12 Questions with Chris Buescher

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues with Chris Buescher, who is currently 26th in the standings for JTG Daugherty Racing. Despite missing the playoffs after making it in 2016, Buescher’s average finish has improved by five positions over last year.

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

I’d to think that it’s been 50-50. I feel like I’ve been able to hang tough. Early on, I kind of had some idea I could do this, and from then on it’s just been working at it to to fine-tune it through the years.

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?

That’s all the guys that I grew up watching before I was even racing, before I was racing hardly anything. So for me, I feel like I can relate to a lot of the drivers from a lot longer ago. I feel like I’m a pretty normal person. I’ve worked on race cars all my life. I’ve been able to be a big part (of the team), being in the shop and working through the last handful of years to understand what goes into them. So I feel like I’m a bit more hands-on, I’d say.

That actually reminds me: When they announced that you had re-signed with JTG, they said you’re in the shop more than any other driver they’ve worked with. Why do you go in the shop so much?

Because I have friends there. (Laughs) I like going in and just seeing what’s going on. I don’t really get my hands dirty anymore; I think everyone’s scared that I don’t know what I’m doing, and I probably don’t at this level. This is the best of the best that work on our race cars every week and that are on the track every week.

So it’s a way for me to go in and hang out in a much less stressful environment. Race weekends are very much down to business and get things done, and you can goof off and have a good time, but everybody’s stress levels are a lot higher. I feel like when you’re at the shop, you get a little more personality out of everybody and can hang out, go to lunch, talk about something other than racing sometimes. I think everyone likes to take a break every now and then with the length of the season and how often we are traveling. So for me, it’s just a good way to go catch up.

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

A lot of that, for me, is trying to dress up. I don’t get too fancy most of the time, so a lot of our functions we go to, a lot of events, I have to really focus on that.

JTG Daugherty has a thing with golf around here that everybody likes to go have meetings and hang out with sponsors and discuss business on the golf course, and I’ve played two games in my life — both this year as a matter of fact — and I’m horrible. So I’d say that’s got to be the hardest part of my non-driving part of this thing, is trying to figure out how to play golf at this point.

That’s gonna be a work in progress. Golf takes a long time to learn, so that’s pretty frustrating.

Yeah. AJ (Allmendinger) is very good, Ernie (Cope) is very good, Trent (Owens) is very good — and I’m not. We were at the shop hitting a couple the other day and I actually hit the building on my first shot. So, not good.

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

I’ve had that a couple of times. It’s actually kind of fun because I feel like I’m still under the radar enough to where no one’s ever sure of themselves. It’s always like, “Well, maybe…”

They’re like, “Is that Chris Buescher…?”

We get a lot of that, and that’s actually kind of fun. I like to mess around with people for a little bit and then yeah, we’ll sign stuff. It depends on how nice of a restaurant, I guess.

So wait — do you try to tell them at first that you’re not Chris Buescher and see the look on their faces or something?

I’ll usually tell them I work in racing or I’m a mechanic or something and then kind of ease into it and see if they catch on or see if they believe it. I like to play games for a little bit.

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

Something that I think a lot of fans don’t realize is how much time and effort our teams put in. (Richmond) being a Saturday night race is actually very nice for teams, especially the crew members. They get back from a Sunday night race and they’re back at work mid-morning Monday and roll right up until that plane takes off. It’s a very long season, and it’s a commitment by everybody in the garage area that’s very time-consuming. It’s very difficult to live any kind of normal life in this business, and I think everybody deserves a lot more credit than what they get on the amount of dedication they have to this sport to make it what it is today.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

Probably AJ. And before that it was probably (Matt) DiBenedetto, I would say. That might have been social media though. He wanted to go four-wheeling with us next time.

He felt left out?

Yeah, we had a little fun in West Virginia last off-weekend, and I guess I forgot to invite him. I didn’t know he wanted to go.

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

Certain ones. (Laughs)

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

My policy is trying to keep it down to three times a year or less. I used up one (at Darlington), and I think I had one earlier this season as well. White gloves are bad for that policy. I try to do it discreetly.

What did the person do last week (at Darlington) to deserve that?

I kind of just got run over. We all but wrecked. It was Turn 1 all the way to the exit of Turn 2 sideways, and it was bad. I felt it was very deserving.

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?

I don’t think it’s a case-by-case deal. I think you get to know who you race around a lot of times. I think you just kind of build up a resume, so to speak, with other drivers. So when you’re around certain ones, you kind of know what you have from a good side. And I’d say on the bad side of things, I think more or less, more times than not it’s unexpected, and so that’s why you feel like you deserve retaliation. And then there’s those where you fully expect it going into it and you know that’s how you get raced.

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

I just happened to run into Miss Brazil at a steakhouse like eight or nine years ago. That was kind of neat. That was in Vegas.

How did you know it was Miss Brazil?

She was wearing her sash. She wasn’t trying to hide it by any means.

She was in the restaurant with the Miss Brazil thing right on there?

Yeah, so we got to sit down and talk to her and the people she was with for a while. That was kind of neat. At the time, I was nobody, so that was pretty cool.

Did you just go up and say, “Hey Miss Brazil, mind if I sit down?”

I don’t remember exactly how it happened. I don’t think that’s how it went; I’m not that slick. But between the people I was with and the people that she was with and had there, I think something about racing came up and then we got to talking.

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

A lot of things. (Laughs) Just a lot of things come back on the track, trying to go faster in these things, trying to understand these cars, trying to understand the bump stops, the splitters on these things. It’s all very different from everything I grew up racing, and I think that’s been the hardest thing for me to adapt to. I feel like the cars feel more like a go-kart now than a stock car in a lot of ways, and that was not my upbringing. So it’s been a challenge for me.

12. The last interview I did was with Aric Almirola.  His question was: Why did you agree to do this interview?

Why the heck I agreed to do this interview? Because Kelly (Boyd, his public relations rep) told me I was going to do this interview.

It’s that simple, huh?

Yeah, pretty much. It’s always fun to do something that’s a little bit outside of just the racing questions that you get every week, and I think you’ve hit on something here that makes it a little more enjoyable than the normal one.

