Ford Performance Daytona Media Day (Harvick, Keselowski, Almirola, Bowyer)

Ford Performance NASCAR Notes and Quotes
Daytona Media Day – Daytona International Speedway
Wednesday, February 14, 2018

KEVIN HARVICK — No. 4 Ford Fusion — AT THIS POINT IN YOUR CAREER DOES IT FEEL LIKE CHAMPIONSHIP OR BUST?  “There are a lot of things still to accomplish.  You want to win and you want to be competitive on a week-to-week basis, so that’s the initial goal because there are so many of those goals.  But the ultimate goal is to put yourself in posiition to win a championship.  We’ve kind of been spoiled a little bit to have those opportunities year-in and year-out in the first four years at Stewart-Haas Racing.  We capitalized on one, so, yeah, that’s really the goal is to race for a championship and put yourself in position to have that opportunity.”

IS THIS A GOOD TIME FOR THE YOUNG DRIVERS TO TAKE OVER A LITTLE BIT IN TERMS OF MARKETING?  “Yeah, most of them don’t know what marketing even means, and I think there’s a transition here because these guys are so young and they’re so green.  There’s gonna be a transition period where there’s a responsibility of the sport and the guys that have been here for a while to help kind of push the importance of having the young guys and the young guys are good for the older guys and for the sport because it’s such a transition from where we’ve been that it’s important to introduce these guys to the world and let them know how things work and also listen to their perspective because they see it through a much different perspective than what a lot of us have seen, and then you have the tweeners from Logano, Keselowski, that particular age group, so there’s a lot of things that are happening, but there’s also a balance of trying to make sure that you introduce those guys that are coming up and they also have a lot of responsibility to learn about the sport and understand how things go.  Where everybody will go wrong is if you don’t see it from a different perspective, and teaching that perspective of how things go, but also listening is a balance.”

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COULD EXPECTATIONS FOR THESE YOUNG GUYS BE TOO HIGH TOO EARLY?  “I don’t think so.  I think everybody understands the pressure coming in is not like it used to be.  Everybody has an opportunity in the top 20 cars to have a chance to put themselves in a position to win for the most part with the teams that you’re coming in to drive for.  It’s not like it was 20-30 years ago where you had to work your way up.  But it’s just a lot of pressure and that’s really the hardest thing to teach young guys when they come into this and even the first year sometimes people don’t really grasp the pressures and expectations that are put on you until you go to the second year.  When you look at a successful first-year rookie and they go to the second year, all of a sudden those expectations, the asks, the sponsor appearances and the things that come with managing your time all of a sudden become very hard to do.  It’s not just this new, ‘I’m excited to be here.  I’m gonna go out and race.’  You’ve got to balance a lot more than just going out and racing.  Expectations are always gonna be there and I believe there’s definitely some of them that need to go out and win in order to earn what they need to earn to probably hang around in the cars that they’re in.”

GIVEN WHAT TRUEX DID LAST YEAR WITH BONUS POINTS, WILL THE RACE TOMORROW BE IMPORTANT?  “Every race that has points and bonus points is important and I think everybody understands that you need to gather as many as you can right off the bat, just because if you line the bonus points and stage finishes up, they’re gonna be pretty close to the way the season ended up.  You start gathering points tomorrow.”

SO IT’S ON YOUR MIND, OBVIOUSLY.  “You can score points and win stages and never win a race, and put yourself in a good position.”

DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE INFLUENCE WITH NASCAR EXECUTIVES?  “Look, I’m fortunate to have been here a long time and feel like I’ve built a lot of great relationships with NASCAR and I think it’s definitely something to where I feel like they at least listen, but I also feel like they listen to a number of us more than they used to, so that’s one of the fortunate parts to having been here for a long time, to experience a lot of things and do a lot of things.  This is something that everybody is in together and trying to be able to push this sport forward and I think that’s definitely something I have interest in and I think it’s better for me to see everything being pushed forward in a positive light than it is not worrying about it or not saying anything.”

THOUGHTS ON BEN KENNEDY AND WILL HIS ROLE HELP THE TRUCK SERIES?  “I think Ben is in an interesting position just because of his position within the family and also having sat in the Truck Series and done the things that he’s done inside the truck driving also lets you hear a lot of things in the garage and a lot of chatter that’s going on.  It’s going to be a big challenge even with his personal ties to the family and the sport and everything that comes with it, but it’s still a huge battle between who gets the green flag money from the TV and what’s right for the sport may not be right for the tracks.”

WHO DO YOU THINK THE FANS WILL PICK FOR MOST POPULAR DRIVER?  “The bottom line is, in my opinion, I really think Chase Elliott is our biggest tie to our grassroots NASCAR fan.  I’ve said this a number of times, but I feel like he’s one of the most important ingredients in what NASCAR racing does going forward because his family name and he has the legacy that’s already been built in this sport by his dad and he’s come into this sport with a great name and already proven that he’s going to be competitive.  He has those southeast NASCAR ties to those core fans that none of the rest of us will ever have, and he’s the guy.”

WHAT WILL HAPPEN WHEN CHASE ELLIOTT WINS?  “When he wins the first time you’re gonna see things that you hadn’t seen in a long time from fan reaction and just enthusiasm about the sport.  When that happens, it’s gonna be good for all of us.”

IS TOMORROW MORE ABOUT LEARNING, WINNING OR PROTECTING YOUR CAR FOR SUNDAY?  “You want to win.  That’s the first goal.  The second goal is to gather as many points and as you can to push forward into getting the season started off in a good direction.  You gain the most points by winning the race, so that’s the first goal.”

HAS THE NATURE OF THE RACE TOMORROW CHANGED WITH NOBODY GOING HOME?  “I think that’s the part that stage racing fixes, and when you start handing out points for a qualifying race, it doesn’t matter how many cars are in the race everybody wants to try to gather some points and, in turn, they want to finish as high as they can.  I think when you look back at the Clash on Sunday, I think a lot of the style of the single-file race came from a lot of ill-handling cars, and I think that will be better.  As we get into Thursday I think you’ll see a huge step as we go thorugh the weekend and everybody being able to work on their cars in practice and I think as you get a lot of cars on the race track the dynamic of the race, as it always is, is gonna be much different than what you saw on Sunday and what you see on Thursday.”

WHAT DID YOU SEE FROM TONY STEWART LAST YEAR BEHIND THE SCENES?  “I think as you look at it, Tony is obviously involved on the ownership side of things and there’s a lot of meetings and things that happen, whether they’re within NASCAR — the RTA — so having that perspective and Tony is always, for the most part, gonna lean towards what we think from a driver’s perspective because that’s still the mindset that he has.  For me, the part about Tony that has changed the most is just how happy he is, and that, to me, when he’s happy he’s gonna be at the race track and he’s gonna be involved and enthusiastic.  When he’s not happy, he’s just not gonna be involved as much just becuase he’s not enthused about being there.  When he’s happy, he’s enthused about being at the track and that’s good for Stewart-Haas Racing.”

