12 Questions with David Ragan

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with David Ragan of Front Row Motorsports. I spoke with Ragan at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. This interview is available both in podcast and written form.

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

I think it’s probably 60/40 — 60 percent natural ability and 40 percent working at it. You have to have good eyesight, good reflexes, you can’t get carsick … being closed in a confined area for long periods of time, have a feel for turning and braking, a tight and loose feel.

But I think you can work at it. The technology we have at our fingertips today that shows driver traces and Dartfish videos and metrics on pit road, metrics on the racetrack, you can definitely be smarter and have a better racing IQ.

I never thought about the carsick part of it, but yeah, I guess if you’re going around in circles all the time, it’s probably not something for you if you can’t handle that.

Some people get carsick in the simulator. I know there’s some drivers who are better than others when being tossed around, moved around. And your perception’s a little different looking at a video screen and you’ve got different things going on.

I knew that Mark Martin got a little sick on the sim when he tried it one time, and I think he even had to take Dramamine going to different types of road courses that had high elevation changes and different things. So you gotta be able to sit in there, withstand all the moving and bouncing around.

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 just a normal dude that gets to drive race cars, so be a fan of David Ragan. I mean, I think NASCAR fans are generally fans of more than just one driver; they like a few drivers and maybe dislike a few drivers. I’m not a jerk, so you don’t have to dislike me. I’m just a normal guy, so you can pull for David Ragan. I’ll be here a few more years; I’m not getting ready to retire in the next six months, so I guess you can pull for me for a little while.

That’s good. So it’s like, “I’m normal and I’m not a jerk.”

What else do you need? That’s right.

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

I think being away from family is probably the hardest part. Away from the racetrack, it’s the commitment to sponsors and traveling during the week for testing and other obligations that NASCAR has requested of your time or your sponsors or your manufacturer. I think just showing up on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, sometimes that’s the best part — just getting in the race car and going through the motions. But it’s that test on a Tuesday and Wednesday and it gets rained out and you have to stay until Thursday and go straight to the racetrack and you’re only home for one day (that makes it difficult). Or you’ve got an appearance out of town and you’ve got to fly commercial and it’s tough getting there, it’s tough getting back. Just being gone from home is probably the toughest part.

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

Yeah, absolutely. Again, I’m just a normal person and I appreciate them asking for my autograph because one day, no one’s gonna care. So I think that while someone does care today to get an autograph from David Ragan or a picture, I think that’s pretty cool. And yeah, sometimes it’s a little drowning to be swarmed in an area that you’re getting a lot of requests.

I don’t take my motorhome to every racetrack, so when I’m staying at the hotel and you’re trying to eat breakfast and get to the racetrack and this one fan sees you and takes a picture, then the whole downstairs lobby eating continental breakfast, they’re all trying to take your picture and talk to you. And all you want to do is get out so you can get to the racetrack and beat the traffic. That does get annoying at times, but I’m grateful that they want that picture. And like I said, when I’m a little older and not racing full time, no one’s probably gonna care. So I’ll sign all the autographs you ask right now.

So you’re like in the hotel breakfast area, everyone’s getting their orange juice and their bagel or whatever, and somebody’s like, “David Ragan!” And everyone’s like, “Oh, wow,” and they’re all race fans so they’ll come over to you?

Yeah, that does happen sometimes. Like I said, I don’t take my motorhome every single week and when I don’t, I’m just downstairs getting my Raisin Bran and my bagel. There’s usually that one person who’s got that keen eye. He spots you, and then the other 20 people that aren’t paying attention, they’re like, “Well I want my picture, I want an autograph. Let’s call the kids up in the room and get them downstairs. Can you wait on them?” That happens, but you just kind of roll with it.

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

Have the lug nuts gotten enough coverage? Missing lug nuts? That was a joke.

I think the behind-the-scenes industry part doesn’t get enough coverage. What I mean by that is the guys back in the shop building the race cars, the sales department traveling to a random company to try and make a sales pitch or the licensing department trying to create new products for the souvenir haulers. All of the stuff that goes into making NASCAR what it is.

I think we could do some behind-the-scenes TV shows, some documentaries — it would be really interesting. My wife (Jacquelyn) is not a big stick-and-ball (sports) fan, but she loves Hard Knocks and she really loves watching the behind-the-scenes stuff on draft day. She could not care less (about football), but it’s really interesting to hear about the young kid out of college that’s getting ready for his life to change, depending on where he’s drafted at.

