The Top Five: Breaking down the Phoenix spring race

Five thoughts after Sunday’s race at ISM Raceway…

1. Passing Pain

Kevin Harvick is the all-time leader in wins and laps led at Phoenix, so you’d figure he’s better at passing cars than anyone here.

But after Sunday’s race, Harvick said passing was “extremely difficult” — even for him — and he struggled to get around cars that were “six-, seven-, eight-tenths slower than us at the end of the race.”

What happened? Well, it appears this version of the 2019 rules package — last year’s horsepower level (750) combined with the giant spoiler — created a combination of speed and dirty air that drivers found difficult to overcome.

“It was really, really, really, really, really hard to pass,” Joey Logano said. “You start to catch a car and you just stop. That big spoiler on the back makes it really, really challenging to even get to the car in front of you to make something happen.”

Even race winner Kyle Busch noted he wouldn’t have been able to win unless Ryan Blaney got into lapped traffic toward the end of a long run — because Blaney “had the same problems I had (when) he’s behind other cars in front of him.”

“If it’s a 10-lap run, (the win) is his,” Busch said. “If it’s 20, 30, 40, 50 laps, it’s probably his race.”

But it was a 73-lap run, and that allowed Busch to take advantage of lapped cars. Otherwise…

“You were really stuck and mired behind guys,” he said.

At least one driver aside from Busch didn’t mind the conditions.

“I mean, it’s been really hard for me to pass anyone the last year and a half or two years,” Jimmie Johnson said after finishing eighth. “I know other are guys standing here complaining more, but shit, that’s the best I’ve run in awhile. So I’m good.”

2. Restarts all the rage

But hey, how about those crazy restarts? Those were cool; certainly the highlight of the race, much like Las Vegas.

Logano said restarts “became everything” because drivers knew if they got through the first couple laps of a restart and let the race settle out, they could pretty much stay there.

Kyle Larson started 31st and finished sixth, but credited restarts for most of his gains.

“I don’t think I made many actual green-flag passes — I felt like I just had some really good restarts,” he said. “Restarts were kind of what saved us. Once you got in line, it was hard to pass until the very end of that last run there (when the tires finally wore out).”

The other reason restarts were so wild, Logano said, was because the bigger blade on the back of the car gave more grip — so drivers were “sending it off in there.”

“They were able to be more aggressive on restarts,” Logano said. “But after that, it didn’t matter how aggressive you were — you weren’t going to get there. It was too hard to catch them.”

If the first few races are any indication, eye-popping restarts should become one of the themes of this season.

3. Strategy, strategy, strategy

Another theme of this season could end up being how teams adapt to the track position game by using tire strategy or pit road strategy.

It’s not just restarts, Denny Hamlin said, but pit crews and every part of strategy that matters even more now. Drivers simply can’t afford to lose any positions, because they might not get them back (or take them a very long time to do so, like with Harvick after he pitted and only got back to ninth).

“All of that is so important because you cannot drive around someone if you’re significantly faster,” Hamlin said. “They have to actually move out of the way or you have to somehow catch them in a bad spot.”

Kyle Busch crew chief Adam Stevens said the track position game didn’t surprise him — he thought it was going to be “even harder to pass than it was.”

But he was intrigued by how some of the better cars who played tire strategy (like Johnson taking two) were able to hold onto their positions throughout a run.

“There’s going to be a lot of data for us to dig into so we can plan how we’re going to strategize the next race when we come back,” he said.

One can only imagine how many races will be won by strategic decisions that might push the envelope or seem unorthodox at the time. When the NASCAR garage is tasked with coming up with different ways to approach a race, crew chiefs and engineers usually deliver.

As for Harvick, he said the lesson was pretty simple on how to play the strategy for the next Phoenix race.

“Just restart first,” he said.

4. O, Fontana

I’m not going to lie here — I’m getting a little worried about the various forms of this package after the first three races. We’ve seen three different uses of it — at Atlanta, Vegas and now Phoenix — with ho-hum results. Certainly nothing spectacular yet.

But Fontana really seems to be a place where that could change. I have high hopes of seeing the first great race of the season, because the extreme form of the package (550 horsepower with the aero ducts) combined with a sweeping 2-mile track that happens to have worn-out asphalt…well, all the ingredients are there.

If it’s not a good race? Gulp. Let’s not think about that yet, because it could mean this might be a long season.

Maybe this means there’s a lot riding on Fontana, but if any track is going to work with this rules package, you’d think that would be one.

5. In the (Fan) Zone

After a couple times seeing the new ISM Raceway “INfield” in action, I’m convinced it’s the best fan experience in NASCAR. With apologies to the Neon Garage in Las Vegas, the new Richmond Raceway garages (similar to Phoenix) and the Daytona fan zone, Phoenix just goes above and beyond with the combination of amenities and access.

It’s not cheap — $129 for a three-day pass and $89 on Sunday only, which is on top of your regular race ticket. But damn, I would think it’s worth it.

Take practice sessions, for example. The fans are literally inside the garages, with just a waist-high fence separating them from the cars and drivers. There are no windows or barriers between them and their favorite teams, which is pretty amazing in itself.

