The Top Five: Breaking down the Texas Motor Speedway race

Five thoughts from Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway:

1. Stop questioning the 48 team for any reason

One of the dumbest NASCAR storylines — which I’ve probably been guilty of buying into several times over the years — is questioning Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus. Seriously, it’s really, REALLY dumb.

Incredibly, the Johnson/Knaus questions were doubled at Texas, which is extra ridiculous — especially after he got win No. 7 here.

— With only one top-10 heading into the race, had the defending champion lost a step? (OBVIOUSLY NOT, NO. HE NEVER DOES.)

— After spinning out in qualifying and being forced to start in the rear of the field, would Johnson be able to come from the back and win? (DUH, OF COURSE. HAVE YOU EVER WATCHED NASCAR?)

Johnson loves to rub it in his doubters’ faces when he wins, and he should.

“I guess I remembered how to drive, and I guess this team remembered how to do it,” he said in victory lane.

Remember, Johnson was asked at Fontana about his lack of performance so far this season and sounded annoyed.

“Sixteen years, 80 wins and seven championships and people want to question us?” he said then. “I mean, come on.”

Make that 81 wins.

Anyway, I’ve decided to never doubt Johnson and the No. 48 team until A) Johnson retires, B) Knaus retires or C) Johnson goes three years without winning.

Other than that, let’s just all make a pact not to bring up such a silly question again.

2. Short-term vs. long-term gain

Is it better go to for a stage win or get track position for the real win?

That was the dilemma facing the field at the end of Stage 2, when a debris caution presented the opportunity for a strategy play.

Ryan Blaney — who was dominating the race with 148 laps led — decided to stay out and go for the stage win (and a playoff point). He won the stage, but restarted 20th for the final stage as a result. After getting bottled up on the restart and later sliding through his pit, Blaney finished 12th. Obviously, that was a bummer.

On the other hand, Johnson and Kyle Larson used the same strategy as Blaney — and ended up finishing first and second. So it’s not like there was necessarily a right or wrong answer. It’s up to teams what is more important and what the priorities are.

“It’s easy to look back on it and say, ‘Oh, we should have done this, should have done that,’” Blaney said. “But you can’t really change any of that now.

“We thought we had enough time after (Stage) 2 to work our way back up through there. … I thought we made the right call to stay out there and try to win that segment. I’m for that.”

Knaus made a similar argument afterward, saying he was “very confident our car was going to be able to drive back through traffic” but added “you get a big pit in your stomach” after losing the track position.

“All you can do is make a decision and then adjust to the decision you make,” Knaus said.

I’m honestly not sure what the correct play is for future situations, especially since the results were a mixed bag. Either way, I enjoyed the added strategy element, which is just another plus for the stages.

3. Woe is Gibbs

Nearly 20 minutes after the race had ended, pit road had been emptied of the cars and most drivers were probably at the airport already.

But as a cloud of confetti drifted by, Denny Hamlin stood with his hands on his hips, talking to team owner Joe Gibbs, crew chief Mike Wheeler and a couple other team members.

It’s obvious why Hamlin wanted to linger on pit road: Joe Gibbs Racing is struggling so far this year.

“We were a 20th-place car at best most of the day,” Hamlin told me afterward. “I didn’t think any of us were very good.”

Texas was another bad race for JGR. The top finisher was 15th-place Kyle Busch, followed by Matt Kenseth (16th), Daniel Suarez (19th) and Hamlin (25th).

The performance can no longer be brushed off as an early-season fluke; JGR is not meeting its own high standards. And with Hendrick Motorsports finally getting a win, the “What’s wrong with JGR?” questions will only getting louder.

So what now?

“We just work harder,” Hamlin said. “We’re already working hard, but it takes time to get things figured out. We’ve got a new Camry and a lot of new things, and we’re just trying to adjust to it at this point. There’s a lot of different rules we’re trying to adjust to as well.”

4. Finally, a positive for Dale Jr.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. hadn’t scored a top-10 finish since June 6 at Pocono. That was 10 straight races without a good result.

You could tell it had started to wear on him, even though he was trying to be as optimistic as possible — for both himself and his team.

