NASCAR driver popularity in the Dale Jr. Era

Since Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Most Popular Driver award 15 straight times, there’s no dispute which driver was the most liked by fans in the last decade and a half.

But who were the other popular drivers during that time? Well, we actually know the answer to that question because the National Motorsports Press Association (which administers the award) has released a top 10 of the voting each year since Earnhardt first won it in 2003.

Only seven of the current 10 most popular drivers will return next season — Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. That’s in alphabetical order, because the NMPA no longer releases the order of the final voting (they used to not only release the order, but also the vote totals).

Who will the other three be? It seems fairly wide open at the moment.

That’s because only two active drivers — Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski — have ever made the top 10 in the past and failed to make it this year.

All other active drivers — including the likes of Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer — have never appeared on the top 10 list.

At the bottom of this post, I’ve compiled a spreadsheet of all the data dating back to 2003. But first, a few observations:

What happened to Harvick? This is the biggest mystery from the voting. Harvick was the third-most popular driver in 2003 and 2004, then dropped to the bottom half of the list over the next decade — but was still in the top 10 for every year from 2003-13. But he has now missed the top 10 in three of the last four years (starting with the year he won the championship, oddly enough). Perhaps it’s because he’s been more affected than anyone with old-school fans abandoning the sport (assuming his fan base early on had a large portion of Dale Sr. fans after he took over that ride in 2001). What are some other theories?

— Truex on the rise. Martin Truex Jr. never made the top 10 in voting until the past two seasons — this despite being a full-time driver since 2006.

— New faces emerge. Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson both made the top 10 in voting for the first time this season. Chase Elliott has made it in each of his first two years.

— Streak continues. Of the remaining active drivers, who has the longest streak of making the list? It’s a tie between Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne, who have both appeared every year since 2004. But while Johnson has typically been in the bottom half of the voting when the order has been revealed, Kahne is usually toward the top (and got as high as second in 2013).

— That 2014 list! Seven of the 10 drivers from 2014 are no longer in the sport full time. Of course, that’s a bit misleading since Josh Wise made the top 10 that year based on the Reddit push. But the other six drivers (Earnhardt, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Danica Patrick and Tony Stewart) took up a combined 68 spots in the top 10 over 15 years — and that’s going to be hard to replace.

Here’s the spreadsheet I compiled if you want to look at the raw data. “Yes” signifies they appeared in the top 10 that year; in years when the NMPA released the order, the driver’s position in the top 10 is noted.

Aaron Bearden: JR Motorsports inches closer to title shot

By Aaron Bearden

The JR Motorsports playoff trio of William Byron, Justin Allgaier and Elliott Sadler didn’t contend for the win at Kansas Speedway.

In fact, they didn’t even lead a lap.

But the group survived to tally top-10s, and based on their position in the standings, that’s all that matters.

“I think for us, survival is key to all of these playoff races,” Allgaier said of JRM. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the first playoff race or the last one.”

Byron, Allgaier and Sadler haven’t been the class of the Xfinity Series this year. That honor goes to the three Cup Series teams — Joe Gibbs Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske — who field teams in the lower series.

JRM’s five combined victories fall short of the 21 wins those other three organizations have combined to capture. However, while JRM hasn’t been the best organization overall this season, they’ve been the best of the tour’s class of series regulars.

Despite the strength of JGR, CGR and Penske, those teams have combined to field just two championship contenders (Brennan Poole and Matt Tifft) this season. Both drivers have enjoyed strong seasons and remain in the playoffs, but neither has managed to match JRM’s top trio.

Allgaier and Byron have combined to take five of the seven victories earned by playoff participants to date. The veteran Sadler has gone winless, but claimed the regular season championship. Michael Annett didn’t have the speed of his teammates, but also crept into the postseason on points before an early elimination.

The fruits of JRM’s efforts arrived as soon as the regular season ended and the sport’s newest championship gimmick — playoff points — took effect. And that’s been a different situation than in the Cup Series and Truck Series, where only a few drivers had sizable margin over the rest.