You’re making me blush. Anyway, I’m going to the IndyCar championship next week, so I’m probably going to do the next 12 Questions with an IndyCar driver. Do you have a question I can ask one of them?

What made them crazy enough to strap into one of those things? And that’s not insulting in any way — they’re braver than I, I will give them that.

Those dudes, I watch them and go, “What are they doing?”

(Laughs) It looks awesome and I bet it is so much fun to drive, but I could never convince myself to do it. No way.

This interview was brought to you by Dover International Speedway. The cutoff race for the first playoff round takes place at Dover on Oct. 1. Here’s a link to buy tickets (and make sure to come say hi at the tweetup).

12 Questions with Aric Almirola

The series of 12 Questions continues this week with Aric Almirola of Richard Petty Motorsports. Despite missing eight races with a broken back, Almirola can still make the playoffs Saturday night at Richmond Raceway with a win and a NASCAR waiver. 

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

There has to be a balance of both. Race car drivers are always fine-tuning their craft and you constantly learn. Even Jimmie Johnson, after winning seven championships and all the experience and laps that he has, he still learns every weekend — or at least I think he does, just from talking to him and conversating with him.

So as a race car driver, you’re constantly learning and working at trying to be better. But there has to be some natural ability and some natural talent to be able to make the work pay off.

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?

(Laughs) I don’t know. I think with our sport, you have to compete and run up front and be sort of in the spotlight to gain the fans. So we’ve gotta do a better job of that; I’ve got to do a better job of that. And if you run up front, the fans will come.

People love to cheer for winners and people love to boo for winners, right? You saw that with Dale Earnhardt, you saw that with Darrell Waltrip, you see it with Kyle Busch. Obviously, you’ve seen it with Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon. Back in the day, people used to hate Jeff Gordon if they were a Dale Earnhardt fan, and then Dale showed some love to Jeff and when Dale passed away, it seemed like the Rainbow Warriors came out in flying colors. So I think success breeds stardom, and stardom breeds fanbases. So I’ve got to do my part on the racetrack to gain more fans.

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

Away from the racetrack, I think the hardest part is just balancing life and a family and still trying to work, still trying to work out and stay in shape, make the sponsors happy, go and do sponsor appearances or PR requests, go and do Race Hub or NASCAR America. All of those things, they take time out of your weekday life. And don’t forget Thursday through Sunday, we’re 1000 percent dedicated to racing.

So our families sometimes get put on the back burner, and I think that’s the most challenging part for most race car drivers — especially ones like myself who have a wife and kids — just trying to find that balance during the week. If you said yes to everything, I could find ways to work seven days a week every hour I was awake. But trying to figure out when to say no is the hardest part.

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

Absolutely. My wife (Janice) especially, if she was there, she would poke and prod me to loosen up some and do those kinds of things. So yeah, I think I’m a very personable guy. I enjoy people and I enjoy people coming up and saying hi, especially if they’re respectful — I think that’s important.

So Janice doesn’t mind getting date night interrupted?

No, not at all. She thinks it’s good and she thinks it’s cool that people recognize me. Like I said, as long as they’re respectful. There’s the occasional (person) that’s not very respectful, but most people are extremely respectful. When people come up and just want to meet you or get a picture and an autograph, it’s kind of cool.

I never thought that day would come. When I was an 8-year-old kid or a 10-year-old kid racing go-karts, never did I ever in my wildest dreams think that someone would want my autograph — even though when I was about 10, I would sit there and practice my name in cursive in case I had to sign an autograph one day. And now, I have to do it.

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

I think the amount of hard work that all these crew guys put in. They work 60 hours a week during the week at the shop, and then they come to the track and put in three or four hard, grinding days at the track. They devote more of their life to this than even the drivers and team owners do. The crew guys, all of the front of the workload, really falls on their shoulders. They ensure that the cars are prepared and built and the haulers are going to and from the races. So much of this sport rests on their shoulders, and they put in a tremendous amount of work and that’s sometimes overlooked.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

Jimmie Johnson, about going on a bike ride this morning.

How was your ride?

It was good. I rode 42, 43 miles, so it was a nice morning ride here in Darlington. The weather was nice for it. It was a little humid, a little overcast, but it was nice to get up and get the blood flowing.

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

Yeah, absolutely. We go out and we put out a show for the people that come to watch, the people who tune in on TV to watch, the people who tune into the radio to listen to it. That’s what we’re doing: We’re putting on a show.

If there wasn’t anybody that watched, and if there weren’t any fans in the stands, every race car driver in the garage area would probably still race — but we wouldn’t have a job doing it. We wouldn’t make the money we make, we wouldn’t have the sponsors we have, we wouldn’t have the involvement.

Having the fans, that changes the whole atmosphere. We all grew up racing Saturday night short tracks, and when you go there and have 1,000, 2,500, or 5,000 fans, you don’t really pay much attention to it. But then when you start racing in NASCAR and you walk out in that driver introductions stage for the first time and you see 100,000 fans in the stands, it changes things. It brings a whole new level of excitement and energy to our sport.

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

I’m not big on doing it. I tend to refrain from doing that most of the time. But when it’s deserved, it’ll certainly come out.

What happens when it gets done to you?

Usually I’m mad, like, “What the heck is that guy’s problem?” Sometimes, you know when maybe you’re gonna get it and you maybe did it on purpose. Like you know it’s coming and you don’t really care. And then other times you’re kind of caught by surprise.

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?

Sure. I think the one guy that comes to mind for me is Tony Stewart. When he raced, and I thought we raced really well together, and he raced everybody like that. Like he would race you hard when he knew he wanted that spot or had a car good enough to have that spot, but then on other days when he was struggling with his car or whatever, he would not hold you up, he wouldn’t fight you. And then the next pit stop, if he made an adjustment and his car was better and he came from a straightaway behind and caught you, you would pay him that same favor back; you would let him go and wouldn’t hold him up. He learned from the Mark Martins and the Dale Earnhardts and those guys how to race that way, and that’s the one guy where I always felt like if he cut me a break, I was sure to return the favor if it came back my way.