So a fifth-place finish at Texas was a welcome development for both his points position (he moved from 25th to 20th) and his psyche (he moved from “upside down face” emoji to “grinning face with sweat drop” emoji).

“I was trying not to get frustrated, but you can only take so much,” Earnhardt said afterward.

Texas was both a physical and mental challenge for a driver who had only completed one 500-mile event since returning from his concussion.

His air conditioning blower didn’t work all day, so he had to run with his visor up for the entire race. Afterward, he was more gassed than I’ve seen him in a long time; he chugged portions of two water bottles and cradled the cold, wet towel around his neck like a kid with a blankie.

Earnhardt said it was on “the backside of the top 10” most uncomfortable races he’s had in the car, which is saying a lot considering he’s made 602 Cup starts.

And it was a challenge to stay in the game mentally as well.

“When you don’t do (500-mile races on a regular basis), your mind is not as mentally tough,” he said. “I felt it. This was a tough race for us — physically and mentally. It was good exercise. Hopefully it will help make us stronger.”

5. That’s four twos for the 42

Another day, another top-two finish for Kyle Larson. Larson has finished in the top two in five of the last six races; that’s a win and four second-place results.

“We thought we’d start the year off good,” Larson said. “I don’t think we thought we’d start the year off this good.”

It looks like Larson is going to be a fixture toward the top of the series point standings this season, because he certainly isn’t showing any signs of losing speed.

At this point, it’s clear Chip Ganassi Racing isn’t just having a cute little stretch of good races, where everyone gets excited and then it turns out to be a blip in a long season. No, Ganassi is definitely for real — and so is Larson.

That’s exciting for NASCAR, because there’s a new face contending every week; even more exciting that he’s only 24 years old.

DraftKings Fantasy NASCAR Picks: Texas

I’m playing DraftKings this season and will be posting my picks here each week. Disclosure: If you want to play and sign up using this link, DraftKings will give my website a commission. Disclosure No. 2: I might be America’s worst daily fantasy player.

Last week’s results: Played the $3 Casual Slingshot game. Finished around 2200th of 5900.

Season results: $8 wagered, $0 won in six contests.

This week’s contest: $4 entry Chrome Horn game with $250,000 total payout.

Texas picks:

Kyle Larson ($10,300). Thanks to failing to get through inspection before qualifying, he starts 32nd. Even though he’s expensive, I’ll take the point differential en route to another top-five finish.

Kyle Busch ($9,900). See Larson, Kyle. Except Busch starts even further back (34th) and was fastest in 10-lap average for final practice.

Clint Bowyer ($8,800). Honestly, this was the last pick I made and I am shaky on it — especially since Bowyer starts third. But I needed a hammer, and I didn’t have enough money to pick Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski or Martin Truex Jr.  And though Ryan Blaney was tempting, I haven’t seen enough out of him to feel good about his chances of leading tons of laps. So I ended up with Bowyer. We’ll see.

Erik Jones ($7,600). Like Larson and Busch, Jones also couldn’t make a qualifying lap due to not passing inspection and starts 36th. He’s also in a backup car, which isn’t ideal, but it was still decent in practice (10th of 17 cars who made 10-lap runs in final practice).

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($7,000). Both Roush Fenway cars have looked really good all weekend, except Trevor Bayne crashed his during final practice. But Stenhouse was fourth-fastest in 10-lap average for final practice and might have a top-five car overall. His ceiling is relatively low since he starts 11th, but the price is right.

Chris Buescher ($6,000). Another driver whose team couldn’t get through inspection in time to qualify, Buescher finds himself starting 38th. But he was ninth-fastest in 10-lap average for final practice — better than the likes of Jones, Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott and Jamie McMurray — and comes at a great price.

Not to defend NASCAR again, but…

Some of you are putting me in a really uncomfortable position again: Having to defend NASCAR.

It’s more natural for me to torch NASCAR for making a bad call instead of vouching for The Man, but damn — this silliness over blaming NASCAR for cars failing inspection makes no sense!