 

In the Xfinity Series, where Cup drivers and teams typically thrive, the overall lack of playoff points for the field meant JRM entered with a substantial organizational advantage.

Between wins and regular season bonus points, JRM came into the postseason with 72 of the 114 total playoff points. Byron, Allgaier and Sadler each arrived in the first round with 11 or more points on fourth-place Daniel Hemric. And because playoff points carry through each round, the trio held the same advantage going into Saturday’s Round 3 opener at Kansas Speedway.

Secure with their advantage, JRM simply survived in Kansas. JGR’s Erik Jones and Christopher Bell dominated the race up front, and Penske’s Ryan Blaney followed in third.

Behind them? Byron and Allgaier in fourth and fifth. Sadler followed in seventh, meaning JRM had the top three playoff drivers.

A perfect weekend it was not. But it was exactly what JRM needs to place all three of their remaining playoff contenders in the final four at Homestead.

Allgaier, Byron and Sadler hold point advantages of 33, 31, and 22, respectively, over fifth-place Tifft with two races remaining until Homestead. If they can match the Kansas performance two more times, the organization should head into the season finale with 75 percent of the remaining playoff field.

“Today we did our job,” Allgaier said. “We’ve gotta do that for two more races, and we’ll hopefully put ourselves in a great position to go to Homestead.”

Social Spotlight with Brett Griffin

Each week, I ask a member of the racing community about their social media usage. Up next: Brett Griffin, spotter for Clint Bowyer and Elliott Sadler and co-host of the Door Bumper Clear podcast on Dirty Mo Radio. (NOTE: Contains explicit language.)

You’ve built a large following over the years on Twitter. Why do you think you’ve become such a personality on there? What is the secret to you developing a following?

Our attraction as spotters is the drivers we work, for first of all. Otherwise people aren’t gonna know ultimately who we are.

But I think the things people are attracted to the most about me are I’m very unfiltered and my candidness back to people when I reply or even my initial tweets. I’m a pretty opinionated guy. Anybody who knows me — Elliott and Clint — probably know me the best of anybody in the sport, they know I’m a shit-talker. In my Twitter game, I’m also a shit-talker. I stay in character pretty much on there most of the time, I kind of play the whole spotter game, I don’t really go into a lot of my personal life. I do that more with my Facebook stuff.

But Twitter is a lot of fun. I’ve always looked at it as fans have the opportunity to get insight into high-profile people’s lives. And by no means am I a high-profile person, but I have some insight into these other high-profile worlds that exist. I’ve got a lot of friends in country music and I’ve got a lot of friends who I’ve met through football or college football, and obviously I’ve got a lot of friends in NASCAR. So I always look at it as it’s a right to get on Twitter, but it’s a privilege to get to follow somebody because they can at any moment or time say, “You’re going away.”

I have to earn the right for you to follow me. When you click follow, it’s because something made you interested in what I’m doing. But for you to stay here, obviously, I have to earn that right to keep you, if you will.

So you touched on a few things there: opinions, followers. Let’s start on the opinions. You’re obviously, as you said, unfiltered. Now a lot of people would like to say some of the things that you say, whether it’s about their political views or their opinions on drivers, and for whatever reason they don’t or they’re afraid of the blowback. You certainly have gotten pushback over the years, but you must have a way to navigate it. What is your secret to being able to say what you want and not get in trouble for it?

Again, it’s my personality that’s coming to life on Twitter. I spot the same way that I talk. A lot of people go into character to become a spotter. They go into character when their do their tweets. When you hear me on the radio, that’s me. When you see what I’m tweeting, that’s me. So I’m not gonna hide who I am.

What amazes me about Twitter is people think they can attack people with a lot of followers, and those people are afraid to say anything back to them because they’re afraid they’ll get in trouble. In (a spotter’s) situation, it would be with your boss, which would be the head of marketing or the head of competition or the manufacturer that got upset or the sponsor that got upset. And I never try to cross those lines by any means, but at the same time if you come at me, I’m gonna come back at you. That’s just my personality.

