12 Questions with Erik Jones

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Erik Jones of Furniture Row Racing. I spoke with Jones on Wednesday while attending a Toyota event in Utah where NASCAR drivers and Olympic athletes interacted.

1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?

Man, it sounds bad to say, but I’d say up until last year it was 100 percent natural ability. And then once I got to the Cup Series, I think we all have natural ability at this level — everybody’s really good, so that’s where working at it really comes into play. I would say this year has probably been 60 percent natural and 40 percent working at it.

It’s definitely a big change for me. Being in Trucks and Xfinity wasn’t easy, but it definitely wasn’t as hard as the Cup Series; I felt like I could really just get a good feel for it quickly and go out and be pretty quick everywhere. At the Cup level, it’s like, OK, everybody’s pretty quick at it, everybody gets it pretty easy and so you have to be really good at all the little things that make up for it for a lot of times.

2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and now Dale Earnhardt Jr. have all either retired in the last couple years or will retire soon. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?

I think for me, I’m just an average 21-year-old kid. I like to have fun, I like to party and have a good time. You know, go out, work hard and do my job on the weekends and have fun during the week.

Unfortunately, we don’t always get to show that in our sport. It’s hard to really broadcast that side in the world or that side of our lives out to the sport. But I like to just hang out and play a round of golf with my buddies or hang out at the pool and do whatever we wanna do. So it’s hard to really show that personal side. I wish there was a better way or an easier way to broadcast that out.

And I think that has been changing over the last few years and I think you’ll start to see more personality from a lot of guys. You’ve really only seen Dale Jr. come out and really show a lot of personality within the last few years, so hopefully I can figure that out better and hopefully it continues to go that way in NASCAR.

3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?

Just the travel for sure. I’m kind of a homebody at heart; I like to be home, I like to be around my family, my friends. In the Xfinity Series or the Truck Series, it’s not so bad. You leave on Thursday and you’re home on Friday or Saturday night and you have Sunday off. In the Cup Series, you really only have Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at home and Thursday you’re traveling again. So that’s a tough part.

All in all, compared to an everyday person going to work 9 to 5, we have it pretty good and you feel kind of guilty at times complaining about some of the things you have to do. But it really does take a toll on you traveling that much. It’s pretty rare that we get days off and get to enjoy ourselves and do what we want to do, so that’s definitely the hardest part for me.

4. A fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?

Yeah, I don’t really have an issue with it. I guess the hardest part for me sometimes is if I’m trying to spend time with friends and family. I wouldn’t necessarily say a restaurant setting, but sometimes you really just want to chill out and relax. But I don’t really have a problem with that — as long as we’re not in the middle of a meal or anything, I don’t really have much of an issue.

It’s not like I’ve ever been bombarded at a restaurant by 10 people. Every once in a while I have somebody come up and say, “Hey, nice to meet you,” and I don’t really mind that all.

5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?

I really don’t think that people necessarily understand 100 percent of the work that goes into it from the shop side and the engineering side. I don’t think a lot of people really see how many smart people we’ve got working on these cars. The engineers we’ve got — we have at-track engineers, but we also have engineers who are just working in the shop 100 percent of the time and trying to develop new products and make our cars faster.

Obviously, we can’t share all our simulation tools and all the neat things we get to use to make our cars faster, but I wish people could see that because there’s some really, really cool stuff that I think people would be pretty intrigued by to just check out and learn more about.

Unfortunately, we can’t show every fan in the world 100 percent what’s going on in the shop. I wish I could take everybody on an in-depth tour and show them the process of how these cars are built and how they’re put together, how the bodies are put together, the wind tunnel testing we do and some of the more technical side of things would be really cool to show people.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

Geez, I don’t know. Let me pull out my phone. It’s been awhile.

You’re scrolling through all these texts and no driver names are popping up.

Daniel Hemric. There we go. That was on the 12th (nine days ago). It’s been awhile. But yeah, Daniel Hemric. I hang out with him probably the most of any driver away from the racetrack. We have a pretty similar background, so we have lots to talk about usually.

7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?

Yeah, 100 percent. I started racing Late Models when I was 13, and it was the first time I’ve ever been on a racing tour. We pulled into the track one day and my first-ever crew chief said, “We’re just kind of the traveling circus. We all roll in, it’s the same guys, we unload, set up and put on a show.”

It’s no different at all at this level. I think we’re there to put on a show, to entertain the fans. That’s what we’re there to do, and I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t be considered entertainers.

8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?

I’d say it’s changed a lot over the years. Early on in my career I didn’t use it much and then I think I got a little too happy with it and then I had a lot of guys angry at me, so now it’s pretty rare (when) it comes out. The only times I really get frustrated now is racing with lapped cars. If there’s a lapped car you catch and he’s not giving you the lane, that’s pretty frustrating.

I had a guy early on, a race director in Late Models. Every drivers meeting, he’d say, “I don’t want to sound rude, but the lapped cars, you’re a second-class citizen today. It’s not your day. Give these guys the lane, they’re trying to race. That respect is going to come around when it’s the other way around some day.” So it’s really frustrating to me when you don’t get that respect, because it is going to come back around for him some day, and that’s probably the only time you’ll see it out of me.

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

Yeah, it goes both ways. I’ve never really went back out necessarily and just wrecked somebody, paying them back for being wrecked, but I make their lives as hard as I possibly can. Anytime I race around them, they’re not going to get a break from me and there’s not going to be a lot of patience from me either.

But it does go the other way for me, too. If there’s a guy that lets me go early in the race if I run him down, he’s going to get that respect back — at least until 50 to go. I think that’s the time where it goes out the window a little bit, everybody’s racing hard for the position, they don’t want to give anything up.

But it definitely does go each way. Most of the time, a lot of these guys will give you that favor early in the race, and definitely you feel like you kind of owe it to them.

10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?

Danica Patrick, I guess, probably. I haven’t really had dinner with like a celebrity of any sort, other than that. No A-listers, Hollywood or anything like that, so I’d have to say that’d be it.

11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?

I think it really goes back to one of your first questions there about working at it, the natural ability and the work ethic of it all. It came so easy in the Truck and Xfinity level that I never really learned how to work at it and how to get better at it. I’ve had guys tell me, “You might need to work on this or that,” but I was like, “I’m winning races, why do I need to work on that?” Getting to the Cup level now, I think that’s the biggest thing that I’d like to improve, at least on the racing side, to try and get more proficient in it.

12. The last interview was with Michael McDowell. His question was: Eventually when you do retire someday, what do you think will lead into your decision to say, “I think I’ve had enough?”