The Nos. 42, 24, 18, 5, 77, 88, 37, 51 and 55 teams didn’t get through inspection in time to qualify at Texas. Do you know whose fault that is? The answer is the Nos. 42, 24, 18, 5, 77, 88, 37, 51 and 55 teams.

Yes, NASCAR changed the rules this season, but they’ve been the same all year. If a team fails one of the four inspection stations, they have to go through each one again (whereas in the past, teams could pull out of line, fix what was wrong on the car and jump back in line for that one station).

One reason is NASCAR wanted to cut down on all the inspection games. Officials are pushing teams to bring legal cars that pass tech on the first try — or else face the consequences.

 

That brings us to Friday. Like every week, each team had three hours to get through inspection before qualifying, and they all had the chance to go through the stations at least once before the clock really started ticking on their chances of making a lap.

And you know what? A bunch of them didn’t make it. In all likelihood, they were testing the limits (if they don’t, they’d be giving up a competitive advantage to those who do) and just went a little too far. They ran out of time and didn’t make a lap.

“We don’t feel good about anybody missing qualifying, but it is something that happens when teams are pushing the envelope,” said Elton Sawyer, NASCAR vice president for officiating and technical inspection. “Teams know our expectations and every team was afforded the opportunity to go through inspection. Some needed multiple tries and some weren’t able to get their cars ready in time to qualify. “

Hey, that’s fine; I don’t have a problem with teams trying everything they can. They take a risk when doing so, but that’s up to them.

But for crying out loud, don’t then get mad at NASCAR for your favorite driver failing inspection!

Seriously, come on. NASCAR is trying to cut down on all the little tricks teams are doing to bend the rules, and we’re going to act like that’s a bad thing?

Admittedly, I’m a stickler for rules. Those who follow the rules shouldn’t be at a disadvantage to those who don’t, just like those who bend the rules shouldn’t expect sympathy if they get caught.

As Dale Earnhardt Jr. told PRN: “It’s the same for everyone.”

Kevin Harvick said everyone in the garage was supportive of a tighter inspection as long as some rule-bending doesn’t start slipping through the cracks.

“NASCAR’s been pretty clear on where the progression of the inspection process was going to go,” polesitter Kevin Harvick said. “As long as it’s consistent and the process is the same all year, I don’t think anybody will have a problem with it.”

How do drivers go fast right away on a new track? (Update: They don’t)

NASCAR drivers are on track today at Texas Motor Speedway, but none of them have ever taken a lap in a stock car around the repaved and partially reconfigured track.

So when practice goes green, how the hell will they go all-out right away? I asked Jimmie Johnson that question during his media session Friday morning, because I honestly had no idea how drivers would be super fast right off the bat.

The answer, according to Jimmie Johnson: They won’t.

“We’ll definitely tiptoe our way into it,” Johnson said.

Johnson went around the track in a rental car Thursday night on a scouting mission and said Turns 3 and 4 look “pretty similar” to how they did before. He said it would be pretty straightforward that drivers would run the bottom there, since the banking didn’t change in that end of the track.

But Turns 1 and 2 — which had the banking lowered from 24 degrees to 20 — look “way different” and left Johnson unsure of what the best line will be. He’s not certain drivers will even run the bottom there.

With no experience or data to use for that part of the track, the only way to tackle it is trial and error, he said. Johnson said he’ll find a spot on the wall where he’ll get off the gas, judge how the corner went and then go further the next time.

“We’ll look for visual reference points and systematically work our way up to speed from lift points, braking points and also back-to-gas points around the track,” he said.

So there you have it. I learned something today.

UPDATE: Denny Hamlin spun on his second lap of practice in Turn 2. Hamlin said he was going “70% at most,” but his first lap was still 3.5 seconds faster than Johnson, who “tiptoed” around like he said. “It’s nasty out here,” Johnson said after his lap.

UPDATE 2: Kyle Busch, Erik Jones and Chase Elliott also crashed during practice. Busch had damage to the right rear, but the team decided to repair it; Jones and Elliott were forced to pull out backup cars.

Social Spotlight with Samantha Busch

Each week, I ask a different member of the NASCAR community about their social media usage. This week: Samantha Busch — the wife of Kyle Busch and the owner of Murph Boutique.