So I think in our sport, we all get to see coverage of cars going around in circles and interviews at the racetrack. But all that stuff (like) our engineering department working at the wind tunnel, I think it would be cooler to have some behind-the-scenes shows during the off-season and during the year. You know, the truck drivers trying to get back and get the trucks switched out, and the meetings where you’re having to decide, “Should we test here or do we not need to spend the money to do this or do that?” So it’s an interesting sport we have, and I think it would be really neat to tell that story.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

I texted Michael McDowell yesterday. I brought my shotgun to New Hampshire and I was gonna see if he wanted to go to a clay and skeet shooting course not too far down the road, and to go shoot some. But we found out they were closed on Saturday, so I don’t know if we’re gonna be able to go now.

Who’s the better shooter: You or McDowell?

That’s a good one. He shoots probably a little more than I do; he’s an avid hunter and outdoorsman and we both enjoy doing stuff like that. I have knocked him out of a little competition before, but he’s probably a little more accurate and a little more consistent than I am.

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

Absolutely. I think race car drivers, whether you want to be or not, you are an entertainer. And I think that that’s one thing I don’t really enjoy about my job, is being an entertainer. I don’t feel like I’m really an entertainer kind of person. Like I’m not too big on building my brand and doing all this thrills and spills stuff. I just want to be David Ragan and go race and go home and spend time with my family.

And I think some drivers are like that, and that’s OK. And then some drivers are more active on social media, they’re more out there — and that’s cool, too. I think the sport needs both sides of that, but I don’t really wanna show my life to everyone and just be an entertainer. So I think about guys like Matt DiBenedetto — he does a good job on stuff like that. But David Ragan is kind of the opposite. I still watch black-and-white TV shows and I despise some of the social media stuff, so I don’t like being an entertainer. But that is part of the job description.

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

My middle finger policy is that I usually don’t give the middle finger out too much. I only have one or two times in my career. I think that’s kind of equivalent to if you’re talking to someone face-to-face and don’t agree, you just shove him or push him. I think that you can have disagreements on the racetrack, but you don’t have to flip someone off.

Now if someone flips me off, I’ll try to wreck you if I can. That’s like the slap in the face while talking. So if someone confronts me, like pushes me, then we’re probably gonna fight. I think on the racetrack, if I get a middle finger, I’ll try to wreck you if I can catch you in the next few laps, and then I usually calm down and forget about it. But usually the person who gives you the middle finger, they’re driving away from you and you’re not able to catch them. But yeah, the middle finger, I do not like that. It makes me extremely mad behind the wheel of the car.

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 drivers have a pretty good mental idea of who’s friendlier to race with or maybe who’s a little bit harder to race with. Some of the guys that you do cut slack to and they return the favor, that is nice to see that. So yeah, there’s a majority of the guys that all race each other really good, and then there’s some guys that you’re trying to pass and they make it really, really hard on you. And absolutely — when they’re trying to pass me, or when I’m a lapped car and they’re catching me, I don’t just move out of their way.

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

That’s a good question. I’ve had dinner with Richard Petty before, and he’s pretty famous. You know, again, I’m not real big on like the glitz and glamour and like being friends with all the pace car drivers and movie stars that show up. I can’t even name half of them. I can’t name three quarters of them that are dignitaries, so I wouldn’t know if they were famous or not.

I’ve had dinner a few times with the governor of Georgia. I would say he’s pretty famous. The ex-governor, Sonny Perdue, is now the Secretary of Agriculture for the Trump administration; I know him pretty well. So maybe a political figure down in the state of Georgia.

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

I’m pretty tardy sometimes on seeing a text message and not responding, and then it kind of gets lost in the shuffle. And I was talking to my wife about that not long ago — her and I are both kind of bad about that, and you get busy with life or the kids are there and every time you pull out your phone, my two little girls are there and they wanna get it and play with it.

So I think just being a little more responsive when I get an email or text message — like if I read it, respond then, but don’t read it until you can respond because that’s probably not nice if someone sees you can read it through iMessage and you respond to them the next day. So try and be a little more up to date on that.