DID YOU SEE ANY SUPPORT ISSUES AT STEWART HAAS WHEN IT CAME TO DANICA’S PROGRAM?  “No, I saw cars that were put on the race track just like everybody elses, and at our shop all the cars are prepared and finished by the same people.  A lot of that goes back to input.  You have to have the input to help build your team going forward, so some of those things fall short possibly from maybe not getting the input that the team needed to push the cars in a good direction.”

HOW HAS THE DRIVER’S COUNCIL EVOLVED?  “I think it’s played a role in a number of things and if you ask me what, it’s been three years so it’s been a bunch of things as we’ve gone through those years.  But I think as we go forward there’s obviously, it changes.  As it changes through the years it evolves into what we could do better, structure, and I think a lot of those things are going to come down to at this particular point I think you’re gonna see less things accomplished just because of the fact there isn’t as much low-hanging fruit to grab.  I still think one of the responsibilities of the council, which I think the way it’s structured is very good.  You have some of these young guys that come in and see it’s not just about racing, it’s also teaching them about the politics of the sport and just the fundamentals of how things work.  It’s not just about driving the car, it’s about the teams having a balance with NASCAR and NASCAR having a balance with the drivers and the drivers having a relationship with their owner.  There are just a lot of pieces to the puzzle that come into play and I think the council is a good spot for everybody to help stay informed more than anything and help react to some of the things that may be coming down the pipeline from a driver’s perspective to help put that in play when NASCAR and the teams are deciding what they think is right.”

WHY HAS IT WORKED IN THAT SENSE?  “I think the biggest thing for the council is I may not agree with everybody and they may not agree with me, but, in the end, NASCAR is gonna hear those opinions and those opinions and thoughts and sometimes you have to go with the majority as to where you push things and where things are gonna fall in line.  But in the end the teams and NASCAR are going to have the final say on where things go, but having that opinion there and known is very important to at least have that put into play.”

ARE YOU ON IT THIS YEAR?  “I am.”

IF YOU HAD TO PUT SOME MONEY ON A DRIVER TO HAVE A YEAR LIKE TRUEX DID, WHO WOULD IT BE?  “I wouldn’t even go pick.  I wouldn’t even go.”

WHY NOT?  “There’s too many unknowns.  I know that we talk about the rules haven’t changed and nothing has changed, but everything has changed.  When you look at the inspection process and you look at the splitters and you look at Chevrolet having a new car.  Until we get through with the west coast swing, I wouldn’t even know where to point because I don’t know how good the Chevy’s new car is going to be.  Are they behind?  Are they ahead?  Or is it that good?  Did the new inspection process hurt the Fords?  The Toyotas?  The Chevrolets?  Who did it hurt the worst?  There’s way too many unknowns.  You throw in the pit stop stuff and everybody moving all over the place with what’s right and what’s wrong, in my opinion, there are too many questions to even point a finger at what direction you want to point it in at this point.”

IS IT EVEN POSSIBLE TO DO AGAIN?  “Everything is possible.  I’d never put anything out of question.”

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON CONCUSSIONS?  “I guess it depends on how hard everybody crashes.  I think as you look at the process and you look at the things that NASCAR has put into place there is a lot more awareness about everything that’s going on and the procedures and the way that everything is handled in the infield care center is different than it ever has been in last year starting that.  I don’t think anything has changed as far as I know in the way that all of that is going to be handled.”

ANYTHING YOU CAN RECOMMEND TO MAKE IT BETTER?  “I think every year there’s an advancement in a helmet or a seat or the way that things are mounted and the things that you guys probably don’t see are just the constant updates that come from NASCAR and their testing.  Really, that’s been the biggest advancement as I’ve been here through what will be 18 seasons now.  When you look at the evolution of the seat and the safety and the process of everything and the way that things are done it’s constant and even today it still happens because NASCAR pushes that at the R&D Center with their team.”

DO THEY STILL DO THE SAFETY REVIEW WITH THE DRIVERS?  “Yes.”  HAS IT HAPPENED OR IS TO GOING TO HAPPEN?  “It’s going to happen.”

SO NOBODY HAS TO DO ANYTHING CRAZY TOMORROW NIGHT, RIGHT?  “Well, that depends on how bad you want to race for a championship.  It’s not just about a race, it’s about points and that’s really the most important thing are points, so you want to win the race.  That’s really the thing that stage racing and the way that the points are structures, that’s the biggest thing that’s changed from stage racing and the way that it happens.  If you approach it by just happy that you’re in the race, you’re probably not gonna gain as many points as the guys that want to win.”

THE GUYS THAT DON’T HAVE CHARTERS ARE IN.  “Don’t even get me started on all that (laughing).”

ARE THE YOUNG GUYS BETTER PREPARED TO MAKE THE JUMP TO CUP THAN 20 YEARS AGO?  “I think it’s much different than it probably was then.  It’s a little more structured than it was when Casey Atwood came through.  I think as you look at the way that the teams are structured now there’s a lot of guidance from the ownership side of things and the teammates that some of these guys are placed with are pretty experienced, so I think it’s still got its challenges, but it’s definitely different than it was 20 years ago.”

IF YOU WERE MAKING A LIST OF TWO OR THREE OF THE FASTEST DRIVERS CURRENTLY RACING NOW AT DAYTONA WHO WOULD BE ON IT?  “I think the guys that have the most success right now have been Brad and Joey, and I think the Fords have the fastest cars in the race usually when you look at the past restrictor plate races.  At some point it’s gonna be a Ford and usually the Hendrick cars qualify fast and then they can’t handle and by the end of the race there’s a Ford up in the front racing for the win.”

HOW MUCH OF THAT IS DRIVER?  “Those things aren’t a coincidence.  It’s really hard.  When I was at RCR we went on a stretch there where the superspeedways were our bread and butter and things were flowing and we’ve been in a little bit of a slump here over the last year.  I think we crashed in every superspeedway race, so our cars have been fast, but you’ve got to put yourself in position to finish those races and those guys have been positioning themselves, whether it be fast cars, strategy, driver decisions.  It takes a lot, but, in the end, those two have consistently positioned themselves at the front of the superspeedway races and whatever they’re doing is right.”

WHEN YOU LOOK AT BRAD AND JOEY THEY SEEM TO WORK BETTER TOGETHER THAN OTHER TEAMMATES.  IS THAT FAIR?  “I think they do a great job in their approach, so it’s definitely worked for them for sure.”

