12 Questions with Austin Dillon (2018)

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon of Richard Childress Racing. This interview was recorded as a podcast but is also transcribed for those who prefer to read.

1. How often do you have dreams about racing?

I’ve had a couple of dreams about racing, and one in particular was about the Daytona 500. I had this dream where I looked in the rearview mirror and no one was behind me and I was coming to the checkered flag. I haven’t had those memories (about dreams) very often, but I did have that one, which is crazy. I thought about it leading up this offseason, and that was a dream and it all happened. It’s weirded me out for a while, but it’s a cool one.

I haven’t really had any more. I’ve had one or two others that I’ve brought up at just random tracks that I’ve been on. When you get to focusing on them so much and you’re on the simulator, you can see the track in your mind and your mind just never sleeps.

2. If you get into someone during a race — intentional or not — does it matter if you apologize?

I think reaching out to the person is fine if it wasn’t intentional. If you didn’t do it on purpose and it was just a mistake, you overdrove and you hit them, it’s like, “Hey man, I screwed up there. I was over my head.” And that’s a good time to let someone know.

If you did it on purpose, I think they know themselves pretty much already. And then there’s a conversation about why you did it — if it was to get back at them for something earlier or it’s just, “Hey man, I had to go. That was kind of the deal and I’m sorry for it, but you understand.”

3. What is the biggest compliment someone could give you?

I think the biggest compliment you could get is (about) the person you are. Like you know, you’re a good person. Where your morals are: “Man you get it, you understand it.” That’s a good compliment to me. I’m more proud of the person you are than the driver you are away from the track. I’m a competitor, I’m very competitive, but hopefully still the person is what shows more than the driver and what I do out on Sundays, because that really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

4. NASCAR comes to you and says they’re bringing a celebrity to the track and they want you to host them. Who is a celebrity you’d be excited to host?

Who would be the guy I’d like to hang out with the most out of all these people? The cool thing is, I’m a huge Panthers fan, so all my Panthers buddies there, they’re awesome and real. Whoever I did ask to bring to the track, I would want them to be someone that I can just have like a friend. I want to be shell-shocked to be around them, but have them talk and hang out like it was another one of my boys, my buddies. So I’d want the relationship to be instant, whoever it was.

I don’t know why this popped into my head, but Will Smith seems like a cool person. I think that’d be pretty cool. That would be somebody I’m interested in having at the track. Seems like he’s nice, too. I watch some of his Instagram stories with his family, and he’s just him. That’s cool.

5. In an effort to show this is a health-conscious sport, NASCAR decides to offer the No. 1 pit stall selection for an upcoming race to the first driver willing to go vegan for one month. Would you do it?

Oh yeah. No problem. I do a lot of things to my diet to keep discipline, just as a person. I’ve just gotten back on it, actually I was there for awhile, just slacking. But my diet is pretty important, and it’s mostly because I’ve talked to (Christian) McCaffrey, and he got me started back on eating right and just taking care of my body. I don’t eat bread, cheese, chicken — and if I do pasta, it’s gluten-free, wheat-free. I just started that, and I’ve leaned down a little bit.

Do you feel better?

Yeah. I feel better, and some of it’s just about seeing it and not eating it, right? Like just teaching yourself you don’t have to have that to function, you know what I mean? And that’s cool because I used to eat a lot of Chick-Fil-A just because it’s convenient. Chicken’s great, but that’s something that I just kind of cut out, just to be disciplined.

6. It’s time for the Random Race Challenge. I’ve picked a random race from your career and you have to tell me where you finished.

This is gonna be tough.

I’m going back to 2016 for this one, and it’s the Michigan spring Cup race. Do you have any memory of this?

I think so. I’m hoping it is the package that we tried with the high spoiler and I was racing Matt Kenseth back and forth. I think I finished fourth in that one? Or sixth?

I have eighth here.

Eighth, OK. Is it the high spoiler package? There was one in there I was running really well, but we started in the back and we stayed out on fuel and took the lead, but eighth might be correct. Well it is correct, obviously, but I’m just wondering if it’s the high spoiler package.

It might have been the fall race. Are you good at remembering races in general?