Do you have read receipts on where people can tell? You can turn those off.

(Turns to Front Row Motorsports public relations representative Shari Spiewak) I don’t know. Shari, you text me some—

Shari says that Landon Cassill has his read receipts on and David does not.

So maybe that’s by default, because I don’t think I changed that on my phone. So yeah, that’s just one of the things.

There’s always other stuff that I can do a better job on, but working out, getting up when my alarm goes off — the normal stuff that we all could do a better job on. If I see a piece of cookie or ice cream in the freezer, not eating it. Just to be a little better on that.

12. The last interview I did was with Matt Kenseth. He had gotten a question from Denny Hamlin and instead of thinking of his own question, he just decided to pass it on to you. His question is: Who is your favorite teammate you’ve ever worked with, and who is the worst teammate you’ve ever worked with?

That’s not fair. Matt’s got his seniority and he can do stuff like that. Matt just didn’t want to answer that question.

I’ve had some really good teammates over the years. I’ve always been kind of the younger guy on the team, and I felt like all the teammates I’ve had have been good to me. They’ve been nice to me around the racetrack, they’ve included me in some off-the-track opportunities, they’ve let me fly on their planes with them quite a bit. So I feel like I’ve had pretty good teammates.

But Carl Edwards would probably be one of the best teammates I’ve ever worked with. He was very down to earth, he would answer any questions that you asked, he would offer his opinion on how to improve things and would let me fly with him and do things like that. So that was always nice. Carl was a good teammate.

And now the tough question, the worst teammate. I don’t know. I haven’t really disliked any teammate that I’ve had. I think any teammate that I’ve had over the years, even when I was subbing for Kyle (Busch) and I got to work with Denny (Hamlin), Matt and Carl again, they welcomed me pretty good and were very cool even though I was gonna be there for a short amount of time.

I really haven’t had that one jerk for a teammate. If I do, I’ll have to let you know. Hopefully Landon and I can stay hooked up here at Front Row for a few more years, but Landon’s a good teammate. I got to work with Landon for the first time in 2017 and I didn’t really know Landon that well. I’ve seen him around the garage a lot, but he’s a cool guy. He’s an entertainer and I’m not, so we’re on opposite ends of the spectrum there, and so I’ve embraced that and that’s been pretty fun to try and watch him do his thing. I’ll let you know when I have a good jerk for a teammate and give you some good dirt on him.

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

After a race, you typically go back to your hauler or your motorhome and you change, you hit the road, you go to your helicopter or whatever you’re doing to get back.What’s the first thing you look at when you get to your phone?  Do you look at the rundown of the race, do you look at your text messages, your emails, Twitter?

The first thing I look at is typically my text messages, if anybody texted me during the race. Or if my family’s not here, I’ll say that I’m headed to the airport. And then if it’s football season, I’ll immediately look at football scores on a Sunday afternoon. So see with other drivers what’s the first thing they look at.

I may have to steal that for next year’s 12 Questions. Is that OK?

Yeah, I’ll give you clearance to do that. You don’t have to give me any royalties.

12 Questions with Matt Kenseth

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Matt Kenseth of Joe Gibbs Racing. I spoke with Kenseth at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

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

Oh man. I feel like for me through the years, I’ve always never felt like I was an extra-gifted, talented driver, really. Especially earlier in my career before technology changed and everything, I felt like I understood cars probably better than some of the drivers that just came in and were just drivers. So I would say for me, more it’s been hard work and studying and doing all that more so than natural ability. 

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

I don’t know. I’m not much of a salesman. I don’t know that I have much of a pitch.

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

I don’t know that there really is one away from the racetrack. I hate to, first of all, call driving race cars in a circle a “job.” It’s pretty much a dream to be able to drive race cars and get paid for it. I don’t know that there is a bad part or a hard part of the job away from the racetrack.

I guess one thing I’ve never really enjoyed and been nervous about is public speaking. So probably anytime I have to get up and give any kind of a speech is probably the worst part or scariest part for me.

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

Sure, why not?

You might be eating.

You can wait until my mouth isn’t full, but yeah.

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

I don’t know. I don’t really watch much coverage, so I’m not really sure what’s covered and what’s not.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

Last one I texted would have been Jimmie (Johnson).

Were you going biking or something?