DO THE CHANGES BECOME MORE EVIDENT FOR EVERYBODY AT ATLANTA THAN HERE?  “Yeah, and Atlanta is even tough.  I think you’re gonna have to get to Las Vegas is probably gonna be more like a lot of the race tracks that we run on, but there are so many unique race tracks that we go to at the beginning of the year.  I think as you go through the west coast swing and get done with Martinsville and get to Texas, then you kind of know where everybody is gonna stand on the mile and a half stuff.  I think as you look at the mile and a half programs, Vegas is the one that is the closest to the majority of the race tracks.  Atlanta also has a mechanical grip aspect to it because of how the tires wear out and California Speedway is the same way, but you’re still gonna see for the most part, you’ll know as a team what you need to work on and where you stand.”

WILL PIT STOPS MAKE A DIFFERENCE HERE?  “I think everything is a little different here just with the way that the cars come up and down and the way that the tires drop out of the body.  Obviously, with everything going on in the back here, the tires sit in the wheel wells different.  When you get to Atlanta you’ll definitely have a good idea on pit stops because you’re gonna do a lot of them (laughing).”

WHAT DOES ALMIROLA BRING TO YOUR TEAM?  “The biggest thing that Aric has brought is the fact that we’re gonna have a car that is running well and hopefully we can use those notes.  He’s a very level-headed guy, a very calm guy, so that demeanor is a good thing and hopefully the competitiveness of the car is much higher than it has been over the last couple years.”

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE CHARTER SYSTEM.  THE FACT THERE ARE JUST ENOUGH CARS TO FILL THE FIELD.  “I look at the 36 charters and I just wonder why we have 40 cars.”

YOU THINK IT SHOULD JUST BE 40 CHARTERS OR 36?  “I think it should just be 36 charters.”

DID YOU SEE ANY ISSUES DODGING PIT CREW GUYS COMING OUT OF THE PITS?  “I’ve heard that a lot.  I don’t think we saw any evidence of that during the Clash.  It didn’t even really seem like it was an issue.  I think we could make a lot out of it, but until we see it there’s really no reason to make any judgment on it until you see it.  I know that there are a lot of guys talking about the carriers being out wider and things like that, but, right now, we just have to race and see how it all falls.  It’s definitely different, so we’ll just have to see if that’s a concern, but I haven’t seen anything that points to that.”

HOW READY IS BUBBA WALLACE TO WIN ON A REGULAR BASIS?  “I’m going to call him Darrell.  Darrell has a lot of drive and he’s done really well in the things that he’s done, but I would say winning currently in this particular year at this particular level, I would be very surprised.”

I MEANT AS TIME MOVES ON?  “I think the biggest thing is you have to gain the experience and the things that it takes to make your team and your car better and learn how to finish the races and put yourself in position, but it would be a very tall task to win.”

DO YOU FEEL HE’S EARNED THE RIGHT TO BE HERE?  “Absolutely.  He’s definitely earned the right to be here.  Earning the right to be here and being ready to win are two different things.”

BRAD KESELOWSKI — No. 2 Ford Fusion — BRAD KESELOWSKI – No. 2 Ford Fusion – DO WE GET RID OF THE YELLOW LINE RULE?  “I don’t know.  If there’s a  yellow line or if there isn’t a yellow line I’ll race either way.  Sometimes it feels like I was saying on Sunday, there are maybe too many rules, but I’m not sure that’s a bad one.  I don’t know.  I’ve re-watched one of the races from ’98, where they made the rule and I was saying to myself as I watched, ‘Oh yeah, I forgot what it was like before that.’  It’s kind of like the yellow flag rule, where you can’t race back anymore.  It kind of reminds me of that one, and I’m not sure that was a bad rule change.  I think there might be some merits to it.”

DO YOU PUT A LOT OF EMPHASIS ON WORKING TOGETHER WITH JOEY AT THESE TRACKS?  “I wouldn’t say we put a lot of emphasis on it, it’s just one of those things we just naturally do.  I think between the three of us, Ryan Blaney, Joey and myself we both like this kind of racing, so we come into it with a positive mindset, which is always really helpful.  And the cars have been pretty good too, so we’ve got a lot of things working for us.”

HOW WAS JOEY LAST YEAR WITH THE STRUGGLES HE AND HIS TEAM HAD AND HOW IS HE GOING INTO THIS YEAR?  “He seems pretty good.  I think he looks pretty happy.  He just had a baby boy and all that stuff, which is great to see.  Joey is one of those guys that I feel like you could kick in the balls and he’d walk away smiling.  I have not tested that, but he’s a pretty happy guy.”

ANY PREDICTIONS ON WHO COULD WIN AS MANY AS EIGHT RACES IN A SEASON?  “No, I couldn’t give you a prediction at all.  It’s so hard to predict those things.  You start off the season and you see someone looks really good, and then there’s some kind of behind-the-scenes rule change that affects it and you never know where it’s gonna go from there.”

ARE BONUS POINTS TOMORROW A REASON TO LOOK FORWARD TO THE RACE?  “Yeah.  I think obviously you don’t want to wreck your Daytona 500 car.  Nobody wants to tear up their 500 car, but there’s also points on the line and you don’t want to leave those on the table anytime.  I would suspect you’ll still see guys racing pretty hard this Thursday.”

A LOT OF THE DRAMA IS GONE.  “But the points are still pretty important.  Last year, we wrecked out of the 500, but we scored a lot of points in the stages and then we scored a bunch of points in the Twins.  Even though we wrecked out of the 500, I can’t remember we finished 30-something, we left Daytona in the Top 20 in points because of those points.  There are certainly some great incentives with the stages and Twins to give your best effort at all times and I think that’s one of the great things about this format.”

WHY WOULD YOU TELL A FAN TO COME TOMORROW?  “I don’t expect the Twins to look like the Clash.  The cooler temperatures will put less emphasis on handling and whenever there’s less emphasis on handling, the cars tend to run more side-by-side, so I would suspect that’s what we’ll see on Thursday.”

HOW MANY TIMES DO YOU GO BACK AND THINK A DAYTONA 500 GOT AWAY FROM YOU?  “All the time.  I really feel like I let two or three kind of slip through my hands.  Some were my fault and some were just circumstances, but I certainly think about it and I want to make it happen.”

IS IT DIFFERENT NOW THAT JUNIOR WON’T BE COMING BACK TO DRIVE THAN WHEN HE SAT OUT THE LAST PART OF 2016?  “It’s not for me.  I like Dale a lot and I have a lot of respect for what he’s done for this sport and it won’t be any different for him than it is for me.  This sport has always been bigger than one person.  He’s a big part of that group, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a lot of things going on in this sport every day with all different kind of storylines – drivers, teams, etc.  He was a big one, but there are a lot of them.  It will be the same the day when I’m gone.  I don’t know when that’s gonna be.  The sport will go on and it will be just fine without me.  It may be a little bit harder with Dale not being around, but this sport will still go on and be OK.  I think Dale has some great fans.  I think a portion of Dale’s fans were straight up Dale fans and I think a portion of Dale’s fans were NASCAR fans that just went to Dale, so I think the NASCAR fans that just went to Dale will definitely stick around and I think the fans that were just straight-up Dale fans will leave and that’s just part of the ebbs and flow of every year.”