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

I’ve had dinner with Garth Brooks. He’s pretty famous.

That’s awesome. How was that?

That was pretty cool. We went and hung out with him and Trisha (Yearwood) backstage at what was supposed to be one of his final ever concerts in Kansas City at the Sprint Center. We hung out with him backstage before he went on, and had pizza and drank some beer. That was really cool.

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

(Thinks for awhile) I’m not trying to stall because I don’t have anything I want to improve on, I’m stalling trying to figure what’s on the top of the list. I have a lot of things I want to improve on.

I think I’d like to improve on just being a better husband and a better dad when I’m available. It’s so easy in this sport about getting caught up in racing and racing kind of being number one and everything else taking a backseat. Even in those moments when I am home and being a husband and a dad, I still find myself lost in my own thoughts about racing and everything revolving around racing. So I think that’s probably the one thing that would most benefit me to improve on, is to just continue to be a better husband and a better dad when I am home.

12. The last interview I did was with Ricky Stenhouse Jr.  His question was: What did you do on the off weekend? And if it was fun, why didn’t you invite him?

(Laughs) Well he did something really cool, and he didn’t invite me, so I’m pissed, actually. He went out on a huge yacht and toured around down at the Bahamas. So I’m jealous, and shame on him for asking me why I didn’t invite him to our little resort that we went to.

My wife and the kids and I — Janice, Alex, and Abby — we all piled in the car and went down to the beach down in Georgia and made a long weekend out of it. The kids started school, so taking them out of school for a whole week is not really ideal, especially when they had just started. So we took them out of school for just Friday and Monday and made a long weekend out of it. We left Thursday afternoon when they got out of school and went to the beach. So we had a great time. The weather was a little crappy a couple of the days, but we still made the best of it and had a lot of fun.

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

Yeah. Ask them why they agreed to do this interview. (Grins)

This interview was brought to you by Dover International Speedway. The cutoff race for the first playoff round takes place at Dover on Oct. 1. Here’s a link to buy tickets (and make sure to come say hi at the tweetup).

12 Questions with Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

The series of 12 Questions interviews continues this week with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., a two-time race winner this season for Roush Fenway Racing. I spoke with Stenhouse at Bristol Motor Speedway.

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

That’s a tough question. I think a lot of us feel like we got here on our natural ability, but a lot of hard work goes into that as well. Growing up racing sprint cars, I had to work on all my cars and do all the work with some buddies. When I got here to NASCAR, you try to refine and hit your marks and maybe get a little more patient. So I don’t know if there’s a percentage, but it definitely takes both.

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’m not really good at sales pitches. But I think right now we’re doing a good job at trying to get (Dale) Junior’s fans. Obviously, winning the superspeedways, Junior’s fans, I feel like he got a ton from his success on those, and he’s kind of got a big group of followers. So I’d like to snag a few.

But really, I just need to keep going out and getting us to perform better. I know that our best performances are still ahead of us. We’re still gaining on it, so I think if the fans want something to look forward to as we keep building, definitely come be a fan of ours.

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

The hardest part is really just managing time. We don’t get a whole lot of time at home. There’s things that we have to do for our job, but there’s things that we want to do for our fun time outside of it, and it tends to end up causing a lot of travel. Sometimes I think you just get run down. So really trying to manage all of that — like right now I’ve been home one night in three weeks, so I think it’s just trying to not run yourself down too much and manage that.

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

Yeah, I don’t mind at all. I think that’s cool, being recognized outside the racetrack. It’s funny, I got a lot of people coming up to me outside the racetrack at dinners and stuff, asking me if I did American Ninja Warrior. So that’s kind of cool. But yeah, just come on up.

So they recognize you from the show? They’re like, “Hey, aren’t you that guy?”

Yeah, and I told (Ryan) Blaney that — since he did it with me this year — and he’s said he’s gotten that a few times as well.

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

There’s teams that do a lot with a little — and you recognize it, people talk about it a few times throughout the year at superspeedways. There’s points in the weekend that a car that doesn’t have as much resources is able to go put some fast laps down for the equipment that they have. Not necessarily go to the top of the board or anything like that. But I feel like that happens quite often.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

Last driver I texted? (Kyle) Larson.

You have golf game coming up or something?

No, we went to dinner last night. We went to play golf yesterday on our golf group (the Golf Guys Tour). Last night we got back and we were like, “We’re tired, let’s go to bed.” Then he texted me, “Hey, are you still gonna go eat?” And I was like, “Yeah, let’s go.” So we went and had some Mexican (food).

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

Yeah, I think we are entertainers. I think everybody in sports is here for entertainment. Is it circus entertainment? No, it’s competitive entertainment where a lot of fans enjoy what we do and the show that we put on, and we try to go out and do the best that we can for our fans and our sponsors. But really, we want this to be a good race, which will be a good show for people to watch.

It does seem like a circus sometimes, though.

(Smiles) Yeah, I wasn’t gonna say that, but it seems like a circus sometimes.

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

I may have done it one time. I get really mad if somebody does it to me — I feel like it’s kind of rude. Every now and then people will give a hand out of window and it’s like, “Oh, OK, they’re not super happy about that.” But the finger, I feel that’s a little far and I’ll try to run into them if they do it. So it really gets me kind of irritated.

So you’re not a finger-giver. Only one time.

Yeah, maybe once. Maybe. I’m saying maybe because I don’t recall. But yeah, I think it’s a little disrespectful.

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?

One hundred percent. I think that’s really the key if you want some of your races to go smoothly. If somebody lets me by and I’m way faster, if that position gets reversed, I try to remember that so I can pay that favor back to them and you can kind of expect that a few times. It goes both ways, but I think it’s starting to get back around.

I feel like back in the day, that was kind of known to be the code. Now I think people are realizing that they can make it tougher on themselves if they want. 

So after Mark Martin left, it kind of went the other way and now it’s sort of getting back to being more respectful because the younger guys sort of figured things out, perhaps?

Yeah, I guess so. From the sounds of it, Mark was really good at really…I don’t know if you say “courteous” on the racetrack. But some of your fans don’t like (being respectful) and some of your teams don’t, so you gotta balance it. You can’t just let everybody go; you have to race. We’re out there to race. So you just pick and choose your battles: When do you think it will pay off better for you to let somebody go, or to really push it?

