With a win to start off the 2017 NASCAR XFINITY Series, Roush-Fenway Racing driver Ryan Reed is currently fourth in points and in position to make a run for his first series championship in his fourth full season. Reed, 23, has two XFINITY wins to his credit, both at Daytona, but has had strong showings at several other tracks, scoring top-10s last season at Iowa, Watkins Glen, and Kentucky.
The Bakersfield, California native took the time to talk with SpeedwayMedia.com about his 2017 season and life as an XFINITY Series driver.
You’ve had a fairly consistent start to your 2017 season, with a win and two top-10s already. How do you feel your results compare to your team’s effort this year?
Ryan Reed: Obviously, the win was phenomenal. Starting the year getting us locked into the playoffs with a win was so important and takes a lot of pressure off us throughout the year; we are in a really good position. We want to knock down more top-10s, we feel we’re in a much better place than 2016 not just because of Daytona, but with overall speed. If you look at our average finish we are leaps and bounds ahead of a year ago.
You have two wins at Daytona, undoubtedly one of racing’s most hallowed grounds. It’s easy to say one win at Daytona is luck or happenstance. But to have two wins at Daytona does show a bit of mastery. How do you feel about having two major wins at Daytona?
RR: I certainly think, especially the second win, was a lot harder. The first one, I ran a good consistent race and was in the right place at the right time on the last lap. The second one, we had to fight for and overcome two wrecks and at the end of the race I took the lead with five or six to go and had to hold off Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski, Austin Dillon, a bunch of good Cup guys. I don’t think I was in the place two years to hold those guys off, but I’ve learned a lot over the last two years. Running a Cup race at Talladega helped a lot. I’m proud of the win.
Aside from restrictor-plate racing, where do you feel you perform your strongest? Which tracks do you feel you need the most work done?
RR: I think we are really strong on road courses. I think our mile-and-a-half package is getting better and the two-mile tracks are really good for us too. Michigan and Fontana have always been two of our best race tracks even if the stats don’t show it, those are the tracks we’ve had the most speed. We’ve got to figure out how to close out the races better. Tracks I need to get better at are probably Bristol and Dover. Both of those really high-banked concrete racetracks. I don’t know if that says something. The concrete surface has not suited my driving style as well. Those are sort of my calendar as places to get better at. I’ve definitely gotten better throughout the years, I finished ninth at Dover last year and I think we’ve improved, but those are tracks where I can improve as a driver.
It’s evident that you’ve improved over your XFINITY career. To what do you credit that to?
RR: I don’t know if it’s just one area, it’s getting better in a lot of areas, but I think to get better in those areas I had to definitely commit myself to learning. I had to humble myself and open myself up to advice from a lot of people and be okay with struggling in areas and asking for advice. I think as a race car driver it can be a little defeating sometimes to admit you need help, but I’ve learned how to do that and it’s made me a much better driver. I also think battling through adversity, the days that are tough and frustrating, being able to salvage those and not let those days turns into 20th-place finishes, instead you get a 13th-place finish. It’s still not a great day, but it could have been a lot worse. As a driver, I’ve learned to battle and get a little more out of the every week and especially on the weeks we aren’t doing so hot.
Last year you made your Cup debut at Talladega in the No. 99 Ford. Where would you like to make your next Cup start? With the success that the No. 99 has seen over the years as a Roush team, did you feel like you had any expectations to live up to at Talladega?
RR: I absolutely want to get to the Cup level and I want to be racing on Sunday every week. That’s been my goal since I was a little kid and that continues to be my goal today. Talladega was a tough race for a lot of reasons. Talladega is a tough race track and it was my first start so there were a lot of nerves, it was the middle of the Chase and an elimination race. So there were a lot of challenges, but for me, it was about going in there and running all the laps so I could learn and also to not cause a problem for any of the Chase guys and taking someone out of contention for a Championship. Those guys worked all season long and I was just coming in for one race. I just tried to stay out of trouble and learn.
How would you describe your relationship with your teammate Bubba Wallace? Where does he help you the most? Where do you help him the most?
RR: Bubba and I make good teammates. We each have strengths and weaknesses and we communicate well. We are both very dedicated to getting better, whether that means the race team or ourselves as race car drivers. We try and give as much feedback as possible to the race team and each other. I don’t know that there’s necessarily one place where I’m better or he’s better, one week he might be a little better than I am and the next I might be a little better than him. So we try to communicate what it is that we think we are doing better than the other so the other person can get better.
2017’s NASCAR season is still fairly new. What are your expectations for the rest of the season?
RR: I think for me I’ve got my sights set on a Championship and my team does as well. We’ll just do whatever we can to learn throughout the summer. We are going to enjoy being locked into the playoffs, which takes a lot of pressure off. Try and knock out a few more wins and get more bonus points.
With the recent news that NASCAR plans to implement restrictor plates at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for this year’s XFINITY event, how do you feel that affects you as a competitor?
RR: I’m not sure, I think testing there might help me a little bit, have a little bit of experience, but it’s going to be a very tough race. Having practice knowing that we’ll be wide open, but then also, too, you’ll also have some aero sensitive situation since the track is so flat and we are going to be running in a pack. It’s going to be interesting, I don’t know what to expect. I don’t know what it will be like when we get 40 cars out there.
There’s a large debate among NASCAR fans and personalities that there is not enough parity in the XFINITY Series; in 2015 Cup drivers won 23 of 33 races, while in 2016 they won 20 races. Do you think that NASCAR should do even more to make the XFINITY Series a division where “names are made,” like the PR campaign states?
RR: As a driver, you’re never going to tell me the reason I didn’t win was because there’s another driver too good out there or has too much experience. I want to win no matter who’s out there. No matter if it’s my teammate Bubba Wallace, or Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, or anyone else. Definitely beating those guys makes it way more special for sure. When you win on a day you have a lot of Cup guys out there, you know you did something special. At the same time, I can see from a fans perspective that you are watching Cup guys win on Saturday and Sunday a lot.
Does the XFINITY Series need more stand-alone events? If so, what type of tracks should be on the circuit?
RR: I think the stand-alone races are great. Iowa is always a lot of fun; it’s a really cool race track. Selfishly, I love short track racing so I would love to see them go to more short tracks. I think Indianapolis Motor Speedway is unbelievable to go to and race at, but the short track just outside of there is a really cool race track and I’d love to go there. We have great partners that need to be represented at these amazing facilities, and I think Indy is one of them, so I’m proud we get to go there and race at a track like that.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has the annual All-Star event at Charlotte. The Camping World Truck Series has the Mudsummer Classic at Eldora. What should the XFINITY Series add to its schedule that would equal those two events?
RR: Those are two of the coolest races around. The All-Star race is a staple for any major sporting league to have an all-star type event, so that race is very special. The trucks have really nailed it with going to Eldora. The fans love it and drivers love it. In the XFINITY Series, we do some more road course racing than either of those series and that’s really cool to go to some road courses like Road America and Mid-Ohio that are unbelievable places. With the way the Final Four is now, Homestead is becoming a very special race and this year we will not have any Cup guys so it’s going to be a much different race than you’ve ever seen. It’s going to be a unique race and maybe Homestead can be that race for us.
Special thanks to Ryan Reed and Nancy Padula