CAN YOU PUT INTO WORDS WHAT ROGER PENSKE HAS BEEN ABLE TO DO FOR MOTORSPORTS?  “Roger helped professionalize motorsports.  You look at the sixties and motorsports was on the cusp of professional, but it really wasn’t.  There were some real renegades back in the sixties and that goes all the way from the race car drivers to the team owners to the track promoters and so forth.  I think Roger has added a level of professionalism to the sport that very few people can really say they were able to do along with him.  That’s been important for all of us to see the sport grow and be as successful as it is now.  Even though there are some struggles in the sport without a doubt some things that we’d all like to see better, we’re still in better shape now than we were before Roger’s era and we’re still very lucky.  We’re sitting in a couple hundred million dollar facility here with Daytona and if you look at Daytona from the sixties, yeah, it was nice, but it wasn’t this nice and that’s all come apart because of guys like him that have come in and professionalized this sport and reinvested in this sport with their own money and time and efforts and he’s been a key part of that legacy.”

NASCAR SAYS THEY WOULD LIKE TO SEE THE DRIVERS BE A LITTLE MORE OUT THERE.  HOW DO YOU BALANCE THAT BETWEEN BEING GENUINE?  “You can’t be brash and you can’t be genuine without making the sport angry.  I don’t think you can balance it.  I think that’s an issue.”

WHAT WOULD NASCAR BE LIKE TODAY IF YOU COULD DIAL UP ANY DRIVER ON THE TRACK AND TALK TO HIM?  “Probably quiet because nobody would answer (laughter).  Maybe they would.  A few guys would a few times.  I had one guy who somehow hacked our radio once in Atlanta and we went like 15 laps and there was a couple of ‘Good pass,’ and that kind of thing and eventually the guys on the team said, ‘Let’s go ahead and change the radio.”

ANOTHER DRIVER?  “That would be interesting.  No, it wouldn’t work because the same problem that happens with everything in this sport is it’s so reliant on corporate sponsorship that whenever you have two drivers against each other, you polarize two groups of fans and your corporate sponsor loses and it kills everything.  It’s just the same problem with another face.”

WITH JUNIOR AND DANICA LEAVING IS THIS A GOOD TIME FOR NASCAR TO HAVE THESE YOUNG DRIVERS FILL THAT VOID?  “I don’t know what’s gonna happen with new drivers and new faces across the platforms.  You always want to be optimistic, but I don’t really have an idea.”

WHO WILL TAKE THE MANTLE FROM JUNIOR FOR MOST POPULAR DRIVER?  “Chase without a doubt.  I don’t think that’s even close.  I think we’ve been seeing that for the past two or three years and he’s coming into a perfect spot of having the ability to ascertain the southern fan base, along with the family namesake fan base.  He’s in the right time with the right name to kind of inherit it in a great way.”

KIND OF THE SAME FORMULA AS JUNIOR EXCEPT HIS DAD ANGERED A LOT OF PEOPLE AND BILL DIDN’T.  “I can’t say I’ve seen every race that Bill has been in, but I can’t remember many where he made anyone angry, that’s for sure.”

IT’S A SELECT GROUP OF GUYS WHO HAVE WON RESTRICTOR PLATE RACES, SO IS THERE A SKILL TO IT?  “There is some luck involved to not wrecking, without a doubt.  Last year we wrecked out in the 500 and we missed three wrecks but got in the fourth one.  That’s just timing.  I don’t feel like there was anything I could do different, so that part takes a lot of luck, but to think that the person who wins it is just lucky, he is lucky to kind of survive, but to think his success is solely reliant on luck is probably false.”

THESE RACES AREN’T AS WIDE OPEN AS PEOPLE THINK.  “No, I think that stats don’t like on that.”

WHO ARE THE TWO OR THREE BEST PLATE DRIVERS, INCLUDING YOURSELF?  “It would be kind of weird to put my own name out there, but I think Joey is really good and Denny Hamlin is really good.  I think my teammate, Ryan Blaney, is becoming really good.  If I had to pick one more, probably Kevin Harvick.”

HARVICK SAID YOU AND LOGANO.  “I appreciate that.”

YOU DIDN’T WANT TO PUT YOURSELF IN?  “No, that’s kind of weird.  It’s kind of like voting for yourself.  That doesn’t feel right.  There’s something wrong about that.”

THERE ARE A LOT OF INEXPERIENCED GUYS IN THIS YEAR’S RACE.  ARE WE MAKING TOO BIG OF A DEAL ABOUT THAT?  “No, it’s a big deal, absolutely.  You look at the wrecks and you’ve got to survive the wrecks to win this race.  It doesn’t matter how good you are, there is a luck factor to that and whenever there is less experience in the field, it usually means there’s gonna be more wrecks to miss and it will certainly factor into who wins the race.”

WILL THAT MAKE TOMORROW EASIER WITH NOBODY GOING HOME?  NOBODY HAS TO MAKE A PANIC MOVE.  “Yeah.  That’ doesn’t mean they won’t.  I expect the cars to all handle really well tomorrow and the packs to be really tight.”

BUT THE GUYS IN THE BACK OF THE FIELD WON’T BE DESPERATE.  “Yeah, but those guys don’t usually wreck anyway.  Usually, it’s guys who are running the top three or four that wreck.”

HOW HAS THE DRIVER’S COUNCIL WORKED AND ARE YOU ON IT AGAIN?  “Yes, I am.  It’s good.  It’s interesting.  You learn things and you see different perspectives, which are always important.  Part of being a leader is seeing things from different views.  I think that’s really important and that environment lends itself to just that, which is good.  I’ve enjoyed playing a role in it and hope to see it grow and become stronger year over year.”

WHAT MORE CAN IT DO?  “I think just generate awareness is a big thing that the driver’s council does and facilitate communication, which is hard for NASCAR to do.  It’s hard for them to keep up.  They have a lot of stakeholders.  And hopefully generate ideas to improve the future of this sport.”

IT’S 20 YEARS SINCE DALE EARNHART WON DAYTONA.  DO YOU REMEMBER WATCHING THAT?  “Vaguely.  I don’t remember any specific moments.”

