Ford Performance NASCAR: Daytona Media Day (Keselowski and Blaney)

Ford Performance Notes and Quotes
NASCAR Cup Series
NASCAR Media Day | Monday, February 1, 2021

BRAD KESELOWSKI, No. 2 Discount Tire Ford Mustang – CAN YOU TALK ABOUT SOME SPONSOR NEWS YOU HAD RECENTLY? “We’re glad to get off on the right foot with respect to the sponsorship side. MoneyLion coming onboard for the Clash is great. They’ve been a great partner with us for three years and do a lot to activate with our fans, which is really cool. I think it’s so important to have partners in our sport that aren’t just on the side of the car, but actually have active programs and platforms to engage the fans, so it’s good to see that with their Clash contest they’ve got running Hopefully, we can make them proud with the first race this season on the road course. That’s gonna be way different than anything we’ve done before, but that’s okay. We’re ready.”

IS THERE A DIFFERENT LEVEL OF DETERMINATION WHEN YOU’VE COME SO CLOSE THE YEAR BEFORE OF WINNING THE CHAMPIONSHIP? “I don’t know if different is the right word. Confidence is certainly very high right now. I’m inspired. I feel really good about the team I have and their work ethic has been tremendous. Just hungry. I don’t know if that’s changed. The hunger hasn’t changed. The confidence goes up and down, there’s no doubt, and right now the confidence is pretty high. Ultimately, it depends on the results we put up on the scoreboard, not our confidence, but we feel pretty good about it right now, for sure.”

WHAT IS YOUR FRUSTRATION LEVEL WITH THE NUMBER OF WRECKS YOU’VE BEEN INVOLVED IN DURING THE DAYTONA 500? “It’s definitely changed. My frustration level is pretty extreme, to be quite honest with you. I feel like I’ve made some mistakes in that race, no doubt, but the last few years specifically I’ve ran really, really strong races and just didn’t have the ability to dictate my own fate. I think that’s what you want. You want the ability to know that when you drive a race car you’re making a difference and that it matters, and that hasn’t played out the last few years, which is frustrating, but I know eventually it will and when that moment happens we need to capitalize.”

THIS SEASON IS BEING PROMOTED AS THE BEST EVER. CAN THAT BE SUCH A THING AND CAN THAT BE QUANTIFIED? “I guess it could be quantified based on some kind of metric. I bet David Smith has some kind of metric for best season ever, but certainly at the end of the day it’s probably going to be a subjective question. There’s a lot of buzz. I think I look at the schedule changes. Those are exciting. It’s great to see that kind of effort being put in with going to Austin, Nashville, Road America, Bristol Dirt. I mean, I can’t remember – at least not as season that I’ve been a driver in Cup – this amount of changes ever happening before, and I think it’s a nice little shot in the arm. Now, depending on who you are and where you sit you might call that the best thing ever or you might call it the worst thing ever. I think most people would probably lean towards it being one of the best that could happen is to see the schedule finally have some significant movement. I think that’s pretty exciting. I know there are some other storylines playing out with car owners and things of that nature, and those are interesting and different and exciting as well. As far as best season ever, I don’t think I’m the right person to judge, but I don’t know how you could argue that it’s not mostly good stuff happening.”

THIS IS LIKE LAST YEAR WITH IT BEING A CONTRACT YEAR FOR YOU. HOW WOULD YOU LIKE THINGS TO PLAY OUT? “I think there’s been obviously a fair amount of not just talk on the media side but actual movement within the sport of the car owners transitioning to younger and, quite frankly, less compensated drivers and I think in some ways that’s been really good for me and in some ways that’s been really bad for me. It’s obviously bad because it lowers the market, but it’s also been good because, quite frankly, they’re not winning and if you want to win races it’s pretty clear there are only about six drivers that can consistently win multiple races in Cup, and it’s nice to be on that list. I think I’ve won multiple races the last five or six seasons, so I feel good about going out there and my ability to do that again in 2021. There are certainly a couple of tracks that we have circles that I feel really, really good about. And then obviously a shot to run for the championship on top of that, so I think if I focus on performing the way the market is right now, and there only being a very select few amount of drivers that can consistently win multiple races, I feel like it’ll take care of itself.”

