|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 points race at Charlotte, which I haven’t been able to do, yet. 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 in recent years. Beyond that, I would certainly still like to win 200 overall NASCAR races. 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 11th season with M&M’S on board with me wearing yellow at Daytona.”Why is the Daytona 500 so difficult 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 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 just watching it. 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 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 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. I’m just looking forward to getting back to Daytona to my day job with our M&M’S Camry.”
How significant do you think the new ride height might be at Daytona?
“I think it’s going to be better for the safety aspect. I think obviously with all of us trying to get our cars as down and as low as possible that it’s going to be really good for us for lift-off speeds and things like that. When the car gets turned around, it’s not going to want to lift as fast. We kind of saw that a couple years ago, I think Matt (Kenseth) actually went upside down at Talladega – well, a few guys went upside down, but Matt most notably when the car turned sideways and it automatically lifted and then it just kind of went over. Now, when the car gets sideways and turned, it’s not going to lift because it doesn’t want to rebound. It doesn’t want to be pushed back up because of the soft springs and the ride-height rule. It’s going to want to stay lower, flatter, so it’s not going to allow the air to get underneath it. As far as the drivability aspect of it, I think that’s going to be pretty similar. I don’t think there’s going to be much of that. Maybe – hopefully – it’ll make the cars drive worse so then there is some handling that comes into play. I would enjoy that. I would like that because I think any time you have an opportunity to out-setup someone or out-handle someone at a racetrack, that’s what creates racing. That’s what makes passing.”
How have you adjusted to the transition now that you’re that veteran status?
“Yeah, obviously it’s a unique opportunity for me being one of the elder statesmen, if you will, of the sport, let alone Joe Gibbs Racing, and being able to kind of lead our younger guys, if you will, Erik and Daniel. Those guys have come through Kyle Busch Motorsports, so it’s been fun to watch them progress through the years with the Truck Series, the Xfinity Series, and now being into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. I’m looking forward to working with them and continuing to see their progress, but also hopefully being able to continue to be one of the leadership guys at our team and being able to race on for championships for years to come.”