Not really. Not really the finishing orders — I’m not good at knowing where I finish somewhere. I know the vicinity, and I can tell you the details of each race. Like if you bring it up, I can tell you what was going on during the race and what happened, but I don’t focus on the finish number usually. Unless it’s a win.

7. Who is the best rapper alive?

My era is Lil Wayne. I remember riding with one of my friends to go snowboarding every Thursday up in Boone and we would listen to Da Drought, we’d listen to that mix (tape) all the way down every day. We memorized all the lines, and it was pretty witty. I always loved that.

He just came out with The Carter V this weekend (this interview was conducted last month). Have you gotten to listen to it?

I haven’t listened to it, but I’ll be on it. Maybe tonight I’ll get on it after this race.

Because he says he’s the best rapper alive…

He is. (Sings) “Best rapper alive.”

8. Who has the most punchable face in NASCAR?

I mean, it’s gotta be Kyle (Busch). I don’t know who he got punched by in Vegas, but I just picture his face when he had the blood running down and everything. That’s why (the answer), I guess.

9. NASCAR enlists three famous Americans to be involved with your team for one race as part of a publicity push: Taylor Swift, LeBron James and Tom Hanks. Pick one to be your crew chief, one to be your spotter, and one to be your motorhome driver.

Wow, that is tough. I’ll let Taylor spot because I think a woman spotter would actually be a good thing. I’ve always kind of thought that. There’s not any I don’t think on the spotting (stand), and I think they would take a lot of the bias out and just spot and give you what they see. Because women are kind of like that. I feel like women take out bias sometimes, which is nice. And so a woman spotter I think would be a good thing. I think Taylor would do good up there.

I would get Tom Hanks to crew chief because I feel like he would make light of tough situations, but he would stay in the game.

LeBron would be the bus driver because when I was chilling, we could go shoot hoops.

10. What is the key to finding the best pre-race bathroom?

That is a tough one. It happens last second. Not gonna lie, I’m gonna give you this story because this will be entertaining for your followers.

So a couple races in a row, I was struggling to remember to go pee early enough. Like I would go to the bathroom, but I’d drink enough water during the time walking to intros and going through intros, and then I would go straight to my car.

It’s very routine. When you get done with intros, you need to go use the bathroom, then go take the pictures by the car. Well I was going to the car a couple times in a row (before the bathroom), and the pictures would start and the national anthem would start and it would kind of happen all at once.

Well, I would have to pee after the national anthem. So I was like running to find a bathroom after that. You really have to get ready (to race) at that time, it’s bang bang at that point. So I always look for a port-a-john, I try to hit it before I get to my car to get my pictures taken.

Well this time (at Bristol), I got to the car and everything happened quick. National anthem’s over and I had to pee and I was not gonna get in the car and pee during the race — because it’s hard to pee yourself when you’re strapped in. So I just actually peed myself right by the left rear tire.

I had two of my guys stand there. I was like, “I’m just gonna pee myself right now.” And I peed standing like right there with my suit on, and the suit, you could see it change color. Then I just got in the car.

Couldn’t you just pee on the tire?

Well, Bristol is 400 stories up, so I figured there’s just that one person up there zoomed in taking a picture of you getting in your car and might get a real good picture of me peeing on the left rear tire. I thought about peeing in between the wall there, but it’s just so high up there at Bristol, so I’m just like, “Screw it. Just let it rip now and it’ll all be good. It’s a long race. Sweat will kind of dissipate (the pee).” But yeah, that happened this year.

So you had to race 500 laps in your pee from the start.

Yeah, from the start. Yeah, you know it’s gonna be a long one when that happens.

11. NASCAR decides they would like the highlight reel value brought by the Carl Edwards backflips and want their own version. How much money would they have to pay you to backflip off your car following your next win?

I just don’t think I could complete the backflip, so I am going to take a risk of hurting myself. I could try it for $2 million, and it’s probably going to land in a back-flop, so I’m probably going to need surgery. Hopefully that covers it.

So $2 million plus medical.

Yeah, plus medical. There you go.