So just because you only have four followers doesn’t mean the fact I have 30,000 followers or whatever that number is, that I can’t say what I think back to you. And that’s the thing: I’d never personally attack anybody. If I call somebody a dumbass, it’s very candidly. It’s not speaking literally, but it’s funny to get some of the personal attacks back, and I laugh.

I enjoy blocking people, but I enjoy more when they block me because that tells me that I really got under their skin.

What is the balance there? Do you typically engage with somebody first before bringing out the block? How do you deal with haters?

Yesterday, there was a tweet that was sent to a media person here, Chris Knight, and it was what I thought was a very inappropriate tweet. Chris Knight actually retweeted that person and he had a comment that he made to that person. I didn’t even look at that person’s profile without blocking. I clicked on him, clicked “block” because if that kind of person who’s gonna personally attack people, when they choose or if they choose to engage with me, they’re gonna do the same with me.

I’m open for anything — I’ll debate anything with you, I’m gonna play with you to an extent — but when you start personally attacking and name-calling and all that, I’m out. Really the only thing that gets you the block button is being completely ignorant.

I saw that same tweet and it was the kind of thing that crosses the line because it was somebody talking about weight. And you can debate, argue political stuff, driver stuff, NASCAR opinions, whatever — but when you cross the line and really get personal with somebody like that, that’s really the dark side of social media.

See, I’m short and I’m chubby and I have a gap between my teeth and I have a bald spot. So I can openly admit all that and laugh at it, so if you do that to me I personally don’t care. But nonetheless, when you personally attack people that I’m friends with on Twitter, I’m gonna block you. If you personally try to insult me, I’m gonna laugh at you and then block you. And then if you block me back, then I really laugh at you. That’s the best part about it.

In my view, I kind of need these followers because if they don’t click, then nobody’s gonna read my stuff. So sometimes I wanted to block people, but I felt like, “I probably can’t because I need those people” and that was hard to ignore. In your view, do you need people to follow you for your position or is it, as you said, a privilege for them to follow you?

In a very indirect manner, you need your Twitter followers to monetize your place in this sport. I actually quit Twitter one time, a long time ago. I was in it for a year or so, built up a lot of followers and quit because I was like, “This is taking up entirely too much of my time, and there’s no real way for me to monetize this.”

Not that I’ve tried to monetize it the second go-around, but I have a podcast that came from this. We’ve had a series that we launched called Spotter Life that we do with some of the Xfinity races around (Sadler sponsor) One Main; they came to me and said, “Hey, we want you to do this.” I’ve been able to do a lot of interviews just like we’re doing here today.

By no means is it making me rich — it’s barely enough money to buy me a six pack of beer every week — but nonetheless there is some value in it for people and for sponsors. Clearly, that’s something that’s came about in the last 18 months.

For me, it’s just always been about fun and engagement. I enjoy the perspective and I’ll say the majority of people that reply to me now agree with what I say, which I think is funny because I know there are a lot of people out there that don’t. But those people that don’t are afraid that I’m gonna retweet and say something smartass to them and hurt their feelings. It was a lot more fun early; now they’re being wimps or something. I need them to come back out of their shells a little bit.

You obviously like to have fun with it. I remember back in the Michael Waltrip Racing days, some people actually tried to go around you to your bosses and get you in trouble. Did anybody ever say anything to you like, “Hey man, you’ve got to back it down?”

(Brad Keselowski spotter) Joey Meier and I both have been in situations where people anonymously emailed our bosses and said, “You need to fire your spotter,” or, “You need to get rid of Brett.” I actually think that’s kinda funny because I get paid to spot. I don’t get paid for what I say or don’t say on Twitter. People get their feelings hurt; that just goes back to how sensitive this whole thing is.

There was this one really funny thing that happened. There was an incident where a police officer lost his life and I stood behind this police officer 100 percent. And this person took my tweet — I don’t know if they were drunk or high or what they were doing when they read this tweet — as I was saying more people need to be against our cops and against our police. For anybody who follows me and knows me, I’m pro-military and pro-police, period. So they sent this long email basically saying, “You need to fire your spotter, he’s anti-cop.”

