Ford Performance NASCAR: Joey Hand and Michael McDowell Taking to the Road at Road America This Weekend

Ford Performance Notes and Quotes
NASCAR Cup Series
Road America Advance | Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Joey Hand, driver of the No. 15 Ford Pro Ford Mustang for Rick Ware Racing, will be making his third start of the NASCAR Cup Series season this weekend at Road America. Hand spoke about Sunday’s road course race with members of the media earlier today.

JOEY HAND, No. 15 Ford Pro Ford Mustang – IS THERE ANY EXTRA PRESSURE HAVING FORD PRO ON THE HOOD THIS WEEKEND? “I never thought about it until you said it. I think, for me, it’s pretty cool to have Ford on the car for me especially with all the history with Ford and getting to know the Ford family – Bill and Edsel and Henry – and I enjoy it. I think it’s a great-looking car. They’ve done me right on all the liveries. We’ve had some pretty cool ones this year so far, so it doesn’t really change anything for me. I know what the plan is. The plan is always to go forward and be at the front, so no problem for me there. It’s nice to have Ford Pro. I’ve been lucky to have the Ford Pass VISA on there and Ford For the Builders a couple weeks ago and now Ford Pro, so we’ve had some cool initiatives from Ford and we’ll see what I get next time.”

WHAT DO YOU EXPECT OUT OF ROAD AMERICA THIS WEEKEND? “First of all, this is my favorite racetrack in all the world. I’ve been fortunate to race around the world in different cars and different tracks and this is number one for me. People ask me all the time, what’s your favorite track? Road America. Easy. It’s the best lap in racing. If you do any sim stuff, even on a sim lap it’s fun – a practice lap or race lap – everything is fun at Road America as far as doing laps. I think the track races really well, so I think compared to the tracks we’ve seen so far – COTA and Sonoma – COTA you had some passing zones, but you had these big messes on the start up in turn one and turn 11 where you’d go five to seven-wide and it just created this massive funnel. It tore a lot of stuff up throughout the race, including me, and then you get to Sonoma and you can’t pass hardly at all. It’s super low grip. It’s my home track and all, but it was a tough one. I mean, when you got in line at the end of the race they were like, ‘You were as fast as the leader. You had top five times,’ but we were trying to get from 30th to 20th and you just couldn’t pick people off really fast. I think Road America, on the other hand, there’s at least four passing zones per lap – at least – like clean versions, let’s put it that way. There are probably two other dirty ones to make six for the whole lap, but I just think it’s gonna produce good racing. I mean, you get 90 degree corners leading onto long straightaways. You get big brake zones where you can out-brake somebody and I think you’re just gonna see a lot of passing, personally. As far as the Next Gen car versus the Gen 6 car last year, the brakes are bigger. They stay a little cooler, I think. I think they’re gonna be optimum. We’re all gonna find out. It’s gonna be hard on brakes, this race, but I think it will be optimum for most of the race. You’ll be able to be pretty hard on them and I think the kind of the late braker is gonna show up right here in this one. What I’ve learned the first two races is these cars are very strong, actually. Side-to-side contact and a little bit of rubbing is not really a problem at all. You can get in there and get down inside somebody and they can try and stop you from doing it, but there’s not a lot you can do about it. Also a nice thing about learning about NASCAR racing is it’s good and bad, depending on who you are and what the situation is, but you can run two-wide a lot and sometimes a lot of times you run three-wide, but at this track I think two-wide is gonna be the number as far as what’s the possibility. You’re not gonna have these big three-wide situations where you’re the guy in the middle getting crunched up or something like that, but I think two-wide is gonna happen. The reason I say that is because in sports cars let’s just say when I go down to turn five in the brake zone and I do a pass and I’m inside somebody, pretty much the guy on the inside, that guy on the outside is gonna concede because you just don’t run two-wide. It’s just not the way it works. Quickly did I gather that in Cup we run two and three and four-wide no matter what the situation, so you don’t just have the corner when you get down inside somebody in turn five. They’re gonna hold it around up to six and might hold it around six and then hold it all the way to the inside of seven and then you’re in trouble again. The short answer is I think it’s gonna produce good racing.”