12. Each week, I ask a driver to give me a question for the next interview. Last week was with Chris Buescher. His question for you is: If you win at Charlotte again like you did in the 600, now that there’s artificial turf in the infield, will that alter your belly-slide celebration?

I’m definitely going to use the turf, that looks interesting. I wonder if it’s just gonna stick, though. Could be dangerous. Will definitely try it. All the football players are playing on turf, they get little burns. Hopefully I don’t get any turf burn or anything like that, but I’ll figure that out when it comes down to it.

It’ll still be worth it.

Yeah, for sure.

The next interview I’m doing is with Landon Cassill. Do you have a question I can ask Landon?

If someone would sponsor you to grow out your hair until it reached your knees, would you wear it that long and keep it that way for the rest of your racing career? Would you wear it to your knees until you were done racing?

So the question is the only way he’s going to get a sponsor is if he’s willing to do that, and would he do it?

Yeah. That, or even rock dreadlocks to the track, dread out his hair and just roll with it.


Previous 12 Questions interviews with Austin Dillon:

July 25, 2012

Nov. 6, 2013

May 20, 2014

Sept. 30, 2015

May 25, 2016

Nov. 8, 2017

 

The Top Five: Breaking down the Texas playoff race

Five thoughts after Sunday’s NASCAR playoffs race at Texas Motor Speedway…

1. Ford goodness’ sake

After yet another Ford-dominated weekend — Ford drivers combined to lead 321 of the 337 laps at Texas — Martin Truex Jr. brought up a solid point.

What if the Toyotas were crushing everyone like the Fords are now?

“If this is last year, they would all be complaining we’re too fast,” Truex said on pit road. “So I don’t know if I should do a (Brad) Keselowski and start whining about it or not. They’re really fast, and if we’re off just a little bit, we can’t run with them.”

That was the case at Texas, as none of the top Toyotas — or Chevrolets, for that matter — could hang with the Fords. And with only two weeks to go in the season, nothing is going to change before Homestead. It’s a Ford world now.

In all likelihood, that means Texas race winner Kevin Harvick is going to head to Miami as the heavy favorite for the championship. I’d even put Joey Logano above Truex and Kyle Busch at this point, since they just don’t have the raw speed the Fords seem to.

It’s not a given Harvick will win it all — Jimmie Johnson won his most recent championship as the fourth-fastest car among the title contenders — but the final four is going to feel more like “Harvick and Friends” than “The Big Three and Joey.”

Who is going to beat the No. 4 team aside from themselves?

“I feel as a team we’ve been strong down there,” crew chief Rodney Childers said. “Last year going into Homestead, I felt we didn’t have the cars to run for a championship, and we almost ran with them. So overall I think we have good cars right now.

“Everybody has done a great job. It’s just going to come down to executing and doing the best we can on pit road.”

I feel like I’ve written this a zillion times in 2018, but it’s still Harvick’s championship to lose.

2. Veteran move

Experience still matters sooooo much in today’s Cup Series, and that’s why drivers like Harvick can make the difference in crunch time situations.

Just look at Texas. Harvick got beaten by Ryan Blaney on a late restart, but he patiently caught back up and stuffed his car underneath Blaney’s in Turns 1 and 2 for what seemed like the winning pass. It was a pretty slick move that appeared easier than it was.

Then, on the overtime restart, Harvick switched up the strategy and started on the top — something no leader had chosen to do all race. If anyone doubted him, though, it worked — he easily cleared Blaney and sailed on to victory.

Blaney, to his credit, anticipated Harvick’s decision.

“I figured he wouldn’t make that move three times,” Blaney said. “We almost cleared him the first restart up top. Then I did on the second one. I figured he’d take the top.

“You get beat in one, you almost get beat the next one, you’re going to take the top, not restart on the bottom.”

Blaney can put that in his memory bank for the future, and that’s valuable. Those kind of scenarios can’t be simulated or pre-planned — only learned through actually being in those environments. But the winning veterans, like Harvick or Keselowski or Kyle Busch, already have those situations in their driver toolkits.

3. NASCAR mistake

Fans are continuing to light up NASCAR officials after Jimmie Johnson was mistakenly sent to the back of the field prior to the race.