Yeah, I was just trying to see what the plan was for the weekend. I was solo this weekend, so I was trying to see when and where we were riding. Good guess.

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

The drivers? I think it’s an entertainment business for sure. I think that people go to watch drivers, race cars, pit crews — they come to see the competition. So I don’t know if just the driver is necessarily an entertainer, but I think it’s obviously an entertainment business. Everybody comes to watch the sport to be entertained.

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

I try not to ever do it. Unfortunately, I have a couple times. But I try not to do it. They used to get fined for it, and it seems like they always find it, but you try your best to control your temper.

How do you feel when someone gives it to you, if that happens?

I don’t remember the last time I got one on the racetrack. Would have been a long time ago.

That’s a good thing.

I might not have seen it, but the last time I’ve seen it (was a long time ago).

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 don’t really keep any payback lists. I can’t remember anything that anybody’s ever done to me that I felt like was wrong or bothered me. Ever. (Keeps straight face.)

I don’t believe that, but we’ll just move on.

But yeah, I mean certainly, you try to always race people the way you want to be raced and then sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t, then you start racing people the way they race you. I really feel like typically if you’re fair with people, they’re fair back with you.

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

I don’t know.

Do you want me to help you?

I guess.

I’ll say Dale Jr. Have you had dinner with Dale Jr.?

A real sit-down dinner? Probably not.

Jimmie Johnson?

I’ve had dinner with Jimmie Johnson. I thought these were my answers, not yours.

Well, I just felt like you maybe could use a lifeline. It’s like on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

I don’t know. I would think of somebody famous would be like James Hetfield from Metallica or a movie star or something. I don’t really consider myself or my peers famous. The people I go to dinner with I think more of as friends, so it’s kind of a tough one to answer.

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

Man, I don’t know. Do you think there’s anything I can improve?

I think, except for that last answer, you’re perfect.

I think I’d like to improve on my dry humor a little bit. Nah, I don’t know. There’s a million things I can improve on. I don’t think you’ve got enough memory on your phone for all of those.

12. This is an important question because Denny Hamlin asked me to find a driver with at least six to seven years of experience to answer the following question. His question is: Who is your favorite teammate you’ve ever worked with, and who is the worst teammate you’ve ever worked with?

You can’t really pick a favorite. I’ve had a lot of teammates through the years, and I think picking a favorite is like picking a favorite child. By the way, some of my teammates have been very childish. So I don’t think you can pick a favorite.

Can you pick a worst?

You know, you can’t really pick a worst, either. But I will say that the first time around, Carl (Edwards) would have been for sure the most challenging teammate that I’ve had to get along with, and we’re probably both equally responsible for that because I would say we just didn’t really understand each other and we had very different personalities. So we definitely clashed the first time around. The second time around we got along great.

That sounds like the first time I interviewed Carl and the second time I interviewed Carl.

OK.

The next interview is with David Ragan. Do you have a question I can ask David?

You can ask him the same exact question.

Pass it along?

Yeah, just pay it forward.

12 Questions with Denny Hamlin

The series of 12 Questions interviews continues this week with Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing. Hamlin is currently seventh in the point standings. This interview was conducted at Daytona and is available both in podcast and written form.

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

It’s probably 75 percent natural ability. I think 25 of it you can refine by just doing it and studying at it.

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

I really don’t have a pitch. You like me if you like me; if you don’t, then you don’t. I’m a true, old-school short-track racer. Got here the old fashioned way, just like all those guys did. So why not me?

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

I don’t really consider my job hard on the racetrack or off the racetrack. It’s everything that I’ve really hoped it would be. The hardest part is just the time away from home.

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

They can. I don’t think I’ve really turned anyone down that’s approached me about an autograph. Doesn’t mean necessarily it’s OK or I like it or I encourage it, but I definitely never would turn anyone away.

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

I think the pit crews and how much of athletes they are gets a little bit of coverage, but we see within the race teams how all the pit crews rank, even individual positions. I think the TV or the media hasn’t seen before who has the fastest jack man on pit road, who has the fastest tire carrier, who has the faster tire changer. All those stats are available, but you never see them.

Are those stats kept by the teams? How would I get those?

I don’t know. Someone high up probably has them. But I’ve seen them.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

Dale Jr.

Can you tell us what it was about?