Then there’s the race day experience, which goes as far to allow any INfield passholder into victory lane (try to get a spot with at least 50 laps to go) for the celebration.

Plus there’s stuff like a margarita bar and plenty of screens (and it’s right behind pit road, so you can see some of that action).

This probably sounds like an advertisement (sorry), but I wanted to make sure it was on your radar.  In an alternate universe where I wasn’t a journalist and was just at the track for fun, I could easily picture myself spending an enjoyable, sun-drenched afternoon there with my friends.

Lapped cars part of racing, but how much courtesy should they give?

Three cars in Saturday’s practice sessions were at least 1.5 seconds off the pace, meaning the leaders should reach them — and start lapping them — within the first 20 laps on Sunday in Phoenix.

It certainly won’t be the only time those cars are lapped, as drivers were reminded again last week at Las Vegas. Reed Sorenson, driving for Spire Motorsports, finished 15 laps down. Cody Shane Ware, driving for Rick Ware Racing, was 14 laps down.

Both cars were running at the finish and were not involved in any incidents, meaning they simply had much slower cars than most of the field.

Sunday’s race will see more of the same, except on a smaller, narrower track than Vegas. The cars of Ware, RWR teammate Bayley Currey and Quin Houff (Spire) all look slow — with Currey and Houff making their first career Cup starts.

Lapped cars have caused some frustration that has bubbled up in different ways for contending drivers of late, and Phoenix might only increase that sentiment.

“Have you been listening to our radios the last couple weeks?” Aric Almirola joked.

First and foremost, drivers say they simply want lapped cars to be respectful and get out of the way — a command the flagman expresses at tracks all over the country via the “move over” flag.

NASCAR has a move over flag, but Almirola noted it’s not even necessary because the lapped cars all have spotters.

“You have a spotter telling you, ‘Hey, the leaders are catching you again and the guy that’s catching you has been running the bottom the last five laps.’ (So) give him that lane,” Almirola said. “I realize they’re here with just as much equal right to the racetrack, but it’s just a common courtesy…and those guys are multiple, multiple laps down and not really going to change their position one way or the other.”

William Byron said lapped cars need to look in their mirrors and see where the faster cars are running — “just like driving on the highway,” he said.

“Honestly, it’s not just enough to say ‘Run the bottom every time’ because I might be running the top at a certain racetrack, and if you come up and block that, you’re completely killing the run,” he said. “You’ve got to constantly adapt. … But you’ve got to be predictable.”

One problem is how the slower cars get out of the way is up for debate. Though Almirola and Byron want the lapped cars to be aware of the faster cars’ preference for top or bottom groove, Denny Hamlin said that could cause other issues.

“As long as a lapped car, especially one that is off the pace, decides that, ‘OK, everyone is going run below me,’ I think that’s fine,” Hamlin said. “It’s when you get the ones that actually have great intentions of letting (someone go by saying) ‘OK, this guy has been running here, I’ll let him have the bottom’ and ‘This guy has been running the top, let me move down’ – that’s where things kind of get bad.

“It ends up being a moving target and you don’t really know where they are. As long as they pick one side or the other and they want to let the field go, it’s good.”

Ryan Newman said he doesn’t care where the lapped cars go — as long as they get out of the way. But he also noted drivers in every form of racing have to deal with slower cars.

“At some point you’re going to be in the way and you just hope it doesn’t adversely affect somebody else’s race, but in the end, that’s part of it,” he said. “… Everybody has to work around those cars, whether it’s the first, second, third or 20th-place car. So how you use them or how they affect your race is a part of racing.”

But Alex Bowman said he takes a different view, having driven a slower car in the past during his days at Tommy Baldwin Racing. Bowman said he was “way more stressed out doing that stuff than I am today (driving for Hendrick Motorsports)” because drivers in the back are trying to balance staying out of the way with trying to get the best finish possible.

“Really all you can ask is for a guy to do the same thing every time so you at least know what to expect when you get there and do the same thing for everybody,” Bowman said. “Their job is honestly, technically, probably harder than our job. The race car is driving worse, so I don’t really think they get enough credit. They get talked crap about and kind of put down sometimes in situations that it’s really not completely their fault.”

Dammmmmmn, Daniel! Suarez, McDowell fight during Phoenix qualifying

Just when you thought this NASCAR season was off to a tame start, Daniel Suarez and Michael McDowell spent part of their afternoon fighting on pit road.

On a Friday! During qualifying!

Have you ever seen a fight during qualifying before?

“I did today!” Martin Truex Jr. said. “Awesome!”

Drivers stopped in their tracks and stared at the screens around ISM Raceway while the replay was shown again and again: The images of Suarez walking with purpose and stepping over the pit road wall, McDowell issuing the first strike, Suarez getting the upper hand and slamming McDowell to the ground, crew chief Drew Blickensderfer shoving Suarez onto the hood — hand on the driver’s neck — and Suarez giving him a choke right back as McDowell pulled on his foe’s leg.

 

“At some point I’ve always wanted to bodyslam somebody,” Kevin Harvick said. “I don’t know what the circumstances were, but it sounded exciting.”

So what happened? Well, it all started with the No. 90 Xfinity Series car driven by Ronnie Bassett Jr.