RUBBING IS RACING, RIGHT? “That’s the thing. You’ve seen that these cars will take a rub a lot better. They actually take big hits a lot better. I tell you what I learned at COTA is if you can help it, at COTA I had to start at the back so I was trying to get my way through. We had the pace to be running in the front, but you’ve got to go through a lot of people to get there, so obviously you don’t want to ever get tore up, but I really put some effort at Sonoma to keep my car clean throughout the first two stages so that I had a good car going to the last stage.”

YOU’RE WILLING TO STICK YOUR ELBOWS OUT IN THE STOCK CAR RACING THAT ISN’T REALLY THERE IN SPORTS CAR RACING. WOULD YOU LIKE TO RACE IN CUP FULL TIME ONE DAY? “Talk to Ford (laughing). Let’s put it this way, I probably was made for NASCAR. I’m probably just here a little bit too late. Like all my laugh the elbows out thing is kind of my style, so when I dropped into this thing I’m like, yes, finally we’re doing what I do up here. Let’s go people. I like rubbing is racing. I like doing these passes down inside and having somebody hang on the outside. This is what I think racing is all about. When it’s all said and done we are an entertainment sport. When I was a kid people came to the fence because I put on a show. That’s part of the reason why I’m here and that’s why people come to these races and watch on TV is because of the show. So, these cars – NASCAR has done a good job of being able to make these things where we can throw it down inside and out-brake somebody, but then not totally get it done and have them run around the outside and have this wheel-to-wheel racing. It’s right in my wheelhouse. I’ve got to tell you, I think, for me, I just need to get a little bit more comfortable with who I’m racing, knowing who I have to deal with a little more, who has a little more respect for me possibly, and who doesn’t. I’m learning pretty quickly on that. Would I go run an oval? Sure. Like I tell people, they’re like, ‘Would you go do other races?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m just the right amount of brave and dumb to do whatever you want me to do.’”

HOW COMFORTABLE ARE YOU BECOMING WITH THE CAR AND THE COMPETITION? “I tell you, when I dropped in at COTA I felt pretty decent on that big track. When I got to Sonoma after 10 weeks off, it was two-and-a-half months between COTA and Sonoma and I felt like a fish out of water again. It didn’t seem like that long, but it was a long time and it gave these guys a lot of time to catch up. When I dropped into COTA it was only the fifth race of the year and nobody really had much time just shifting the car. Whether it be an oval or not, guys hadn’t shifted, they hadn’t driven them, so the comfort level was all a little more equal. Going into Sonoma, everybody had a ton more time in their cars and you could see it. I was definitely playing catch-up again. From this point on at least, I have a lot shorter time between races. I feel a lot more comfortable going to Road America like I just drove the car a week ago, so I feel good about that part of it. Driving with these guys, I’m sure some of them know me from sports cars and know some of my history, but you’re still a new guy. You get new-guy’d a lot, let’s put it that way, but, at the same time, there’s a lot of guys out there that I know well and that I’ve raced with before or done stuff with before at other teams or other programs or I’m currently doing stuff with, and you recognize that really quickly. There’s a handful of people, when you get back in that 20th on back a lot of guys, including myself, are desperate to get in the top 15 and it races like that. When you’ve got a bunch of good drivers a little bit desperate, it creates some contact, let’s put it that way. Like I said, it’s right in my wheelhouse. I love it. I really enjoy doing this NASCAR stuff. I hope I get to do it some more, at least the road races next year or something. I would be down for it for sure, but, first off, we’ve got these next four for me this year and I honestly think if we hit it right and we roll out of the trailer good, we could be a threat here.”

WHAT IS UNIQUE ABOUT A TRACK AS LONG AS ROAD AMERICA? “From the standpoint of driving in the seat, Sonoma was the most difficult physically. We’re lucky it wasn’t 100 degrees there, but you don’t have a lot of time to breathe. You don’t have a lot of time to do anything. You can’t let your guard down at all. At least at Road America we’ll have some time to breathe. I mean, you could almost take a drink of water. There’s time to think about it, but, again, like I said before, Road America is probably gonna be the raciest track – for sure the raciest track we’ve seen so far, similar to COTA, but I think it’s gonna be a little bit more racy because of the long straightaways and the big brake zones and the way that corners lead onto the straightaways. It’s a fun track. Most people seem to enjoy this track and look forward to going to Road America. Everybody has a good attitude about it, but I think this is gonna be better racing. I don’t know what else to say about it, but I think you’re gonna have some good shows.”

WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR THIS WEEK? “My expectations are pretty high, to be honest. It’s a track that I know really well. I’ve been racing this track since 2005, 2006, somewhere in there when I came to sports car racing. Actually, I raced here in Toyota Atlantic in 2001, so I’ve been coming for a long time. I was telling my guys I’ve won here a lot and the races that I haven’t won have been second or broke from leading, so I’ve had a lot of success here with the groups I’ve been with and anytime you have success at a racetrack it always ups your like level, so I like this one a lot and therefore my expectations are pretty high. From what I’ve seen, at COTA we had an issue at practice and didn’t get to qualify and started at the back. Sonoma, I just didn’t get to speed quick enough, but we were about a half a lap away from getting in the top 10 shootout. We were really close to getting in and ended up qualifying 17th and ran pretty good. We caught a bad yellow that got us in the back again and worked our way back forward, so we probably have been better than we’ve looked the first couple of races and I’m hoping that better than we looked looks good at this one. That’s what I’m hoping for – that we look good.”

WHY IS ROAD AMERICA BETTER THAN OTHER ROAD COURSES IN THE USA? “Is it better? I don’t know. Do I like it better? Yes. I like it better, but, again, it’s one of those places that I have just a lot of time at the track. The Ford GT when we ran that we came here and tested for Le Mans prior to Le Mans, so we did a lot of laps here. We did fuel conserving laps here for Le Mans. We did all sorts of stuff. Sonoma is my home track and a lot of people are like, ‘Oh, you must have a lot of time there.’ Well, the last time I raced Sonoma was 2006. My son was born and he’s 16 years old now, so when I got to Sonoma it had been a while. At COTA we had pretty good lap time on compared to other people I’d been there a lot. Watkins Glen is one I’ve been to a lot and I also enjoy Watkins Glen, so I don’t know that it’s better. I think that I do believe, like I said before, that Road America will produce some of the best racing we’ll see in the six road courses we do this year. I think it’s gonna be good racing and for that I would say it’s better. It’s a good one for the fans. It’s a great place as a fan when you go to Road America, where it is, it’s in the trees. It’s in a super lush, nice part of the USA, especially in the summertime. They have great cheese curds, bratwurst. They have all this good food there. It’s a great experience for people at the track and at home I think you’ll be able to see good racing also.”

ROAD AMERICA MADE SOME CHANGES TO THE JOHNSONVILLE BRIDGE? ARE YOU FAMILIAR WITH THOSE CHANGES? “I am not and I did not know that, actually. I think I remember that. They were making it stronger. They had issues getting trucks into the kart track area. My son races a kart race the next weekend and it was the same last year and one of the trucks got stuck on that bridge, so I think they were going to make it sturdier and wider, so it might have opened up. I bet you can see into the carousel better is what they’re talking about, but I haven’t seen it in real life.”

WHAT ARE YOUR IMPRESSIONS OF RICK WARE RACING AND BUILDING THEIR PROGRAM? “This is a multi-faceted part for me. First of all, getting to know Rick Ware has been pretty awesome. I don’t know how the guy does what he does with so many deals and so many things he’s taking care of. At Rick Ware, Robby Benton is in charge there and is the president now. I’ve known him from way back. My buddy, Justin Marks, used to drive for him when Justin came out here the first time and moved to Charlotte. I have somebody there that I know, so that’s a good thing and all the crew guys it’s very family-esque with all the crew guys, so that’s good for me. That’s the kind of style I like. But a lot of stuff I do is even more than the race stuff. I do sim work and I help out with Ford and do coaching with some of the other drivers and stuff like that, so it all works out. What’s nice about the whole program is when I’m helping in the sim or helping these guys it’s much better that I get to go drive and be able to say, ‘Look, this is what I’m gonna do in the sim and this is what I’m gonna do out there,’ and then we can compare and contrast, instead of just telling them what to do and saying good luck without knowing exactly how the car drives. That’s been the real benefit is that part of it, but also just putting my two cents between Rick Ware and Ford of what the cars need in this early stage of the Next Gen car road course racing. That’s another part of what I’m doing here is giving some feedback, but so far, so good. It’s been fun and I’m looking to put a shot in the arm of the Rick Ware deal. I think we have the potential to run up in the front and I’ve got a feeling. That’s all I’m gonna say. I’ve got a feeling.”