So when I got the phone call from (former MWR executive) Ty Norris, who was laughing about it, he was like, “I have to address this with you because it got sent to us.” I was like, “Ty, this person’s an idiot. Do you see what I said?” “Yeah, I just have to come to you with this.” I guess (it was) from an HR perspective.

When I got to Stewart-Haas Racing, I don’t know if I can say this or not but I’ll say it anyway, we had to sign a social media policy that basically says I won’t act like an idiot. Well, I don’t think I act like an idiot, I think I act like me. I may get on the line of an idiot, but I think I know where it’s at and I usually try to stop there.

On your podcast, you guys drop all sorts of nuggets about what’s going on in the sport. You’ll say something on the podcast and I’m like, “Oh, I didn’t know that.” Are you conscious of the fact you’re sprinkling new information out there?

I don’t think we are. I think we’re literally two guys (Griffin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. spotter T.J. Majors) who are 52 weeks a year entrenched in the sport and we’re just talking about a sport that we love. Obviously, nobody in the sport is professionally closer to Dale Jr. than T.J. Majors is, and nobody is closer to Elliott Sadler than I am. Obviously I’m extremely close to Clint Bowyer, too. We have a lot of circles that we get a lot of information from.

Some of them are news-related, some of them are gossip-related, some of them are just facts about things that have gone on in the tech line that nobody’s really talking about. So we’re just in there BSing for 45 minutes to an hour and I think things just come from that.

Half of the time it’s early Monday morning, and we’ve just gotten in (from the race). This past week, I went to bed at 4 a.m. and here we go doing this podcast at 9 a.m. I was so sleep deprived, I didn’t know what we talked about until I went back and listened to the podcast. It’s always funny to me when you’re leaving and you’re like, “I don’t know if that was a good podcast because I don’t know what we talked about” and then you go back and listen and start getting tweets from people and feedback and it’s like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe you guys said this, you did this.”

Last week, I made fun of Kyle Larson, Ricky Stenhouse being best friends, and they wrecked Danica, who is Ricky’s girlfriend, and I was like, “Kyle used his whip around Ricky’s bae.” And people were like, “You’re 42 years old and you’re saying all these young terms! I feel so old.” Man, we just have fun with it.

Do you ever get any pushback in that department? Like do you get the sense that people in the industry listen to the podcast and are like, “Dude, you said this about Larson, you said that he races like a rookie in Sonoma.”

Justin Allgaier actually came up to me in Talladega and he said, “Hey man, I was listening to you podcast and I was in my garage and I got mad because you said I forgot how to drive in the first half of the year.”

And I said, “Justin, you kinda did. You were wrecking a lot.”

“Well they weren’t my fault,” he said.

I said, “You still were wrecking. You’re 30th in points.”

(Allgaier said) “I started slinging shit around and my wife comes out like, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ ‘Brett’s made me mad. He’s talking junk about me in the podcast.'”

Again, I’m a very mouthy, candid person, so at no point am I trying to hurt anybody’s feelings. I grew up in a really small town where there were two things that were important: Sports and winning at sports. And we were taught at young ages if you get in a pile on the football field in sixth grade, you reach over and you pinch that guy’s leg as hard as you can pinch it, or you spit in his face, or you try and get in his head. So I just came up in this culture of, “Say what you think, if they don’t like what you think, they won’t like you, it is what it is.”

Kentucky Speedway, I’ve got a friend there who has given me some information about new elevators, those kinds of things, and she kind of freaks out when we put that intel out there in public. But again, it’s not things like, “Whoa, let’s fry this person this week.” We’re just giving you guys insight, perspective. We watch these race cars go around 40 weeks a year, so we have a different perspective than guys that are in your side of the sport, in the media center, in the garage doing interviews. Your thing is intel, my thing is, “What do I see?” Just a different perspective.

We’ve talked about clearly you’re unafraid to go at people back and forth. You’ve even gone at Dale Jr. a couple of times this year. It seems like nobody really goes at Dale Jr. I think you’ve said his podcast isn’t as interesting as yours, and at one point he fired back. Any behind-the-scenes feedback on that?