Bassett’s engine blew at the end of Xfinity practice — which immediately preceded qualifying — and the clean-up job left all sorts of residue on the track.

“One of the ARCA cars blew up at the end of practice and oiled it all down, so nobody wanted to get on the track too soon,” Brad Keselowski said.

That meant most of the cars waited until the very end to roll out — which in turn caused there to be far too much traffic at once on a 1-mile track and prevented some drivers from getting a clean lap.

“When you have a bunch of knucklehead drivers sit out there and wait with four minutes left and 30 cars still haven’t run, that’s what you have,” David Ragan said.

McDowell and Suarez rolled off at the same time, and Suarez strongly felt McDowell impeded his laps — not just once, but twice. So on their way back to pit road, Suarez got in McDowell’s way as retaliation. (McDowell accused Suarez of trying to wreck him, which Suarez didn’t deny.)

“When you mess up somebody’s lap, I understand they’re frustrated,” McDowell said. “But when you try to hurt somebody and damage hundreds of thousands of dollars of race cars, that’s taking it to a whole other level.”

Suarez said he was mad about McDowell costing him a good starting spot, but even more upset about losing pit stall selection on a difficult pit road (stalls are chosen in order of how cars qualified).

He called the situation a lack of respect and said he wouldn’t stand for it.

“I’m the kind of driver that I’m going to give a lot of respect to you, always, if you give me respect back,” Suarez said. “If you don’t give me respect, I’m going to go kick your ass.”

Asked about his takedown of a taller driver (McDowell is listed as having five inches on Suarez), the ultra-athletic Suarez said, “I don’t care how big he is.”

He added: “I’m a very nice guy. I get along well with anyone. But if you play that way, I’m going to react that way.”

McDowell, for his part, said the entire thing was a one-off confrontation in the heat of the moment and had nothing to do with history or bad blood between them.

Both men were upset with the other, and they simply dealt with it.

“Don’t read too much into it,” McDowell said. “It’s emotions, man. It’s just the way it is.”


UPDATE (Saturday morning): McDowell and Suarez met with NASCAR in the series hauler on Saturday morning before practice, where they reassured officials they won’t set out to wreck each other in Sunday’s race.

Suarez said it was easy for him to make that pledge because it’s not his style to crash other drivers.

“I’m not the kind of guy who is going to wreck someone like that,” Suarez said. “I’m not going to use my car as a weapon. If someone has a problem with me, I prefer to do it in person. That’s exactly what I did (Friday).”

But McDowell’s entire reason for being upset was the “dangerous” move Suarez made to interfere with the No. 34 car’s lap as retaliation. McDowell said he expected Suarez to mess up the lap — it’s “protocol” to do so if the other driver does it first, McDowell said — but “what he did was pretty risky for both of us.”

A video shown on FS1 Saturday morning had McDowell’s car coming at full speed while Suarez makes a move back up the track at slow speed, which caused McDowell to jump on the brakes and go high, nearly hitting the wall.

McDowell said the drivers also spoke privately in the NASCAR hauler following their meeting with officials.

I just wanted to have a real conversation with him without all the people around to understand where we’re coming from,” McDowell said. “You’re in this sport a long time and you’re surrounded by people, and you have the opportunity to have good and bad relationships. You can determine that by how you handle conflict. So I just wanted to see where he was at.”

The Driven Life: Jose Castillo on your secret recipe for success

This is the latest in a series of self-improvement/motivational-themed podcasts (also transcribed for those who prefer to read) involving people in the racing world sharing insight into successful habits. Up next: Jose Castillo, host and emcee of NASCAR Trackside Live and the video boards at Speedway Motorsports Inc. tracks.

We talked about finding things that you’re good at, and you seem to feel like that’s a secret to success. You have this crazy stat about people in their jobs not being happy, necessarily…

Yeah, and it all starts with the problem: Why are people unhappy? Why are they going through a life they don’t feel like is successful? And most of the time, the stats show that 70+ percent of people are unhappy in their jobs.

That’s amazing.

It is, and they get up every day, they go to work, they slog through it — and I know people (reading) right now, you’re going, “Man, that’s me.” And then you look at a successful person, right? That could be a race car driver, it could be a celebrity, it could be a business person, and you go, “Why is that person a success? What is it about them that they’ve figured out this magical formula?” And a lot of times, people turn to a book or something like, “If I just do this, I’ll become successful.”

I think it’s pretty simple: It boils down to people that are successful found out what makes them unique, what makes them different — and then they’ve been that person, and they’ve leaned into it, they’ve worked hard and they’ve very clearly defined success for themselves.

When you see that, a person that finds out what they were made to do and then they lean into it, you can see change — whether it’s change in the world or change in the people around them. I believe people can find that. They can find their own success.

So let’s say somebody reads that and they’re like, “That’s all good, but where would I even possibly start either looking for something else or finding what I’m good at? I don’t know what I’m good at.” How would someone even begin that process?

I love the Mark Twain quote where he says, “The two most important days in a person’s life are when they’re born and when they find out why.” And that, I think, is a critical moment for successful people when they figure out what’s their own unique piece they’ve been given. What are their gifts? What are their talents?