You have incredible restraint on social media. You must get a lot of hateful tweets, but yet I’ve never seen you lose your cool. What’s your secret?

Well, usually I type it all out just to get it out there and vent, and then I delete it. But I just figure they’re looking for that negative reaction, that’s why they’re sending the mean tweets, so if you just ignore them, they’ll go away.

You’ve been on Twitter for a long time now. Over the years have you had any incident where you did lose your cool and then you regretted it later?

Wait, do you actually remember how we started Twitter?

No, how did it start?

I started Twitter because you were telling me about it and then I got engaged (in Feb. 2010). And then you came to interview me that day, and that’s how it got started.

That’s right. I forgot that you weren’t on it until you got engaged.

You were like, “You need to be on Twitter,” and then I learned about it and you did the interview and that’s how it started.

At the time you got engaged, you had no way of  telling everybody. You had nothing to tweet, no picture of your ring or anything. Now you can just do that yourself, of course.

Yeah now it’s like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Instagram stories, Snapchat — there’s so much, it kind of stresses me out. But with the haters, I really do just try to ignore them. There’s sometimes when they’ll say things about Kyle or Brexton where I really just want to go off, but I just gotta focus on the 100 positives, not the one negative.

That’s a really hard thing to do. Sometimes, I’ll lose my cool on my own social media. I just don’t know how you have so much restraint. Even with the media, I feel like you have restraint — like when Kyle is criticized by me or anyone else in the media, you don’t say anything.

Well, I just look at it as that everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, and a lot of times I just try to think that people aren’t picking on my Kyle — they’re picking on the driver, the persona of that or what happened in the race — so I try to separate the two and not let it get to me.

I think I just focus on Kyle and Brexton and all the crazy stuff that we already have going on and try and ignore (the critics). I try to really focus on the people that are positive and supportive and uplifting to us, because if they’re going to take the time to tweet or do something nice, I’d rather use my energy to respond back to them and build those relationships than focus on the people that just really want you to react.

At this point you’ve sort of built a social media empire. You really have all the bases covered on all the different platforms. Which is your favorite one to be on?

I like Instagram a lot. I like it because you can do videos, you can do pictures, you can do Instagram stories, and I like really good quality photographs and I feel like you can really get that on Instagram. I actually just, well, thanks to people responding on Twitter, got the big phone, you know the iPhone…

The 7 Plus? That’s what I have. I like it.

Yes, the 7 Plus, and I love it. So it’s got great pictures and I feel like it’s upped the quality of my social media by being able to take good pictures with it.

So when it comes to putting out your content, do you have to choose between platforms? Do you say, “This is more of a Snapchat thing, this is more of an Instagram thing?”

So especially for my store I try to put it across all three in case people like one thing more than another. But yeah, when it comes to personal stuff and my own stuff, I look at timing — that’s a big thing, days and hours and what gets the best response — and how I word things.

Obviously, I think Instagram and Snapchat are a little bit younger, and Facebook is a little bit older. So just try to tailor my message to my audience. Yes, it’s a lot of work with hashtags and everything else, so it takes a lot of time.

Basically what I try to do is get most of my stuff done and then at night when Kyle and Brex are asleep, I’ll just spend two hours — I’m such a night owl — I’ll be up until 1 in the morning getting everything laid out and ready and filtered and edited and posted and then I just save it in drafts and go from there.

So on your Murph Boutique stuff, the boutique you now own, you’re doing most of the social media for that yourself?

I’m doing all the social media for that because I’m really OCD about how things look, and when you’re an online store, your social media and your website — that’s your entire image. Obviously, I have a guy who builds websites and keeps that up — I know nothing about things like that — but when it comes to social media and the pictures we post and the photo shoots and all that, I’m all in.

What are some of the differences in the Murph Boutique voice and your personal account voice?

So with the boutique platform, that’s obviously about selling things because you’re a store, so those things are specifically tailored to focusing on the clothes and showing them different ways you can wear them and different styles and how to mix and match things and how to make the most of your wardrobe.