WHERE ARE WE WITH CONCUSSIONS?  “I don’t think we’ve really changed positions.  It’s a really in-depth question to try to answer in one setting, but I think we’re learning more about them as a community of NASCAR and as a community within the health profession.  There’s a lot that is still not understood and a lot to answer and we’re a long ways from being able to accurately diagnose and certainly treat those things.”

SO NASCAR HAS TAKEN STEPS TO TAKE IT AS CLOSE TO ZERO AS POSSIBLE?  “I don’t think there’s enough information for them to take any really great steps right now.  There are a couple pieces of technology that are coming out that are really interesting that I think could be helpful, but they’re not proven.  So I don’t know that there’s a lot really that NASCAR can do at the moment.”

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT BEING THE VEGAS FAVORITE TO WIN SUNDAY?  “That’s good.  I’m not allowed to put money on myself because that would be some kind of illegal I’m just not sure what.  I don’t think it should be illegal to bet for yourself.  It should be illegal to bet against yourself, but not for yourself.  That seems wrong.”

DOES IT PUT PRESSURE ON YOU?  “No, because I don’t have any money on it (laughing).”

YOU HAVE A LOT AT STAKE.  “Yeah, the rewards that I have are far beyond what Vegas could incentivize me and they existed long before then.  I think it’s more or less just flattering.”

ANYTHING YOU SEE WITH THE NEW CHEVY?  “Not that I’ve seen so far.  I think it’s pretty much right in line with what we’ve seen with the Toyota.”

THE NEW INSPECTION STATION HELPING?  “That is certainly a big change and a welcome change.”

DOES THAT INCLUDE PLATE RACING TOO OR ACROSS THE BOARD?  “Across the board.  We think that the system and to NASCAR’s credit because we kick them in the groin a lot, I’ll give them credit with this system.  They’ve rolled it out and it has been solid from the second it’s been installed and that’s nice to see.”

IF YOU DO WIN IT WILL BE WITHOUT MILLER LITE ON THE HOOD.  “We like to see them.  Obviously, Miller has been a great partner of mine and Team Penske for a number of years.  The American beer business is not what it once was in a lot of ways and they’ve fallen on some hard times and so I don’t know if that’s a reflection of the sport as much as it is a reflection of the beer industry right now.”

HOW HAS PLATE RACING CHANGED THROUGH THE YEARS?  “Restrictor plate racing changes dramatically every two or three years and requires new techniques, new approaches, tactics, etc.  And this year is another one of those renditions.  I suspect it will change a few more times.”

DO YOU FEEL THE DAYTONA 500 CARRIES THE SAME HALL OF FAME WEIGHT AS A TITLE?  “Yeah, absolutely.  A Daytona 500 and championships they might not be exactly one to one, but they’re pretty close.”

DO YOU THINK THERE WILL BE MORE TIRES FOR CREW MEMBERS TO DODGE ON PIT STOPS WITH ONE LESS PERSON?  “With the new rules, I’m not expecting a huge difference for the 500, but I really don’t know.  We haven’t seen 40 cars on pit road yet.  Probably a better judge will be when we get to Atlanta, Martinsville, the tracks where we pit a lot and all the cars come on pit road together.  Martinsville specifically because their pit road is so small, and then we’re really gonna see the nitty gritty of this.”

IS THIS YEAR MORE OF A SEAT OF YOUR PANTS RACE FROM A PREPARATION STANDPOINT?  “It’s hard to prepare.  You like to study and learn.  That’s always the easiest way to learn things, but sometimes you just have to do it.  That was one of the great things about the Clash this year is it was a really great opportunity to get out there and just do it and learn on the fly, which is important because the rules definitely changed the way the cars drove and I don’t know if any of us really could have predicted coming here exactly what was gonna happen.”

HOW DIFFERENT WAS IT?  “The biggest thing is the cars are running faster, so they’re about three or four miles an hour faster.”

REACTIONS HAVE TO BE FASTER?  “That’s not as much a big deal, the reactions, as much as it is four or five miles an hour of corner speed is a huge difference in handling for these cars because they’re right at the threshold of being able to run wide open and that extra speed makes them harder to go through the corners, and then to add to it with the ride height rule affects the skew on the car pretty dramatically.  As the skew changes on the cars, the lanes that they’re capable of running changes dramatically as well.  Those two have been a pretty big effect.”

SO GOING FROM BOTTOM TO TOP IS MORE CHALLENGING?  “The cars are pointed the wrong way, so when they go to turn, they’re already pointed the wrong way.  It’s hard to explain, I guess, but they just don’t change direction as well, but they have more straightaway speed.”

ARIC ALMIROLA — No. 10 Ford Fusion — ARIC ALMIROLA – No. 10 Ford Fusion – WHAT WAS PLATE RACING LIKE WHEN YOU STARTED?  “Restrictor plate racing was pretty intense.  We were doing the tandem thing that first year, so I came to Daytona and we were doing the tandem draft.  I was working with my teammate, Marcos Ambrose, and we were trying to figure out how to lock bumpers and push as hard as we could, and then as NASCAR has changed the rules and the draft has continued to evolve I feel like restrictor plate racing has almost gone back in time.  You look back at races to the late nineties and early 2000s and the races actually look more like that, where you’re timing runs and trying to block other people’s runs.  I feel like it definitely has changed a lot since I’ve been in the Cup Series, but, overall, I don’t think it’s much different than it was 15-20 years ago.”

WHO WILL BE THE NEXT MOST POPULAR DRIVER WITH JUNIOR RETIRING?  “I don’t know.  I think we’ll have to wait and see and let the fans ring in.  I honestly don’t know.  I think a collaborative group of drivers will really steal the fans that were hardcore Junior fans.  I don’t think all the Junior fans are just gonna go, ‘All right, this is our new guy.’  I think you’ll definitely see some division in that.”

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE JOB BUBBA DID LAST YEAR WHEN YOU WERE OUT.  “I’ll be honest, I’m here at Daytona media day to talk about Aric Almirola and the 10 and Smithfield Foods, so any questions pertaining to anything else I’m not interested in.”

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW FRESH THIS START FEELS TO BE WITH A NEW TEAM?  “It’s incredible to show up to Daytona with a team like this that has had so much success and won championships and won races.  To have that all at my fingertips is really a dream come true.  I’m so excited about just getting going.  We have talked all winter long about switching teams and the new opportunity and everything.  I’m a firm believer in talk is cheap.  Actions speak louder than words.  I’m tired of talking about everything that’s gone on over the winter and I just want to go get in the race car and go race and get going with the season.  I’m looking forward to getting started right here at Daytona.  This is a great place for me.  I’ve had a lot of success here.  I’ve won my first Cup race here.  I won an XFINITY race here a couple of years ago, so I’d love nothing more than to win a Daytona 500.”

