NASCAR CUP SERIES
DIXIE VODKA 400
TEAM CHEVY PRESS CONF. TRANSCRIPT
FEBRUARY 23, 2021
AUSTIN DILLON, NO. 3 RICHARD CHILDRESS RACING CAMARO ZL1 1LE, Press Conference Transcript:
WITH (CHRISTOPHER) BELL AND (MICHAEL) MCDOWELL, TWO GUYS THAT WEREN’T IN THE PLAYOFFS LAST YEAR, WITH WINS, DOES THAT CHANGE YOUR OUTLOOK, AS FAR AS PERSPECTIVE ON HOW MANY GUYS MIGHT GET IN ON POINTS AND THE URGENCY TO WIN?
“Two of the tracks we’ve went to are definitely tracks that create opportunities for guys that you wouldn’t necessarily just give them a spot or think that they’re going to point themselves in. But I think as the season goes on, there will be some opportunities for points. But it always comes down to one or two positions, I feel like, when it comes to points. I don’t know how many off the top of my head got in off of points last year, but I think winning is important. It shows every year now that winning races is really what solidifies you and gives you a chance in the Playoffs.”
“I think we thought (Christopher) Bell was going to have a great year in the cars he’s in and getting his first win. Congratulations, by the way, to Christopher. I thinking winning is just emphasized that much more, obviously. But it’s always been the main goal; I feel more confident when we’ve won and got into the Playoffs than just pointing your way in. I think it’s pretty hard to point your way in and be successful when it comes to the Playoffs. But there will be, I believe, a couple that point themselves in.”
THIS YEAR, THEY’RE ALLOWING OWNERS INTO THE INFIELD. WHAT’S IT LIKE TO SEE YOUR GRANDFATHER IN THE INFIELD AND DOES IT MATTER TO YOU ON RACEDAY?
“I think it’s cool. For him, he didn’t know what to do with himself during the timeframe not being able to go to the track. He finally kind of got comfortable going to our war room here at RCR and watching the races from there. But he loves being there; he loves being at the track. The racing is cool at Daytona. Seeing him up on that perch above the Daytona 500 Club, he’s just one of those people that’s involved and wants to be there. So, I’m glad they’ve let the owners back in the track.”
THIS WEEKEND AT HOMESTEAD, BEFORE IT WAS ALWAYS ENDING AT NIGHT. WITH IT STARTING EARLIER, DO YOU EXPECT ANY REAL CHANGES TO THE WAY THE TRACK DRIVES?
“That’s a good point; I haven’t actually really thought about it that much. Tomorrow is our day when we get on the simulator and go through our process that we’ve kind of created when it comes leading up to the track. But that does give me a little hint to start thinking more towards what the track does during the day. Nighttime, we’ve been pretty solid the last couple of times. During the day, the top gets pretty dominate, so that fence will be important and the guys that can run it consistently. The darker it gets, I seem to move down the track and find more and more speed. I think the rubber, when it gets laid down too, it creates a little more parody in the line that you can run. So, finishing during the daylight will be different, but it’s also in Florida and it might get a little rain and we could finish during the night.”
LOOKING FORWARD TO LAS VEGAS NEXT WEEK, IT SEEMS LIKE THAT TRACK IS REALLY COMING INTO ITS OWN NOW, SURFACE-WSE, AND YOU HAD A REALLY GOOD RUN IN THE FIRST RACE A YEAR AGO.
“Las Vegas is one of my favorite tracks. It’s always been a rough place, as far as Turn One goes, and being able to turn through the bumps is very important. Turn Three, you can’t really miss the entry; it starts there. But yeah, the track has a lot of character over the last couple of years and that’s what makes it fun to drive on and really kind of challenge yourself to be disciplined on your marks. I really enjoy the track. You saw Kurt Busch be able to win during the Playoffs. We had a pretty solid run going and I think we had a belt break. We’ve got a solid baseline for Vegas and we want to continue the speed that we’ve shown the first two races.”