My personal platform is about showing a different side of us. It’s about showing myself as a wife and a mom and a friend and our foundation, and so that’s a little bit different in how you tell your story and how you present your photos. So yeah, there’s a lot of thought that goes into it, into building a social platform.

I feel like if there’s a Kyle Busch fan out there, they are sort of looking to you as sort of like the “in” for the community. You interact with a lot of people, whereas Kyle is obviously focused on racing. He’s not really going back and forth with people. So do you sort of view yourself as like the leader or the mayor of the 18 community, in some ways?

I love it, I think that’s a good way to think about it. Yeah, I just want people to see the side of Kyle that I get to see, the kind of fun, the loving, the caring, the daddy side. I think people see him for a split second whether it’s during the anthem or after the race with an interview and that’s not exactly who he really is. That’s him in race mode and that’s his job, but what I like to show is the softer side. You know, him teaching Brex how to drive or them playing at the park and things like that that people might not get to see. Obviously, I like social media a whole lot more than he does so I think it’s nice to be able to give fans that access.

How do you decide how much of your lives to show to the public?

We’re pretty open, there’s not much that we don’t put out there. I mean, I think we’ve seen a lot of good come from it. My biggest struggle was if we were going to talk about IVF, because that was something that was really hard. We prayed about it, we talked about it, and I think it’s the greatest thing we’ve ever shared because of the Bundle of Joy Fund. We had 10 babies through it, with three more on the way. We’re going to do another big grant. If we weren’t open and accessible, that would have never started.

When we first released that blog, we probably got thousands of emails and then obviously they tapered off, but I still get at least five to 10 emails a week with people asking questions or saying, “Hey, thanks, we’re going through that, now we’re not as nervous,” or, “Hey, it’s cool that somebody else went through that.” I feel that when you put things out there, it kind of helps people sometimes.

You have a blog and especially when you were going through that, you got extremely personal and detailed, maybe to the level that I don’t think I’ve seen a lot of public figures share. You really opened yourself up and now it seems like you’re responsible for 10 lives that have been created. That has to be one of the most incredible feelings.

It’s wild. Obviously Kyle and I couldn’t have done it without the support of his fans, because they donate and they’re behind it and the NASCAR community is behind it too, which is awesome, and it’s just amazing. It’s wild when you get to see these couples again and meet their babies. They’re like, “Hey, thanks for the funds because now, look!” Wow, that’s just kind of mind-blowing and really isn’t something I can put into words. Just to hold someone else’s baby because of your fund? It’s just crazy.

What was the feeling like before you pressed send on those tweets and everything you put out with the blog post link in it?

That was big. I remember Kyle and I was sitting on the couch and it was in December and I literally had to talk myself into it. I was like, “OK, I’m going to post it at 5 o’clock. OK, 6. OK, 7.” And I just kept backing up and Kyle was like, “Just do it.”

And I put it out there and then we went and watched a movie — because I was afraid to see what would happen. And it took a little bit of time, but I think you actually retweeted it. Then it kind of grew some legs and people started reading it and then within a week, I had fertility clinics calling from all over the state saying, “Hey, can share this with our patients?” And I was like, “Yeah, of course.” So I think it did a lot of good.

Do you feel like what you are putting out on social media in general works for you because this is your natural personality? Because we’re talking about strategy and things like that, but it seems like this is sort of who you are.

Yeah, you sort of have to be authentic or else people can see right through it. I’m that person at the grocery store that’s probably like TMI — if someone’s in an aisle getting (medicine), I’m like, “I had that before. This is what I did.” And that’s kind of who I am. I think that’s very much how I grew up. With a big extended family, everybody knew everybody’s business and we were just very open. And so I think that comes across on social media.

Honestly, yeah, there were some people who were negative about it, but you know what, as long as you believe in it and you feel like it’s doing good, I just say go for it.

And that’s one thing, too: When I have young girls that may be asking questions about how do you handle this or that, I think if you could go back, you’d tell your high school or college self that it doesn’t really matter. In the grand scheme of things, you feel like it’s the end of the world right now, but not letting it get you down and focusing on stuff that’s more important, that’s the kind of message I try to tell them.