IS THE BUSCH CLASH MORE A TEST SESSION NOW FOR THE RACE TWO WEEKS LATER THAN MAYBE IN THE PAST? “The Busch Clash in general has always been a bit of a test session. It was going to be less of a test session this year until it got moved as the California race became the race that it replaced in the regular season in a couple weeks. But it’s always been somewhat of a test, so now it kind of feels like it’s normal in that regard.”

WITH THE DIFFERENCE IN DRIVERS COMING IN HAS IT DEPLETED THE QUALITY OF THE FIELD AND HAVE YOU BEGUN NEGOTIATIONS WITH ROGER FOR BEYOND 2021? “I don’t think there’s any doubt that it’s changed – the driver market has changed. You look at the last four or five years look at the drivers that have retired – Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson now, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., I know I’m missing somebody, but these are really good drivers. These drivers have a bunch of championships, Daytona 500s, marquee race wins, they’re irreplaceable in a lot of ways. And then I think you look at the feeder series and the way they’ve kind of changed over the last few years, it’s made it to where it’s harder to come up through those series and get the experiences you need to be successful in Cup. All of those things have culminated into a pretty stark market contrast now than what it was five years ago, and, like I said, in some ways that’s good and some ways that’s bad for me personally. As for the sport overall, I’m not sure I have a right or wrong on that, but it’s definitely a shift and we’ll see how that affects everything going forward. You guys will know just as much as I do or probably even before to be quite honest. As far as my situation, it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out, but certainly working with Team Penske on some of those things as we speak.”

HAS STRATEGY PLAYED MORE OF A ROLE IN THE DAYTONA 500 THAN IN YEARS PAST, AND DOES THAT TAKE AWAY FROM THE DRIVER? “No, I don’t think it takes a lot away from the driver. I think the strategy side is really about scoring stage points. After you get through the stages it’s back to normalcy. I think it’s good. It adds something compelling to the race in the first 500 miles, makes you race the whole race, and I think that ultimately is good for the fans.”

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO WIN THE DAYTONA 500 AND THEN FOCUS ON THE REST OF THE SEASON WHICH HAS A LOT DIFFERENT KINDS OF RACING? “It’s kind of like having your final exam on the first day of school. It’s a big moment for our sport. It’s very much inverse to most other sports, where the biggest game is at the end of the year rather than at the start of the year, but I think it’s one of the things that makes our sport unique is to have the biggest race at the start of the year the first race of the season. It feels like the first day of school. Everybody’s got all their best uniforms on. You dress your best the first day of school. Everything is new – pit boxes, cars, and it just has that crisp feel to it. It’s a very unique race weekend as compared to any other weekend, and obviously very special with respect to the success you have at Daytona can carry with you forever.”

WHAT ABOUT THE REST OF THE SEASON WITH OTHER STUFF GOING ON? “If you put up a great race at Daytona it can make-or-break your year, and we certainly know that.”

HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT BEING MORE SELFISH AT DAYTONA AND THINKING ABOUT YOURSELF MORE IN THAT RACE? “No, I think I’ve been pretty selfish (laughing). You have to be selfish on the plate tracks, no doubt, but I can’t look back and say that I feel bad about any of the things that I’ve done over the last few years or would change it.”

HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT HOW DIFFERENT DAYTONA WILL BE WITH ALL OF THE CHANGES THAT HAVE GONE ON THE PAST YEAR? “I haven’t thought about it, but I know when they drop that green flag I will. When you’re on that intro stage and it’s a little bit overwhelming in such a really cool way, and obviously it won’t be that same experience and I’m sure that will hit me, but it’s still the Daytona 500. It’s still the same trophy. I think it’s still the same check, so after the race it won’t matter to me one bit.”

DO YOU THINK ALL OF THIS CHANGE IN THE SCHEDULE IS WHAT NASCAR NEEDS? “Not all change is good change, but variety is the spice of life, and I think mixing up the tracks is more times than not good for our sport. Now, the change was more road course heavy. That will probably be fun for about a year or two and then we’ll all be sick and tired of road courses. That’s usually how this works out. I like the commitment to variety. I’m not particularly beholden to any specific decision, but I think we’ll do a few things here for a few years and it’ll be fun and exciting and new, and then we’ll have to change it again. I think we’ve kind of seen this in the mid-2000s, where it seemed like there was a new track every year, whether it be Chicago or Kansas and I’m sure there were a few others that stand out – late ‘90s I guess it would have been Texas and so forth, Homestead joined somewhere in there as well – but I think that was fun for the sport. I think that was a good variety and then it kind of locked in for a decade or so and I think it kind of wore on all of us a little bit. So, I just generally am in love with the idea of having a little bit of variety throughout the years to go to different tracks and not necessarily abandon our base tracks, but mix up a few of the ones we wouldn’t consider to be our major events.”

HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU HAVE TO DEVOTE TO KAM AND HOW TOUGH IS THAT WITH YOUR NASCAR OBLIGATIONS? “I had this discussion yesterday with Joey Logano. I was spending some time with him getting ready for the season to start and going over some things and that exact topic came up, and I told him as I would tell you or anyone else how I feel like it’s made me a better person and a better racer. I come home from a race and I’m a really crappy loser. I hate losing. It makes me mad. I can’t sleep, and I come home with our late start races and we get home around midnight or maybe even later some races and my facility is right next to the airport, I go right to it and I walk the halls for an hour or two and just watch machines run and it helps me wind down. It helps me have some perspective, and in that way I actually feel like it’s a huge advantage for me. It helps me compartmentalize a lot of different things, and I feel really privileged in some ways to have it. I think it actually made me more successful last year, especially in the midst of the pandemic in terms of not overthinking things that happen on or off the racetrack. So, I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s been personally rewarding to me to see people grow and to understand some of the trials and tribulations that my boss faces at Team Penske everyday as Roger Penske. So, it’s been a lot fun. Of course, it’ still business, it can’t be just fun and that’s okay too, but I’ve really enjoyed it. Do I spend time? Yeah, absolutely, but I spend just enough time for it to be an advantage rather than a disadvantage, and I’m looking forward to see how that continues to play out for years to come as the business grows and the team I’m building here starts to continue to grow their autonomy to a level where they probably won’t even need me pretty soon. Still, it’s been a good ride as for now.”

IS THERE A MAGICAL FORMULA TO KAM DOING SO WELL DURING THIS TIME? “We have some pretty unique advantages, no doubt. The NEXT Gen car coming in has obviously made some significant changes to the labor market here in the greater Charlotte area, which has changed the talent base pretty significantly and made the labor pool pretty strong. We’ve been able to take advantage of that both in engineering and manufacturing, so that’s been really key to us. There’s probably still more areas to grow, but probably the market timing for the sector was really strong. I hit a very narrow window as well with space, really starting to scale right now, but not waiting too long with respect to most of the major space companies have kind of picked their dance partners and I feel like I got in at the right time, so it’s been really good.”

CAN YOU COMMENT ON THE MUTUAL SUCCESSES YOU AND JOY HAVE HAD OVER THE PAST EIGHT SEASONS? “Joey and I have a lot of fun comparing our careers, believe it or not. He’s got that Daytona 500 hanging over my head. We’ve both got championships, but then I got two wins at his home track and he’s got two wins at my home track, or maybe three now. I can’t remember, so we always joke that we wish we could trade. I’ll run better at Michigan if he can run better at Loudon. That hasn’t happened yet, but it’s been a good ride. I consider him to be a good friend and a great racer and I’m proud to know him and to have played a part in his career, but he’s got a lot of runway left for his career and he’s done a heck of a job.”

THOUGHTS ON RACING AT LOUDON? “It’s been an awesome track for me. We haven’t always been able to deliver the results that I feel like are warranted, but last year was one where we were able to collect on it. I feel like we’ll have that same opportunity, maybe even more so this year. I’ve been really happy with the cars we’ve been bringing to those types of tracks and was able to get in a really good rhythm and in my eyes kind of dominate that race, so I’m expecting the same with the technology freeze that NASCAR has implemented.”

HOW LONG DID IT TAKE TO GET OVER PHOENIX? “I would say I’m not over it, to be quite honest. I don’t like losing. I certainly don’t like being that close. I take solace in feeling like I did everything I could do. Losing hurts way more when you feel like you left something on the table personally. I don’t feel like I left anything on the table at Phoenix, and that helped me quite a bit, but, still, obviously I know that I was this close to realizing my dream of a second championship, but not close enough.”