WHAT HAVE YOU SEEN SO FAR THIS SEASON THAT’S SURPRISED YOU AND HOW MUCH PRESSURE DO YOU FEEL THIS EARLY IN THE SEASON TO PERFORM AFTER WHAT YOU’VE SEEN FROM THE YOUNG DRIVERS?
“Nothing has really surprised me. It’s the NASCAR Cup Series – I feel like these are the most-talented drivers in the world and I think our team has brought a lot of speed to the race track. Road course racing has been my Achilles’ heel throughout my career and last weekend, we ran inside the top-10 the entire race and was there. I felt like I was going to get my first top-10 at the road course and kind of got caught up in a mess. I wasn’t a part of it, I was just in a bad spot; wrong place wrong time. It’s kind of like the Speedway, if you get in those wrecks, it happens. I feel like we’ve stepped up and really brought two great race cars to the track and I just told the guys ‘man, we have to keep bringing that intensity level to the track each week’ and I feel like we’re going to be in great shape.”
WHAT EXCITES YOU MOST ABOUT HOMESTEAD?
“First of all, it’s an oval; getting back on an oval that’s not a speedway. The first 1.5-mile of the year, everybody’s excited, I think, when it comes to seeing what kind of speed you’re going to have on your program and where you stack up because it can be a long year if you don’t have your stuff together. Homestead, we ran good there last year. I think I got a tire outside the box penalty and we came from the tail-end of the longest line to the top-10. I think we finished seventh. It was fun; we had a really fast car, so I can’t wait to get there. And obviously Tyler Reddick is solid there and I think that’s pushed our program to another level when it comes to running at Homestead. People really put an emphasis on that track for him because they know it’s a place where he can show up and run really well. I feel like we’ve learned off of our cars the last couple of years.”
YOU TALKED EARLIER ABOUT IT AND OTHERS HAVE SAID IN THE PAST ABOUT RUNNING THE HIGHLINE AT MIAMI, JUST THE CHALLENGE OF THAT AND HOW THAT MAYBE CHANGES THROUGHOUT THE RACE. TAKE ME THROUGH AS IF I WAS IN THE PASSENGER SEAT NEXT TO YOU ON WHAT’S GOING ON AND THE CHALLENGES OF THAT.
“I think as the race starts, the track is pretty green, even though sometimes you have races before it. But it seems to be, at first, there’s a little bit of clean track – the higher you get, the cleaner the surface is and it seems to grip the tire better. So, you’re obviously working right there against the fence. And a lot of people believe about that air gap between the wall, it gives you extra side force. I haven’t really done any research in that, as far as aerodynamics go, but I’ve been told to believe it. There’s just grip – it makes the straightaways longer. The biggest thing you’re trying to accomplish is being in the throttle longer and the guys that are really good at it can carry some speed doing it at the beginning of the run. But when your tires are the freshest is when I feel like the most vulnerable for the people that run the fence because it’s the longest way around the track. That’s why you see guys that will run the whole race up there, lead laps and look like they’re going to be the winner. But if a caution comes out late, they’re in a vulnerable spot because they’ve set their car up to run one line. If somebody has just kind of got their car turning good enough to make a couple laps on the bottom before the tires really start wearing out, that outside line is in a vulnerable spot. The goal is to use it when you need it. For me, I try to use it when the track goes for long runs – I tend to move up there and start using the fence to take care of my tires. I’m also conscious of not driving the right rear off of it so I have something toward the end of the race. It only pays that last lap, obviously, and track position is key. But I think the only way to have a chance is to have the car in one piece and have it be a little more maneuverable. This time around, with it being in the daylight, I do think the top will be the dominate place to run, especially after a couple of laps. You see guys be able to make that ¾ mark work, as well. The seams are as important there as the wall sometimes.”
HOW SO – CAN YOU EXPLAIN THE SEAMS?