That’s a deep question. I think it will go two ways, honestly: Either you’re not capable of performing anymore, you’re not competitive, you’re not running up front and contending for wins — or you just get burned out. You get burned out on the schedule.

I think a little bit of that was with Jeff Gordon. He was still competitive, he was still winning — he made it to Homestead his last year. So I think a lot of his decision was based on he has two young kids and he was done with the grind. I see either one of those two ways.

I think for me, it will probably be that I’m not competitive anymore, honestly.

The next interview is with Todd Gilliland. Do you have a question that I might be able to ask him?

I’m trying to remember back when I was 16 and racing. I would ask him how much pressure he feels to perform, or how much pressure does he put on himself to perform well to try and get that break at the next big level.

Does he feel like there’s a lot of pressure on him, or does he feel like he just puts that pressure on himself? Because I felt like when I was his age, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to get those big wins that were going to put me on the map. So I would ask him if he’s feeling that same kind of thing.

12 Questions with Michael McDowell

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Leavine Family Racing’s Michael McDowell. I spoke with McDowell at Dover International Speedway. This interview is available both in podcast and written form.

1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?

That’s hard question. For me I would say 60/40 — 60 (percent) being working at it, 40 (percent) being natural ability. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been competitive and been able to run at a high level, but I feel like the biggest separation in my later years in my career is just working hard at it.

2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and now Dale Earnhardt Jr. have all either retired in the last couple years or will retire soon. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?

It’s funny, because I think that your fans are your fans because they like you and because they can relate to you. You hear people say, “Well I was a Tony fan and now I’m trying to figure out who to be a fan of.” Normally they’ll migrate to someone similar personality-wise, driving style-wise, something like that.

So I don’t really have a pitch. I like to think that my fans are my fans because they relate to me and because they want to be fans of Michael McDowell.

3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?

This job’s not very hard. We get paid to drive around in circles. But there’s a lot to it. I think the hardest part is just balancing your work life and your family life. That’s probably the hardest thing just because racing requires everything you have. Even when you’re not doing it, you’re still thinking about it.

When you’re home, you’re still thinking about the next week, I’m watching video and I’m looking at data. Even when I’m not doing those things, I’m still thinking about it. The hard part is just being able to switch it off and switch it on. It’s ingrained in you, racing, so you just live and breathe it.

You sort of never get away from it in some ways.

Exactly. It feels like you never get away from it.

4. A fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?

Yeah, for sure. I don’t have any issues with that. It doesn’t happen all the time, so for me it probably wouldn’t be that big of a deal. I feel like there’s always a time and place to do it, so timing is very critical. But for fans, they don’t know what that looks like. It’s what we signed up for, so I always just have a little extra grace knowing that they’re just excited and it’s not that big of a deal, whatever it is you’re doing.

5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?

There’s lots of stories. From 15th back doesn’t get enough coverage for anybody. We’re a sport of 40 drivers compared to other sports that have hundreds and thousands of athletes, and yet we still only focus on 10 guys. So I think just telling the other stories and telling who those people are and their teams, there’s just more to it than the 10 guys that are all retiring.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

Hold on. Let me get my phone.

Pulling it up on your nice red-orange phone case. I don’t know if that’s red or orange. Some combo of the two.

Yeah it’s bright, because I leave it everywhere, so this helps me.

The last driver — Cole Whitt. David Ragan. Those were my last two.

You have them in a group chat or something?

No. I asked David Ragan about Pocono, taking the kids to the waterpark. That’s the intense conversations you have with drivers.

7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?

Some of them are. There’s a lot of personalities in the sport. I don’t consider this to be an entertainment sport from the standpoint of us as characters. On the racetrack, I think it’s an entertainment sport. But there’s a lot of characters in our sport. There’s a lot of people who are quite entertaining that don’t always show it.

8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?

I’m not a big fan of it. Over the years, I’ve kind of changed a little bit. It used to be if somebody gave me the finger, I would do everything I could to get to their bumper and hit them. Most of the time if they gave you the finger it was because you’re holding them up and they’re faster than you so usually you can’t catch them to hit them.

I know that everybody has their own thing about it, but what I’ve learned is that most of the time when I do something of retaliation, I get myself in trouble, too. So it’s usually not worth it.

Did you ever successfully catch somebody and hit them after they gave you the finger?

Yeah lots of people, and that makes them really mad. But that’s the whole idea, you know what I mean?

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. I remember you kept a payback list on the inside of your uniform at one point. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

The races, they go in these momentums and they go in the ebbs and flows. Yes, you do remember when someone cuts you a break. And cutting somebody a break could be when you’re catching them really quickly and they just don’t hold you up. Or it could be just merging off of pit road and letting you not get pinned down on the bottom, whatever it is. So you do remember that.

As far as retaliation lists, same thing. I used to really enforce it and now it’s not that I’ve gotten soft, but it just doesn’t help anybody. If anything, it just hurts you.

AJ (Allmendinger) and I were at it at the beginning of the year, and we were just hurting ourselves, just costing ourselves spots because we were both in that red mist mindset and we weren’t going anywhere. So I was able to sit down with him after a couple of races like that and say, “Alright man, we gotta figure this out, even if it means we gotta cut each other a little bit of breaks for the next couple weeks just to get over the hump.” Because when you start losing points and you start tearing up bodies, it makes a lot of work for the guys for no reason. So heat of the moment, things happen and that’s part of it, but separating the track and off-track is important too.

10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?

I don’t know. Famous is relative to who you think would be famous and who I think would be famous. It’d be different right?

That’s true. It could be to you, so somebody you were fascinated by.

So probably Mario Andretti. When Marco (Andretti) was really young, I did some driver coaching with him at Sebring. Just being around the Andrettis, the family, was pretty cool because I grew up an Andretti fan and a Mario fan in particular. So that was probably pretty cool.

11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?

A lot. On the racetrack?

You can answer it however you want.

I don’t know how you are, but I’m constantly trying to improve, whether that’s parenting my kids or trying to be a good husband or trying to make the most of my opportunity here. So I’m constantly taking inventory of, “Alright, these are the areas that are good,” and you highlight those and, “These are the areas you still gotta work on.” I feel like probably more than anything, it’s just patience and just being slow to speak. Sometimes I get myself in trouble.

12. Typically at this point I ask a question that the last driver has given me, but I screwed up the last interview which was supposed to be with Paul Menard, so there is no question from Paul Menard. So would you like to ask yourself a question here and answer it, or would you just like to skip this part?

No, I want to ask you a question.

