it’s a tough balance. Sometimes you get looking at the times and you really throw yourself off. As long as you can figure out a little better than everybody else what’s going to be the fastest on Saturday this weekend, it’s going to add up to you winning the race. It’s tough to figure out and it’s easy to get frustrated when you’re a competitor and you want to be the fastest one out there.”
Were you nervous when you made your first start here at Kansas in the No. 18 Camry in 2015?
“It doesn’t seem like it was four years ago, but I think back to it and before the weekend, I didn’t find out until real late that I was even going to drive the car that weekend. My Dad told me, ‘Just remember you don’t have to set the world on fire this weekend. There’s no expectations, you don’t have to go and try to win the race. As long as you run top-15, that’s a solid day.’ I’m 18 and I’m still young, but especially at 18, you’re thinking, ‘Well, I’m just going to go out and win, that’s the point.’ We had a really fast car and I remember that weekend well. We were fastest in practice and we qualified okay, ran well – we were running fourth and I wrecked it by myself so that was unfortunate. Going back to the nerves, it was weird, I wasn’t nervous that weekend. I don’t know why. Probably because I looked at it a little bit as, hey, there’s no pressure and I’ve never driven a Cup car, I’ve never even tested one. My first laps in one were at Bristol filling in for Denny (Hamlin) a couple months before that. Now I’m like, ‘I’ll figure it out from here.’ I was probably more excited than anything because I was getting to race against so many guys that I watched growing up. Jeff (Gordon) was in that race, Tony (Stewart) and getting to race with all those guys was just a really cool experience for me.”
Was that race your ‘welcome to the big leagues’ moment?
“Looking back on it, I got purposely put in a pretty bad spot with the 48 (Jimmie Johnson), he was really pressuring me and getting up on my left-rear and I was trying to pass (Kevin) Harvick at that time and I was running the top and just put myself in a bad spot that at the time I didn’t really know was a bad spot. It was for sure and we were really competitive that day. I honestly think that if I could run that race over again, we probably would have won it knowing what I know now. It’s frustrating to look back on sometimes, but it was a welcome to the big leagues moment for sure.”
Will it be cool to look back and realize you raced with Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart?
“It was a cool moment for me. I look at some of the guys that I’ve had a chance to race against over my short career in NASCAR to this point. It’s some big names and guys I’ve looked up to a lot. I know that day I started next to Jeff (Gordon) – he started 11th and I started 12th. I thought, ‘Man, this is pretty cool rolling around for pace laps and seeing your hero growing up.’ Now I’m racing side-by-side with him and that’s a kid’s dream. It’s cool to have those memories and they’re ones I’ll never forget and it would be cool someday to be able to tell young guys, ‘Hey, I got to race against those guys.”
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