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

I don’t know. Probably Luke Bryan.

He’s pretty popular.

At that dinner, Pharrell stopped by. We didn’t technically have dinner with him, but he came by and hung out for a little while. That dinner was Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan, Pharrell stopped by and Little Big Town. It was a big group.

That’s a good dinner right there. That’s pretty epic.

Yeah, it was good. It’s fun sometimes. At the ESPYs you get a lot of good dinners as well — before Peyton (Manning’s) last year, we all had dinner. And there were also a lot of other people eating dinner — Blake Griffin, too.

You’ve had a better answer than a lot of the drivers this year.

Oh, that’s good. Yeah, Danica and I get to meet a lot of cool people.

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

Patience. I get a little irritated pretty quick. Even if it’s throughout practice and we make changes that don’t quite go the right way. I’ll come in and talk to (crew chief Brian) Pattie and he’ll say, “Look, we had to do that. That was on the list of things we needed to try.” And I’m like, “Well if you felt like it wouldn’t be better, we shouldn’t do it!” So I get a little frustrated pretty quick, but sometimes it’s better. Not all the time. (Smiles)

12. The last interview I did was with Chase Elliott.  His question was: How is your golf game, and are you expecting to win the Golf Guys championship this year?

Oh wow. (The Thursday before Bristol) my golf game was not good, but I’m sitting third in points, so I feel like I have a good opportunity to win our championship. I really want to. Denny (Hamlin, who founded the competition) won it last year and we say he makes all the rules, so it kind of worked in his favor. But he’s second in points right now, so it’s gonna be a good battle.

I’ve got to go work on my game. We’ve been really busy this whole year, so I haven’t been able to work on my game as much as I wanted to. But we’re running better over here, so that’s really what matters to me.

How many matches or rounds do you have left?

I believe four rounds. We do eight events. The points increase as we go the last two events or three events. You want to run second or third every event, so then you can win the points by a lot.

When you win, it puts you at deficit. I won one event so far, but you gotta get so many points based on your handicap. Well when you win an event, we always add two points to your points that you have to get, so it makes it difficult and challenging to keep scoring those points. So you want to come on a run right as the Tour Championship (is approaching).

I don’t know who the next driver is, but do you have a question I can ask another race car driver in general?

My question for any driver would be: What did they do on the off weekend? And if it was fun, why didn’t they invite me?

I mean, I got plans, but…

At least you could get the invite.

Yeah, I mean a little reach-out like, “Hey, we’re doing this. Do you want to come?” That would be cool.

This interview was brought to you by Dover International Speedway. The cutoff race for the first playoff round takes place at Dover on Oct. 1. Here’s a link to buy tickets (and make sure to come say hi at the tweetup).

12 Questions with Chase Elliott

The series of 12 Questions interviews continues this week with Chase Elliott of Hendrick Motorsports, who is seventh in the NASCAR Cup Series standings entering the final two races of the regular season.

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

I feel like for me at least, a lot of it’s been probably from working at it, or at least having smart enough people around me to help me work through the different things that I’ve struggled with over the years. So I would probably attest it more to the knowledge of the people around me and their expertise in racing, or just dealing with people in general more so than anything, I feel like.

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’ve had this question a few times and I don’t really know that there’s a right or wrong answer. But in my opinion, whatever people can find a genuine relationship with in a driver, whatever that is — if it’s a passion that they share with the driver or a thing they like about that driver, the driver’s attitude, the way they race, whatever it is — as long as they can make that connection with them and be genuine and not pull for somebody because somebody told them to, then whoever it is — if it’s me or somebody else, I’m good with that. It’s everybody’s right and decision to pick their driver and pull for them. If it’s me, great; if it’s not, then I get it, too.

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

I’d say just managing our time. There’s just so many ways you can go about your week and different places we have to be. For us, we have meetings on Tuesdays, so a lot of times your week can be very broken up from traveling on Sundays, getting home on Sunday night, having Monday at home, Tuesday meeting day, Wednesday off, Thursday travel day. So not a lot of consecutive days in one place. I think just managing the time you do have in different places to try and make the most of the time you have off is pretty important.

As you know, we have a long schedule, and not getting too drowned in it throughout the entire year can be important to us. For us, we do it every week; it’s not just a region that we live in and can go to a couple of races a year, so we have to be very mindful of our schedule and try to keep it equal throughout the year.

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

That’s a good question. If you’re eating, I’d say definitely not. I wouldn’t want to come bother them while they were eating dinner. I think there’s a right and wrong way to do that; it’s definitely further appreciated when someone will take some extra time — if they have the time — to wait until you’re done eating or at least wait until you’re walking outside or whatever. That will certainly be appreciated.

We try to get to everyone we can. Obviously we can’t get to everyone all the time. But when that does happen, I think just be aware of the conversation. We’re probably with friends or family, and that’s time away from the track and away from things. So any kind of respect as far as waiting and hanging out will be appreciated.

So you don’t mind an autograph as long as you’re not shoveling food at the moment. If you get up to leave, then you’ll do it?

Absolutely. I’m fine with it, it’s not a problem at all. But definitely it is the respect of when you’re eating or when you’re spending time with the people you’re with. That’s where, sometimes, it can be frustrating.

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

I would say the playoff bonus points that have been going on throughout the years. It’s kind of something that the TV didn’t really talk about a whole lot until, I feel like, halfway through the season, and to me that’s what’s gonna make up the majority of our playoffs, and the guys who have won stages, won races and have racked up all these points.

I mean, we’ve got guys who’ve got in the high 30s of points, and that will just about carry them all the way to Homestead, if you know what I mean. Someone has a race advantage on you starting each round? That’s huge, and I don’t think we’ve emphasized that enough. Or at least I haven’t seen it. Maybe somebody has. But that’s a big story and one that’s gonna shape our playoffs.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

Ryan Blaney.

Talking about your trip to Europe (which they are currently on)?

Well, yeah, a little bit about our trip. We were discussing that.

