Are there race wins or other things that you hope to accomplish before your racing career is over?
“The number-one, most important thing is trying to win the Daytona 500. After that, we will try to win the Coke 600 at Charlotte, or really any Cup race at Charlotte, which I haven’t been able to do, yet. Past that, to be able to win at Pocono, which is the only other place besides Charlotte where I haven’t won a Cup race. Winning at Martinsville and getting a Grandfather Clock and winning at Kansas, where I haven’t been very good in my career, were both really special last year. Beyond that, I would certainly still like to win 200 overall NASCAR races, but that may be down the line a bit. Those are some of the bucket-list things that would be cool to accomplish someday. We still have plenty to accomplish but I’m excited to head back to Daytona and get a new year started. Hard to believe it’s my ninth season with M&M’S on board with me. We have a lot of great things to come with them this year and with the launch of M&M’S Caramel in May.”
Does having a championship on your resume make you feel any different heading into another new season?
“I don’t think I’m any different than I was before winning the championship than I am today. I’m just a fierce competitor who wants to go out there and win races and compete for championships. Even though there’s one under my belt, there’s plenty more to achieve. We’ll go out there and fight hard and make sure we can do that week-in and week-out, but also year-in and year-out with this M&M’S team and everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing. At the same time, I feel like there was the pressure of winning a title lifted off my back. To be introduced as a Cup Series champion never gets old and will always be a huge honor for me, no doubt.”
Why is the Daytona 500 so hard to win?
“Because everybody else wants to win it and it’s on all their bucket lists and, of course, it’s a race that 40 people have a chance to go out there and win. I wouldn’t say the same for a race like Atlanta. You go to Atlanta and obviously that’s a race where probably 10, 12 guys are going to have a chance to win but, when you show up to Daytona, all 40 people will believe that they have a chance to win.”
How would you explain the feeling of starting the Daytona 500?
“It’s crazy because I felt that as a rookie, maybe my second year, but I don’t necessarily feel it that much now. I feel it’s like another race, but it is the first race of the year and you want to start it off well. Are you always really ready for the start of the season? Who knows? If the Daytona 500 was the fifth or sixth race of the year, would it be better for me or better for somebody else? Maybe, or maybe not. The only way I can explain it to people is if you ever get excited or the adrenaline starts pumping and you don’t necessarily have any feelings and it’s just excitement. It could be for people experiencing the birth of a kid or something like that, or seeing their kid go through graduation or something like that. That’s sort of the feeling that you get of getting ready to start the Daytona 500. To me, I get nervous or pumped up or excited for the start of the Super Bowl, especially being there in person this year in Houston. I’m excited and I’m jacked up for it, so I can only imagine what the players feel, and that’s sort of the feeling that you get.”
How important is the Clash exhibition race to learn the draft and get ready for the rest of Speedweeks?
“I think anytime we ever go down to Daytona, whether it’s with a new car or whether it’s with a different rules package or what have you, we always look at the Clash, as they call it now, as a race to watch to see exactly what’s going to happen and what characteristics you have in your racecar and things. It’s a learning experience for everybody, whether you’re in the race or whether you’re out of the race and not in it. For us, we’re curious to see how the car is going to race and how it’s going to handle and what it’s going to react like. Things aren’t too drastically different with speedway racing this year, so there will be less to get used to. I’ve been so busy with things this offseason with KBM (Kyle Busch Motorsports) and some of my businesses, I’m just looking forward to getting back to Daytona to my day job with our M&M’S Camry.”