HARVICK SAID A LOT OF GOOD THINGS ABOUT YOU AND WHAT YOU BRING TO THE TEAM.  “That’s flattering to hear somebody of Kevin Harvick’s stature to be able to say that about me.  That makes me feel good.  Obviously, we’re teammates so he’s not gonna say anything too bad about me yet.  That’s nice.  That makes me feel good.  That’s really my biggest goal this year is to be able to contribute to Stewart-Haas Racing.  I feel like they are an incredible organization in just the 10 years they’ve been in existence with championships, tons of race wins and I want to be able to contribute to that, whether that means helping my teammates get to victory lane or being able to help in practice and we make a change that makes our car better and then they are able to implement that into their car for the race and that helps them get better.  Or whether it’s me winning races or contributing by putting banners up in the shop, I want to do all the above.  I think that’s mine and Johnny Klausmeier’s biggest focus this year is making sure that we’re a valuable asset to the team.”

IS IT NICE TO HAVE TEAMMATES LIKE THIS?  “It’s so refreshing to be able to, even already just in practice getting ready for qualifying here for the Daytona 500, to go and walk into Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer’s trailer and talk to them about their car, or after practice is over for all of them to come to our hauler and all the drivers and crew chiefs and engineers sit down and have a debrief meeting, and to be able to listen to them describe their cars, talk about their cars, talk about what they need to do and what they think they need to be, what they need to do to be better for the 150s, and just planning and the preparation and all those things.  That is so nice to be able to have that in my corner.  That’s something I have not had experience with, so I’m really looking forward to leaning on them and having them make me a better race car driver.”

THIS IS A CHANCE FOR YOU TO SEE WHAT YOU CAN DO IN THIS SPORT, RIGHT?  “Absolutely.  I felt that way from the moment I got this opportunity was I’ve always put pressure on myself to go out and perform and do a good job, but on top of that I always put pressure on myself to go out and impress people so that when I could get that next opportunity to try and keep elevating my career.  Well, now I’ve got that opportunity.  Here I am sitting in a premier ride and I’ve got that opportunity, so now it’s like, ‘Hell, let’s just go.  Let’s go race.  Let’s go have fun and let’s see what happens.’  One of two things is gonna happen.  I’m either gonna go out and be successful or I’m not.  I can’t ultimately control the outcome, all I can control is my effort and I’ll continue to put all the effort in and do the best I can each and every week and hopefully the results will follow.”

WHAT MAKES YOU THINK YOU CAN BE SUCCESSFUL?  “The team around me and the results that I feel I’ve gotten with the equipment that I’ve had for the last six years, to be honest.  I feel like over the last six years we have not had the equipment that I’ve been exposed to and seen with my own eyes the last couple months, so to look at that and to say, ‘Wow, I actually on rare occasions competed against these cars,’ that gives me a lot of confidence to think that now that I have this equipment and now that I’m driving these race cars that are so fast, what can I accomplish?”

IS IT MORE TOOLS OR BETTER TOOLS?  “It’s all the above.  I’ve been asked that question multiple times and just thinking about walking into the shop, driving up to the shop, you look at where I’ve been for the last six years and just the face of the shop, the sheer size and grandness of it is incredible, and then you go in the shop and you see all the Haas CNC machines lineup up and they’re all building little trinkets and parts and trying to figure out how to detail every single piece of the car.  That’s really where our sport has evolved to.  I think back in the day the races were won on big advantages.  I’ve sat and talked to Doug Yates.  There was a time when Yates had a 50-60 horsepower advantage on the field.  Those days are long gone.  That doesn’t happen anymore.  The advantages now are pennies stacked on pennies.  When you look at a team like Stewart-Haas Racing, that’s where their focus is and I think that’s why they’re so successful.”

DO YOU HAVE ANY CONCUSSION CONCERNS?  “For me, I don’t worry about that.  I go out and I race and if I have a concussion and my doctor is worried about it, they’ll tell me.  I trust my doctors.  I trust my own understanding of my body, so if I felt like I was in jeopardy or putting myself in jeopardy, then I would make that decision.  I’m not a kamikaze pilot.  I’m a race car driver.  I’m a husband.  I’m a father, so I’m not gonna do something to recklessly jeopardize my health, but at the same time I love racing more than anything in the whole world besides my family.  That’s what I want to do and I’m willing to take that risk.  I know that there is risk involved with being a race car driver and I assume that risk every time I get in the race car.  I know it and I don’t care.”

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO DO WELL FOR SMITHFIELD?  “I think it’s important any time.  I think every year is important equally so last year was important when they were literally on the fence about what they were gonna do.  They were on the fence on whether or not they were gonna change teams or stay or leave the sport entirely and I feel like the more that they looked into it and evaluated their position in the sport, they realized that all those fans that sit in the stands and all the fans that tune into the race broadcast are their customers and when you look at our sport there is a lot of meat eaters and a lot of them love their bacon, love their pork, and so I think that was really big for them to want to stay in the sport and want to stay connected to the fan.  Fortunately, they loved me enough and thought that I was a good enough brand ambassador to want me to come drive their race car at Stewart-Haas Racing and I feel like over the last several years they’ve been happy with all the results from Monday to Saturday in the grocery store, they just wanted more results on Sunday on the race track, and I think that’s really what it’s all about.”

DO YOU REMEMBER ANYTHING ABOUT WHEN DALE EARNHARDT WON HIS DAYTONA 500?  “I wasn’t at that race, but I remember watching it.  Actually, I think that year we were on a ski vacation out west in Colorado, so we were sitting in our log cabin that we had rented for the week and watched that race.  That was a really special race to watch and to finally see Dale Earnhardt win the Daytona 500, and I think what made that such a fan favorite and even a garage and industry favorite was people had seen how close he had been so many times.  I think the first couple times that he lost the fans that loved him were devastated and the fans that hated him were happy.  Eventually, after the guy lost it and was so close so many times, hell, even the people that didn’t like him wanted to see him win the Daytona 500 because it was just cool, like a seagull takes him out of winning and so on, a flat tire and whatever else that would creep up and cost him a win.  I think everybody was just happy for him because he had so many opportunities at being so close to winning the Daytona 500 that had been taken away at the last moment.”

WERE YOU AN EARNHARDT FAN?  “I was a huge Dale Earnhardt fan.  My grandfather was a big Dale Earnhardt fan, so our whole family was big Dale Sr. fans.”

DID YOU CELEBRATE?  “Yeah, I can’t remember exactly how I celebrated, but I’m sure I was jumping up and down on the couch and happy and excited, and then probably threw my ski gear on and went and hit the chair lift.”

