Q. The 2017 Cup season was a banner year for you. Why? A. We had a really good offseason. We prepared the right way. We learned a lot in the wind tunnel. We showed up with a lot of speed, then had a bunch of top-five finishes early in the year. Really had a solid year from start to finish. We had some bad luck in the playoffs, but as far as having more speed, we did a really good job. I don’t really feel like I did anything different. I think our race cars were just faster, and we put ourselv
Q. But aren’t you better with experience? A. I guess running up front more often and being in position to win races more often -- you learn from that. I lost a lot of races that I potentially could have won. Felt like I could have had seven wins or so. Had eight second-place finishes, nine if you count the all-star race. But in the times that I lost, I got better. The Richmond and Michigan wins that I had, I wasn’t the faster car, but we were able to capitalize and close at the end of the rac
Q. If you had turned half of those second places into wins, you’d be Martin Truex Jr. A. Yeah, minus the championship. Four wins is a bunch. I could have had three or four. Martin had eight, but he probably could have had eight more. But it was fun.
Q. Do you have to be in the top five near the ends of races to fully understand what you need to do to get to first at the end? A. If you’re running 10th and 12th, you’re not going to gain eight spots on pit road and a few more on restarts. To win these races, I feel like you have to consistently run in the top five all race long. Execute and have good pit stops, have good restarts, adjust on your car the right way. You take a fast car and tweak on it and make no mistakes. Then it all comes d
Q. Has the value of the restart changed the last couple of years? Being really good on a restart with 20 to go can be the key to winning. A. I didn’t run up front as often as I did this year, but I’ve always felt like I’ve been one of the best or the best on restarts on every row but the front row. I feel like you can put me in mid-pack, and I’m going to gain spots on restarts, but on the front row, I seem to struggle for some reason. I got to restart on the front row a lot more this year, so
Q. What can you do that’s going to make this year better? A. I hope there are no growing pains with the new car (Camaro). I hope we can start the season off being really strong, if not better than we were last year. If we can match our wins, that would be great. Four or more wins would be awesome. Obviously, a championship is the main goal. This year, we all got a glimpse of a championship. I think that will fire everybody up to be better.
Q. Beyond the wins, are you sort of where you thought you would be in your Cup career? A. Obviously, I would have liked to have had a year like this (2017) two or three years ago. I didn’t know if I would win a race during my first year in Cup, but I thought I would have some success before halfway through my third year. In that aspect, I’d say I’m behind, but then again, I guess it doesn’t matter to me. I live in the moment.
Q. How many non-NASCAR races did you do in 2017? A. I’m allowed to run only 25, so that will be the number. I will have run 71 races, including go-karts and stuff.
Q. How did you and Chip come up with the number 25? A. If it was my idea, I would have a much bigger number. I wouldn’t even really say it’s Chip's number. We kind of met in the middle.
Q. Short-track racing is still fun for you? A. I’ve had my most successful year. I had a really good year in merchandise. I sell a lot of my dirt stuff. It’s not NASCAR level, but for a dirt-track racer, it was a good year. But it’s about the fun, not the money.
Q. In running these races, you’ve been a NASCAR ambassador in a way. Do you feel like that? A. A little. I feel like maybe it’s helped both a little. Dirt racing paid more attention to NASCAR racing, and NASCAR fans paid more attention to dirt. This is the first year in a while that nothing bad has come from short-track racing. No negative media. Tony (Stewart) had his issues for a couple of years, then (Jason) Leffler passed away, then Bryan Clauson. All the talk about dirt racing for the la
Q. Are you concerned about getting hurt in dirt-track racing? A. Not at all. Not at all. If I get hurt and lose my job here, I’ll heal up and go race dirt. I’m not worried about it.
Q. How is the fun of short-track racing different? A. There is 200 more horsepower. The cars weigh 1,500 pounds rather than 3,000-plus. So the power-weight ratio is crazy. The track conditions change quickly. The overall thrill of it -- everything is wild and exciting. I’m not saying stock car racing isn’t, but it’s a different type of thrill. They’re each fun and different in their own way.
Q. Did you assume because you were good on short tracks that you could do well in Cup, or was it a mystery of sorts? A. I grew up and raced a bunch of different cars, not just sprint cars. I was racing sprints, midgets, wing, non-wing, pavement and dirt and was doing pretty well in all of it. I figured if I could run well in everything else, there was no reason I would struggle in Cup.
Q. What’s the most fun you’ve ever had in a race car in a single day? A. The most fun car to drive consistently is a winged sprint car, but the most fun I’ve ever had in a race car is practicing in a dirt (USAC) Silver Crown car (2011) at Du Quoin (1-mile dirt track in Illinois). The races suck because rubber gets down and it gets single file, but practice, when there’s a lot of moisture, it’s the most fun. (Ricky) Stenhouse will tell you the same thing. Something about practicing a Silver Cr
Q. Have you solidly arrived in Cup now? Are you one of the top five guys going into the new year? A. That’s kind of a question for somebody else, maybe. I don’t want to say we’re a top-three. We finished eighth in points. I think we’ll just show up and do our jobs and see where we’re at.
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