We were actually talking about the refs. He thinks that things are getting pretty physical in his basketball league, so he’s asking whether he thinks my refs (in Hamlin’s “Hoop Group” league) could possibly control that or not.

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

Yeah, absolutely. I think that we’re entertainers — we’re more than just race car drivers. I mean, we go to autograph sessions and fan fests and do Q&A’s and things like that, so absolutely I would say we’re in the entertainment business.

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

I used to give it a lot, but I don’t necessarily anymore because it bothers me when I get it. I stick my hand out when I’m frustrated, but I try to keep it at five fingers instead of one now.

That’s very gentlemanly of you.

I’ve never been called that before.

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 do. There’s handfuls of drivers that have cut me breaks more than once. Yeah, absolutely. You know who those guys are and you repay them.

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

Are you talking about one-on-one or with a group?

It can be in a group. The great thing about this question is that so many people this year have never really had dinner with that famous of a person, but you, on the other hand, have had so many famous dinners you actually have to go through and think about who’s the most famous one.

You have to put it in a category. I would say in a very small group, probably eight people or so, with the Kardashians and Lord Disick (Scott Disick).

What!? When was this?

This was at the grand opening of Butter (Hamlin’s former nightclub), probably six years ago.

So Kim herself came? Did anyone else come?

Kourtney, Khloe and the Lord.

What were they like?

Pretty quiet for the most part, but I don’t know. You could just tell they were a little uncomfortable in the beginning, but they kinda got into their groove by the end of the night.

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

Geez, there’s so many things. What I’d like to improve: my eating habits.

What’s wrong with those?

I’ve got a bad sugar tooth. I could eat until I’m about to explode. Like I eat a lot, and then I’ll still want something sweet at the end of the night. I have a bad problem with that.

12. The last question was from Ryan Blaney. Now, Denny, I am under strict instructions not to give you any context with this. I doubled back with him just this morning and said, “Are you sure you want me to ask it like this?” And he said, “Yes.” So I’m sorry.

Did he know it’s to me?

No, he just wanted me to ask this very awkward question to a driver. I figured you could deal with it. So are you ready?

OK, I’m ready.

Who shot first?

(Long silence) This is coming from Blaney, right? Who shot first? (Pause) He did.

I don’t know if that’s the correct answer, but —

I’ll change it, I’ll change it: I did.

You did? OK, that’s definitely the wrong answer. You should just go with “He did.” But it’s a Star Wars reference.

Oh, he’s such a dork. You know what? They can’t sell to the public how awesome Blaney is if he keeps coming up with this Star Wars dork stuff. Like seriously, he’s gotta, you know… Ugh. I need to have a talk with Blaney because this is just not the road he needs to go down.

You may have to do that after this. It was apparently a reference to, have you seen the original Star Wars?

No, I’ve never seen it. I’m not a sci-fi guy. I’ve seen a couple of episodes of Star Trek when I was a kid. That was when my dad was watching it.

I don’t know who the next interview is going to be with. Do you have a question that I might be able to ask the next driver? Please don’t make it as awkward as the Blaney one was.

I have one. (Laughs) What I ask is that you interview someone who has at least six to seven years of Cup experience. And what I want know is: Of the teammates they have worked with, I wanna know who their favorite was. And the other side of that, and they have to be honest: Who is the worst that they’ve ever worked with?

12 Questions with Ryan Blaney

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Ryan Blaney from Wood Brothers Racing. Blaney is currently 13th in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings and is in the playoffs thanks to his victory last month at Pocono Raceway. We spoke a couple hours before the Sonoma race.

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

I think it’s both. I feel like to get good at something, you have to work at it. You might be born with some of it, but I don’t think you can’t work at it and be great in any sport, whether that’s motorsports or basketball, football — you always have to practice and work at it.

There’s really great talented athletes out there in all forms of sports, but if they don’t try and get better, I don’t think they’ll be able to perform in the big leagues. You always have to keep working at it. I think that goes kind of hand in hand.

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 been asked that a handful of times — like a campaign speech as to why fans should switch drivers. I don’t know if that’s really my choice. If you like me, you do. If not, you don’t. Whether it’s the way I drive or personality off the track, you either like me or you don’t, so I don’t really have a speech, I guess. I just think go with what you think. If you want to be a fan, then great. If not, that’s fine with me, too. I don’t really have a big speech for that.