Michael McDowell, driver of the No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford Mustang for Front Row Motorsports, has been on a roll of late in the NASCAR Cup Series with five top-10 finishes in the last nine races. He’s coming off a 13th-place run at Nashville, a race in which he ran inside the top 10 for most of the race until a late-race caution jumbled track position. He spoke with media members today about this weekend’s event at Road America.

MICHAEL MCDOWELL, No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford Mustang – “For me, growing up watching Indy Cars and Trans-Am cars and sports cars race at Road America, and then transitioning as I came up through racing to a couple open-wheel races there. The first time I went there I just remember, I’m from Phoenix, Arizona, so I grew up in the desert and to see Wisconsin and see this big, four-mile, magnificent racetrack with rolling hills and green grass and trees and all the scenery, it’s just an amazing facility – a really cool place to not only challenge yourself as a driver, but really put your machine and yourself to the test.”

WHAT HAS IT BEEN LIKE TO SHOW WHAT YOU CAN REALLY DO THIS YEAR? “It’s been great. When we came into this season with the Next Gen car, we had this high expectation and hope that it would bring us closer to the elite teams and sort of the powerhouse teams, but, at the same time, racing is racing and it’s all about maximizing everything and so people really are what make the difference. So, we felt like we had really good people at Front Row, we just needed kind of a clean slate to be able to showcase that and I feel like the Next Gen car has done that. I also think that, for me and for this program, we’ve been making steady gains the last four or five years, so it’s not like a light switch. When I started with the team we were running 25th and it took a year and then we were running 20th and it took another year or so and last year we were in those high teens and that 15 range. Scoring top 10s and scoring top fives, but sort of not regularly, and now this year I feel like we’ve kind of made that next step to where we have top 10 speed and if we’re able to execute and do everything we can get top-10 results, so that’s been a lot of fun. Blake has done a great job. Chris Yerges, who has been with my program for his third year now, the race engineer, has done a great job. We have a good group of guys and gals and we’re starting to hit on some things, so I feel really confident moving forward that we can keep it up. I feel like that’s probably the biggest difference between years past. There might be a few flashes that we had, where we would have some speed and score a top 10, but then we’d spend two or three weeks in those mid-twenties again and we’d be like, ‘Oh, man. What happened?’ This year has been more every weekend we’re in those low teens and almost single digit speed, so we’re starting to get there. It’s been fun, but we still have a lot of racing left. The season, I don’t even think we’re quite halfway yet, so we’ve still got a lot of racing to go here.”

DO YOU FEEL YOU HAVE A SHOT ANYWHERE YOU GO? “Road America is my best track, so with as well as we’ve been running and as well as we ran at Sonoma, I mean, we have to highlight this as a weekend that we’ve got to try and get a win, for sure. But, it’s not our only shot and that’s nice. We’re not quite where we need to be to be legitimate contenders for wins every weekend on ovals, but we’re pretty close. Gateway, we were pretty close. We had the speed to get up front and to stay up front. Nashville, we needed a little bit more to be a race-winning car, but we were easily a top-10 car at Nashville, so that’s a huge difference for us this year. Sonoma, I felt like finally I had an opportunity to do what I always believed that I could do at a road course and just have a good day – qualify in the top five, race in the top five, be there throughout the entirety of the race, so that one was an important momentum shift for us because I’ve always felt good on the road courses. That’s my background, but I’ve never felt like we’ve been actual contenders and at Sonoma we were actual contenders. Taking that and moving to Road America, we should be contenders there. There’s no reason why we won’t. COTA, we missed the setup and weren’t great and we ran 13th there. Sonoma, we hit it and were pretty good. Sonoma should help us build toward Road America. We feel good about it, so it’s not a must win in that regard, but every weekend in the Cup Series is a must-win. The wins are so important and I got to experience that last year with the 500. I got to see what it does for our team and what it did financially for out team, making the playoffs and all the things that the fans don’t know about. There’s a formula that I can’t even explain because I don’t understand it all, but it helps our program for years to come, and so for us to be able to keep that going and win a race, I know how much that means to the team and the organization and so hopefully we can do it. We’ll see what happens.”