And part of that is an exploration project. You’ve got to find out what makes you different, and everybody’s different. That’s the other thing — I think a lot of people look at a successful person, they’re like, “Well, in order to be that, I have to be exactly like them.” And it’s not true at all. Most successful people are unique in their own right, they’ve figured out something that makes them different and they’ve leaned into that.

So the first thing you need to do is figure out what your own secret recipe is, and I like to do that by looking at history. A lot of times, we’re a blend of that nature vs. nurture, where some of it is genes from our parents, some of it is our surroundings that we’ve grown up in. But it’s a blend of that, and we need to explore that.

So the first thing you can do is find out your history. Where are you from? Your parents, your grandparents, your family, your lineage or ethnicity, your heritage, all of those things play into what makes you unique. And I think a lot of times, people shy away from that. They’re nervous about where they came from or maybe they didn’t grow up with money or maybe they didn’t grow up with the best family life or whatever that may be, and they’re shy or nervous about digging back into the past or the history.

Once you find out who you are, the second thing is you have to embrace it. You have to be like, “You know what This is who I am. This is where I’ve come from and this is what I’m going to be.” And I think it takes time and effort to do that, and that’s why I love history and why I love old photos and going back and talking to family members. I think any time you do a deep dive into your history, you start to find more about what makes you you.

I’ll tell a quick story. So I’ve been doing emcee hosting in NASCAR going on my 14th season. I had never been in NASCAR before that, and if you go back and listen to the podcast we did last year, you can hear some of that story. But I found out just a few years ago that my grandfather, who I never met and passed away in Mexico City, had announced a big baseball game. He had owned an arts studio and they had found out and it was like, “Oh, Joe Castillo’s big personality, we should get him to announce this game.” So I found out after being in NASCAR for years announcing and emcee hosting, that my grandfather had done that years ago — and that made that connection even stronger to me of why I am the way I am, because of the things that have happened in my past and my legacy and the people who have been a part of my life.

So your grandfather, it seems like was a big personality — your father (Joe Castillo) was on America’s Got Talent, is that correct?

Yeah, that’s right.

And he was very successful.

Yeah, he was.

And so obviously the performance aspect of being up on stage also runs in the family. So it sounds like you look back on that toolkit and you’re like, “Maybe this is something I’m inclined to be good at.”

Definitely. And I love telling the story about my dad just because a lot of people aren’t patient. If you’re not a follower of Gary Vaynerchuk, you need to be. He’s a friend of mine, we met years ago, and one of the most important things he says is to be patient. Nowadays, everybody wants everything now, and sometimes it takes time to develop and it takes dedication and hard work to get to where you want to go.

So my dad, world famous, was a finalist on America’s Got Talent, came in fifth place overall. Sand story artist Joe Castillo, you can search his name and find out about the sand artist. He didn’t become a star worldwide on America’s Got Talent until he was over 60 years old. Spent his whole life very successful in his own right — had an advertising agency and did commercial art — but his moment of success and becoming this worldwide celebrity wasn’t until later in life. He had kind of gone out and retired a little bit and all of a sudden, boom, this thing happens and his whole life had led him to that.

So patience is required. I think for a lot of people, they want it right now. But sometimes you just have to go, “You know what, I’m just going to work hard, stay the course, and if this thing happens, it’s going to happen.”

Once you’ve gone back and maybe researched a little bit about yourself, where would somebody go from there?

So once you find out what your secret recipe is, what I love to do is write it down. Write it down, put it on a piece of paper, and then judge it — take it to your friends, your family and be like, “Hey, here’s what I found out, I am these three or five things. This is who I am: I’m dependable, I’m reliable, I’m humorous, I love to be around people” — whatever it is, write it out, test it with people, and then put it in front of yourself so that you’re reminded every day when you do something, here’s how I should act.

And if you’re not acting in those ways, then you’re probably not in the right fit with your job or your life because if you really test and go, “OK, I’m this type of person, but man when I do this thing over here, I don’t feel like myself, I don’t feel like I’m getting any gratification from this or any joy” — that’s when a lot of people say you need to work in your passion, you need to find something you have joy in. And I think that’s true to a point, but I also think you can have joy in any of those moments if you’re following those principles that you’ve laid out for yourself.

So come up with your secret recipe, write it down, share it with people and then make sure that you’re playing it out in everyday life and in work that you do and your home life and your community. And when you start to recognize that and then see it played out, then you’ll kind of be able to know, “Oh, I’m in the right place, I’m doing the right thing, I’m doing what I should be doing.” Or, “I’m not, and I need to change.”

It sounds like for a career,  if things come easy or natural, that’s probably the right fit — but if you’re fighting it or it’s forced or something, you’re maybe not doing the right thing. Is that what I’m interpreting here?

Exactly. And you see people, you can spot them a mile away, that are trying to be something that they’re not. And you see somebody who’s either pretend or fake or they’re trying to put on airs and be someone they’re not and you can spot them a mile away. And then you look at people who are passionate in what they do and they love what they do, and it’s genuine and honest and you can tell. You can just look at somebody and go, “Man, they are doing what they were made to do.” And that’s what I love to see, is people who have found that and who are able to pursue it.