IS THE DAYTONA 500 THE LAST FRONTIER FOR YOU? THE LAST BOX TO CHECK OFF? “It’s definitely the one big box I don’t have checked. I’ve got the championship. I’ve won every other major but Daytona. The only other person that can claim that actively right now is Kevin Harvick and I want to join that club. It’s a big club to be in – to have all the majors and to have a championship. I know I’m right there and I want to make it happen and feel like I’ve done a lot of the right things to make it happen. I haven’t been perfect, but it’s certainly part of the source of frustration, for sure.”

DO YOU HAVE TO TEACH YOURSELF SOME NEW TRICKS FOR SOME OF THESE NEW ROAD COURSES AND WHAT CAN YOU DO DURING THE OFFSEASON TO DO THAT? “I think all of us are looking forward to the new challenge. The good thing is I’ve already been to Road America in an XFINITY car. That helps out a lot. Austin I hadn’t been to, but I think half the Cup field was in Austin over the last two weeks testing, so I joined them with the club cars, which is kind of interesting. We checked into the hotel and about every other team was there, so all of us are putting in the effort, whether it be simulator or club racing to get as good as we can get at it. We’ll have to see if at the end of the day leaves a mark, but at the end of the day that’s what you do – you work, you go to work. You can’t sit at home and rest on your laurels. I’m confident that if I do that, we’ll be okay.”

WHAT SHOULD WE TAKEAWAY FROM THAT? “I think the big takeaway is that road courses are super important, more important than they’ve ever been in NASCAR. It’s a paradigm shift, for sure. I’m not sure I necessarily agree or disagree with it – back to my comments earlier about variety being the spice of life, I think this will be a lot of fun for a couple years and then we’ll kind of get away from it, and that’s okay. But, for now, we’re all kind of riding the wave and we’re gonna enjoy it, and I’m gonna do the best I can to be the winner.”

RYAN BLANEY, No. 12 Menards Ford Mustang – CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND WHEN YOU STRAP IN FOR THE DAYTONA 500? “It’s not only our biggest race of the year, but it’s the first race of the year, too. So, you kind of get back in the rhythm of things for sure, and it’s just nice to sit in a car again. And then know this is the first race of the year and obviously you know what it means to win it. My mind just kind of goes through the strategy of the race, but then keeping an open mind because things don’t always go to plan, especially in that race. You never know what’s gonna happen, so the biggest thing is just trying to make it to the end. Obviously, you’ve got to be there to have a shot at it, and sometimes that’s out of your control. I think it’s just nice to finally get back going again. I like our biggest race is the first one of the year. People want to get stuff rolling again after the offseason and that’s a good way to do it and that’s how it’s always been, but the main thing for me is I love racing and it’s just nice to know that we’re finally racing again. That’s what kind of goes through my head there at the start of the 500, and I obviously think about winning the race, too.”

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO COME OUT FIGHTING IN THE 500? “It doesn’t only get the drivers back into a rhythm, it gets the teams back and everything, the pit crew. It’s massive for them too. It’s as big for them as it is for us to go try to win that race and get the year started off right. We’ve come close to that thing a couple of times the past few years and hopefully we can have another shot at it this year. You said your season starts after Daytona, but, no, it starts in Daytona. That’s the start of the year. That’s when you’ve got to get going. There’s 36 weeks and that’s number one. I focus on the 500 just as much as I focus on any other race, just because it obviously is a massive race to win, but you want to start your year off right. You don’t want to start off with, it can happen, but having a big wreck and finishing in the back. That stinks, but an argument for that is, ‘Well, it’s just Daytona. It’s a speedway and that’s what happens and you can focus on next week.’ But, no, it’s priority number one is you start off with one race and go to the next one, so focus on the 500 and then whatever happens, happens. Then we’ll focus on the road course the next week.”

WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT THE 2001 DAYTONA 500? YOUR DAD WAS IN THE RACE, BUT DID DALE EARNHARDT’S DEATH SCARE YOU AT ALL AS A LITTLE KID? “I’ve been asked about that a few times in the offseason with this being 20 years. I wish I could remember more of it. I was just too young to really have a good memory of it. I remember a little bit of being there and being around it, but I have no memories of meeting Dale Earnhardt. I was just too young and I can’t remember, which is really unfortunate. I wish I could tell you some good stories about the first time I met him and things like that, but watching that wreck as I got older and understanding what happened – as a kid when you see that wreck you don’t really understand what happened when you see it replayed on TV and things like that. But as you get older you see that and you realize how terrible it was and how detrimental to the Earnhardt family and the sport of NASCAR it was. Did it scare me? No, it didn’t scare me. I was never really frightened by it, it’s just a tragic thing that happened. Like I said, I wish I could remember more, but I never talked to my dad about that event that he was there for. It’s just not something I want to bring up with him, but it didn’t really scare me. I wish I was older and had been able to meet Dale Earnhardt and be able to have some good stories to tell, but I was too young.”

HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO PROCESS YOUR WAY THROUGH THE RYAN NEWMAN ACCIDENT LAST YEAR IN THE 500? “That was tough, really tough. Things happen so fast in that moment. You like to say that you plan for all these things, moves you’re gonna make and things like that. You can try to plan for them as much as you can, but you have a split-second to decide what you’re gonna do and things just happen so quick. Good things can happen so quick and really bad things can happen really fast and it’s hard to process that because honestly I don’t think about any of that stuff. You never go into a race thinking you’re going to be a part or get hurt in a race car. You just never think about that, and that was a rough night for sure – not knowing any updates on Ryan. Even though it was not intentional you’re still a part of the wreck, so that was definitely tough. Really, the time I felt relief was when Amy Earnhardt texted me the next morning and said she was talking to their family and gave me some updates, and I was able to talk to Ryan a couple days after that. But, yeah, it took me a little bit to get over. I don’t watch that anymore. I watch the 500, but I stop watching right off turn four. I just don’t want to see it. You learn from what move you could have made, but I don’t watch that and try not to think about it.”

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR YOU TO WIN MORE THAN ONCE IN A SEASON? “Very important. Last year, we had some really fast cars and we let, honestly, four or five slip away from us that I thought we had the fastest car in, and whether it was just racing circumstances – there are some things we could have done better as a team, I could have done some things better as a driver to give us better shots of winning those races. I definitely don’t want to be the guy who wins only once a year and the last two times we’ve won they’ve been on superspeedways, so we need to change that for sure. We have a group to be able to do that. Todd Gordon, his whole group is really, really great. We had super fast cars and in the offseason it was nice to sit down and say, ‘Hey, what can we improve on? What are the things we didn’t do well that we really need to work on? And what are the things we did well that we can still improve?’ Those were things I was able to actually sit down with Todd and talk to everybody to try to figure those out, but it’s real important. Hopefully, we have a really good year this year. I’m sure our cars will be really fast, it’s just a matter of executing a little bit more on my side, on pit road, everybody has a hand in this, but I have full confidence in our group. I think they’re great people, great guys and have potential that can be a really good year for us.”

ARE YOU GETTING MORE COMFORTABLE IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA? “I’m definitely not gonna become an actor anytime soon, but they’re fun to do. I’ve had some cool opportunities. I did Magnum P.I, Taken, the TV show. The Crew. I was in Cars 3, I did a little voiceover, so they’re tiny little roles, but I enjoy doing that. I really enjoy going to those sets and seeing how everything works. I’m fascinated by that because I kind of compare it to racing and race shops because you see a finished car on the track on TV and you don’t realize how many people it takes to get that car ready. I compare that to movies and TV shows because you see the finished product on television, but there are so many people that are involved and so many hours of work it takes and the prep work is amazing. So, I kind of compare those two a little bit as far as what goes on behind the scenes, but that was fun to do. I think that’s gonna be a good show, honestly. It’s a live audience sitcom and Kevin James was amazing. I’m a big fan of his and he’s a super nice guy. They did a really good job of researching the correct things. It’s a comedy, a show, but it’s not making fun of us at all. They’re not doing that. They make jokes, but it’s all in good fun and they do a really good job. It’s a real shame that we couldn’t allow fans last year with everything going on because they were gonna come out to the track and learn more and film some stuff, so it was a shame that didn’t happen, but I’m looking forward to when that comes out. I think it’ll turn out really good and hopefully everybody likes it, too.”