I’ve known Dale Jr. since 1999. I was down here and I was sitting on Elliott Sadler’s bus and Dale Jr. walked in, he was a full time Busch Series driver back then and he was doing a phenomenal job making his name in the sport.

He comes in and he’s dressed all goofy and he’s like, “Do you guys wanna go to the Y and shoot basketball?” I’m looking at this guy thinking, “There is no way this guy who looks like he just walked out of the movie Powder will be able to go shoot basketball at the Y.” So that’s the first time I met him, a very long time ago.

The best vacation I’ve even been on in my life, he brought me to Daytona Beach in 2001 in July. We stayed in a house, nine of us, for 10 days. We had an absolute blast. So once again Dale Jr. knows me, he knows how I am. That’s why they came to me about this podcast, was the personality I am on Twitter, the personality I am in real life. So we go back and forth at it.

Sure, we mean what we’re saying, but we also mean it in a very joking manner. Nobody’s gonna get mad. Last week, I guess they played something on (FS1’s) Radioactive — which I don’t listen to, by the way, during the week. But they played something on Radioactive where I guess I said, “You should have wrecked that motherfucker.” And Dale Jr. tweeted that out last week when we were in Sonoma going, “Brett gets all mad on the radio, just tells Elliott to wreck everybody.” So I tweeted back, “Dick move by my boss,” or whatever I said.

So again, that’s all in good fun. It’s certainly not being buttholes with each other. But (that’s) insight the fans aren’t gonna necessarily get see if we aren’t going back and forth. This public display of Twitter is phenomenal. If you’re a sports fan and you’re not on Twitter, you’re an idiot.

It is pretty crazy how we always hear that only 25 percent of adults use Twitter. But in NASCAR, you feel like it’s less.

I feel like it’s single digits. Our fan is an older fan. I’m very fortunate — my mom is in her 70s and she absolutely loves Twitter, loves Facebook — but it’s probably mainly because of me and my jobs. So I definitely feel like our demographic isn’t on Twitter, and I don’t know what we can do to gravitate them this way, but here’s what tells me that: When I look at wrestlers that I’ve never heard of and they have more followers than Dale Jr., I know that our fans aren’t on Twitter like they are on other social platforms. So if you’re listening, get on Twitter.

You mentioned Facebook. Is your Facebook account private for your family and friends?

It is. My Facebook is totally private, I have to accept you to come on. It’s more about my personal life than it is (about) my job. And one thing that I’ve learned from Shaun Hill, who was a quarterback in the NFL for a long time, played for the Detroit Lions, he and I were at Lake of the Ozarks together, and he told me, “Hey man, don’t let your job define who you are, because when your job goes away, you’ll be heartbroken. You won’t know how to come back from that, how to manage all the personal aspects of it.”

So I’ve really taken that advice to heart from a guy who was a professional athlete, because he told me horror stories about NFL guys that worked their entire life in the league, and when the league went away after eight to 10 years, they literally didn’t know what to do.

So I’ve always tried to keep it somewhat separate. That’s why I don’t really listen to what goes on during the week in motorsports news, because I’ve already lived this life. If I’m not hearing about it during the three days that I’m here, I’m not seeing it, I’m not learning from it or it’s not on Twitter, then I’m not meant to do it.

I think we’re oversaturated with some of the news things that we do. When I grew up, all we had was Benny Parsons on Monday night to kind of get recap and then John Kernan on RPM 2Night. Now we have all these different outlets to which fans can consume our media, which is great in the sense of, “If you want it, it’s out there.” But for me, I just choose to live in this little world from Thursday night to Sunday night and then Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday I try to worry about other stuff.

Are you on any other forms of social media where people can follow you aside from Twitter? Do you have a public Instagram, do you do any Snapchat stuff?

I lost my Instagram password. I don’t know how to get that back. Snapchat, I still haven’t figured out. I do it a little bit, sometimes I’ll do funny stuff and I don’t even know who gets it, if everybody gets it or if one person gets it. I need somebody to come give me a really good tutoring session on Snapchat, but it’s cool.