I would add a note in there that defining success is really important. Success is different for everyone. It could be money, it could be providing for their family, it could be success from a legacy standpoint of leaving something behind. So you need to make sure that you’re careful with how you define success. For most people, it might be, “I want to see somebody’s life changed” or “I want to make a million dollars.” Whatever it is. But if you don’t define that for yourself, then anything that comes along can kind of change your vision and move you around, so you have to be really focused on that.

Let’s say you have this written out and you’ve talked to your friends and they go, “Yeah, you are a kind-hearted person who would be good at this,” or something, right? How do you even get the courage to start saying, “OK, I’m going to start doing something about it.” Because it’s one thing to say, “I’d love to do this, maybe I could do this,” but people who’ve been doing something for a long time, it’s hard to get the courage to make a change.

The number one killer of dreams is fear. People are afraid of what if, what will happen. And we all experience that fear in our life at some points. I think one of the most important things is to think about experience. So you look back on your life and you’re like, “OK, I was really afraid of this moment.” And then when it happened, did it really turn out as bad as you thought it did? Most of the time, no.

Our brains are amazing at coming up with these stories that are never going to come to light. You sit there in your head and you’re like, “OK, I’m going to go ask my boss for a raise.” And you’re like, “No, he’s going to say no, and he’s going to yell and scream.” And then you go do it, and he doesn’t. You’re like, “Oh, I made that out in my mind to be bigger than what it was.” So first is recognizing that your brain can trick you, and you need to not be afraid in those moments and step into it and see, “OK, what will happen on the positive side? What good things could happen out of this?” to step over those fears.

But the other thing to do is surround yourself with the right people. I tell people all the time that you will become the average of your five closest friends. And when you say that to some people, their eyes kind of light up a little bit and they’re like, “Oh no. Who am I hanging out with?” Because you really will become the average of those five people that you hang around with.  So if they’re successful in what they’ve done, a greater likelihood is that you’re going to be successful. If they’re not successful, guess what? The greater likelihood is that you’re not going to be successful. So surrounding yourself with the right peer group and making sure that they’re cheering you on and they’re helping you get to the next level, is probably one of the most important things that you can do.

That’s such a great point because when you’re around cynical people or negative people, and you tend to want to join in and be like, “Yeah, that’s right, that sucks,” or something. And when you’re around happy people or positive people, who like you said are cheering you on and encouraging you, you’re like, “Yeah, maybe I can do this!” You know what I mean?

One hundred percent. And that’s what I love about a good team, is that you see it being one that works well together, that functions on a high level — and 99 times out of 100, they’re encouraging each other. They’re cheering each other on. They’re being humble and serving each other and helping each other out, and that’s something that is opposite of what most people think about when they think about being a successful person or successful teams. They think, “Well they’re out for themselves. They’re out just for number one.” But that’s not true. You look at the really good teams in life, and the really successful people, and there’s that level of humility and service that’s a part of the group that makes that person successful.

Let’s go back for a moment to the act of writing things down, because you mentioned that was important to write down your goals. Why do you think the writing part in particular, actually having it on a piece of paper and looking at it, why is that so important?

Well they did a couple studies, one of them in the Harvard Business Review, where they took a bunch of students and they said, “We’re going to feed them information and then give them a test to see how well they remember it.” And so first they said, “We’re just going to put them in a room and listen to a talk and see how well they remember that.” Then it was, “We’re going to put them in a room and have them listen to a talk and we’re going to have them write down on their laptops this information.” And the final one was, “We’re going to put them in a room, have them listen to information and then have them write it down with a pencil and paper.” And all the studies across the board showed writing things down with a physical pen to paper was vastly more effective for remembering and retaining information.

So first of all, the studies show that if you write something down with a pen and paper, you will remember it better. Step One is just being able to remember it, because this stuff flashes through our brain and it’s gone. The second thing is, when you do that over and over again, you start to tell your brain, you start to train your brain that these things are important to you. So finding out those things of who you are — some people call it a mission statement or a vision statement or whatever — but it’s really just who you are and how you should treat others. And when you write those things down again and again, those things start to become a pattern in your brain and your brain goes, “Yeah, this is who I am, this is how I need to act.”

It’s one thing I always do and you’ll see me — if anybody’s running around (at the track), come up to me and say, “Jose, I want to see your notebook.” In my back pocket every single day I carry a notebook, one every month, and I write in it at the very beginning what my mission statement is and how I should act every day. I do that every month. I fill up one of these little notebooks and I’ll tell you, it helps. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done, writing stuff down.

Jose Castillo shows off one of his monthly notebooks.

That’s so cool. I’ve actually wanted to do something like that for myself but I need to take the step to do it because it’s a reminder to yourself to do it.

It is, and it’s something where if you do something again and again, you’ll start to see patterns and things emerge with it that you’re not catching yourself, because you will. You’ll start to go down a path and you’ll wake up one day and be like, “This is not who I am. This is not who I set out to be. Why did that happen?” So that ritual of just writing things down can be really important for you.

Another thing, to go back to give people a couple more resources, is taking personality tests. We all take them when we get a new job or whatever, but they’ve become really popular. There are multiple personality tests out there that I could encourage you to go take, and that can really help you with finding out what your mission is, your “why”statement.