DO YOU EXPECT THE CHALLENGE OF NO PRACTICE/NO QUALIFYING BEING AS MUCH OF A CHALLENGE THIS YEAR AFTER GOING THROUGH IT FOR MOST OF 2020? “I feel like everyone kind of got used to it last year. In the beginning when we went back racing after our break it was pretty tough on everybody. It was tough on drivers, crew chiefs, engineers, road crew, pit crew – tough on everybody just trying to get back on their schedule – but I thought by midway through the season I felt like everybody kind of got a pretty good idea of what to expect. Granted, last year you couldn’t show up to the racetrack with an experimental setup like we used to do in our practice and see how everything works because you don’t have any time. You’re thrown into the race and let’s say it’s pretty bad or doesn’t work you’re stuck with it the whole race, so that’s kind of the downside to that. But I think teams do a good job. It goes back to preparation at the shop, just talking and preparing and comparing notes from year to year. That puts a lot more emphasis on getting the cars ready and getting them right at the shop. Last year some races you might start out in left field and you’d have to work on it all day, but sometimes you unload close and that’s just the way it goes, but I think everyone is pretty used to it by now.”

ANY PRESSURE GOING INTO BRISTOL WITH THE HISTORY YOUR FAMILY HAS ON DIRT? “No. Everyone things I grew up dirt racing and that’s really not the case. It was dad and my grandpa Lou and my uncle Dale. I’ve honestly only driven a sprint car a handful of times. I’ve driven a couple of dirt modifieds before – way back, really before I got with Penske. So, I didn’t really grow up with a lot of dirt racing. Growing up in North Carolina I did asphalt late models, but I don’t feel pressure. Everyone expects me to do good because of my last name and it’s dirt. ‘You must run great on dirt.’ Maybe I have some genetic thing that’s supposed me run okay on dirt, but honestly I’m looking forward to Bristol. I’ll be curious to see how those cars drive around that place and how the track is gonna change throughout the race. No pressure. Just go out there and try to win the race like every other weekend.”

HOW CAN YOU PREPARE AS A TEAM FOR SUCH AN UNKNOWN? “You do the best you can. Bullins came from that world – a dirt late model and things like that. My dad has been giving some good advice, too. I’ve talked to my dad about what he thinks and what ways does he think we can make our Cup cars work best on dirt. It’s hard because you’re in the box. You’re limited in the Cup box with the car and things like that, so that part is pretty tough, but Bullins has been a big help. Todd knows nothing about dirt racing, so he’s probably leaning on Bullins and my dad a little bit. We work really well here, so Todd will get a good crash course in it and we’ll see what we can do.”

COULD YOU RACE DURING THE OFFSEASON ON DIRT? IS THAT ON YOUR BUCKET LIST? “It definitely is. Racing anything. Drivers enjoy racing any type of motor vehicle and just to feel the differences, whether it’s dirt, asphalt, road courses – no matter what the car you enjoy running that stuff. It’s just not on the table right now for me. Maybe down the road, you never know, but that’s just something we haven’t been able to work out and I understand why it is the way it is. It is something I’d like to do down the road. We’ll see what works out with some other stuff, but right now the main focus is obviously NASCAR and trying to win races and a championship there. That’s what we’re focused on and why that hasn’t been a possibility on the other vehicle stuff.”

HOW HAVE YOU EVOLVED AS A DRIVER AT DAYTONA AND TALLADEGA? “I’ve always enjoyed speedway racing. It’s just a different form of racing. The tough thing about speedway racing too is the cars are continuously changing. The way the package is now is way different than what it was a couple years ago. They just draft so different with the big spoiler we’ve got now. You don’t see the leader controlling as much of the race. You just can’t do that. The runs are too big and you’re gonna cause big wrecks if you try to throw blocks like you could a couple years ago, but I think one of the biggest things that has improved our speedway racing is me and my spotter, Josh Williams, talking a lot – just kind of discussing what we can do better on these speedways. He’s learning as well with me of when the cars change. He has to change the way he kind of – his perspective for sure with runs coming and where to go. Honestly, now you don’t have as much time as you used to have to get in a certain lane just because the runs are so massive. So, your decision-making is a lot quicker, but I think it’s just that – driver/spotter relationship is really good, fast cars – really fast cars that Team Penske builds. A lot of it is just luck. That’s a good chunk of it, just making it to the end of these races. If you make it to the end, you’re most likely to have a good shot at winning the race. Sometimes things happen that are out of your control, you just get in a big pileup and nowhere to go and I’ve been on both sides of it. Everyone has and that’s just the way it goes. It’s multiple things, but me and Josh have worked really hard at that and then Penske building really fast cars, too.”