You show Brexton a lot as part of your daily life. Does he seem to be aware of the camera? Sometimes with my nephew, as soon as I turn on Snapchat or I’m trying to get a cool video of him, I can’t get it. He’s too aware of it.

Yes, that’s how Brexton’s getting now. The other day we were up in his playroom and he is fascinated by how Lucy, our dog, drinks out of a bowl, so he will take things from his sippy cup and pour it into other things and try to lick it like Lucy does. And I’m trying to video it and the second he sees me bring out the camera he stops. He’s like, “Mom, no way. No way.” I’m like, “Come on, be a baby again where you don’t know what I’m doing.”

Oh my gosh, his first year pictures were disastrous. I had this whole setup — I went on Etsy, I had it all planned out, I got a photographer — and he would not take one single photo without screaming. And so finally, after an hour, Kyle and I were like, “Forget it, we’re just not doing them.” He had cake and stuff on his diaper, so I took off his diaper that was covered in cake, let him run free and we got the best shot. He started peeing on his car, and it’s my favorite shot to date. I guess when you don’t force him to do stuff, that’s how it’s more natural.

You end up posting a lot of pictures on your accounts where you’re in them, so you’re obviously not taking them. How in the world do you have somebody that is taking these great shots? Do you have a system where you hand people the camera and they know what to do and they’re getting these great shots?

It’s a lot of people. I’m that girl that’s like, “Hey, sorry to bother you, but can you take a picture for us?” So I’m always that person. Our PR guy does it a lot for us. Sometimes our assistant comes to the track and she’ll do it. My mom will do it a lot. I’m telling you what, my mom is a pro on the camera right now. Last Easter, I started teaching her Snapchat and photos for Instagram, because you can’t get too close because it turns into squares. She was all confused. Now she’s like, “Hang on, the lighting, move this way, do that.” So it’s really just whoever is around.

You post your workouts a lot, and you seem to want to be encouraging to people in a motivational way. On one hand you have a business where you’re selling to people, you want them to buy clothes. On the other hand you’re trying to encourage people in a lifestyle manner. So, how are those different from each other? Or can you use the same strategy essentially?

I think in both areas, my biggest goal is to make people feel good and comfortable about themselves. I think there’s so much of the world that’s so ready to put you down — “You don’t look the right way” and “You don’t dress the right way” and this and that — and everybody is ready to be so negative.

So I think with my blog and store, my whole thing was to make women feel good about themselves and to raise them up. One thing on my blogs (that’s evident) is that I’m not a really great cook, so if it’s not starting in a can or a box or something that’s ready, I’m not gonna make it. And you know what? That’s OK, because we’re busy and a lot of moms are busy, and so I guess kind of my message is, “That’s OK.” Do whatever you can do and the best that you can do, and if you give it your all, then good for you.

When I post a workout, I always tell people if you can’t do three sets — if you can only do one — hey, you tried, right? And you’re gonna keep getting better at it, so keep practicing and keep doing it. That’s the motto I go with for everything.

What else should people know about your social media philosophy in general, as far as what you’re trying to put out there?

I guess one thing is I wouldn’t really go onto Instagram, say on another fashion blog or something, and be like, “That outfit is hideous” like people will do on mine. I’m like, “Why?” Obviously, if she’s wearing it, she likes it.

So people comment on yours and say, “That’s ugly?”

Yeah, the other day Kyle and I were in L.A. and granted, Kyle hated the jeans I had on, too. I thought that they were cool — they had patches and they were baggy; they’re very L.A., you know? Kyle was like, “Hmm, those are interesting.” Whatever. But you know, people are like, “Oh my God, you look terrible in that, it looks horrible,” or, “Did you really think those were cute?” And I’m like, “Well, if I purchased them and put them on and took a photo, yes I like them.”

So I just try to go on other people’s social sites and be uplifting and say, “Hey, that’s cute,” or, “Good work.” A big thing I try to do is when people comment on my stuff — and I need to get better about it — I try to go back and respond to them by saying, “Thanks for the great comment,” or answer a question. So it’s one thing I’m trying to get better about. But you know how it is — it’s about time and trying to balance 900 things at once.