Oh, you want to ask me a question?

So with your job description change, how is it being an independent versus working for the big brother?

Well, it’s a lot more fun, first of all. I feel like I can do a lot more of what I want. But what I was worried about was not people like you — because you’ve always been nice to me — but some people that have more difficult PR people might not give me as many interviews and access. But for the most part people have said, “Yes,” all year, so that’s really nice. Does that surprise you?

No, it doesn’t surprise me, because this sport is still relational and you’ve spent years building those relationships. So I don’t think it matters who your work for or who you drive for, who your sponsors are. When you build good relationships, I think people care more about you than who you work for.

That’s nice of you to say. Thank you. So there will be a next interview, hopefully, but I don’t know who it’s going to be with. Do you have a question I could ask the next driver?

What are the reasons for retirement? What are the things that would cause to you say, “You know what, that’s it. I’m good.”

So when they know it’s time, what’s gonna be driving that decision?

Yeah, for sure.

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12 Questions with Kurt Busch

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch of Stewart-Haas Racing. I spoke with Busch at Dover International Speedway.

1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?

I would say that it’s a balance of both, but in all honesty, my dad, Tom, taught Kyle and I everything about the race car. First up was how to work on it, and that taught us how to respect it. And then (was) how to race it. He was always there helping us with our go-karts.

You know what’s funny is that I always looked forward to watching the race with him on Sundays as a kid, because he would point out certain things that the veteran drivers were doing, like Dale Sr. was doing this or Bill Elliott did that, and it was really neat to digest that and then apply it to the little go-kart we had.

Does he still give advice from time to time now?

Oh yeah. He hasn’t slowed down one bit. (Laughs) He still knows it all.

2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and now Dale Earnhardt Jr. have all either retired in the last couple years or will retire soon. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?

There’s the opportunity in NASCAR that’s different than any other sport and that is that we have 40 guys that take the green flag every weekend. There’s two sports teams usually, like right now it’s the (Golden State) Warriors against the (Cleveland) Cavaliers (in the NBA Finals), and are you a fan of either? Usually by this time of year your guy or your team is out of it, and so you choose one or you move on to another situation.

But I always encourage people to stay involved in NASCAR and find a driver that they think is similar to their driving style or to their demeanor (or) to their ability of fun level. I think the fun level is what this sport needs to continue to focus on. Everyone talks about power rankings, stages, points, wins — let’s talk about fun level.

3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?

That’s a good question. My job is great, I love it. There’s always so many different hats you have to wear, whether it’s a media hat, a sponsor hat, working with the crew guys and the engineers, studying wind tunnel numbers.

That’s maybe the toughest part right now, balancing all the rule changes of NASCAR and trying to find a common thread on how to get that advantage. The sport is all about having that advantage and being the top team, and right now we’ve been working our buns off balancing all of the different things that are changing.

4. A fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?

Oh sure. There’s a moment in time where you always have that one chance to make a new fan or to keep a fan of the sport of NASCAR. It’s nice when you’re done eating to come over.

I remember one time — it was actually here in Dover, Delaware — where I was having ribs and somebody wanted me to sign what they wanted me to sign. I was like, “Guys, I’m eating.” They were just so ecstatic, they wanted me to sign and I really had rib barbecue sauce all over my hands and signed what they wanted signed. They wanted that part of it as well.

Here’s some barbecue sauce from my meal. It’s like an extra souvenir here.

Yeah, it was like icing on the cake.

5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?

I would say it’s just the genuine racing on the track and who’s doing what and how that move or pass happened. It’s similar to like old-school journalism on where guys were out-dueling each other out on the racetrack.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

I had lunch with Matt Crafton this week, so maybe that was the last driver I texted.

That would make sense.

I do need to text Jimmie Johnson, though. My wife’s playing polo and his buddy Nacho is playing polo, and so we gotta figure out if we’re gonna go watch polo.

That’s something you’d never thought you’d say a few years ago, right?

Yeah. Polo, right?

7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?

Yeah there’s that aspect of it. Ultimately we’re just hardcore racers, and then you learn at this level the TV side of things because we’ll be like, “The track’s ready to go, the track’s green,” but we still got another hour or so before live TV hits. So there’s a little bit of that, but at the end of the day you just roll with it and focus on driving the car.

8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?

I haven’t used it in a while because it came with so many penalties — not from other drivers, just from NASCAR. Honestly I haven’t used it in a while. It’s usually when somebody does something so blatant and that blatant moment was backed up by three consistent blatant moments. So you usually need to have three strikes to get something pretty big.

So three strikes, then the finger.

Yeah, I would say.

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

Yeah, you have all the different lists. Like when we get to the cutoff for the playoffs and you know guys are really pushing hard to run consistent and to get into the playoffs. Then there’s the good guy list, the bad guy list; you keep track of it all. That’s an element that if you’re good at that situation, you’re in that top percentile.

10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?

I’m trying to think. I had a beer with Reggie Jackson the other day.

That’s pretty cool. How was that?

It was pretty solid. We were hanging out at the Yankee Club restaurant in New York City, but I don’t know (about dinner).

Oh, I got it. We just finished Indy, so Indy’s fresh in my mind. Having dinner with Mario Andretti at an Italian restaurant in Tampa, Florida, was one of the coolest moments that I’ve had. To sit down with him — I had my family, his family there was really neat.

That’s awesome, especially being able to pick his brain and stuff like that I imagine.

Just hanging out in one of his cool Italian spots and the way that racing was the anchor of the conversation. I saw the joy in my dad’s eyes and the way that everybody was really just chill, but really engaged in the situation.

11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?

My ability to communicate. I’ve had things in my head all the time on what I’m thinking or what I would like to see happen with the car or it could be something simple as schedule.

I think I told my wife the other day, “Yeah, we’re gonna have lunch when we get to New York City and we’ll meet up afterwards,” and she was just confused if she was doing lunch or if I was just doing lunch. It’s a little thing. I think that’s just a part of being husband and wife, but honestly I can do a better job with Tony Gibson and anybody that works at Stewart-Haas, just to be clear on communications.

12. The last interview I did was with James Hinchcliffe because I went to the Indy 500. His question was: “Do you think that Jimmie Johnson will be able to break the championships record, and if so, how many do you think he’ll end his career with?”

I’ll answer your question, James Hinchcliffe, in reverse. I think he’ll end with eight. I think if he gets it, he’ll be done; he’ll walk away, drop the mic. Will he get it? I’ll tell you, the combination of Chad Knaus, Rick Hendrick, Lowe’s, Jimmie Johnson — that is a power package that has never been assembled and probably never will ever again, and it’s mind-boggling to see their results and watch them continue each and every year to power through it. I wish them all the best. I think they’ve got the best potential out of everybody to ever set that type of record.