For what it’s worth, NASCAR apologized in person to Chad Knaus and Hendrick representative Jeff Gordon, then told the media (through executive vice president Steve O’Donnell) the error was “unacceptable” and “disappointing.” O’Donnell vowed to make sure it wouldn’t happen again.

It was certainly a big mistake, and this isn’t the first time NASCAR has goofed on a call. It seems to happen more often than anyone would like, which is inexcusable.

That said, I remember the not-too-distant past, when NASCAR officials never would have admitted fault on something like this and instead made up some B.S. reason to justify the call. They’d say something like, “Oh, that’s our policy now. You didn’t know that?” Seriously, I feel like that used to be practically commonplace. I hated that about covering this sport; it drove me nuts.

Now NASCAR has a tendency to admit fault and apologize when something like this happens. Yeah, the whole thing isn’t good, and acknowledging an error doesn’t erase the error — but at least it takes some of the sting out of it.

4. Texas needs help

It’s time to stop racing 1,000 miles per year at Texas Motor Speedway.

The repave and reconfiguration hasn’t made for good racing in the Cup Series, this time even drawing the ire of typically mild-mannered Chase Elliott.

Elliott said Texas is “a really frustrating racetrack ever since they ruined it two years ago” and added: “I don’t know what genius decided to pave this place or take the banking out of (Turns) 1 and 2, but not a good move for the entertainment factor, in my opinion.”

Texas wasn’t very entertaining before, and now it’s gotten worse. A controversial new rules package will arrive for Cup next year, which could make the racing better — but it’s also going to make it a lot longer.

With the cars going slower, the 3.5-hour average time of the Texas races could creep closer to four-hour territory. Is that really necessary?

Even Texas president Eddie Gossage, by all accounts a great promoter, can’t do much with the racing product recently. Gossage’s customers have told him they don’t want any races to be shortened — they want more miles for their dollars — but given the sparse attendance on Sunday, is that even a consideration anymore?

A 300-mile race could be a lot more entertaining at Texas, since it could promote urgency and take away the time where drivers can just log laps. Either that, or it could be a chance for NASCAR to try a timed, three-hour race — just as an experiment.

Neither of those ideas could make it any worse, right?

5. Points drying up in the desert

At first glance, it doesn’t look like NASCAR is in store for much drama at Phoenix. The points are blown wide open, with the two remaining spots held by drivers who are at least 25 points ahead of the cutoff.

Kurt Busch isn’t in a must-win situation, but close. He’d need a lot of help. Meanwhile, Chase Elliott, Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer have to win Phoenix or will miss out on the final four.

But if there is a new winner among that group, things could get interesting very quickly. Kyle Busch and Truex would be in position to battle for the last spot on points, and they’re only separated by three at the moment.

“We might be racing the 78,” Busch crew chief Adam Stevens said. “We’ve got to out-run the 78 to make sure we’re OK, then hope there is a repeat winner or a non-(playoff) winner, I guess.”

If anyone can do it, the pick would be Elliott. He has the second-best average ever at Phoenix (6.8, second only to Alan Kulwicki) in his five career starts. He’s never finished lower than 12th there and has a second- and third-place result in his last two Phoenix races.

Carl Edwards gives update on life, outlook on racing

Carl Edwards was at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday to be inducted into the Texas Motor Sports Hall of Fame. After his induction, he spoke with the NASCAR media corps for 15 minutes.

Here are some of Edwards’ most notable comments following his first visit to a NASCAR track since June 2017.

On why he left, which continues to be a mystery for some fans: “To me, it was a really simple decision: If I didn’t care about money and I didn’t care about what anyone else thought, then what would I do? And the answer was really simple: I’d like to step away for a little while and focus on other things. That’s as simple as it is.”

On whether he might race again someday: “I do miss driving the cars, and I have a feeling something will come up that will be really fun and natural to go do, and I’ll get to drive a little more. But I’m definitely not going to sign a three-year contract to go run for a Cup championship.”

Edwards said he had a couple conversations with NASCAR team owners about returning, but “none in the last year or so.” He added: “I think everyone understands I’m not really interested in coming back and doing anything too serious right now. It’s been off my radar for a long time.”