WOULD IT BE A BIG DEAL TO FINISH WITH AN AVERAGE FINISH INSIDE 20TH? “Yeah, it does mean something. I definitely look at those stats just like you do and a lot of other people do and my whole thing was just having that steady progression to where we’re getting a bit better every year. The last two years kind of plateaued off. You probably know it, but the last two years we’ve been pretty close to the same average qualifying and the same average finish, so I want to keep going with what we have going on this year, but now it’s more of getting those top 10s. I think that’s a stat that’s really important to us and to our team because if we’re racing in the top 10 and we’re doing that consistently, we’re beating a lot of cars and teams that we probably shouldn’t, so I do look at it and it is important to me. I definitely, when I look at career stats, it makes me cringe a little bit because I spent those first seven years starting and parking and, man, that kills your career average when every week it’s a 40. But, I feel like the last five years we’ve been making good gains and this is an extension of that, but definitely the best season I’ve had.”

DO YOU FEEL YOU’RE MAKING GAINS IN QUALIFYING AS WELL? “Yeah, definitely. I feel like early in the season we didn’t quite have a feel for what we needed to do adjustment-wise with this Next Gen car for going into qualifying. It was a big swing. We used to tape up. Aero would change a lot. I mean, there were so many things that would change and now with this Next Gen car it doesn’t. You can’t tape up. You can’t really change the aerodynamics too much because it affects so many other things, and so we just sort of had to learn what we needed to do balance-wise to be closer in qualifying. I think we’ve done a good job. I don’t know what the stats are, but in Charlotte we made the second round, Gateway we made the second round, Nashville, we were close to making the second round and didn’t quite make it. Sonoma, we obviously made the second round, so if I look at the last five or six weeks, I think we’ve been qualifying and running pretty close to where we ought to in terms of where our speed is as far as our race cars go. But, qualifying is important and I think that this year in particulary, with everybody being so close speed-wise, it’s super important. People are talking about how hard it is to pass in the dirty air. The dirty air is way better this year than last year – way better. Our cars are so much better in traffic and you can race so much harder than you could even last year. The difference is that Kyle Busch isn’t a second a lap faster. He’s only a tenth faster and when you’re only a tenth faster, it is really hard to pass somebody. When you’re a second a lap faster, it’s pretty easy to figure out how to get around somebody, so the gap has closed so much from first to 20th that that’s why it’s so hard to pass. It’s not because of dirty air.”

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO GO TO ROAD AMERICA FOR A SECOND TIME IN A CUP CAR? “It means a lot. I think that more than anything the excitement is there just based off of the season and how well the season has gone, and obviously Sonoma going well gives us a lot of confidence going there. I’ve tried to explain it in the past, and I don’t know if I’ve done a good enough job, but when you run full-time if you’re running 25th every weekend, you’re not gonna just go to a road course and win. It just doesn’t happen. The Cup Series is way too difficult for that. The teams are too good. The drivers are too good and so you have to be a top-10, top-five guy regularly to go and win at a speedway or at a road course. We feel like we’re close to that now and so I think for the first time we always circle road courses as these could be our best races and typically they are with the superspeedways, but that used to be a top 10, where now we’re running top 10 regularly and so these need to be top fives and a chance at winning, so we feel like we could do that this weekend and that we’re close to having all the bits and pieces as a team and chemistry with pit stops and everything it takes to execute. I think we’re honing in on it, so we’ll see what happens.”