“There seems to be a fine-line of, as you cross the seams, getting to it as close as you can without going over it. There just seems like there’s grip there. And then when you cross it, it really just takes the wheel out of your hand – you’re kind of catching it and you know it’s not good to just force the front-end to do something that it’s not naturally wanting to do. So, anyway that you can save tires by finding grip on the track is what we’re trying to do when you’re moving around and chasing different areas. That fence is just another mechanism of trying to create grip. Dale Jr. explained it to me when I was first trying to learn how the fence – you’ve got to give up that entry a little bit, but the really good ones at it, it doesn’t look like they’re giving up any entry speed because they’re back to the gas so early in the corner. It’s a fun process and you’re on a razor’s edge, and I think that’s what’s cool about it.”
THE LAST TWO WEEKS, WE’VE HAD I GUESS YOU COULD SAY SURPRISE WINNERS – GUYS THAT WE WEREN’T EXPECTING TO WIN RACES. I’M WONDERING, FROM YOUR TEAM’S PERSPECTIVE, DOES IT CHANGE YOUR MINDSET A LITTLE BIT THAT WE REALLY NEED TO GO OUT AND BE AGGRESSIVE AND GO AFTER WINS BECAUSE GETTING INTO THE PLAYOFFS ON POINTS, THAT MAY NOT BE AN OPTION.
“That’s how we’ve kind of gone after the first two races of the year – throw everything at it. I think I could have been a little less aggressive on the road course and had an easy top-15 finish, but we were trying to get more. Get in a position where if a caution came out, we would have a better shot. I think you have to be aggressive in all of those races; give yourself a chance and let points work themselves out. It’s hard and stressful going at it in that mindset. I’ve kind of had to change my mindset because coming up in Trucks and Xfinity, points were where my mindset was – if you had a bad day, salvage it. And obviously you still want to salvage as many points as you can get in any capacity. But for me, I’ve gotten more aggressive over my time in the Cup Series because I feel like it pays off better in the end.”
TY GIBBS, AUSTIN CINDRIC AND CHRISTOPHER BELL ALL WON RACES, AND WITH THAT, COMES THE EXPLOSION OF THE YOUNG GUYS ARE COMING. YOU FALL IN THE MIDDLE – YOU’RE NOT YOUNG AND YOU’RE NOT OLD. WHAT DO YOU VIEW THE LANDSCAPE AS? ARE THE YOUNG GUYS COMING? DOES SOCIAL MEDIA FOLLOWERS AND MONEY MATTER MORE THAN TALENT?
“What I think is that the Xfinity Series is one level and the Cup Series is another level. Everybody that has won in the Xfinity Series hasn’t won in the Cup Series and I feel like there’s a whole other stepping ground to that. You see some great Xfinity Series drivers have a lot of success, come up to Cup and struggle. But every situation is different I feel like; team, car, whatever it may be. It still takes a lot to win in any NASCAR Series and you’re good when you’re able to accomplish that and make it happen. But the Cup level is just another level. Christopher Bell, he’s a racecar driver – it doesn’t matter what kind of car he gets into; he’s going to be fast, on top of being in one of the best cars in the field.”
“I’m trying to answer the question the best that I can. I think talent always matters, but you also have to be a jack of all trades in a sense in our sport today because you want to be able to be marketable and help your organization as much as you can in any way possible. And then also, put in as much work as you can to be the best driver you can because there’s no testing and there’s no really other way to get practice. So, you’ve got to be able to put the work in. For me, this off season, that’s what I focused on – putting in more effort in the places I struggled at and that was road courses and I went to work on that. It paid off the first one, but I still have a ways to go. I think young guys obviously have a great place in this sport right now, but there’s also a great place for the guys that had created it and created a lot of the moments that we’ve loved and cherished. The veterans are also the ones that show the rookies and all these guys kind of what’s up, you know what I mean. I was in a fortunate time where I was able to race with Dale Jr., Tony Stewart and I learned lessons from each and every one of those guys that have kind of retired and moved on. That’s the great mixture that we’ve got right now. Yeah, it seems like it’s getting younger, but I think there’s guys that are going to be around. I don’t know how old (Michael) McDowell is, but he won the first race so it’s kind of one-to-one.”