Edwards added he enjoyed places like Sonoma for road racing and enjoyed Homestead and Atlanta due to the feeling of sliding around, which is why he might like to test on a road course or race something on dirt. Said Edwards, 39: “I don’t know how I’ll feel in a year or two. I don’t have a plan.”

On why he doesn’t pay attention to NASCAR: “I’ve been so invested in it and I’ve been so close to it that I don’t think I can follow it without wanting to participate. That would be impossible for me. I try not to pay too much attention, is the best way to put it.”

But Edwards did say he gets asked about the races when he runs into people on the street, so he’s somewhat aware of what’s going on.

So had Edwards heard about the 2019 rules package, which goes against everything he always campaigned for?

“I don’t know anything about it other than they said it would be more like restrictor-plate racing at the tracks or something…?” he said. “What I love about driving race cars is literally 950 horsepower, sliding the tires — that’s what I love. When I was in it, I always advocated for that. But at this point, I don’t think I’m in a position to really even comment on it. If that’s what everyone decides to do, that’s what they go do.”

On looking back at his career and life, Edwards has no regrets. “The real gift of racing to me was the day-in, day-out effort and the teamwork and the learning. … It’s the growth. I wouldn’t trade that (2016) Homestead race for anything. Yeah, it didn’t turn out great, but that was the best I’d performed in a race car and the best team I ever had. It was just neat.”

Since leaving NASCAR, Edwards has split his time between traveling the world — including two sailing trips across the Atlantic Ocean and a bicycle trip from Amsterdam to Cologne, Germany — and spending more time at home with his family and friends. He joked there should be a spinoff of the upcoming Racing Wives show called “Doctors’ Husbands” — which describes him — and says it would portray him cycling in the morning and doing errands in the afternoon.

How I Got Here with Jeff O’Keefe

Jeff O’Keefe, far left, stands with his Golin co-workers who handle PR for Toyota Racing after Martin Truex Jr. won the championship last season. (Courtesy Jeff O’Keefe)

Each week, I ask a member of the racing community to describe their career path and shed some light on how they reached their current position. Up next: Jeff O’Keefe, who does digital and social media for Toyota Racing through the Golin agency.

What do you do right now in racing?

So right now I work with Lisa Kennedy and her team at Golin, but we work with Toyota Racing in their motorsports department handling content creation, working with Toyota — Kristine Curley, who you had on earlier this year — and the social strategy, social content creation and publishing for all things Toyota Racing.

I assume that wasn’t something that was on your radar to start out. So how did this all start for you? Did you grow up wanting to be in sports or anything like that?

So we’re going to go a little way back. I grew up in New Jersey — Exit 18, because that’s how you define where you’re from in New Jersey — off route 78 in a little town called High Bridge, New Jersey. Nobody knows where that is. However, about 15 minutes away was a place that many NASCAR people know: Flemington Speedway.

Flemington was kind of iconic on the local tracks scene, but then hosted a lot of Craftsman Truck Series races, and it was known being a place where you never went straight on the track. Growing up, me and my dad, he started bringing me to the races when I was a kid and we just started going there: Sprint cars, it was dirt, and then they transformed to pavement, saw some truck races there, and that’s how we bonded, just spending time with dad.

From there, growing up, we would go to Nazareth Speedway, which is about an hour away from where I grew up. Back then, they Busch races and Truck races. I remember it used to rain at Nazareth and they didn’t have track dryers, so they would take pickups with tires chained to the bumper and just drag them around the track. We waited about six hours to watch the first Truck race there. And literally so we went up there until about early 2000s from mid to late ’90s. That’s how me and my dad bonded, just by going to races and everything.

And then we went to Bristol in 1999. Walking into Bristol in the late ’90s, it was something like you’d never seen before in your life. You’re just like fully taken aback, and just the amount of people. And as I grew older, went to college and everything, I started to learn more (about what was surrounding the track). I was always interested in PR, and growing up in New Jersey has some really great opportunities because New York City was near there. So in college, studying communication and PR and everything, and as we continued to go to these races every year, you started to notice things more. Whether it’s the fan experience, the activation, even the drivers signing autographs and merchandise, people lined up. My brain started ticking: “How do they get people there? Why do they have all these activations set up? Why are people drawn to look at production vehicles at a racetrack?” And then as we sat in the stands, I had total FOMO — and granted it probably wasn’t a word back in 2003 — but that sat in, like “Man, I want to be in there. I want be inside and like I want to be going in there. They seem cool. They seem like really in the know.”