Will he do it? I’m on the fence; I’m 50/50 because I’m out there still competing and I don’t want him to get another one while I’m out here. I wanna get one. I wanna get another one. So we’ll see how it pans out. I’m gonna say 50/50 that he gets it, but when he does, 100 percent he’ll drop the mic and walk away.

The next interview that I’m doing with is with Paul Menard. Do you have a question that I could ask Paul?

What’s the slogan for Menard’s? “Everything’s better at Menard’s,” or what’s the slogan? Oh, “Save big money at Menard’s.” So I wanna ask Paul Menard who came up with that tagline, and then if he was ever a box boy or a bag guy at Menard’s.

Editor’s Note: Unfortunately, Paul Menard will not be the next 12 Questions interview. Due to another interview running long, I was late for Menard and he was unable to reschedule the interview for the Dover weekend. My apologies.

12 Questions with James Hinchcliffe

The series of 12 Questions driver interviews continues this week with IndyCar’s James Hinchcliffe, who is currently 10th in the series standings after getting caught in a crash Sunday in the Indy 500. I spoke with Hinchcliffe in the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports garage at Indianapolis a few days before the race.

1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?

I would say 50/50. I’m definitely not one of those insanely naturally talented people. Let’s put it this way: My first go-kart race was horrendous. Like you didn’t put me in a go-kart and I was like instantly fast. I had to work at it. I had to figure out how to be fast.

I think if you’re at this level, you have a certain degree of natural talent for sure, but no doubt I had to work pretty hard to kind of figure out how to do this well.

What happened in the first go-kart race?

I got lapped on the third lap of the race, and it was pretty horrendous. I think by my fourth go-kart race when I was still being lapped my dad was like, “If this isn’t fun for you anymore, we can stop.” I’m like, “No, no. I am determined to figure out how to go quickly here.”

2. In general, what’s your pitch for people to become fans of yours?

Oh man. I guess, “Like attracts like.” I’m a fan of this sport. I’ve been on the other side of the fence, I’ve been the kid with a Sharpie and a hero card. I try to relate to fans like that as a fan, because even though I’m on the other side of the fence now, I’m still a die-hard fan of racing and I try to exude that and show that to my fans and show them the appreciation that we have for them in supporting us. 

3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?

Probably the travel. Just the amount of time that you’re away from home, away from family, the amount of time you spend at airports and hotels and rental cars and lines for buses going to rental car centers. People think travel is very glamorous — and it can be sometimes — but that’s probably the biggest drain on you and probably one of the hardest parts.

Do most of the drivers not have jets in IndyCar?

No, we’re not quite rocking on the jet level. There’s a couple floating around out there, but that’s not a typical way of travel for an IndyCar driver.

4. A fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?

Yeah for sure, as long as they are polite about it. I think manners are important no matter what the scenario is. But I understand and accept that part of my job is being a public figure and that’s one of the sides of it. People are gonna recognize you and I like connecting with fans, so if they see me at a restaurant and they want a picture, then sure — just come up and ask.

5. What’s a story in IndyCar that doesn’t get enough coverage?

I feel like with the emergence of social media, even the smallest stories get broadcast out there one way or another. But I don’t think we talk enough about how Scott Dixon is the greatest IndyCar driver alive and maybe of all time when it all comes down to it.

No one’s gonna talk about it yet because he’s still driving, and there’s still guys like Mario (Andretti) and AJ (Foyt) walking around the paddock, so no one’s gonna say that when they’re still around. But 20 or 30 years from now — hopefully AJ and Mario are still around, but if they’re not, when Scott’s retired…hopefully he’s retired by then, but that guy can probably race until he’s 70 and still win. (But) I think you’re gonna see a lot of guys start talking about him in that way.

Guys like Mario will tell you that back in their day, it was different because the disparity between the good teams and the bad teams was much bigger. You had to have the right chassis, the right engine, the right tires and you were racing against four or five other really good guys. Now we have 15 guys that can win races in any given weekend for any team, and to be as consistently dominant and up front as Scott has for the last 15 years, I think it’s a pretty remarkable feat and I think that even guys like Mario would appreciate that.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

Maybe Conor (Daly)? (Looks at phone) Uh…Alex Rossi. He was the last driver I texted.

Are you a frequent texter with other drivers?

Yes. (Scrolls through phone) I was also texting Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan this morning. I texted Conor last night. Charlie Kimball, we chat a lot. Yeah, I talk to a lot of drivers.

7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?

I think all sportsmen, in a certain vein, are entertainers. Obviously in the racing world, they really try to bring up the rivalries and the reason they do that is because it’s entertaining to fans. But sports are entertainment, so yeah, I think if you’re a pro athlete, in some degree you are an entertainer.

8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?

In the heat of the moment, man, anything goes. I would be super hypocritical to sit here and say that it’s inappropriate to use your middle finger on the track.

Has that evolved over the years, or has your policy remained consistent?

I think it’s been pretty consistent. I’ve probably, definitely, very unfortunately fallen into a pattern of using it more than I used to, and I don’t know why that is. It’s probably not the best thing.

I got yelled at last year. I used it in a race and Max Papis pulled me aside to scold me for it, and he was like, “Fist is fine, or whatever Italian (gesture with the hand under the chin) is fine, or like number one finger is fine — just not that one!”

And then the next time I stuck my hand out of the cockpit, it was one finger, but it wasn’t the one he wanted me to use.

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

Definitely. The big thing is when you find yourself in a situation — and it’s unfortunate but it happens in racing — where your race hasn’t gone well and you’re laps down. You’re taking care of the guys that are running for the race win and just running for positions, not trying to be the guy who’s three laps down trying to race you just as hard as if you were going for it.

That goes a long way, and there are definitely some drivers that have the experience to know that, “Look, this does me no good, it hurts you and ultimately makes you mad at me” kind of thing, and some guys just don’t get that. So when someone does you a favor when they’re in a position that they can’t really improve and they can help you out — or at least not get in your way — you definitely make a point to go to them after the race and be like, “Thanks buddy, I owe you one.”

10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?

Lady Gaga.

Holy crap, that’s pretty big. What was that like?

It was awesome! That was actually after the (Indy) 500 last year. We went and had dinner with her at St. Elmo’s here in Indy, and yeah, she’s just a super cool girl. She was asking a lot of questions about racing. She was interested and fascinated by the whole thing. She’d been in the two-seater with Mario and the whole deal, so yeah — a very cool dinnertime chat.