The hot one right now is Enneagram, and it’s a personality test, you go and it gives you kind of your strengths and how you should be acting when you’re in the right place, and how you’re going to act when you’re not in the right place, etc. Another one is StrengthsFinder 2.0, which is done by Gallup research, it’s another great one.

But taking those tests, they’re like $20 bucks online, you go take it, it gives you a nice, little eight, 10 sheets of paper that basically tells you your personality, who you are. And out of that, it’s very easy for you to kind of write your mission statement and be like, “Here’s who I am, and here’s how I act.”

When you write that down — and again, you want to make sure you test it — ask your friends, your family, your wife, your kids, “Hey, is this me?” “OK, yeah.” “Great, well then that’s how I should act.” And you start writing that down and it helps you stay on track.

What else am I missing as far as this journey that I didn’t ask you about that could help people on this road to changing their life?

The end goal is so important, and it’s that secret recipe that I believe everybody is unique and different. I really think that no one else has ever existed in the history of the world just like you. And if you think that’s the truth — and science backs it up — then why are we going about our life unhappy? If you’re the only one who has ever existed just like you, then you are super rare, and that’s something that needs to be shared with the world.

And so when you find out what your recipe is, the fact that you’re totally unique should inspire you to go, “Man, I need to share this with people,” because there’s nothing else like it! This is it; this is the only one that’s ever existed. So what better reason to share who you are than the fact that it’s super rare? Nobody else is going to see that.

So I think the encouragement that I would say to everybody listening right now is find out what makes you unique, find out who you are, why are you here, and then share that. And when you start to share that, and people give their information back, I think a lot of people are nervous about sharing who they are with somebody. It’s getting beyond that elevator conversation. Once you start to really dig in and you’re comfortable with sharing who you are with somebody else, that’s when it’s going to be really easy for you to define what success looks like, and you’re going to get there much quicker.

12 Questions with William Byron (2019)

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with William Byron of Hendrick Motorsports. These interviews are recorded as a podcast but also transcribed for those who prefer to read.

1. Are you an iPhone person or an Android person, and why?

I’m an iPhone person. I don’t think I’ve ever had an Android. I feel like it’s such an off-brand version of an iPhone; I just don’t think that’s very good. I think they’re slower. I guess there’s some benefits. But I’ve always had an iPhone.

2. If a fan meets you in the garage, they might only have a brief moment with you. So between an autograph, a selfie or quick comment, what is your advice on the best way to maximize that interaction?

I feel like autographs are so generic. Either a picture or just (commenting on) a neat little tidbit about what you’re doing — something that shows they know about what’s going on. I feel like when I was a kid and I came to races, the only way I was really going to connect to a driver was if I knew some fact about them or knew what was going on with their weekend. So I think that’s important to a driver.

So you’d say something like, “Hey, I noticed you were whatever in practice yesterday,” when you see a driver?

Yeah, if you know more about the sport or what’s going on, I think that’s going to connect with somebody, personally, instead of just, “Hey!” Sometimes you hear things like, “Oh, that’s Alex — oh, no, that’s William.” And that’s like, “OK, you’re just looking for an autograph.” But the kids that you see and meet that are in tune with the sport, those are the ones I connect with.

3. When someone pulls a jerk move on the road when you’re driving down the highway, does that feeling compare at all to when someone pulls a jerk move on the track?

It does. I think on the track, there’s like a survival instinct that comes into play — so even if there is something that kind of frustrates you or pisses you off, it doesn’t really stick with you. Because I’m trying to survive and get to the next thing. I don’t think it’s going to be beneficial for me to get hung up on that — unless it really did hurt me or really screw me over in that situation.

On the road, especially me, I’m just taking advantage of bad drivers — and it does get frustrating when there’s somebody in your way.

4. Has there ever been a time where you’ve had a sketchy situation with your safety equipment?

Not a whole lot. I’d say when I ran Legend cars, the closest thing I had to that was just going out with your HANS clips not clipped in. You start to get into the routine of having those clipped in and you see a lot of drivers do this (shakes head) to make sure. But yeah, it’s sketchy. I mean, there was one time I did that and came back in and I was a little bit caught off guard that I went out there without those. 

5. If your crew chief put a super secret illegal part on your car that made it way faster, would you want to know about it?

Not really. I want to know they’re doing everything it takes to make it go as fast as possible, and I trust what they put on the cars. So I think trust is a big thing with your crew chief or your team, knowing that the car they’re giving you is something fast and competitive. I wouldn’t really care unless it comes to like, “Hey, you know, we gotta crash something to…” (Laughs) Who knows? But no, I don’t really care.

6. What is a food you would not recommend eating right before a race and are you speaking with personal experience with this recommendation?

As sick as I’ve gotten over the offseason with food poisoning a couple times, I would say sushi. I would not eat sushi. Even though I love it, but you just never know.

So you’re kind of staying away after some bad experiences?

Yeah, staying away from that for sure.

7. Is there life in outer space, and if so, do they race?

I don’t think so, because they can’t keep the cars on the ground with (no) gravity. Maybe you could, but I don’t know if being loose or tight would be the same for them. Honestly, I think it would be cool. I feel that they’d race, if you’re a Star Wars fan, you know they race those little things that are about a couple hundred feet off the ground, so those would be fun to race.