HOW DOES THE CLASH BEING ON THE ROAD COURSE CHANGE HOW YOU HAVE TO PREPARE? “It’s definitely gonna change it up, for sure. The Clash was a perfect race on the speedway to kind of just get back in the rhythm of things in a race. You can practice. You can go out and practice in a pack, but you’re not necessarily gonna race hard in practice in a pack because you don’t want to tear up your car. So the Clash was great as kind of like an exhibition race to go try new things with your car and see what they could do, just get back in your mode of racing cars and timing and things like that. So, yeah, that will change and the limited practice we have and just firing right off into the Duels. That will be tough. That’s definitely gonna be difficult to get going, but better learn these things fast again. If you forget at a speedway race and things like that in three months, that shouldn’t happen. You should be able to fire off pretty quick, but the Clash on the speedway was nice just to kind of get back in the swing of things, but the Clash now will help us for the next week when we go back to the road course.”

HOW MUCH DOES A DRIVER LOOK AHEAD TO THE SCHEDULE THIS YEAR? “When they first came out with this schedule you look at the new tracks and you’re like, ‘We’re going to COTA and Dirt Bristol and Nashville, Road America,’ and it was like that. You’re like, ‘That’s pretty neat.’ I’m going to new places. I haven’t been to a couple of these racetracks before. I know probably a lot of guys haven’t, and I like that. I look forward to that challenge and seeing what you can do and learning the tracks pretty quick. I don’t sit there and look at the schedule all week. You know weeks out we’re going here and we’re preparing for these two or three tracks the next few weeks, but when I saw the schedule I get excited about new tracks and new areas, for sure, for people to come and watch the race. That Austin area is a great area and maybe fans who haven’t been to a NASCAR race before can come out to a really nice facility at COTA. I just prepare. You look a couple weeks out and get ready for that race, and that’s really kind of the extent of it.”

HAVE YOU HAD YOUR 2021 HAIRCUT AND ARE YOU CHASING A MULLET AGAIN THIS SEASON? “I’m getting it cut tomorrow, so, yeah, but I have no mustache like Chase Elliott – the rocking handlebar he’s got – but I’ll cut my hair tomorrow.”

DO YOU SEE A SITUATION IN THE FUTURE WHERE NASCAR EVENTUALLY GOES BACK TO THREE-DAY EVENTS OR WILL IT BE A MIXTURE? “I’m not sure. I’m not sure what NASCAR has in mind on that stuff. Let’s say COVID is cured and the vaccine works and we’re back to normal, I’m not sure what they plan on doing. There have been talks for years between owners, NASCAR, things like that – sponsors on three-day shows, two-day shows. What do we do? What can we fit in there? If you cut out three-day shows, you cut out practice and qualifying and that’s less TV time for the sponsors. Sponsors want more TV time, but it costs the teams less to not have practice and things like that. It’s kind of interesting how that dynamic works. Of course, I’m not a big part of that, but that’s just my knowledge of it. Me traditionally, just because I grew up doing it so much and I know everyone did is I love practice. I love Friday practices, working on your car, hanging out with your team and really figuring out what you need to make your car go faster. I love that and that’s just enjoying being in a car and being at the racetrack and being around your second family, so I don’t know. Me personally, like I said I love practice and I wouldn’t mind seeing it back when things get back to normal, but it’s hard to make a call about what they’re gonna do.”

DO YOU HAVE SOME FRUSTRATION WITH NOT WINNING THE 500 YET, HAVING BEEN SO CLOSE A COUPLE TIMES? “I wouldn’t say frustration. Obviously, I’ve had a good shot of winning the 500, I’d say three times I had a really good shot of winning it. In ’17, we run second. In ’18, we had the fastest car and we got caught up in that wreck at the end that I caused on accident, and last year we lost by a couple feet. You’re frustrated at the time, in the moment because you just lost the race, but looking back on it I’m not frustrated by it. I’ve looked at it as I’ve had a couple of really great opportunities to win the 500, what can I do better or different to give us a better shot at it again. That’s kind of how I look at it, but whether it’s something I did. I rewatch the race and I’m like, ‘Man, if I’m by myself in this situation again I should do this differently and it might have given us a better shot to win that race.’ That’s what I look at. I don’t really try to get frustrated by it. I just try to figure out ways to do things better in the moment if those situations come up again to give us a better shot at it.”