WITH THE NEW ADDITION TO DIRT BEING ADDED AT BRISTOL, HOW WOULD YOU PREPARE FOR THIS RACE FOR SO MANY UNKNOWNS HEADING INTO IT?
“Well, I think the best way is to dirt race when you can. Obviously, there’s a week of racing beforehand and I’m trying to get in a car and be able to race that the week before when we’re racing in Atlanta – try to put that together just to see what the track does. Past that, iRacing is important. I think there’s some good iRacing out there. You just have to pick a track that you think is going to be close to it. For me, it’s kind of nice just because I’ve dirt raced before and have a little history and know what it’s going to take. That’s my best guess is to just go race when you can.”
ADDING TO YOUR EXPERIENCE THERE ON DIRT, I KNOW YOU WON THE ELDORA TRUCK RACE BACK IN 2013. IS THERE ANYTHING THAT YOU CAN USE FROM THAT EXPERIENCE INTO THIS RACE?
“Yeah, it’s a baseline and a great place to start. When we went to Eldora, we were the first ones to go there and kind of be the openers on seeing if the track would even work. So, I remember the process that we went through in getting our trucks prepared. But then obviously winning and getting to the front of the field – we came from pretty far back in that race and were able to pass and make it happen. So, yeah, I think that’s a great baseline to have.”
WITH THE SCHEDULE BEING WHAT IT IS, WITH SEVEN ROAD COURSES ON THE SCHEDULE, AND YOU OPEN AT A SUPERSPEEDWAY – WHEN YOU GO TO MIAMI THIS WEEKEND, IT’S NEITHER OF THOSE. IT SEEMS LIKE EVERYBODY IS GOING INTO THIS WEEKEND WITH A BIT OF AN UNKNOWN, AS FAR AS WHAT THEY’VE GOT UNDERNEATH THEM FOR THESE INTERMEDIATES.
“Yeah, it kind of always is that way, but we have a great notebook and history from last season that we kind of base everything off of. The biggest thing is just the hard work that has been put in the off season by all the guys, to see where our speed stacks up. And then hopefully I’m still a pretty decent mile-and-a-half racer. It’s been typically one of my best tracks or opportunities to make gains. I think that we have a lot to gain from where we ended last year and I was really positive about it going into this year. We have a baseline and that’s what we’re going to go off of, and we’ll just try to feed that for the next couple of weeks while we’re on these 1.5-mile tracks.”
I KNOW THAT YOU DIDN’T HAVE THE FINISH THAT YOU WANTED TO SUNDAY ON THE ROAD COURSE AND I DON’T KNOW THAT I’VE EVER HEARD A DRIVER SAY ‘MAN, I CAN’T WAIT TO LEAVE DAYTONA’. BUT AFTER A NIGHT LIKE THAT, ARE YOU HAPPY TO GET OUT OF THERE AND GET ONTO GOING TRACK-TO-TRACK LIKE THE NORMAL SCHEDULE?
“Yeah, you know most road course races I’m the first one to be like ‘I’m glad that’s over’. But I was so bummed because that was the first time I was like ‘I wish there were more laps; I want to run it back’. I felt like we had a good car. Obviously, chaos ensued there when the caution came out with 15 to go or however many it was to go when we were running 11th. I felt like we were an eighth-place car, probably was going to finish seventh or eighth, and just didn’t miss the wreck I needed to miss. If I would have missed that one, we would have gotten a top-10 and sitting top-five in points. We got stage points, which is nice, but that finish was a killer.”
HOW DO YOU PUT THE ROAD COURSE RACE BEHIND YOU AS YOU LOOK TOWARDS THIS WEEKEND?
“Just get ready for the next one. There’s a lot of positives from this past week. Like I said, we ran up front most of the day and were really there all day. So, take the positives from it and get excited about a track where we’ve had success at in the past. I know that we can gain everything that we lost this past weekend and then some this weekend at Homestead.”