One of the hardest things to do is to keep up the interaction with people. They expect it, but then you fall behind and then you feel sort of—

Guilty. Yeah, I feel bad because people take the time to follow me and comment. I want to take the time to go back and say, “Hey, thanks. Thanks for the message, thanks for checking out my page, thanks for checking out my store,” and so I try to go back and do that.

You know, it’s funny — sometimes during the race, because I got the ear(buds) in and I got the screen in front of me and I’ve got the times and I can see it, and a lot of times I’ll have my phone, and people are always like, “What are you doing on your phone?” We have somebody who comes on the road with us and watches Brex during the race, so I have three uninterrupted hours where I can multitask at things, and so that’s why I’m usually always on my phone.

12 Questions with Clint Bowyer

The 12 Questions interview series continues this week with Clint Bowyer of Stewart-Haas Racing. The interview was conducted Sunday morning prior to the Martinsville race. Here is the archive of other 12 Questions from this season.

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

I would say with me, I don’t know why, but natural ability seems to be the case. This has always come relatively easy for me. The hardest part of our game anymore isn’t the fact you can drive better than the next guy; everybody at this sport, at this level, can drive and is capable of winning these races. It’s how well you work with your team, how well you communicate to your guys to get the most out of your race car.

2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards have all retired in the last couple years. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours? (Note: I know the following answer makes no sense, but it’s Bowyer, so I think he just got distracted.)

Man, it’s just trying to instill that same attitude, the same thoughts and culture. The fit factor has always been really good for everybody. I just like it. I like my teammates, I like the crew chiefs, I love the owners. The sponsors, the partners they have. There’s no weak link anywhere you look in Stewart-Haas. The manufacturer in Ford, Doug Yates, the Roush Yates horsepower. Every aspect of the program is spot on and exactly the way you would want it.

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

Right now when my wife (Lorra) goes to Charleston and left me with that two-and-a-half year old (son Cash). I couldn’t handle the two-month old (daughter Presley). Grandma — my mom — had to bail me out on Presley. (Lorra, sitting nearby with the kids, reminds everyone Presley is actually four months old, not two). Cash and I held the fort down and had a good time.

He’s still living and doesn’t look like he has any broken bones or anything.

No, believe it or not, he’s still breathing. No broken bones. We did pretty good on the potty training. Not bad at all. I was pretty impressed. (Pauses) Not with him — with me.

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

Of course, fans should always approach people. But the restaurant is a little different. Everybody is wired different. I don’t care. I don’t mind it. It is kind of awkward.

Just not the bathroom. God almighty. We went to Outback, took the family to Outback. We all go in there. Cash has to go to the bathroom, which, with a two-year-old, it’s a little bit of a deal. It was after (nephew) Lincoln’s baseball game. Lincoln had to go to the bathroom (too), so my brother Casey had him. I had Cash. (A random) dude finally gets done at the urinal, turns around and wants to shake your hand — and realized (the awkwardness)! He was like, “Eh, uh — can I shake your hand?” (Laughs) I’m like, “Well, damn. I guess.” So just not the bathroom. It’s the only place — just don’t go there.

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

(Spotter Brett Griffin, also hanging out in the motorhome, says, “Spotters.”)

My spotter, Brett, just said “spotters.” Can’t live without ‘em; can’t live with ‘em.

Man, I think the media, I think TV, everybody does a great job covering this sport. I mean, honestly. There are so many meetings, so much thought that goes into every aspect of covering this sport. I think they do a good job. I don’t know that you could fix anything or look at one thing and say, “Wish they would show that.” ‘Cause they do.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

(Kasey) Kahne, actually. Kahne has been posting pictures of him working out on social media and I’m like, “Unless you’re a girl, don’t do that.”

Shirtless, even.

Good God! It’s so embarrassing.

And then my go-to, fun text of the week is always (Jamie) McMurray. He’s so much fun to pick on, because he cares so much about what his appearance looks like and what people think of him that I love to pick on McMurray. And his new videos on social media are ridiculous.