But we were hanging out here (at Bristol) last night, we were wondering what all the people were doing walking. We didn’t realize the hauler parade was going on last night, so we were wondering what was going on.

We got in a golf cart, rode around. We were trying to find a group in the campgrounds that was playing cornhole. We wanted to go play cornhole, so we were trying to find a happening spot that was having a good time so we could join in. But we didn’t find anybody because there were all down here watching the hauler parade.

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

No, I don’t think so. I don’t really see us as that. I think our personalities and the differences of opinions in personality might be entertaining, but I can’t say that we’re entertainers.

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

I tell you, when something really didn’t really go the way you thought it should go or somebody’s not racing you correctly or the way you feel like you should be raced, it can be frustrating. I think that’s where it comes from. My policy on it is it’s probably better to not (use it) in general. Just doing nothing is probably the best thing, that’s probably gonna frustrate people the most. But at the end of the day, there’s gonna be times where you have to do something and those are just those frustrating days. So yeah, it’s been done.

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?

I definitely do, 100 percent. Racing is something that always comes full circle. There’s times if somebody helps you on early on in the race and you have the chance to do the same for them and it makes sense, then sure.

I think there comes a time in the race where those breaks and the slack are a little more forgiving at the beginning of the day versus what you can do at the end. We all understand that we’ve got to race and it’s hard to be as forgiving toward the end of the races because you’ve trying to fight for what you have. But if you’ve got a guy and they’re way better than you and it’s early on in the race, you’re doing nothing but holding both of you up.

In a lot of ways it seems dumb to let a guy go, but what could potentially happen is you’re slowing him down, the guys behind you are also catching you, so instead of falling behind and trying to make some lap times you might just get freight-trained when the next group catches you. It’s something that we’re all kind of conscious about as the race goes on, so I definitely pay attention to that and try to race guys how they race me.

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

I can’t think of anybody outside the racing world. I mean, other than drivers, unfortunately I’m not cool enough to have dinner with entertainers or anything. So I don’t know of anybody.

No Eric Church?

Nah, no Eric Church. I hung out at dinner with a couple other performers, Chase Rice being one of them. He’s a super cool guy and great entertainer. But aside from the country music world or racing, I don’t know. I’m not sure on that one.

Well you have a high ceiling to improve on that.

Alright, fair enough.

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

A lot of things. I think just, as far as racing stuff goes, I think as time goes on you want to try and take that next step and put yourself in that next caliber of drivers and not so much stay in one place long enough where you get labeled as that. So for me, I want to improve results, improve our qualifying efforts and really just improve our entire weekend.

I want to be, and I want our team to be, someone who people pay attention to. I don’t want to pay attention to them, I want them to pay attention to us and what we’re doing and us be a factor for them every single weekend. That’s probably the biggest thing I want to improve on, and I think it takes a lot of different things to make that particular thing happen. But I think that’s the ultimate goal.

12. The last interview I did was with Brett Moffitt. His question was: Whiskey or beer?

I was on a beer train for a little while, but I’ve kind of re-swapped over to the whiskey. So I’d say whiskey right now.

The next interview is with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Do you have a question I can ask Ricky?

Is he part of the golf (group), those guys?

I’m pretty sure he’s in the Golf Guys Tour, yeah.

So I wanna know how his golf game is, and if he plans on winning their championship or not.

This interview was brought to you by Dover International Speedway. The cutoff race for the first playoff round takes place at Dover on Oct. 1. Here’s a link to buy tickets (and make sure to come say hi at the tweetup).

12 Questions with Brett Moffitt

The series of 12 Questions interviews continues this week with Brett Moffitt, who recently completed a two-race stint for BK Racing at Watkins Glen and Michigan. Moffitt, 25, was the 2015 Cup Series Rookie of the Year and won the Truck Series race last year at Michigan.

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

I would say up until I got to the Cup level, most of it was natural ability because it was all short-track racing. I didn’t really race any Truck races or Xfinity races, so it was all just short tracks — run as fast as you can and win the race.

After I got to the Cup level, it’s mentally a lot more challenging. I’d say that’s the biggest part I had to work at: Mentally how to break a race down and not get mentally exhausted by the end of the race, just know what strategy you’re on and everything like that. So I would say at this level, it’s probably 70 percent talent, 30 percent work.

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 would say I need to get a full-time ride here first. But I guess if you like me, that’s great, and if not, I mean, everyone has opinions. So I don’t really have a pitch, but I’m always just gonna be myself and if you like it, awesome.

How is the search for a ride coming? Do you just have to bide your time? Do you have to make phone calls? How do you work on that?

It’s all of the above. Starting the year out with Red Horse Racing, which was gonna be a really great opportunity for me, I was really heartbroken when that fell through (Moffitt was 10th in the standings when Red Horse shut down after five races this season). I felt like I was finally in good equipment and we could make something out of this.

So it’s been tough, but I guess everything happens for a reason, and that light came out of the tunnel (in late July at Iowa) by running the Xfinity race for GMS and now these next two weeks, running back in the Cup series for BK Racing. But yeah, you’re making phone calls, trying to stay in front of team owners and crew chiefs all you can.

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

Finding a job. (Laughs) Yeah, for me, it’s trying to stay in a seat. I don’t have a bunch of money I can bring to the table, and I need to make a living doing this. So it’s really hard to just keep composure through all of this and not let your emotions get the best of you and just try to stay relevant.

Is it tough, staying patient like that and watching races on your couch at times?

It’s extremely hard. I’ve talked to a lot of people and they’re like, “Yeah, we really want you here, but we would need some (financial) backing to do it.” So it’s just tough. I want to be out there racing every chance I get, whether it’s Trucks, Xfinity or Cup. That’s why I’m just super excited for this month — I get to race at least three times. My birthday is (Aug. 7), so I guess this is a good birthday month. But yeah, it’s hard to watch.

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

I’m all about it. Yeah. Bring me a beer, maybe. I’m good with that.  (Laughs) I’ll trade you a Bud Light for some talking time.

Seems like a pretty good trade.