Like those pod things?

Yeah, I love those.

8. What do drivers talk about when they’re standing around at driver intros before a race?

Nothing useful. Nothing. I hate that time, honestly. I don’t feel like it really suits my style of talking to somebody right before I go try to beat them. But I try to make off-subject comments like, “How was your offseason? How is your family?” Something like that. It’s a really useless time.

So it’s totally awkward small talk?

Oh yeah. It’s a maintenance conversation that you’re trying to have with somebody that is really not your best friend. Maybe it’s different for other people.

9. What makes you happy right now?

Good question. Honestly, just racing. I mean, that’s a very broad thing, but I guess just competing and being happy with that. I’m not super linked to friendships or things like that yet, but just racing and being in my own space, being able to accomplish things that I’m really just trying to strive for by myself.

10. Let’s say a sponsor comes to you and says, “We are going to fully fund the entire rest of your racing career on the condition that you wear a clown nose and an 80’s rocker wig in every interview you do forever.” Would you accept that offer?

No, because that’s out of style. It’s gonna kill my vibe too much with people my age.

People your age are not going to think that’s the William Byron brand.

That’s not gonna be cool. I probably wouldn’t do that.

11. This is the 10th year of the 12 Questions. There has never been a repeat question until now. Pick a number between 1 and 100, and I’m going to pull up a random question from a past year’s series.

I’ll pick 24.

This question was “Who will win the Cup title five years from now?” So this would be for 2024. Who wins?

Uh, me. Yeah. (Laughs)

That makes sense. You’ll still be around, you’ll still be young.

I hope I’m still around. If I don’t have a job, that would be really sad. I don’t know what I would be doing. Hopefully racing.

12. The last interview was with Aric Almirola. He wants to know with all the pressure that’s around you to be the next guy at Hendrick and all this hype that comes with you, what do you do in your daily life or your time away from the track to get away from all that and have fun?

That’s a great question. You know, I snowboard during the offseason. My friends at school are completely normal kids. I really don’t get asked a lot about racing outside of racing when I’m with my other friends, so I feel like that’s a great way to disconnect.

And honestly I feel like I’m living something that I never expected to do, so that’s fun for me. I know that ultimately, I’m not attached to this by my family or anything, and that’s a really cool disconnection I have from racing. So my family’s not going to judge me on whether I succeed or fail on the racetrack. They care, but they don’t care for the sake of my life goals. So I think I’m kind of living that lack of pressure from a family perspective.

Do you have a question I can ask another driver?

If you could change the schedule one way, how much time you would spend around the racetrack? Like what do you think is the ideal schedule each week? Two days?

So the weekend schedule?

Yes. It is a one-day show? Show up, have one practice? How do you think we should do that?


Previous 12 Questions interviews with William Byron:

— Aug. 31, 2016

— May 17, 2017

Aug. 21, 2018

 

The Top Five: Breaking down the Las Vegas race

 Five thoughts after Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway…

1. Expectations left unfulfilled

Imagine there’s a new movie coming out and it has all the buzz of a must-see blockbuster. Hollywood news outlets are pumping up the all-star cast, critics who have gotten sneak peeks say it’s Oscar-worthy and your timeline is filled with tweets about people who can’t wait to see it.

You can’t afford to miss out, so you buy advance tickets in the first hour they go on sale. You count down the days after months of hype, and finally — FINALLY — you settle into your seat with popcorn and a giant soda.

The lights dim. The movie starts. And…it’s just…OK.

Under normal circumstances, if you’d gone into the theater with standard expectations of what you want out of a movie, it’d be fine. This, though, feels like such a bummer.

This film wasn’t just supposed to be average; it was supposed to be AMAZING. You’d bought into the talk of how this movie could revolutionize Hollywood. Maybe it would even set a new standard for entertainment.

Not surprisingly, you’re quite unhappy about this development. Your emotions alternate between feeling deflated, disappointed and outright pissed — at yourself and those who oversold it — because it didn’t live up to your hopes.

You obviously get where I’m going with this, but that’s what happened Sunday in Las Vegas. The new rules package (how many times have you heard those three words together in the last year?) dominated the conversation for so long, and you’d read and heard everything there was to read and hear about it.

Then it debuted, to much ado. And it was just fine.

For a mile and a half track, it was quite a decent race. A good race by many historical standards.

But given how sky-high the expectations were, and the buildup and anticipation surrounding it…well, it felt like a letdown.

It sucks to feel that way about a race that had thrilling restarts, great battles for the lead and a close finish after a long green-flag run. When you’re expecting to see something epic, though, it’s hard to settle for pretty good.

2. What happened

Let’s back up for a moment and talk about why there was so much genuine hope espoused by many people in the garage. From officials to drivers to spotters to media, there was a public expectation of a wild Sunday that featured solid racing throughout the field. (It’s important to note I don’t think this was phony hype to trick people into watching, but rather a true belief in what was to come.)

The evidence for this was based primarily on four 25-lap “races” during the Las Vegas test in January, but it also extended to Saturday’s final practice — where drivers were all over the track.

If practice looks this good, imagine the race itself!