HOW HAVE YOU STARTED TO PREPARE FOR COTA? “Pretty much what Brad said with sim work. I have a Ford sim plan tomorrow morning and we’re gonna go over COTA and work more on that, along with some other tracks, but the Ford sim is really, really good. We’ve put a lot of work into that the past handful of years, going there a lot and putting a lot of hours. A lot of Ford drivers go there and put in a lot of hours of work and try to get these tracks as accurate as possible, whether that’s bumps, curves, turns, elevation stuff. All that stuff goes into it and they’re great tools to learn, especially these places we haven’t been to before just to try to get ahead of the curve a little bit. Not going there pretty much completely blind. Yeah, you have a practice, but if you’re trying to completely figure out the track in the 50 minutes of practice we have, that’s unfortunate. So, I’m sure that every single driver from every manufacturer is gonna be wearing a sim app before we go there. The same goes for Road America and the Indy road course. The Ford sim is a great tool that we use pretty often to prepare for new places and I really enjoy doing it for road courses. It gives you reference points. For me, I think that’s one of the biggest things.”

WHAT WAS IT LIKE FILMING THE CREW AND WORKING WITH KEVIN JAMES? “It was great to work with Kevin – an incredibly nice guy. I loved him on King of Queens. I watched that as a kid. It was my dad’s favorite show and my favorite show, and just a really nice person. He was very courteous. When I went up there Austin Dillon and Cole Custer went up there and he was very, very nice. He showed us around all the studios. All the writers were great people. The director was awesome and they made us feel at home. We didn’t feel like outsiders even though we are outsiders in that world. They made us feel really comfortable, but that was fun to do. They kind of let us do our thing. They had some stuff written down for us and they were like, ‘You know what, say what you want to say if you want to.’ And, to be honest with you, I’m bad on camera when it comes to funny comedians because I’ll just laugh at what they say and I’ll ruin the take and then I feel like a jerk for ruining everything. But that was fun. I think it’ll be good. It’s a live audience sitcom pretty much, but they do a really good job of gathering research talking to a lot of teams. They talked to RCR a bunch I know and are really trying to do things correctly. I appreciated the work that they put into it. That’s what you’ve got to do. They’re not going in blind and just kind of making us a bad stereotype. Yeah, they poke fun but it doesn’t have any ill intent. They’re not making fun of us at all. It’s not gonna be bad for the sport. How many subscribers does Netflix have and they’re bringing a knowledgeable comedy to Netflix, so I’m excited to watch it. I’m excited to see it in completion. I haven’t seen any episode yet, only that little clip and being there for a few scenes I was laughing my butt off. I think it’ll be great. I’m excited for it to come out and see what you guys think and see what everybody things. Whether you’re a fan of NASCAR or not, hopefully everybody enjoys it.”

WHAT WILL IT BE LIKE WITH ALL THE DRIVER AND TEAM MOVEMENT THIS YEAR? “That’s kind of the thing you go through every 500. You have to fix your brain and say, ‘Oh, he’s driving this car this year.’ Or, ‘Okay, he’s new,’ and things like that. Sometimes I forget and I’m like, ‘Who is driving whatever number car?’ But you usually pick that up pretty quick and you just kind of see what Duel you’re in and then where everyone is in the 500, so things like that. There’s a lot of younger rookies going for the 500. Cindric we’ve got here. We’ve got to try to get him in. That’s a big thing, whether he qualifies in on time, which would be great. If not, if we were in a Duel with him, where we can be a good teammate. But, yeah, that’s just kind of every year you have to re-associate your brain of someone is in this car or a new guy in this car. That’s just kind of what you go through every year, but at the end of the day everyone’s a racer and you just kind of get used to racing everybody whether they’re brand new or been in the sport for 20 years.”

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of

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