Yeah! But even if you don’t, I’m good with it. That’s why we do this sport: We’re entertainers. I think I would honored to have people come up to me and ask me for my autograph.

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

I really like what they’re doing with all the pit crew guys now (on NBC), kind of spotlighting them because they’re extremely good athletes.

I would just say people don’t realize how much work truly goes into it, especially on these smaller teams who have a quarter of the employees and they still have to run the same 36 races that everyone else does. So just to see all these teams work with limited people is pretty amazing.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

It’s actually my hero, Jimmie Johnson. He was silly enough to give me his phone number for some reason, so anytime I have a question about a track or anything, I tend to lean on him first because he’s always been nice enough to respond. So I guess I’m not too much of a nuisance yet.

I’ve always looked up to him and so I asked him what the shift points were (at Watkins Glen), because I’ve never been here in a Cup car, and he was gracious enough to tell me what he does. He said, “I can’t promise you that with the new package (they’ll be the same), but that’s what I’ve been doing and I’ll let you know if anything changes.”

So totally open book from what you can tell?

Yeah, as far as I can tell, unless he’s holding out on me — which I don’t think he is because we’re not in the same caliber stuff right now.

7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers? I think you just said that you do.

I do. I think we’re definitely a sport, but at the same time it needs to be an entertaining sport. I think statistically we’re the second-biggest sport in the country, and I you’re not gonna compete with the NFL, at least in my mind. They play X amount of games in a week and everyone’s got a hometown city.

But yeah, I think we’re entertainers and it’s our job to put on a good show. I like the drivers that have been trying to have more personality outside of the car, too, and not just being a robot of just thanking sponsors and (saying) everyone had a good day and holding your tongue. I think that Monster helped influence that, where the more you speak out, the more rivalries, I think that’s gonna be better.

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

I’ve given it a few times. I’ve gotten it a lot. (Laughs) I don’t necessarily mean it like, “Hey, F you,” but like, “Dude, cut me a break next time.” Some people will race you way harder than they need to for a spot or make it harder to lap them for a spot. I’ll use it every now and then, but I try not to.

What’s your reaction when somebody gives it to you?

I normally laugh. Most of the time I know when I’m going to get it, and then if I don’t get it, I’m kind of surprised and I laugh a little bit. But you know when you’re kind of expecting to get it and when you’re not.

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?

For sure. It all boils down to respect. If I respect a driver, I’m not going to give him as hard of a time probably racing him unless it’s the last few laps. If it’s early in the race, it’s not worth slowing us both down.

But also the opposite of that. I mean, I’ve had guys point me to the bottom (to pass) and then get on my door. It’s like, “If you take all the air off of me, I can’t pass you.” So there’s definitely that list of how you race people.

Racing in Xfinity race (at Iowa), I haven’t raced many of those people, so I had to kind of learn that real quick. But the more you race around people, you kind of just have that, “OK, he’s gonna race me like this, I’m gonna race him like this,” and so on.

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

I always joke around about this, that the most famous person I know is Simon Pagenaud’s dog. So I guess we’ve had dinner at his house a few times, so probably Simon or his dog (Norman).

I hope you had different food at least.

We did. Well, he gives his dog some steak every now and then. He normally cooks a good dinner for us.

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

I guess lately I’ve been trying to open up more and be myself — I’d like to keep improving on that. And just keep learning, you know? It’s good to be in the place to learn and I’d like to get back to a place where I’m consistently at the track and consistently in a car and just able to keep growing my knowledge.

12. The last interview I did was with Johnny Sauter. His question was: If you weren’t pursuing racing, what would be a career path that you would pursue?

Oh man, I was ready for Blake Koch’s question. For some reason I thought that was the last one. (Laughs)

That’s the last one I published (as of the time of the interview), so you can answer that, too, if you want.

No, I’ll go with Johnny’s. My dad grew up homebuilding in Iowa and I was around that a lot. So I would say if I wasn’t in racing, I would be in the lines of being a general contractor or something like that.

Did you help him out on that kind of stuff?

Every now and then, if I was home, I would drive his truck around because he used to have to run from job site to job site, house to house all day. So I would drive along with him and try to pick up on a little bit of it.

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

Hmm. Has anyone asked, “Whiskey or beer?”

I don’t think anyone has asked that.

I’ll say for the next driver: Are you a whiskey or beer drinker, and why?

This interview was brought to you by Dover International Speedway. The cutoff race for the first playoff round takes place at Dover on Oct. 1. Here’s a link to buy tickets (and make sure to come say hi at the tweetup).

12 Questions with Johnny Sauter

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Johnny Sauter of GMS Racing. Sauter is currently second in Camping World Truck Series points, and I spoke to him at Pocono. The Truck Series heads to Michigan this weekend.

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

I do think there’s a certain element of God-given ability, but I also think there’s a lot to working hard and being smart about what you’re doing. Just because you have ability doesn’t mean you necessarily utilize it the way that you should in a lot of different ways. To put a percentage on both of those, that would be a tough one for me, but I do think you have to have a little bit of natural ability and you also have to work very hard.

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?

Maybe because I’m in the same age group as those guys (Sauter turned 39 in May). I’m getting really close to it, so that would be my pitch. Those guys are great race car drivers obviously, but I think a lot of people need to pay attention to the Truck Series. We put on a good show.

3. Let’s say a fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?

Sure, absolutely. I have no problem with that. It’s happened a few times. As a matter of fact, last night after I was done eating, the people that were sitting at the table next to us came over and wished me good luck and all that. So absolutely, it’s all good.

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

Oh, raising kids. (Laughs) In today’s society, the way things are going, it’s tough to keep them pointed in the right direction. I have a lot of fun. I spend a lot of time with my kids. But I can see that it’s gonna be a challenge as they get older.

How old are your kids now?

My son is 7, my daughter is 6 and my second daughter should be 2 in September. And then we got another one coming Nov. 1st. So we’re gonna be busy.

That’s a full house right there.

(Laughs) Yeah. Four kids under the age of seven. That’s busy.

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

Man, where do you come up with these questions?

That’s what I have the offseason for.