Fair enough. It’s sort of like one of those things where you can’t really convince somebody to like something. If you like vanilla and somebody else likes chocolate, you can’t be like, “No, you should like this!”

It’s personal opinion, and that’s with anything, whether it’s religion or government or political view. I mean, it’s anything. So I can’t convince you to like me; it’s either you do or you don’t.

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

I think the hardest part is actually driving the cars. We do a lot of preparation before the races, trying to get ready of how we’re going to drive the racetrack or whatever, but actually trying to compete on race day, that’s one of the hardest parts, is trying to beat everybody else.

But the hardest thing other than that just preparing for each race weekend and trying to figure out how you’re going to be faster than everybody else before you even get to the racetrack. So that’s pretty tough.

I’m sure some people will say sponsor appearances and things like that, but honestly, that’s really nothing. That allows us to go race, so I don’t mind doing any of that stuff. But I think the work we do during the week (is harder). Granted, we don’t do tons of work during the week, just setting the cars up — our guys, they bust their butts to do that — but the little things we do to try and prepare us for the weekend, I think that’s pretty tough outside the driving aspect.

You’re known as a guy who doesn’t say no to sponsor stuff or when NASCAR asks you to go do something. Why doesn’t that seem to bother you?

I feel like it helps the sport. I’ll say no to a few things, but I’ll say yes to a lot more and the majority of it (because) we’re trying to grow the sport and we’re trying to get new fans. All of those things are kind of (helping) to go in that direction. So I don’t mind doing it. I think it’s good not only for the sport but for your team and for your own personal gain as well. I just enjoy doing it, whether it’s traveling or doing things around home. It’s nice to go around and meet people.

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

So I actually had this happen. I will sign anything that you have or take a picture with you or anything if I’m out to eat or something, but either before my food comes or after I’m done. Like if my plate has just gotten sat down and I’m about to go in and you come up wanting an autograph, I’m like, “Come on.” Or if I’m mid-eat, I’ll probably still do it, but I’ll kind of have an attitude while I’m doing it.

But yeah, either before our food comes or after we’re done eating. I’m an aggressive eater, so while I’m actually consuming material, I kind of like to be left alone. But I’ll do anything you want, but it just depends if I’m in a good mood or not while I’m doing it.

So did the recent person come up to you mid-bite?

Mid-bite, yeah. Like two bites in, putting that second piece of food in my mouth, and (the person) comes up like, “I hate to bother you.” Well, then don’t! If you hate to do it, then don’t do it. Can you wait, please? I mean, I did it, but yeah — me and my food are in a tight relationship, so just wait until I’m done with that.

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

I honestly think the story that doesn’t get enough (coverage) is everybody working on the race cars. I would love to see a feature — it may be hard to do because you’d have to go in the race shop — of like what a week or two of preparation is, turning around cars. Like the Michigan to Sonoma turnaround is so quick, you’d be amazed at how hard these guys work to try and get everything situated. You know, we’ll get back super late (after Sonoma) and they’ll be back in the shop Monday morning getting our Daytona stuff ready. So they bust their tails and I would love for the media and for TV to see that side of them a little more and for the fans, too.

We have a very little role in it — they’re the ones who are able to make it possible for us. I haven’t really seen a feature like that before, not that I know of. Maybe there has been one, but I think that’d be really cool to show everybody.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

I texted Dale (Jr.) last night. I had a question for him about his music and stuff. He has a band that he really likes, and I was trying to think of the band name. I had to ask him. I can’t remember the name, either, by the way.

That’s why it’s in text form. You can just go look back at it.

Exactly. I prefer calls nowadays, but texts are so nice because you have history — that could be a bad thing, too — but I think it’s like a reference. It’s like notes, but you’re not even taking notes. So that’s pretty nice. But yeah, Dale was the last person I texted. I had to ask for some help.

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

Yeah. Oh, for sure. I think any sport, the athletes are entertainers. It’s our job as well, and our goal is to go try and win, but all these sports, they’re entertainment sports. That’s what fans come to the racetrack or a ballgame for: To be entertained and to like watching people do their thing and be amazed at what we can do.