ARE YOU BACK ON THE DRIVER’S COUNCIL?  “I am back on it.  Being part of the Driver’s Council was really enlightening for me to see the effort that NASCAR puts in to trying to accommodate everybody.  I think that’s the hardest thing that NASCAR has is when they’re trying to move this sport constantly forward is there are a lot of opinions.  You’ve got team owners that have opinions.  You’ve got OEM’s that have opinions.  You’ve got drivers that have opinions.  You have fans that have opinions, and then you have NASCAR as a sanctioning body that has an opinion, so they have a tough job.  I often times overlook that until I became part of the Driver Council and really understood and watched and witnessed the amount of work and detail that goes into every single decision that they have to make, whether it’s trimming down the pit crew or penalties or restarts or the schedule.  All these different things, there’s a tremendous amount of effort and thought process that goes into making the final decision.”

WHAT MORE CAN THIS GROUP DO?  “I’m still new to it all and I think NASCAR is evaluating the process on a constant basis, but I think one thing that I’ve seen over the last year and going into this year is just the amount of communication that develops from these different councils, and then to be able to go back and marry that all together.  NASCAR gets a lot of ideas thrown at them from, like I said, the Driver Council, the Team Council, the OEM and the Fan Council, so they have to go back and discuss all that and then come back and talk to all the different councils again and say, ‘OK, this is what we’ve talked about and this is what we’re leaning towards going,’ and then they have to make a decision.  So I think just continuing that communication process.  I think whether it’s in relationships in life or whether it’s in relationships at work or whether it’s running a Fortune 500 company or running a sanctioning body, communication is key with anything.  I think this is still relatively new for everybody and just continuing to hone in on that communication process.”

IS IT INTIMIDATING GOING INTO THOSE MEETINGS TO START?  “Yeah, absolutely, I think for me going into it and you’re sitting in a room with a bunch of champions and very established drivers and very accomplished drivers in the sport, so it is a little bit intimidating to kind of speak up and speak your mind.  For me, personally, I wonder how much my opinion is valued or weighed because I haven’t accomplished as much as those other drivers, but, at the same time, NASCAR has been very assuring that everybody’s opinion matters.  It’s sort of like the teacher in school that says there’s no dumb question even though there is, I think NASCAR has been very approachable and I’m not a very outspoken guy anyway.  That’s just my nature and my demeanor, so I’m more of the guy that sits back, takes it all in and then when it’s over I may grab one of the other drivers on the council and talk to them privately or go up to one of the members from NASCAR, Steve O’Donnell or Steve Phelps or one of those guys and talk to them privately.  That’s more of my nature and that’s just who I am.  I’m not the guy to stand up in front of a room full of people.  I think there’s a certain level of comfort that you have to grow in to.  That’s not my nature.  My nature is not to be outspoken and to say this is my opinion and this is what I think we need to do.  There’s a level of comfort that you have to reach to get to that point and I think now coming back on the council for the second year I’ll feel more comfortable and be able to voice my opinion and hopefully I have some success this year and run up front and I’ll feel like my opinion will matter even more just because of my position in this sport as a driver.”

WHAT KIND OF IMPACT HAS DANICA HAD ON RACING?  “I think she’s had a huge impact on racing.  I think the number one impact that she’s had is that she’s brought eyes to this sport that a lot of us feel would have never tuned in or never came to a race otherwise.  Just the demographic that she reaches is far different than what a Dale Jr. is gonna reach, so I think she was great for our sport from that aspect.”

DO YOU THINK WE’LL SEE MORE FEMALE DRIVERS COMING UP?  “Yeah, the beauty of our sport is that talent is ultimately the indicator.  While diversity may give people an opportunity like myself.  I’m a prime example of that, at the end of the day results speak louder than anything else.  You’ve got to go out and make the most of your opportunities.  You’ve got to go out and perform.  At the end of the day this is a performance-based business, so while, yes, attracting sponsorship and all those things matter, if you don’t run up front and you’re not winning races and you’re not competitive, you won’t stay in this sport very long.”

CLINT BOWYER — No. 14 Ford Fusion — CLINT BOWYER, No. 14 Ford Fusion – HOW MUCH OF AN IMPACT WILL IT BE ON YOU HAVING ARIC AS A NEW TEAMMATE? “Aric is good people. He has been in this sport a long time and he really hasn’t had that elite ride or an opportunity like he has before him right now. As a competitor, not a teammate, as a competitor I am excited for him. This is his opportunity to go out there in really good equipment and showcase his abilities. I am excited for him.”

WHO DO YOU THINK WILL BE THE MOST POPULAR DRIVER NOW THAT DALE IS DONE? “Me. I don’t care. I want to be the next winner. That is what I want to be. I couldn’t care less who is the most popular.”

WHAT WOULD NASCAR BE LIKE IF YOU GUYS COULD PUNCH IN ANY CAR NUMBER AND TALK TO EACH OTHER DURING THE RACE? “It would be a lot like highway 77. It would be just like that. Actually it would be funny. We used to be able to do that when we had it so your teammate or whatever could do that. I will never forget it. The best radio communication I think I ever had, going down the back straightaway at Talladega with (Jeff) Burton. He was in front. We had the same spotter and he asked when I was going to make my move and I just got to laughing and was like, ‘Dude, you are so screwed. I have you beat.’ I went on to win and he knew it. That was a moment where literally one of the only times I have laughed in the car not under caution or something like that. It was pretty funny.”

WITH DALE JR. RETIRING PRIMARILY DUE TO CONCUSSIONS, IS THAT SOMETHING ON YOUR MIND? “I don’t know if that was primarily because of concussions. I think it was because he was wanting to cover the Olympics and Super Bowl and make just as much money as he was racing.”

ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT CONCUSSIONS THOUGH? “I have a helmet on. A real good one.”

HOW DO YOU BREAK THROUGH THIS YEAR AND GET A TOP-10 AT DAYTONA? “I have to. The sooner the better. The quicker I can get a win. If I can get a win and get that monkey off my back I think it will be beneficial to the rest of my season. That has to be item number one. Until we do that, I don’t really feel like it has been a success or that I have been a success. Hopefully I can win this thing, the biggest race of my career right here this weekend. If you can do that, I think you are off to the races, literally. That is what it is going to take to get me going and that confidence level with our race team to go out and do it consistently week in and week out.”

HOW IMPORTANT TO YOU IS IT TO GET GOING WELL TO START THE SEASON? “It is so important but I have been doing this long enough – I have come into this race with that approach before and focused on that and thought about it through the race and through the week thinking about how if I can’t leave here with the trophy to just leave here with a good points base established and building on that pyramid. Screw that. I am getting deep into my career and I want to win. I want to win the Daytona 500. That is one of the ones on the list. It is on anybody’s list. Until you get that one checked off the list you have to erase all that strategy and mindset away from the picture and go out there and try to win this biggest race of your career because this is the one opportunity you have this year.”