I’d say just how much work this really is and how much technology has impacted the sport. I know it gets coverage, but when I talk to people even back home in Wisconsin and you tell them how many employees an organization like GMS has, with one and a half Xfinity cars and three full-time trucks, we’re pushing 100 employees. They’re like, “What do they all do all day?” So there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes, and obviously if you’re not around it day in and day out, you wouldn’t understand totally. But there’s a lot of work that gets done. Just because they all look the same doesn’t mean they are the same. I always look at it from that aspect, just how much work it really is.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

Erik Jones just a couple of days ago. I’m not gonna tell you what for.

Well actually, (Matt) Crafton was wearing me out the other day, but I didn’t respond to him, so I got a mean gesture from him.

So you didn’t respond to Crafton and he just shot you the unpleasant emoji?

That’s exactly what it was. More than one. But I finally called him back, so he’s happy now.

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

I think in a lot of ways, yes. A lot of people look to race car drivers to not only perform, but to have a good personality or whatever. So that leaves me out. (Laughs) But no, of course, I think people are entertained by this sport, but I also know if you’re not performing, not a lot of people pay attention to you. So it’s a double-edged sword.

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

I try to refrain from using it, but I know when somebody does it to me, it sends the wrong signal to me and I instantly get hot. But I’m not gonna lie, I’ve done it, but I try not to use it a lot.

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?

Sure. And to be honest with you, you say that you’re gonna get a guy or you’ve had trouble with a guy, but to me it just goes out the window because I’m just focused on doing what I need to do to be in the best spot I need to be in.

But if a guy does cut you a break, absolutely. I actually feel like I think about guys cutting me a break more positive than I do on the negative side of it, just because they don’t have to do that. This is racing and it’s aggressive and you put yourself in positions on both sides of that coin. Yeah, I definitely keep a mental list of people who have raced me clean. But you never forget the guys that run into you, and sometimes you run back into them.

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

I guess it depends on what your definition of famous is. I’ve been fortunate enough to have some pretty cool dinners with a lot of cool people, but I would have to dig deep in the ol’ memory bank to think through the years of all the people that I’ve had dinner with. I’m gonna have to get back to you on that one. I’d have to think about that one for quite a while.

11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve — aside from your memory, apparently?

(Laughs) Yeah, my memory is bad. But just leading by example. The old saying: Do as I say, not as I do? Well, ultimately you set a good example by doing things the right way. People pay more attention to that than the words coming out of your mouth. So for me, there’s a lot of things I can improve on, believe me. But just ultimately just trying to be a better role model for people and watching what you say and how you say it.

12. The last interview I did was with Blake Koch. His question was: Who was your favorite teammate that you’ve ever worked with, and who was your least favorite teammate that you’ve ever worked with?

I honestly have been fortunate enough to have worked with a lot of good guys. I’ve had good teammates, really. I can’t sit here and tell you that there’s a teammate that I did not like. There are guys that you got along with better than others or had more in common with or whatever, but I’ve never really had bad blood or anything like that. Obviously, I’ve spent a lot of time with Crafton and those guys over at Thor Sport and had our fun over there. But I even think back early on with Kevin Harvick and those types of guys, it was good.

Of course you want to beat your teammates, but I always had the mindset, “Don’t get caught up and try to beat your teammates, beat the competition and the other part will take care of itself.” But yeah, that’s a good question. But life’s too short to be mad at people, especially when you’re driving race cars for a living and they’re your teammate, it doesn’t make much sense.

I don’t know who the next interview is going to be with, but you have a question that I may be able to ask another driver in general?

I always am fascinated by the question, “If you weren’t pursuing racing, what would be a career path that you would pursue?” Because race car drivers a lot of times, they get the thrill or action part of it. So what type of profession would they pursue if they couldn’t have pursued a racing career?

This interview was brought to you by Dover International Speedway. The cutoff race for the first playoff round takes place at Dover on Oct. 1. Here’s a link to buy tickets (and make sure to come say hi at the tweetup).

12 Questions with Blake Koch

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Blake Koch of Kaulig Racing. I spoke with Koch at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This interview is available in both written and podcast form.

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

Oh man. I would say that it’s probably 50/50. You can work as work as you want to, but if you don’t have that natural ability to drive a car at speed, it’s gonna be really difficult to make it. And if you have that natural ability to go fast but don’t put in the work, you’re not gonna make it, either. So I feel like both are equally important. You have to have that natural talent — that natural ability to drive a race car or for whatever you’re doing in life — and then you have to have the ability to work harder than anybody else at it to become successful.

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 welcome all fans. I think that’s the most important part of NASCAR, are the fans that come out to watch us. It wouldn’t be as fun racing in front of nobody, you know? I truly appreciate the fans. I like to get to know them. I like to utilize my social media platforms, whether it’s Facebook Live or Instagram Stories, to just show my fans the behind-the-scenes of my life and also follow them, too, and get to see what they do and what they’re like.

And you know the story of the Koch Krew, and how I just welcomed those guys in (through a tweet) and now they’re my biggest fans. They have their own T-shirt line now. So I just encourage people to follow me because I’m a real person. I am a race car driver on the racetrack, but I also didn’t grow up in it.

Six years ago, I was pressure-cleaning roofs Monday through Thursday to pay the bills and then racing on the weekends. And only four years ago, I was driving Trevor Bayne’s motorhome and spotting for Michael McDowell in the Cup Series, just trying to stay at the racetrack, be in front of the right people and just keep working at it like you have to in order to make it in the sport. Ever since I’ve met (LeafFilter owner) Matt Kaulig, he’s turned my career around and here I am competing for a Xfinity Series playoff position.

I love the story of the Koch Krew. They were people who were “Carl’s Crew” and they were looking for a new driver, like so many fans are now, and I retweeted them and said they were looking for a new driver. You were the only driver out of all the possible drivers to tweet them back. And now it’s like a match made in heaven.

It is cool. I remember they wrote a letter and you reposted it. I saw it and I was like, “Man, if they’re that big of fans of Carl Edwards, I would love to have those fans.” And then they just jumped all in and they showed up, I think Daytona was the first time I met them. Then they flew all the way to Vegas, they’ve been to Pocono, Dover, they go all over the place. And the Koch Krew is getting bigger now. I mean, they use the hashtag #KochKrew and they have the shirts like I said. We’re selling a lot of those shirts. And they’re just awesome people, man; they’re just really really nice and good people, and I’m proud to be their driver.