And by that point, I was about a junior, senior in college and I was like, “Alright, I want to do this. This is really cool. But I still live and go to college in New Jersey.” They would ask me (at college), “What do you want to do?” And I was like, “I want to do PR in NASCAR.” “What? Excuse me?” And the school, the communication program at Montclair was amazing. Senior year, like they challenge you to basically prepare you for life after college, how to get a job, the interview process, forced you to go get informational interviews. I was like, “On yeah. This is going to be great.” Graduated, and then you think you’re on top of the world — and then couldn’t find a job for a year, and you’re just like, “Oh, this is life.”

And you’re trying to, at the time, purely break into NASCAR? Like you’re looking for racing jobs at that point?

Yeah. At that point, started with racing jobs, but when I knew I wasn’t going to do a full-time job right away, I was like, “I have to stay active in some sort of industry.” So being fortunate enough to live so close to New York, I got a few internships in New York City. I ultimately ended up in 2007 interning for the agency Sunshine Sachs, and I basically told them in my interview, I was like, “Listen. I’m not leaving until you’ve hired me.” It’s a great thing to say in an interview, I’m sure, now looking back on it. (Laughs) But ultimately, they ended up hiring me in about May of 2007. And I was (working at the) front desk. So first job out of college, straight front desk. I referred to myself as the “Director of First Impressions” because it was a much better title than what “receptionist” would be.

So you’re working in New York City as a receptionist, not NASCAR as a PR person.

Nope, not at all. But it was in the industry, learning PR and was what life was like. And you know you’re young, you’re dumb and you’re just being blindsided by just what the world was like.

And ultimately progressed and continued to move up, became the assistant to both the President and the CEO, which at that time, we were about 17 people in this agency. But this agency, the head of the agency, Ken Sunshine and Sean Sachs, they come from completely different backgrounds but in a way the same. Ken was a former chief of staff for David Dinkins, mayor of New York back in the ’90s. He also worked in the music industry, and then Sean has a really big political background. So their backgrounds really meshed well, but expanded their client base. They had clients ranging from very famous celebrities down to nitty gritty on-the-ground stuff in New York, very close to people like Al Sharpton.

Nothing like going into Harlem into Al Sharpton’s office when you’re 24 years old and you’re just like, “This is such an experience, but it’s really cool.” And so just being their assistant, you’re just a typical assistant doing everything –travel, ordering lunch, making sure their lives are on point. Sitting in meetings, you have no earthly idea of like, “How am I in here right now?”

So like big time people?

Yeah. Big time people, big time stuff. As we moved along, one of the things we worked on, a lot of stuff that came in in a way, very last minute — for instance Michael Jackson’s funeral. That happened in the middle of the summer, and I remember being at home, my boss, Ken, he’s like, “Hey, this is probably coming down and we’re going to probably handle this.” It was like, “Alright.”

What does that mean, “handle it?” Like do the publicity part, organize it?

Everything. So it was working with the family on just everything that was surrounding that. He was pretty much in line with the family, but it was OK, everything that was going to happen at the Staples Center, what the media presence was going to be like, how we were going distribute everything to the media. As they set up press conferences, he’s on CNN, I’m literally sitting in the office ready to hit send on a mail merge because we didn’t have fancy Constant Contact, all these web services now. Mail merge from an Excel document of people wanting to cover this. Now, mail merge breaks in the middle of this so you now have to turn into BCC. I’m the only one in the office doing this, and it’s just a time where it’s very high intensity, but just it had to get done.