DO YOU THINK ABOUT NOT WINNING AS MUCH AS OTHER PEOPLE ASK YOU ABOUT NOT WINNING? “Of course. Hell, I know my strengths and weaknesses and I haven’t won as many races as I need to over the course of my career. But I have always been consistent. Week in and week out. I have had good stats on top-10’s and things like that until the last couple of years. These last few years have been all over the place. I have to get back to focusing on consistency and knocking on that door every week. You have to get in that groove where you can do it effortlessly. For seven years it was just easy to top-10. It was pretty much given unless something stupid happened like a bad pit stop or untimely caution. It was like we are going to finish 6th to 10th and that will give us a chance to run for a championship. And it did for a long time. For whatever reason the last couple years it has just been so much new. You don’t want to pick on anything but for me, for the last four years there has been something new. Finally, this year I know what I’ve got. I know what team I’ve got. I know their names. I don’t have to learn new guys and a new way of life, point of view, attitude, anything. You know your strengths, weaknesses and you have to focus on your strengths and work on your weaknesses and smoothing all that out to find that consistency. That is what we have to do. That is what we are going to do.”

IF YOU HAD TO BET ON WHO WOULD HAVE A SEASON THIS YEAR LIKE TRUEX HAD LAST YEAR, WHO DO YOU THINK IT WOULD BE? “I don’t think there should be anybody that is pretty much noticeably better than everybody else. Whether it is dirt racing or what. When you are at this elite level like this there is no team that is just that much better than everybody else without having something that others don’t have.”

DOES IT TAKE THE FUN OUT OF IT? “It doesn’t take the challenge out of it. It puts frustration in it. It is just the way it is. It is not about picking on NASCAR or Cup racing or anything else. It is that way in late model or sprint racing. When there is a team that is head and shoulders above everybody out of the blue, something is fishy.”

THERE ARE A LOT OF YOUNG GUYS IN THIS SPORT. THEY ARE FRESH AND NEW AND YOU DON’T KNOW HOW THEY ARE GOING TO BE AND THEY DON’T KNOW HOW YOU ARE GOING TO BE. HOW DO YOU LOOK AT THAT? “Here is the thing with these new drivers and stuff. It makes me wonder what it was like when Cale Yarborough retired or Fireball Roberts or David Pearson, any of those legends of the sport. We know what it was like when Dale Jarrett and Jeff Gordon retired, but way back then, who was the next guy? Who filled those shoes? That is when you rely on the sport as a whole and the weight it carries and focus on the product on that race track. Those guys were in an era where they put on a show. They were spokesmen, characters off the track, it was a show. They kicked ass on the race track and backed it up out of the car. It is important to follow that and stay true to your roots as a sport. If we do that, everything will come full circle and it will be just fine. I think it is natural for media and things to question it and worry about it and what will we do without Jeff Gordon. Well, guess what, we line up, put our helmets on and race. What will we do without Dale Jr.? He has been the fan favorite forever. I guarantee you they thought that way back when Junior Johnson or Bobby Allison or those guys. When we lost Davey Allison. I guarantee you those questions were being asked. The race goes on.”

WHEN YOU LOOK AT THIS UNDER-25 CROP. IS THERE ONE GUY YOU HAVE YOUR EYE ON THAT YOU THINK IS MORE LIKELY THAN THE OTHERS TO FILL A LARGE VOID? “Today’s day in age I look more at the organization they are with than I do the driver. It is sad to say that.”

DO YOU THINK THERE IS A DISCONNECT BETWEEN THIS SIDE OF THE SPORT AND DIRT RACING, DIRT FANS? “I don’t know that it is dirt racing but it is the weekly racing. Short track racing. There has been a disconnect. NASCAR has done a good job of recognizing that even in the last couple years and trying to recapture that. That is definitely the reason I am here. I am a direct result, Jamie McMurray is a direct result of the weekly racing series, touring divisions, stepping stones of NASCAR lost sight of that though it seemed like us. We were that last rookie class that we really hosted a rookie class of racers, not bank accounts. Being able to realize that and try to get back and find that involvement again – I know the track involvement with the weekly racing series went down drastically. We lost a lot of tracks and they weren’t sanctioned NASCAR tracks and things like that like they were back when. I remember winning a lot of money racing at Lakeside and I-70 Speedway. Enough to race the following year. That kind of money. It was from Dodge at that time. Wheelen had and still does today a lot of support and involvement. That money created an environment in which I could go showcase my talents at the next level and the next level and the next level. That was all created from the weekly racing series and NASCAR’s involvement and push to find that next star.”

FROM A FAN STANDPOINT, DO YOU THINK YOU CAN ATTRACT THOSE FANS TO THIS? “Yeah. That is our fan. I was just at Ocala, Brunswick before that. When I look at those fans, those are our fans. If we ever lose sight of that we are in big trouble.”

HOW HAS THE NATURE OF RESTRICTOR PLATE RACING CHANGED THROUGH YOUR CAREER? “It seems like they change the rules and it is always the same crazy, chaotic web of things that happen, events that happen through the course of the week. We learn from a Clash race or Duel race and then the Truck race gets wild and the Xfinity race trumps that or backs down and your level of expectations kind of change. It seems like a constant wave as we go out to speedweeks and showcase those races. They with the Daytona 500 you throw in a 500-mile race on top of it all. There is always that lull where somebody is sitting there going, ‘I am not entertained’ and it is like, ‘Just give me a minute.’ All hell breaks loose, cars are on fire and upside down and going like hell at the end of it. That is the Daytona 500, Daytona in general. That is why we all flock to it.”

WHAT WOULD WINNING THE DAYTONA 500 MEAN TO YOUR CAREER? “If I ever win this thing. Sunday night when I do. I won’t have to tell you. You will see it.”

NASCAR IS ALWAYS LOOKING AT SAFETY. THEY HAVE DONE A PRETTY GOOD JOB HAVEN’T THEY? “There is risk involved. There is a reason we have helmets. There is a reason football players have helmets. There is risk. It is dangerous. It is not for everybody, but it is for me. That is what I grew up doing. It is in my blood. It is what I love doing. Do I know there is risk involved and I could get a concussion? I know it is worse than that. I could get killed out there. But I still put my helmet on and go compete because it is what I love to do. It is what I want to do. It is how I make my living. It is always going to be that way. You will always fight that. You try to learn as much as you can and enhance the safety aspect of it as much as we can and that is collective across the board with all of us in NASCAR. Whether you are a driver, the sanctioning body, or anyone else. We will always have that risk. You just have to decide if it is for you or not.”

ARE YOU ON A DIFFERENT WORK OUT PLAN OR SOMETHING? YOU LOOK LEANER AND MEANER. “I just quit eating. That is what you have to do when you get fat. Quit eating and quit drinking. Be miserable, and hire a trainer that is mean as hell.”

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