ROAD AMERICA DOESN’T HAVE A DEAL FOR NEXT YEAR YET. DO YOU WANT TO PLEAD YOUR CASE AS TO WHY NASCAR SHOULD GO THERE AGAIN NEXT YEAR? “I heard rumblings of that yesterday, too. I sure hope not. Road America, to me, Wisconsin and the midwest is just the feel of what American road racing is. I mean, it’s just so much to it. There’s plenty of races that I can think about on the schedule that I would like to remove. Obviously, I’m biased too because I’ve gone to these places a lot and there are tracks you run well and tracks you don’t, but Road America has got great fans. I mean, you think about it, just like Watkins Glen. You go to Watkins Glen and there are campers all the way around the entire facility. The fans love it. They love NASCAR. I mean, it’s just a cool community and that’s what Road America is. Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin is that same community. They love racing. They love what the track does for the community. When you drive to the facility you can see how much they care about it. It looks like my front yard, but better. Everything is manicured and is super nice. It’s just a great facility, so I hope that isn’t the case. I don’t know. I mean, I haven’t heard any official word on what’s happening next year, but there are a few I’d like to remove before Road America.”

HOW DOES RUNNING IN THE TOP 10 CHANGE HOW YOU RACE AND HOW YOU ARE RACED BY OTHERS? “It depends on who it is. I’m noticing that pretty quickly. I think it’s the same for me, too, with how I race different people, so I totally get it. I understand the dynamic of the inner teams and then also how you race people is how you get raced. I also know that I’m not the easiest guy to race, so I don’t get real upset when somebody races me really hard because I know I’ve probably done that several times and that’s kind of part of it, but it is interesting. It’s interesting. I can say that for sure. It gets a little bit easier when you get towards the front in regards to like the restarts aren’t quite as chaotic because there aren’t so many roads to get three or four-wide and get stacked up and bunched up. A lot of times when you’re restarting 15th it’s really nothing to do with your ability on the restart, just timing of which lane went and who slipped and who slid in front of you, and then you end up beating doors and banging with people and then everybody is upset, and then you spend the next three laps trading paint back and forth, so the race is definitely different up in the top 10. It’s a little bit calmer in that regard, but I feel like there’s been guys that have been generous and there’s been guys that haven’t and it’s all part of it.”

WHAT HAS STOOD OUT TO YOU WORKING WITH BLAKE HARRIS SO FAR? “What has stood out the most is just his desire to win and his intensity. That’s really what drew me to him in the first place. Obviously, he’s been with race-winning teams and drivers and has been on programs, not just at JGR but prior to that with Furniture Row, so he’s been around smaller teams and been around that program and saw what it took to take it from where they were to a championship contender, so he brings that mentality and he brings that sort of mindset, which has been really good. He’s done a great job. There’s a lot to it. I mean, he’s not only transitioning into a new role this year with a new team, but a brand new race car, brand new package with all of its own issues. It’s not an easy transition that he’s made, but I’m glad we were able to get him. I’m glad we’re having success and feel like we are building something special there, so it’s been a fun few months.”

WHAT ADVICE HAVE YOU GIVEN TO TODD GILLILAND? “A lot. Todd has done a really good job this year. He’s a great teammate – easy to have, easy to like, easy to want to help. He’s not a lot of ego and not a lot of some of the things you fight. I know that when I was 20, 21 years old coming in the Cup Series I thought I knew everything. He doesn’t have that mindset, so he’s very easy to coach and help, but it’s hard. It’s hard for me to tell him what to do or how to do it. It’s just easier for me to help him react to things that he’s dealing with because he’s gonna experience what he’s gonna experience and what he’s gonna struggle with and what he needs to work on you just don’t know until you know. So, I just kind of help him navigate. When he says, ‘I’m having trouble with this.’ ‘OK, this is how you navigate it.’ I can’t really prepare him for what to expect because you just have to experience that, but I just feel like I help him navigate how to respond and how to work through and how to handle and mentally prepare and how to really move on quickly and keep focused and all those things that matter in a really long and grueling season.”

DO YOU THINK WE’LL SEE YOU IN A FRM TRUCK IN THE FUTURE? “Yes. Now, I’m just saying that. Bob, my owner, hasn’t said that, but I’m saying it even if I have to take one myself. That thought came to my mind, really, after I won the 500 because winning a Cup race and winning an Xfinity race, there’s only a select group that have won in all three and I think that’s pretty cool and pretty special, so I think that would be neat to have that on your resume. I understand that’s a little bit cherry-picking because a lot of those guys that won in all three they’ve won 30 times, so I realize that if I go one-one-one it’s not gonna look that great, but I’ll still try to do it, so we’ll see what happens.”