11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?

You can always improve as a driver. This is one of those sports (where), and a lot of athletes say the same thing, you never stop learning. In such a competitive environment, there’s always something you can do better. There are four or five different aspects of my game that I would spend, and I do spend a lot of time on, trying to improve — and I don’t think that will ever stop.

12. The last interview I did was with Jamie McMurray. He wanted to know: Fernando Alonso has come here and sucked up a lot of the attention so far. What do you make of all that, and how do you think he’s done so far?

I certainly understand it. The fact that we’ve got a guy that is in the conversation for greatest living racing driver giving up their crown jewel event, and in his very unique circumstances, the best chance he has at a good result all year, to come here and do the Indy 500. He’s not a guy who grew up in North America, he’s not a guy that grew up dreaming to race in IndyCar, but still, the Indy 500 has that much allure and is that important to racing drivers all over the world.

So I certainly understand why there’s a lot of attention around it. You know, we fully support him being here. It benefits us as much as anything else, and so it’s great in that sense.

How’s he doing? Annoyingly well. (Laughs) This is a very, very different thing than what he does on a weekly basis and it’s unlike anything he’s ever done. He’s put himself in some situations in practice that would frighten some more timid racing drivers, but you can tell this guy is the real deal. I mean, he got in those situations, dealt with it, got up to speed very quickly, got comfortable very quickly in traffic — which is the hardest part — and he put himself on one of the best teams since the new car came out in ’12, statistically the best team here at the Speedway. And he put himself in a really good position to do very well on Sunday, so it’ll be interesting to see.

I don’t know who the next interview is going to be with, but it will be some NASCAR driver. Do you have a question I might be able to ask him?

That was a good question from Jamie. I liked that one. I was expecting more like, “Are you a boxers or briefs kind of guy?” or something goofy. But as we’re going a little bit deeper and insightful in that sense…

Talking about great racing drivers, you’ve got Jimmie Johnson, who is gonna try and break the record for number of championships. It’s a two-part question: A. Do you think Jimmie will get the record? And B. How many championships do you think Jimmie will retire with when he finally decides to hang up the helmet?

This 12 Questions interview is sponsored by Dover International Speedway. If you’re thinking of attending the Dover race this weekend, please consider using my ticket link. Thanks!

12 Questions with Jamie McMurray

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Jamie McMurray of Chip Ganassi Racing, who is currently fifth in the NASCAR Cup Series standings. I spoke with McMurray at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?

I think everyone is a little bit different. I think I work at it more than most. … That microphone is really close, Jeff.

I don’t have very good mic technique. Do the other interviewers, like the professional ones, hold it farther from your mouth usually?

(Laughs) I think the angle is off, Jeff. The angle’s a big deal.

So I need to hold it more straight up and down. I was holding it horizontally, and you’re saying that I need to hold it vertically. OK, that makes sense.

Yeah, I think I like this angle better. I don’t feel like you’re feeding it to me at this point.

Seriously though, I feel like through my whole career that I’ve worked a little bit harder than most. That’s not to take anything away from some people, but we know there’s some drivers who we say are just very naturally talented, and if they cared more, what could they do? I don’t feel like I’m that guy. I feel like I’ve worked really hard to get to where I am and I still feel like I study harder and work harder than most.

2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and now Dale Earnhardt Jr. have all either retired in the last couple years or will retire soon. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?

I don’t have a pitch. I don’t feel like you should try to sell somebody on becoming your fan. I think when you watch races on TV or you see interviews, if you like those people, if you like the way they race or if you like the way they live their life or if you just…you know, we all are turned on by different things. And I’m not a salesman.

3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?

I think the hardest part in general is always trying to be turned on. The reality is that we’re all probably not in as good of a mood as we show we are. My wife (Christy) tells me a lot of times, “It’s crazy how you kind of turn that on when you’re supposed to.” I don’t do it on purpose. I don’t consciously think, “Oh, Jeff Gluck’s going to interview me, I need to be this way.”

But we do, because the truth is, there’s some days where you’re not in a good mood, and what you really want to say, you can’t. So to me, that’s the hardest part —  just trying to always be turned on and say the right thing.

4. A fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?

Everybody is different about this. I am completely different when I’m with my family than when I’m alone. If it’s a team dinner or if I’m with a couple of guys, that’s totally different. I would say no all the time because you’re eating, but it’s totally different.

When I’m with my family, I get really defensive of people that come up, and I’m not as friendly or as outgoing. I chose to race cars and to be on TV, and I know what comes with it. My 4-year-old and 6-year-old did not (choose that), and they don’t really have a choice when they’re with me. So it’s completely different when I’m with my family.

5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?

Well, I’m into fitness right now, so I think the story that should be out there, especially with what Matt (Kenseth) and Jimmie (Johnson) and I did, and a lot of the crew guys in the garage did last week (the Assault on Mt. Mitchell, a 102.7-mile bike ride with a climb of more than 10,000 feet). I think that covering the fitness level of a lot of people in the garage would be interesting.

There’s this huge debate of whether people are race car drivers or athletes or if they’re not, and I think people would be shocked by what some people are capable of doing outside of a car.

Do you think that since you’ve gotten more in shape, you can notice a difference in the car?

There’s maybe a small amount in the car. Honestly, what I have noticed, the biggest change is the attitude of everyone on my team. I think when those guys see you putting in the effort and the work — we have a super fitness-oriented team anyway. There’s a lot of guys who do marathons and a lot of training, so I have noticed the attitude of them.

This is the deal: If you’ve never driven a car and you work on a team and things don’t go well at the end of the race, in my mind I know that maybe the handling of the car went away. But I think there’s always a little skepticism in people, like, “Well, did they get tired?” You maybe hear the little rumblings, and I think the attitude on our team has been awesome with all that’s been going on this year.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

I’m gonna look at my phone because I don’t know. (Pulls out phone) Greg Biffle. I texted him 32 minutes ago. Before that it’s gonna be Jimmie or Matt because we did that race on Monday, so probably Jimmie and Matt.

Are you a frequent texter?

No. My wife is the person who you can text and she will read your text then respond whenever she feels that she should respond. If I read, I do respond immediately because I know that people know that I have read that, or at least I feel like they know because they see (text) bubbles, right? But I’m not as into my phone as a lot of people are.

Does your wife put the read receipts on so you know what time she read it?