I’ve seen those.

He looked half-dead after California, too. He was sitting in the plane doing his little debrief video. I’m like, “My man looks so out of it and so worn out.” I’m like, “Go take a nap and let (McMurray’s son) Carter take over.” Because my man Carter is hilarious and I think he would probably do a better job than his dad anyway.

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

Yes. I think this is the entertainment business. If you’re on television, you’re in the entertainment business — whether you want to or not or whether you think you are or not.

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

Well, when you look over and you’ve got an in-car camera, you can’t do many of those. Going back to your question of what could be covered more in NASCAR, unfortunately you can’t even flip a guy off anymore without it being caught on camera or on TV.

Sometimes, I’ll flip a guy off — like a McMurray — we would just flip each other off just because it was him. Not that I was mad or anything else, just because I wanted to flip him off. It made me feel better.

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 that goes hand-in-hand. You don’t want to call it friendship, because you’re not friends on that racetrack. If it’s for a win, I’ll take advantage of anybody on that racetrack and I’ll be the first person Monday morning to say, “Hey man, I ain’t gonna apologize because I know that ain’t worth anything, but I hope you understand.” And I hope they do understand. If it’s for a win, I’m hungry.

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

(Looks to Lorra for help. She mentions Steven Tyler, John Fogerty, Blake Shelton. Brother Casey mentions Mike Helton.)

Yeah, I’ve been fortunate to have dinner with a lot of famous people. The people I love — truly, honestly, my brother just said Mike Helton. I don’t think there’s anybody that I respect more in my life than Mike. The reason is, I think he’s the go-to guy for our sport. He’s the spokesperson of our sport. He’s the face of our sport. And he doesn’t take that for granted and always has time for whatever aspect of the sport that needs attention. Whether it’s the drivers or whatever else, he’s always there to listen. The thing about Mike is he’s a good dude, a good person to go to dinner with. He’s a lot of fun to cut up and be normal as well.

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

Damn. Winning, right now. Gotta win, you know? This is a performance-driven sport and you’ve got to go out there and have the performance on the racetrack.

But those stars are lining up. I’m starting to have fun again and starting to get that confidence back, and that’s not only with myself but my race team as well. Buga (Mike Bugarewicz) is a young crew chief and he’s hungry and you’ve got to have that confidence instilled in you week-in and week-out. I see that in him right alongside of me.

12. Last week’s interview was with AJ Allmendinger and he wanted to know: If you could be any animal, what kind of animal would you be and why?

How in the hell does that — that’s what came to his mind?

Man, I don’t know. I would think a lion would be pretty badass. That’s pretty top of the food chain. The badassery in the lion is pretty spot-on. I dig a lion.

Do you have a question for the next interview?

The question to ask the next driver is why do you or don’t you post workout videos on social media?

What if the next interview is with Kahne?

Exactly. I want to know why.

Fan Profile: Robert Keplinger

These 12 Questions-style fan profiles are one of the rewards offered as a tier on my Patreon page. You can catch up on the other profiles so far this season here.

Name: Robert Keplinger
Location: Dallas, Texas
Twitter name: Captain_Bert
Age: 27

1. How long have you been a NASCAR fan?

From 1995 to 1999 and then 2014 through today.

2. How many races have you attended?

As of the start of this year, 13 races.

3. Who is your No. 1 favorite driver?

Kyle Larson.

4. What made you a fan of Larson?

I like his dirt-racing background.

5. Who is your most disliked driver?

Kevin Harvick.

6. Why don’t you like Harvick?

Dude just seems like a butt. But he’s my best friend’s driver, so I guess maybe that is why, too. I don’t really dislike him, but I won’t say that I am upset when something bad happens to his race.

7. What is your favorite track?

Homestead.

8. What is one thing you would change if you were in charge of NASCAR?

More short tracks.

9. What is one thing you would keep the same if you were in charge of NASCAR?

The current trend back to more daytime races.

10. How often do you yell at the TV during a race?

Only a couple times a race, if that.

11. Do you have any advice for other fans?

Support your local racetracks.

12. What else do you want the NASCAR world to know about you?

Good question.