12 Questions with Elliott Sadler

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Xfinity Series points leader Elliott Sadler of JR Motorsports. I spoke to Sadler at Bristol Motor Speedway. This interview is available both as a podcast and written interview, which is transcribed below.

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

I think it’s gotta be 70 percent from natural ability and 30 percent from working at it. From what I’ve learned in my career, I wish I worked as hard when I was 20 as I do now. I’m way in better shape than I was 20 years ago. I’m more mentally prepared each and every week for races now than I was 20 years ago. I just wish I knew then what I know now (about) working at it and staying right.

But I think natural ability and hand-eye coordination, just starting at an early age and getting adapted to it and adjusting to it as you go, I think helped me get to where I’m at today.

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

Hey man, I’m kind of one of those old-school drivers, too. Don’t jump ship and go to these young guys yet. (Laughs) Stay with someone who raced against some of these guys.

It’s neat to see young guys coming in and I know our sport’s healthy, but fans, support the people who have been around for a while. Keep us going; stay on our bandwagon for as long as you can.

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

The hardest part of my job honestly is leaving my wife and kids every week, especially my kids. They don’t really understand why I’m gone for a couple days at a time. My son really wants to come with me every week, but we’ve got to do school and we have some other things going on. So by far, leaving is the toughest part.

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

Oh, 100 percent. You know, I’ve always had this rule: If you’re nice to me, I’m nice to you. So come on over if you want. A lot of fans have been really good about waiting until they watch you finish eating because, look, man, I’m a pretty messy eater. You might not want me to shake your hand or sign anything if I’m eating some chicken wings or something like that. But I’ve always been, “Hey, if you’re nice and courteous to me, I’m the same with you.”

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

Wow, a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage. That’s really good. I don’t know of any right now because it’s not getting enough coverage, Jeff. (Laughs)

Everyone’s talking about the new stage racing and the bonus points for the regular season, but I don’t hear a lot of media people or TV talking about the actual bonus points that’s accumulated (for the playoffs). They’re showing all the bonus points that people are accumulating during the races, but they’re not making one for the actual championship Chase that you get to keep through the Chase the whole time.

That’s what they should be showing. That’s way more important. The one point that you’re getting towards the championship in the playoffs is more important than the 10 points you’re getting for leading the stage.

Yeah, it’s like, “This guy just got five points for the race during the regular season,” but you already know that he’s going to be in the playoffs. That bonus point, that’s what is really going to matter.

It is 100 percent way more important that I think the media or TV and all of that kind of miss the boat on. That’s way more important than the lists that they’re showing out now TV.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

I texted Dale Jarrett yesterday, does he count?

He’s a driver.

He’s won a few races. He and I were texting each other yesterday, laughing about some trips that we had to Bristol in the past when we were teammates. It’s good to have those memories.

I think the last one other than him that I raced with was Clint Bowyer.

That’s probably a good guy to text with. I’m sure he always keeps it fun.

Always, no matter what you text him. But you have to text him in really short sentences. He’s not going to pay attention, you know, (past) two lines on his phone. If it goes more than two lines, you’ve lost him. It’s got to be very short and concise.

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

No. I don’t look at it that way at all. I think fans are entertained one way or another by what we do, but I don’t look at us as entertainers. I look at us as athletes trying to do our job and win races and run up front, and hopefully you’re entertained by that.

But I don’t think it’s my job to go out there and create a storyline on or off the racetrack to try to entertain what’s going on. My job is to try to put my car in victory lane.

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

I give it often and I get it sometimes. (Laughs) Mostly to the young guys that don’t really understand the procedures of the sport. You know, that’s the biggest thing why we miss Dale Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace and Dale Jarrett and Mark Martin, some of those guys that will pretty much grab you and tell you what you did wrong. You can’t really do that anymore, so middle fingers are definitely used.

A lot of people use them. Just be careful what color gloves you wear, because they can pick it up pretty easy from outside.