WHAT HAS SURPRISED YOU ABOUT HOW YOUR TEAM HAS PERFORMED TO THIS POINT? “That’s a good question and I don’t know how to answer it. My initial reaction is this is how I anticipated we would run this year, I really did and I know it might sound easy to say now that we’re doing it, but I told Bob Jenkins, our owner, last year that this is what I’ve been waiting for. I’ve been waiting for this Next Gen car and the reason I feel that is I felt really confident at what I was doing with the cars that we had and extracting the most out of it and, more than anything, just confident with how it’s going with everything. So, to me, I felt like we were gonna be in a position to do what we’re doing. It wasn’t a big shock to me. I think what’s been surprising has been the consistency of it. I knew that there would be moments that if we hit right and we have all the same parts and pieces that we were gonna be able to contend. I was really confident with that, but now that we’re doing it consistently, that’s probably what I’m most impressed with with our team and with our group is that it’s not just a short track, it’s not just an intermediate, it’s not just a superspeedway or a road course. If you look at where our top 10s have come from you’ve got Daytona and you’ve got Charlotte and you’ve got Sonoma in there. We’re covering all of them and I think that’s probably what’s most impressive is that we’re able to do it more consistently now and the next step for us is to be able to do that throughout the entirety of this season, and that’s the question mark that we don’t know. I believe that we can, but the big teams always seem to in the past develop a little bit quicker and a little bit more than the smaller teams. So far this year, we’ve been able to hold onto them and stay pretty close and it’s just a matter of in 10 weeks are we gonna be like, ‘Oh, man those guys have made a big jump and we haven’t.’ That’s the thing that we don’t know. We’re pushing hard. We’re trying to get everything we can out of our race cars and our team and trying to be as smart as we can and utilize the tools and the resources that we have with our partners, with Ford Performance and RFK and doing all those things to try to be as prepared and developing as quick as we can, but this car is so new that nobody has it all sorted out yet. So it’s just a matter of how big of a swing it’s gonna take in these next few months.”

HOW DO YOU EXPECT THE NEXT GEN CAR TO HANDLE AT ROAD AMERICA COMPARED TO LAST YEAR, AND HOW DID LAST YEAR’S CAR COMPARE TO OTHER CARS YOU’VE RACED ON THAT TRACK? “A Cup car is completely unique compared to every other discipline that I have done. I’m not saying completely unique to Xfinity. Those cars are obviously very similar to Cup, but sports cars, open-wheel cars it’s completely different. I thought the Next Gen car would be kind of a step between our old car and a sports car, and other than the shifting, it really hasn’t been. I don’t say that negatively. The brakes are better and we don’t have brake fade. We don’t have wheel-hop. Our transmissions are really good, but our car is still pretty heavy and so the difference between a 2200-pound prototype and a 3500-pound stock car is still pretty significant, and so your style is still pretty similar to how it was with the old car. Sonoma, I felt like was the first kind of test for that. COTA is unique, but Sonoma is always a high wear, had to keep the rear tires on it, all about drive. It was no different this year. It really wasn’t. From the very first lap I was like, ‘Oh, man. You’re gonna have to be gentle on this throttle or you’re gonna burn your tires up.’ That part hasn’t changes a whole lot.”

ARE YOU ABLE TO DO SOME DIFFERENT THINGS ON THE ROAD COURSES WITH THIS CAR? “I only know how to answer it honestly and it hasn’t on the road course. It’s completely different how you drive it on the oval, for sure, but at Sonoma in particular it wasn’t much different. COTA, it’s really hard to judge because we spent a majority of that inaugural race weekend in the rain, so it’s really hard for me to tell you how big of a difference it was car to car. The brakes, yes, you can drive in a little bit deeper, but we’re talking about a little bit. Now at Martinsville, it felt like you could drive in a ton deeper, but at the road courses, for whatever reason, that hasn’t been the case. I don’t know if that’s downforce and drag, or weight – what that might be. The brakes themselves, obviously, are bigger and better, but as far as braking later, you’re not really braking much later than you would in year’s past.”

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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