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

The hardest part of my job away from the racetrack would have to be just balancing time. I think that goes for any person that’s married with kids and has a career: just trying to balance that time, spending enough time with my kids, spending enough time with my wife, spending enough time working at my job and focusing on how to get better. So that balance is a constant struggle for me. And not really a struggle like I’m bad at it, but I make sure it’s a priority to have a good balance of time. That’s probably the most difficult part.

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

Absolutely! Yeah! Definitely come over for an autograph.

What if you’re in the middle of eating or something?

If I’m in the middle of eating, I would say still come over and talk to us. But if I’m with someone else, make sure you talk to them, too. It’s always kind of awkward when I’m talking to somebody or a fan and it’s my wife or friend sitting there and they’re feeling awkward. So make sure you say hi to everybody at the table.

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

I don’t know about a story, but I would like to hear the sponsors mentioned more. Like when you’re watching the races, watching practice, you hear, “Blake Koch, No. 11.” It would be nice to throw in LeafFilter. Every time you say my car, my name, it’d be nice to have sponsor plugs. We work really hard to get these sponsors and spend a lot of money. Anytime we can get their names mentioned on TV more is better.

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

Yes I do. I do think we are entertainers. Our job is to put on a good race and a good show for the fans watching on their mobile device or on their television or through Twitter. There’s so many ways to relive the race, but our job really is to entertain people, especially at the racetrack. If we’re doing a Q and A on stage at the Chevy trailer, you wanna be an entertainer; you want people to be excited and not just bored. So I think it’s important to entertain our fans.

7. Who is the last driver you texted?

Well that’s easy, let’s look. (Pulls out phone) Justin Allgaier is the last driver I texted.

Can you say what you were texting about?

It was last night at 8:30. We were doing media availability (on Friday of Indianapolis race weekend), and he’s like, “I figured out something about Indy where I didn’t really want to show my cars to everybody.” I texted him saying, “Hey what do you know about Indy? Call me.” And he said, “OK, I’ll call you.”

That’s a nice friend. He shared some info.

We’ll see if he shared. (Laughs) He gave me some info but it doesn’t sound like a big secret, so we’ll see.

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

Zero tolerance for the middle finger. It makes me more mad than I can even explain to you when someone flicks me off. The last person that did it, we ended up having a talk the next weekend. And I like to have a talk, I don’t like to jump to conclusions. So I just tell them, “You can’t flick me off. It’s not OK.” And I’m looked at as the nicest guy in the garage, so when I come up and have that serious conversation with you, I mean it. So that’s my policy: Zero tolerance.

So you’re just offended? If something like that happens, you’re like, “This is deeply offensive.” That’s why you’re so mad about it?

The way I was brought up, the middle finger means a particular word to you, and it would be like walking up to somebody and saying that to their face. What do you expect the reaction to be? It’s not gonna be good. So I literally see red on the racetrack, and I have to calm myself down and it kind of ruins my whole section of the racetrack. So it’s bad.

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?

Absolutely. I entered into NASCAR with respect for every single driver I race around. I don’t really keep a payback list, like I have to pay somebody back, but they do lose my respect and I will race them differently than I race someone that does cut me breaks.

So you remember who races you which way. I race people the way I wanna be raced, and then they race people the way they want to be raced. So if they’re racing you like an idiot, they obviously want to be raced like an idiot. That’s kind of how I look at it.

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

The most famous person I’ve had dinner with, well it was dinner in the hauler, more like a late lunch, but Mark Wahlberg.

How did that come about?

He sponsored my car in 2015 with the AQUAhydrate water company that he owns part of. So he came out to California Speedway and just sat in the lounge. We were up there for about an hour eating, so I can say we ate dinner together. It might not have been dinnertime, though. But I got to hang out with him and he sat on the pit box, went around the track after driver intros with him and spent some time with him. So that’s definitely the most famous person I’ve spent time with.

Did you find him to be down to earth, or did he have a celebrity air about him?

The most down to earth celebrity I’ve ever met was Mark Wahlberg. He’s just like he is in the movies; he’s just this tough guy. He was walking around, didn’t have any bodyguards with him or anything.

I think the funniest thing was he was walking behind me to driver intros, and you know at California you walk underneath that little tunnel. Well three people stopped me for my autograph and they didn’t even ask him for his autograph because they had no idea it was him — because why would he be there? So I think that was kind of funny.

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

That’s always a question I ask good friends. I’ll ask Michael McDowell in particular or Lonnie Clouse, our chaplain (from Motor Racing Outreach). Like what do you see? What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses as a person? And they’ll tell me, and I’ll work on those things.

But to improve would probably be something simple as remember people’s names. I wish I remembered everybody’s name. Our team owner Matt Kaulig, I feel like he knows every single person’s name at Leaf Filter and there’s like a thousand employees. Every time he talk to somebody, he says their name, and I think that’s very impressive and I’d love the ability to do that.

12. The last interview I did was with David Ragan. His question was: After a race, you typically go back to your hauler. What’s the first thing you look at when you get to your phone? 

If it’s a good race, it’s the text messages. If it’s a bad race, my phone’s blank. There’s not even one single text message. So I instantly go and answer some of my text messages and I’ll try to find my wife first and say, “Hi, I’m OK,” if it’s a bad race. Or if it’s a good race, thumbs up. So my wife’s the first one I text.

I don’t know who the next interview is going to be with. Do you have a general question I could ask a driver?

Yeah, one that’s already been asked that I thought was a really great question, and we’ll see if people will be open and honest about it: Who was your favorite teammate, and who was your least favorite teammate? I think that’s very interesting and when I was reading your responses, it was interesting to see that Kenseth said it was Carl. You would never think that anyone wouldn’t like Carl at first. I kind of like that behind-the-scenes information. So the next guy, I wanna know who their favorite teammate was or is, and who their worst teammate was or is.