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’ve always kept a mental note of, “I know this guy is gonna help me — like when we’re restrictor plate racing. This guy does this, this guy does that. This guy’s positive to work with. I’m not gonna work with this guy because he’s gonna bail on you as soon as something happens.”

So yes, you definitely have a list of drivers that you would rather work with or you can give and take more. Some guys won’t give and take at all with you. Some guys will, and you know that.

Bubba Wallace let me go by him last week, so this week when he gets to me, if he catches me from half a straightaway behind, I’ll let him go. So you give and take and understand who does that for you. Tony Stewart said from Day 1, “You race people the way you want to be raced.” So that creates a negative list and a positive list.

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

The most famous person I’ve had dinner with — Vince Vaughn.

Vince Vaughn, that’s pretty cool. How was that dinner?

That was pretty awesome and this was right when Wedding Crashers came out.

That was like peak Vince Vaughn.

It was peak Vince Vaughn. It was in Las Vegas through friends of friends and we ended up at the same table and hung out that night for a few beverages and I learned that he talks just as fast in real life as he did on the big screen. But that was a pretty entertaining dinner that I was part of.

So you were with a dude who was in Swingers in Vegas, hanging out with him? That’s hard to beat right there.

Yes, it’s pretty cool. That might be the highlight of my life in Vegas. (Laughs)

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

My English, man. I’ve got a Southern drawl. A lot of times when I talk, my crew chief can’t understand me because he’s from Michigan. If I can work on that — is there some kind of tapes that I can listen to to help me speak? I know you’re shaking your head no right now, like you can’t understand me, Gluck.

I don’t Rosetta Stone has come out with something yet.

See? I know she helps you with foreign languages, but how about like a Southern twang? 

Or Virginia. Why isn’t there that?

Exactly! We need our own Hooked on Phonics book in Southern Virginia.

12. The last interview was with Kyle Larson. His question was: You’ve seen all sorts of different drivers come through the ranks over the years. How has the racing style changed, especially with the influx of younger drivers coming in today?

The biggest difference I’ve seen is (that) younger drivers used to come in with not as good equipment. They used to come in on lower level — I don’t want to say lower level, but different-tiered teams. So they gave a lot more and went through the learning process.

Now I think younger drivers are in top-notch equipment right off the bat, and they can be more aggressive and they can afford to tear up a race car because they know they’re going to get another brand new one next week.

Before, when I came along, it was a lot different — you had to learn how to take care of your stuff, and if that meant that you had to slow down a little bit to make sure you took care of your stuff, you had to do that. So the biggest thing I’ve seen there is young drivers that are really good and they are also in really good equipment.

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

Yes. Does he or she think it would be great for the sport if they start pulling a pill and inverting the field right before the race starts? Let’s say you qualify and right before the race starts, and when we’re doing the national anthem — make a big deal out of it — the pole winner has to pull a pill out of a hat and it could be eight, 10, 12, four, whatever (amount of cars) NASCAR thinks is cool, and that’s how many cars are inverted, and you don’t know until right before the race starts.

You wouldn’t want to sandbag too much, but you’d want to maybe sandbag a little bit in qualifying.

Well it depends on what the rules are. Maybe it’s a pill in there with a zero on it. Make it unpredictable, but I think you could really build something around it, like see pre-race what (the polesitter) draws and then see teams scrambling because your car’s gonna run different depending on what you draw.

And you really have no time for strategy because it’ll happen right there.

Do it right before the race, ’cause that’s when the most eyes are on the race, it’s the pre-race, right? Everybody’s getting ready, national anthem, we want to see the start of the race, see what happens. Throw that kink into it.

I like that too because now it forces you to watch the pre-race.

That’s right, ’cause now you don’t know where your favorite driver’s gonna start, because you don’t know if they’ll be part of the invert or not.

I hope that happens.

Well, plug it along. It’s your idea. Go ahead and run with it. You could just cancel the tape, nobody knows it came from me and it could be your idea.

OK! I’m going to edit this part out, thanks!

Great.

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