My wife doesn’t really care about her phone. If my wife lost her phone today, it would not matter. She would be like, “Oh well, it’s not that big of a deal.” So I don’t even know if her read receipts are on because she doesn’t know either.

7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?

I think some are more entertainers than others. Clint (Bowyer) would come to the top of my list as someone who’s an entertainer. He can turn it on, right? Although I will tell you that I have been around Clint a lot, and I don’t know if he turns it on. He’s basically that goofy the whole time. He’s always in a pretty good mood.

But yeah, I think that some people are certainly more entertainers than others. I don’t feel like I am that guy.

8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?

I haven’t done that in a long time. That used to be fairly common. That was once a weekend it happened. I don’t even see that anymore. I don’t know when the last time was when I got a middle finger.

I get a kick out of — I think they call it “Radioactive” (on FS1’s Race Hub) — I don’t know what that show is and I’ve only heard it a couple of times, but I love how mad people get. I have listened to like two of those, and they’ve been like after I’ve been at the airport, and the guy that MF’s me on the radio is like my buddy an hour later, so then you hear that and you realize that he was mad at what happened. So I love that they play that because that’s real.

Do you give anybody crap afterward? Like, “Hey, I heard what you said. That didn’t come up on our plane ride home or anything.”

No, because I know that’s the way you feel right then, and I don’t care. They feel how they feel.

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

Yes. Look, we all race each other the way we are raced, and for the most part, you build relationships throughout the year or throughout your career with people who race you very well. What comes and goes, it goes both ways. So absolutely.

10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?

I don’t even know of anyone famous that I’ve had dinner with. Let me think. 

I’m gonna say Matt Kenseth.

11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?

I want to improve a lot of things about myself. But I think being kind to others. I feel like I try really hard at that, but I don’t go a good enough job, and I try really hard when I see someone to kind of know that they’re having a struggle and I feel like all of us should do a better job of being kind to others.

12. The last interview I did was with William Byron. He wanted to know: “What other sports do you watch outside of racing, and what things does NASCAR need to take and apply from other sports?”

That is a really deep question from Mr. Byron at (19) years old. I do watch some other sports, but mostly it’s racing: F1 or drag racing or IndyCars or sports cars or motorcycles.

My answer to that is what we’ve kind of done that this year with Monster being a part of it. When you watch Supercross or you go to a Supercross event, they do a really good job with the laser light show and those guys come out and ride wheelies and they do a little more interaction. I feel like we’ve had a little more of that this year, not because Monster is here, but because all the sports are trying to gear towards a younger audience and that’s kind of the way to get there.

I don’t know who the next interview is going to be with, but I’m trying for an IndyCar driver because I’m going to the Indy 500. So do you have a question to throw out there?

Are you excited that Fernando (Alonso) came to run the Indy 500 and got a crazy amount of attention, and at the same time how did you think that he did?

I just wanted to say thanks again, because I feel like you’ve changed my life now with holding this microphone. I feel like I’m doing it the right way now. So thank you for that help. It’s like having something in my teeth the whole year and nobody’s told me I had something in my teeth until you said I was holding the microphone wrong.

That’s funny, because I knew that was going to happen because we’ve been talking about it behind your back the whole time. They’re like, “Wait until Jeff Gluck interviews you, because the way he holds his microphone is really weird.”

I don’t believe that, but thanks for joining us.

This 12 Questions interview is sponsored by Dover International Speedway. If you’re planning to attend the Dover race next week, please consider using my ticket link. Thanks!

12 Questions with William Byron

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with William Byron of JR Motorsports. Byron, a rookie, is currently third in the Xfinity Series point standings. I spoke to him at Talladega.

1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?

I’d say it’s probably 70 percent natural and 30 percent working at it. I started racing five years ago, so it’s kind of come fast and something that when I started, I just picked it up. I’ve been able to work at running the different racetracks and learning the different cars. So it’s probably 70/30.

2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards and now Dale Earnhardt Jr. have all either retired in the last couple years or will retire soon. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?

My pitch is probably just the fact that I race for Junior and I think running for JR Motorsports is a good way to support us and kind of branch out into something that he supports as well. Dale and I, we get the chance to go cycling and stuff like that, so we’ve had a chance to bond and hopefully bring over some of those fans in the future. We’ll just have to see what happens. But yeah, I think JR Motorsports is a good way to keep supporting.

That’s a pretty good argument. You’re like, “Hey, Junior fans, look at somebody who actually drives for him!”

Exactly, yeah.

3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?

The hardest part is probably the travel and stuff, just going to different places every week and being away from kind of a normal life. But that part’s all exciting; you get to go to a lot of different racetracks, meet a lot of different people and it’s a lot different than what my 19-year-old friends are doing in college. I get pictures of them going to football games and stuff. It’s different, but it’s what I love to do, so it’s fun.

4. A fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?

Yeah, I think so. Absolutely. That would be a pretty cool experience to be noticed in a restaurant. You know, I had that (recognition) just outside the racetrack at the same weekend of the race, but if it was just a normal weekend, it’d be neat to have a fan come up and want an autograph. So yeah, for sure.

5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?

Probably just how much the teams work on the cars. It sounds repetitive, but there’s so much work that goes into this sport, and I think that’s sometimes lost in the fray of what we do. There’s so much practice and effort that goes into each weekend, so it’s just very competitive. That’s a credit to what the teams are doing, what the drivers are doing and all the engineering that’s going on to make that happen. 

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

Probably Dale. We were going riding last week Wednesday, and the peer pressure set in of going to ride with him. I didn’t really want to at first, but yeah. Dale and all of our group chat have just been talking about fitness stuff, that’s been the hot topic lately. So (I’ve) just been doing that during the week.

What’s your cycling experience? Did you just get into it recently with all these other people at the same time?

Yeah, I actually just got a bike. I wasn’t so sure about all the spandex and everything, but it’s fun and it’s actually pretty fast. As race car drivers, you know we love that. Going downhill is fun when we’re all in a pack drafting.

The thing that’s ironic and weird about cycling is when you lose the draft, you’re done. It’s like being at Talladega. So you gotta make sure you get tucked into the draft, stuff like that. But yeah, I’ve been doing it for the last month or so.

7. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?

I’ve never used the middle finger. Five years ago, racing Legend cars, my second race, I was racing hard and I had no idea what I was doing. I got into somebody, whatever happened — and I got the bird. I got the middle finger.

I was kind of like, “Man, this is kind of a harsh way to start.” So I guess that’s just something that I’ve never chose to use after that; it kind of rubbed me the wrong way and it was kind of a tough thing to learn right out of the box that somebody would do that. So I just kind of never use it. 

8. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?

Yeah, I think definitely so. When I watched as a kid, what was entertaining for me watching NASCAR was maybe not the same as I think now as a driver. When the cars are hard to drive and things aren’t going well, that’s frustrating as a driver but it’s entertaining as a fan. You gotta balance that.

I think you gotta really express your feelings about the race and not just hold back and always do what you think is best for you and your team. Sometimes you’ve got to make it exciting a little bit and that’s what makes it fun to watch.

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

Yeah, I think you kind of build (it) up. When you’re in the race car, you remember the number on the car, you remember the way the car looks, the way the person drives. You don’t always remember their name, ironically — you just kind of remember, “Hey, this person raced me this way last week,” or “This person keeps running me over every week,” or whatever, stuff like that. You just kind of take a mental note of that and either apply it or keep it and just make sure you have that in the back of your pocket if you need to use it.

But I think if somebody races you really clean, you tend to develop a friendship or develop a respect in the garage and talk to them before the race and stuff like that. So people like Daniel Hemric or Elliott Sadler are people I race against that race me really clean. I just keep racing them clean and ask them for advice, too.

That’s interesting. So in some cases, it could be like, “That red No. 90 car got in my way again! Oh my gosh!” And you don’t even necessarily know who it is exactly?

I mean, I know who it is, but the car and the number kind of take a personality of its own — and I think of that differently than when I see the guy in the garage. I think we all change when we’re in the helmet. We definitely do, because it’s never the same as you expect that person to be, so that’s probably the biggest difference.

10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?

I’d say in racing, just probably Mr. H (Rick Hendrick). That’s probably, for me growing up, the most famous person that I could picture and Mr. H and really just Jimmie or something like that would be the most famous person.

11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?

Sometimes I don’t always say what’s on my mind, so I think sometimes I kind of hold it inside. I think that’s sometimes a good quality to have, but sometimes to get things done, you have to say what’s on your mind. So that would be the one thing I would change if I could.

12. The last interview I did was with Daniel Hemric. He wanted me to ask a driver who started out with some financial backing how you overcame the stigma of being a money guy to being someone known for his talent.

I think that I had the sponsors like Liberty (University) with me early on, so that was my way of kind of connecting myself with somebody, kind of showing that I had a sponsor. But that sponsor wasn’t really interested with what I was doing on the racetrack, so it was more off the racetrack, and I think that did affect me because people were like, “What is Liberty doing on his car every week? His dad must know them,” or something like that. That always bothered me a little bit because it was a real sponsor and they were helping me.

I overcame it just with my on-track performance. Just kind of knowing how I started, how much I wanted to race as a kid — just like every kid wanted to — and the fact that I did get that chance was kind of rare. So I just took that opportunity and ran with it to try and win races and show that I can do things that other people couldn’t. That’s how I got to this point, and now I’ve kind of overcome that and I’m able to just be with JRM and Hendrick with everybody that can support me now.

I don’t know who the next interview is going to be with, but do you have a general question so I can ask the next driver?

What sport do they watch outside of racing and what things do our sport need to take and apply from other sports?

This 12 Questions interview is sponsored by Dover International Speedway. If you’re planning to attend the Dover race in June, please consider using my ticket link. Thanks!

12 Questions with Daniel Hemric

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Daniel Hemric of Richard Childress Racing’s Xfinity Series team. I spoke to Hemric at Richmond International Raceway. This interview is available as a podcast and is also transcribed below.

1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?

I feel like for myself, the natural ability was always there, but given my upbringing and having to work on my own cars and build my own race cars and do all that stuff, I had to work at it — like work extremely hard at it.

As you get to this level, it seems like that is even more of a difference. So even if the natural ability is there, you’re also talking about, what, the top 120something best guys at this in the world? So you gotta have both sides of that in order to succeed.

2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards have all retired in the last couple years, and now Dale Jr. will be retiring. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?

I consider myself kind of like an old-school asphalt racer of those guys’ style because of just working on my own stuff and having to do it a different way from hard work and knowing the ins and outs of a race car — not just the showing up part of the racing. And that’s something that I felt has kind of set me (apart) to hopefully have fans from Dale Jr. and Tony Stewart.

Those (fans) who are looking for someone to attach themselves to: Do it with a guy that’s had to come up in kind of the same route in order to work hard to get to where they’re at. I try to pride myself on that, and hopefully it gives all the other kids opportunities that were in the same situation I am, fighting tooth and nail for their lives in order to have the opportunity of getting into a race car.

For me to be able to do that, I hope to help other kids do that someday and hopefully (fans) get attached to that.

Do you think knowing the car in and out so well can give you an advantage when you’re giving feedback to your crew chief, whether it’s for race setups or during a race?

Yup, I feel like that’s something my crew chief Danny Stockman and I actually live and breathe off of. The new package in the Xfinity Series, the new car for myself — we’re at Race No. 8 here in Richmond, and we’re kind of both learning on the go. So just the little stuff I’ve done, especially when we go short-track racing that has helped me in other style of vehicles, I feel like has applied and continues to apply as our relationship becomes better and better.

So I like to think that it gives me a little bit of the upper hand compared to a lot of the other younger guys as they’re trying to make a name for themselves here in the series.

The backside of that is sometimes you get in a situation where you’re trying to do too much of that, knowing the race car and stuff, so you’ve got to know when to disconnect from that.

3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?

I think from other levels, short-track racing to get to this level, there was never any time. I know a lot of guys say, “Oh, we never have enough time to do what we want to do during the week.” I kind of disagree with that because I remember the sleepless nights, building race cars all night, getting up and driving the truck to the racetrack.

So for me, it’s knowing what to do with the time, not having to come home every night to clean your fingernails and scrub your hands just to go to dinner with the wife and go back to the shop. It’s knowing what to do with that spare time that has allowed me to take on some other endeavors in life.

So you have too much time, or you have more free time than you’re used to?

Yeah, I wouldn’t say too much, but I have more free time than I’ve been accustomed to over the last 10 to 15 years, trying to make a name for myself in racing. But it’s allowed me to take on some other sports and pay attention to other world news and stuff like that. It’s something I never did growing up, so I’m trying to reconnect with stuff that I’ve lost out on in the past.

What’s something you’ve picked up with your additional time?

Golf is one thing that I never saw myself doing, but a round of golf is four to four-and-a-half hours, no matter how you want to look at it, so that’s something I’ve tried to take to. And it’s also helped in racing a little bit, just how you can mentally take yourself in and out of the game really quick. So I’ve tried to connect to that.