WHAT IS IT GOING TO TAKE TO GET TO VICTORY LANE AT HOMESTEAD?
“I think we have to build off of last year. We don’t have practice to get the car a whole lot better. Just take everything that we took last year and just tweak it from what we find working in the simulator; look back at notes and be the best at adjusting what we were good at. I don’t think it’s a whole lot, really, that we’re far away from there. Hopefully we’ve done our job. ECR always has the power and our body shop is working hard. We’ve put all of those things together that matter. And just be there when it counts – good pit stops, be there at the right time and take advantage of it.”
HOMESTEAD IS A LOT DIFFERENT THAN THE OTHER 1.5-MILE TRACKS AND IT’S A PURE OVAL, AS OPPOSED TO A TRI-OVAL CONFIGURATION. GIVEN THAT, DOES THAT LIMIT THE AMOUNT THAT YOU CAN TAKE AWAY FROM THIS WEEKEND IN TERMS OF THE STATE OF RCR’S MILE-AND-A-HALF PROGRAM IS?
“Man, it’s hard to say. Every mile-and-a-half has something different. There’s not one that you can lay over the top of another; they all take something different. That’s what’s cool as these tracks age – they get something that you’re good at, the driver might be good at. I remember at Kentucky, when I first went there, it just clicked for me. It was just a place where I felt great at. And then you go to other places that you might just not like the entrance to turn one and you seem to miss it every other lap. But for me, I think Homestead is a good measuring stick because Atlanta has similar asphalt, as far as the tire wear issue side of things. I’ve never really thought of it as the tri-oval not being there at Homestead; it’s kind of nice actually, I hadn’t thought about that. Maybe they should make another one like that because Homestead is a pretty darn good one – it’s one of my favorites.”
THIS PAST WEEKEND, WHEN THE CAUTION WAS CALLED FOR THE RAIN SITUATION, NASCAR FOLLOWED THE RULEBOOK. FROM A DRIVER’S POINT OF VIEW, ARE YOU FINE WITH THE SITUATION AS-IS, THAT NASCAR CALLED A CAUTION AND IT WAS A SAFETY ISSUE TO ALERT YOU OF THAT OR WERE YOU ALREADY AWARE OF THAT TYPE OF ISSUE? THOUGHTS ON IF THIS IS SOMETHING THAT MIGHT NEED TO BE EXAMINED OR POTENTIALLY CHANGED LATER THIS YEAR OR FOR NEXT YEAR?
“Yeah, that’s a hard one. I was one of the guys – actually I came over the radio at one point and was like ‘it’s raining’. It was kind of like it picked up and it wasn’t bad because I know the speed we’re carrying and it was off two where I was getting most of the drops. For any speedway race, Daytona is such a big track that a shower can happen on one end and douse the track. You come back through there and you’re the first car through and you wipe out. So, I get where NASCAR is trying to save a car. That’s a hard one because it’s a different track. But I did have the mindset while that was going on because I kind of shut up. We were in a good spot there and I didn’t want a caution by any means, and I didn’t say anything because first of all, my spotter and crew chief felt it was just passing through. And I started thinking like wow, if it does rain, do we make that call? Are we the ones that are going to have to hit pit road and get rain tires first or does the caution come out because I’ve never been faced with that? NASCAR made the call and then it also just stopped raining I feel like as soon as the caution fell. Like I said, it was just a passing shower.”
“Yeah, I think it’s something they could definitely discuss and talk about. In Daytona situations, it’s hard because there’s such a distance between the corners and they do have spotters and I feel like I trust them. But I think it would put an interesting fold into the race where we had to make the decision ourselves until we lose five cars in one corner because the caution didn’t come out and we couldn’t get back around to pit road to put them on. That’s a hard one – when a downpour happens and you’re not in that corner of the track and everybody shows up there, even though it’s not raining everywhere else; that’s tough.”
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