But once the rag dropped on Sunday, it was more spread out than even NASCAR officials thought it would be. The fact there were no cautions didn’t help, either — since restarts were the best part of the race.

As it turns out, the drivers weren’t surprised by this development. When I asked Martin Truex Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Brad Keselowski if they were caught off guard by the field breaking apart quicker than at the January test, they all said no.

“I knew they were going to break apart,” Stenhouse said. “Watching in the test, they started breaking away fairly quick — and there were cooler conditions then and less cars. I knew if they were breaking apart then, they were going to break apart here (with much warmer weather).”

Many of you were quick to point out on Twitter that you knew all along the drafting would look different under actual race conditions. Apparently you were right.

“The testing is never like racing,” Keselowski said.

It would have been nice if someone had said that before the race in order to set more realistic expectations for how Las Vegas. If they did, I missed it.

3. On the bright side

Whoever is the defending NASCAR champion has traditionally had a platform for opinions and had a receptive audience when stumping for change — at least among reporters eager to print any interesting viewpoints.

Joey Logano has yet to really use his platform for that purpose, although he had some very strong opinions about the Vegas race that reflected his optimistic nature and sunny outlook on life.

Logano enthusiastically endorsed the new rules package and was baffled to hear a reporter mention that fans on Twitter didn’t love it as much as Logano did.

“I don’t really know what to say if you don’t like that,” he said. “It’s not very often where you’re going to have a green flag run that long (100 laps) and have a finish that close between three cars. That’s something, I’ll tell you what.”

Logano said Vegas was a “great race” and said the new package was “a big thumbs up for the sport.”

“I thought the racing was awesome,” he said. “You’re side by side. There’s aggressive blocks and big moves and bumping and banging. That’s NASCAR, baby! I don’t really know what else to tell you.”

NASCAR itself (or at least the person speaking for NASCAR — competition chief Steve O’Donnell) took a more conservative approach to evaluating the race. O’Donnell said he “liked what I saw” but was also “not satisfied” at the same time. He said the package remained a work in progress.

“Was it tremendous improvement (over last year)? Probably not,” O’Donnell said. “But as a fan, you want to see lead changes. We saw that today. In the past with no cautions, we would have seen someone check out all race long and we wouldn’t have seen a lead change.”

Though most drivers either bit their tongue or were salty about how the package raced (coughKyleBuschcough), some indicated they’re just along for the ride.

“If it was entertaining to watch, then I don’t care (about how it raced),” Chase Elliott said. “That’s the main thing. If entertainment is produced, I’m happy to drive whatever it is.”

4. O caution flag, where art thou?

After flirting with a caution-free race twice last year, the Cup Series finally produced one on Sunday (not counting the pre-planned stage cautions, of course). That made for the first race without a “natural” caution flag since October 2002 at Talladega.

Of everything that happened Sunday, that was by FAR the most shocking. There was a real concern the race would be a total wreckfest, with drivers unable to handle ill-handling cars in traffic and on crazy restarts. There was actually a bet available at the Vegas sports books that had the over/under of “cars out of the race at the halfway point” at 1.5. I didn’t play it, but was thinking that bet would be the lock of all locks.

Instead, no cars were officially out of the race by the halfway point (and only one, Joey Gase, didn’t finish).

Even O’Donnell said he was surprised by the lack of cautions.

“You go back before the race, and I think even some of the media (said) — and it probably came from the garage — ‘We’re going to wreck the entire field. This isn’t going to be a race,’” he said. “Didn’t happen.”

Why not? According to Denny Hamlin, it’s because the cars can’t get close enough to each other once the field breaks apart following the restarts.

“Once it gets strung out like that, it’s honestly so tough to run kind of near someone — especially late in a run — that the chance of someone running into each other is less likely,” he said.

It will be fascinating to see if this becomes a trend in the new package, or whether Vegas was an anomaly.

5. TV’s role 

During a key moment of the race, when Team Penske teammates Keselowski and Logano were battling for the lead, viewers briefly lost perspective on the action. FOX was showing the race from Logano’s bumper cam, and the drivers suddenly had some sort of contact — but it was hard to tell what happened. A replay from a wider angle was never shown (unless I missed it, which is definitely possible).

That’s ironic, since Keselowski on Friday had stumped for NASCAR’s TV partners to “zoom the cameras out” when showing races.

“Whether it’s this rules packages or last year’s rules package, I just don’t feel like with the cameras zoomed in you can really appreciate all that’s going on,” he said. “If I was sitting on my couch watching the race, the first thing I would say is  ‘Zoom the cameras out!’ That’s what I’m saying when I watch an Xfinity Series race or something.

“I think more so than any rules change, the biggest thing we can do is try to give a better perception of how much great racing there is across the whole field.”

This year it’s going to be more important than ever for TV to offer enough of a glimpse to pull back and show the big picture of what’s happening — particularly since it seems like the leader may be tough to pass in clean air. The real racing may be a cluster of cars fighting for fifth rather than first.

Now, did FOX missed much action on Sunday? No. From what I saw live, the racing was often single-file on the bottom groove, so the TV angles may not have mattered. But as the season marches on, let’s hope Keselowski’s wish comes true and helps NASCAR give the rules package a fighting chance with viewers at home.