Throughout that, I’ve made some great relationships: I’ve had the pleasure of playing with Ricky (Stenhouse Jr.) and (Kyle) Larson a couple of times, and Christopher Bell’s a good golf buddy of mine, so all of us kind of go in together and it’s something I’ve really enjoyed.

In golf, you only have yourself to blame if something goes wrong, and you can get mad at yourself in a hurry, you know?

Yeah, I had an old golfer tell me something just two weeks ago that made me think about it. Golf’s four-and-a-half hours, but the backside of that is you’re only playing for 90 seconds. Your backswing and your full swing is three-tenths of a second, so in 90 seconds, you can completely be in left field or at where you need to be. So I thought that was a pretty good analogy.

4. A fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?

Absolutely. I feel like with where our sport’s at today, having those one-on-one encounters is gonna go further than maybe doing some meet-and-greets with large groups of people.

First off, if somebody notices me, that’s a plus in itself. I’m trying to do what I’m trying to do here. But on the backside of that, if I’m taking the time to make their encounter that much more special, it can lead to them trickling your name throughout other people (and) their family, which can lead to a big following. So come see me.

5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?

I think it’s everything behind the scenes. For me, I get a chuckle over a lot of the sponsorship stuff and how late some of these deals get put together.

A lot of people from the outside in, just the casual fans of the sport, don’t realize that there’s been plenty of times in all three garages, Truck, Xfinity and Cup, where cars are getting wrapped during the midnight oil and all that stuff, and (fire)suits are getting embroidered and all that stuff that makes the deal go around. A lot of people don’t get to see that side of it, so people in the background, they don’t get all the credit they need.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

The last driver I texted…here, let me look to be sure. I don’t wanna lie to you.

Brad Keselowski (his former team owner in the Truck Series). He’s the guy I always try to shoot a text to here and there, especially going to a new racetrack for the first time. And having a great relationship with him from running his truck, he’s always there to help me with what to look for and what not (to look for), so he’s the guy I always text.

So is he still willing to give advice?

Yeah, Brad’s honestly given some of the best advice, in my opinion. I know that I have a ton of depth in my RCR group as teammates, but Brad — doing all the things he’s done in the sport and being so successful in doing it a lot of the same way I’ve tried to come up doing it — he understands the trials of trying to jump in and not only go fast and perform, but do it at new places and do it in a quick manner.

It’s a lot to take in, so he kind of helps prep me on what to look for, what not to look for and how to get the balance of the race cars right. Just helping me do what I can do in the seat and trying to let the crew guys worry about the race car.

7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?

Note: I forgot to ask this question. My bad!

8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?

You know, I think I’ve thrown two or three middle fingers out the window over time, I’d say more so in lapped traffic, going through those situations.

But when you’re racing a guy really hard and he’s not giving you any room, even for position or for the lead lap, I find a casual deuces out the window is more of a, “Hey, watch this, watch me drive away from you,” remark. I feel like it makes more of a remark than a middle finger.

So you’re like “peace out?”

That’s exactly right.

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

Yeah, I think so. I feel like in the Truck Series, the racing was root and gouge. And the way the downforce in the trucks are, without getting too in-depth with the aero stuff, you can’t really get much room, so you find a lot of those enemies and things you want to pay back.

But in the Xfinity Series, having RCR and pretty much six cars, at the racetrack, we’re around each other a lot. So a guy like me and Austin Dillion spend a lot of time racing each other this year, and he’s a really smart racer at letting me go at times. We’ve both found each other in the situation of playing give and take throughout the course of the year.

Yeah, it’s crazy; you never forget all that stuff and it does go a long way.

10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?

I’d have to call it lunch, but I had a casual lunch in the hauler in my first year in the Truck Series (when) I was teammates with Travis Pastrana. It was such an interesting, crazy excitement, and the guy’s just always wound up.

I had a hard time eating and following where we were going with our conversation, but man, he’s such a cool dude and so down to earth, it was definitely an experience to sit down and have some time with that guy. Hopefully I can do a couple more of those.

It’s crazy how some of the bigger people in life don’t have the larger-than-life personality. I remember that Pastrana was so chill.

He was so chill, and if you can keep him on focused on what we’re talking about, it’s as good as it can get.

As we’re talking here, my mind goes one other place. It wasn’t a dinner, but just recently I had the opportunity to go to one of the top five biggest tennis matches in the world. I know nothing about tennis, but hell, I looked right, and three rows over sitting next to me is Bill Gates. I thought, “Man, here’s a kid from Kannapolis, North Carolina and Bill Gates is sitting less than 20 yards from me. Where am I at? How have I gotten here?” So that was pretty cool.

11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?

You know, I keep going back to the short track side of things, but you work all the time, and the healthy eating is hard to follow suit. At this level, working on yourself, studying races, doing all that stuff — that’s just stuff that I live for and thrive on, and working out I love. But I feel like I work out so I can eat what I want. I love food, I just wish I could figure out a way to get a more healthy lifestyle that way.

What are some of your guilty pleasure foods?

In downtown Mooresville, there’s JJ Wasabi’s Japanese restaurant. That’s my go-to. My wife Kenzie (Ruston) gets mad because I probably eat there three or four times a week and have no shame over it. But that’s my go-to.

12. The last interview was with Elliott Sadler. His question is: Should (NASCAR) draw a pill and invert a certain number of starting starts right before the green flag? So the polesitter would come out and draw a pill and then they invert X amount of spots. Would you be down with that?

Yeah, Elliott coming from a short track background (like) myself, that’s normal at a regular Friday or Saturday night local show. To go up and have six or eight Coke cans sitting on the wall and have a fan come down and flip one over and there’ll be a Sharpie number, you know, one through six or eight, and that’s where you’re gonna start whether you’re the fastest qualifier or eighth, you could be on the pole.

I don’t like the (full) inversion, but I like where you pick your random spot and you don’t know where or who you’re gonna be around. So I’d be all for that at some of the races, where we’re looking to amp everybody up a little bit.

I don’t know who the next interview is with, but do you have a general question that I can ask another driver?

I’d like to know maybe from one of the guys who maybe haven’t had to come up through it like Elliot Sadler or myself or Brad Keselowski — maybe one of the guys who had financial backing at a younger age — how do they transform from being that guy to being a guy who’s known for his own ability and not that paycheck?

So basically, how do you overcome the money guy perception?

Yeah, how do you overcome the perception of, “His daddy got him there,” or, “His sponsor got him there,” to, “This guy here means business, he’s gonna be here for a long time.”

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