I definitely feel like NASCAR is an entertainment sport for sure. (It’s) not strictly an entertainment sport, but fans want to come to the racetrack to be entertained. We’re not gonna put on a soap opera out here, but to some degree, it’s for the fans.

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

(Laughs) I will shoot you the middle finger. I will shoot you the bird if you piss me off. I’ve gotten a little more relaxed about it, but as a kid, you wanna shoot everybody the bird. But yeah, I will if I feel like I got used up or something like that.

I’ve toned back on it, but there’s so many that go around, you can’t take it to heart. It’s just a little gesture that you do, because you can’t talk to the person right then, you kind of let them know that you didn’t appreciate what you did. And yeah, it’s pretty open. It’s a pretty open policy. A lot of drivers do it and I think it’s pretty good.

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?

Oh yeah. That’s a really good question because everyone always talks about people on their bad list and what people did them wrong. They always keep that in their memory. But you do keep the good memories in mind as well. If someone does cut you a break, maybe let you in at a speedway or gives you a break on a restart or something like that, you remember that and utilize that if the situation comes up later in the race or the week after. You like to repay the favor. You’ve got to be generous out here. So yeah, you definitely keep a memory bank of that stuff too.

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

I don’t know. Like Roger Penske maybe. I mean, Roger is a pretty famous person, I think. Roger or Dale, maybe. I think Roger might beat Dale out a little bit; just a touch. Roger’s been around for a long time. I got asked, “Who’s the most famous person in your phone?” and that’s probably Roger, too.

Dale doesn’t have his name on the side of trucks driving down the freeway like Roger does.

That is true as well, and Dale doesn’t own pretty much half of Detroit, or Michigan, pretty much. So that’s why Roger has Dale beat just a little bit.

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

Personally, I feel like I’ve gotten a little bit better at it, but I’m just like my dad in this aspect, which I hate: When the helmet goes on, I get very emotional sometimes. I can get upset pretty easily. And that’s not good for anybody. You can see that on (FS1’s) Radioactive, they like to call me on the Radio Sweetheart all the time — which is not cool, Race Hub.

Yeah, I’m a pretty level guy outside the car, and then, I don’t know, I get upset easily inside the race car. I don’t know if that’s me being passionate about something or what. That’s something that I’d like to improve. I’ve improved on it over the past handful of years since I got in it. It keeps getting better and better every year, I think, but that’s something I’d like to improve: Just being a little more calm on the radio and levelheaded. I think that would be nothing but good for myself and for the whole team.

12. The last interview was with Todd Gilliland. He wanted to know: What did you learn in the K&N race at Sonoma, if that’s any comparison to what you’ll do today.

We’ll find out if it carries over (Blaney ended up finishing ninth in the Cup race). The K&N race was nice too, and their cars are way different, their tires are way different, so that’s kind of rough to kind of carry over to this side. I messed with some line stuff (in K&N). My tires kind of got worn out to maybe help with this Cup car, but they are widely different. But I thought it helped out a little bit.

And then race etiquette, you kind of find out where passing points are a little more and how to set yourself up off a certain corner to have a chance of passing this one. So those two parts were pretty good.

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

I think you did this last time.

I didn’t have a person prepared for you? Because I knew you could handle the off-the-cuff random question.

OK…”Who shot first?”

Who shot first? Like an Alexander Hamilton type of thing?

No, like Han Solo and Greedo.

Oh, I see. It’s a Star Wars reference.

So who shot first, and see if they know what the reference is.

What’s the right answer?

I don’t know.

Do you have a theory?

No. (Laughing) I want you to write every little thought and word that they say into the next one.

Like all the likes, umms, the stumbles?

Yeah. I want every single piece. Anything they say into this microphone from this question, you have to type and put in in your story.

12 Questions with Erik Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12 Questions with Michael McDowell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

Hold on. Let me get my phone.

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

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

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

You have them in a group chat or something?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A lot. On the racetrack?

You can answer it however you want.

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

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

No, I want to ask you a question.

Oh, you want to ask me a question?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, for sure.

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12 Questions with Kurt Busch

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

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

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

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

Does he still give advice from time to time now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, it was like icing on the cake.

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

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

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

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

That would make sense.

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

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

Yeah. Polo, right?

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

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

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

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

So three strikes, then the finger.

Yeah, I would say.

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

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

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

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

That’s pretty cool. How was that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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