I missed my flight that night to go to LA, I ended up sleeping on the couch in my boss’s office, booked the next flight out and it was just three days of like, “OK, we’re on the ground.” We didn’t have time to make fancy credentials, so they were like gold, club wristbands — that’s literally what the all-access piece was like. Could have been counterfeited easily. But just the sheer chaos — organized chaos, that’s what it was — was insane, and it just worked. And I was the guy who just, the guy was on the ground just doing stuff. So like that just is kind of in a way just the randomness in the variety of stuff that we worked on.

From there, I started working with, as I progressed and moved on to kind of being like a junior publicist or something, started working with people like Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand, Anna Deavere Smith and then Calvary Hospital.

That’s a wide range.

Exactly. And that’s what they were known for and what primed us for being able to handle the variety. Now, with that, you’re young, you’ve graduated college, you don’t know what life is about. And Sean, who was the CMO, he was younger, he was really cool, but he was like your older brother who just tried to teach you life lessons — but in that older brother kind of way.

He literally tried to teach us the importance of networking, and he got to the point where he said, “I will pay for your dinner and drinks and stuff if you go meet media.” And we were like, “What? No, we don’t want to go out. We just want to go home, we’re doing our job. Why do we want to work?” Because, again, we’re 24 years old, why do we need to do this? And it got to the point where he threw a whiteboard on the wall and he wrote all the assistants’ names on it. He said, “Whoever has the most business cards at the end of the month wins dinner on me,” or something like that. Like, “Oh, OK.” So it turned into a competition.

And just these little things he started teaching us about how to handle stuff. Like (he’d say) “Hey, I need dinner reservations with this type of client.” “OK, where do you want to go?” He’d be like, “Alright, go to www.figureitout.com.” And you’re just like, “I hate you, why are you doing this?” You’re just like so frustrated when is this happening, you’re just not understanding it. But he was just teaching you a lesson that you didn’t know what was happening.

I remember with work stuff he would say, “If I have to ask, you’ve already failed.” “What?” You’d get so mad. Now, 10 years later, it’s like, “Oh my God, he came to me from the future. This is crazy.”

So with that, still going to races, still very much loving NASCAR and wanting to get into the sport. I never really had a favorite driver, I was just more of a fan of the sport and everything that was happening. And I wanted to get into it more. Through a co-worker of mine, she worked with a gentleman named Don Rohr at one point at a record company. Now Don was Brian Vickers’ business manager. It was like, “Oh, I’ll introduce you.” He was in New York one time and she introduced us and he literally became one of my closest friends really quick — whether just because I explained what I wanted to do and what I’ve done or just because he’s a great guy. But literally he would try to help me and just communicate and talk with me. I am sure that I annoyed the hell out of him for like three years, and we would IM each other, he would kind of give me ideas on job leads and stuff, and ultimately I interviewed with Braun Racing to do PR for the 11 Nationwide car at the time. Didn’t end up getting that job, but fast forward a year, Don told me (about a job) again and I interviewed again.

I went and flew down to North Carolina, told work I was sick, I met with, now that was gonna be Turner in 2011, interviewed there, and just hit off. Like it worked really well, ended up getting the job, and I literally gave my notice to Sunshine in my annual review. You couldn’t have kind of scripted it any weirder. I sat down with Sean, my boss, and he’s like, “So, give me the State of Jeff.” And I was like, “Oh, that’s how it’s gonna go. Great.” I’m like, “Well, I’m leaving.” His reaction was shocked and surprised, but after explaining to him what I was doing, where I was going, he said he understood and everything. I literally put my two weeks in, the next weekend I looked for an apartment, the following weekend I moved to North Carolina.

Jeff O’Keefe with Mark Martin in 2011. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

So there was no hesitation, even though you had a good thing going with your work with Bette Midler and Barbra Streisand and stuff. This is what you wanted, you wanted to chase that NASCAR dream all the way.

Yeah, I couldn’t turn back at point. I put my eggs in a basket and I was like, “Man, I’ve gotta do this.” Working with Bette, Barbra and everything was really cool.

What was that like?

It was unreal. You’re doing a lot of different stuff at the time. Bette, she had a few CD releases, she had the HBO special for her Vegas show happening, so we did media tours around the city for that and everything. And it’s just, with that stuff, you needed to be five steps forward — even from making sure the car is where it needs to be and the exit that you’re gonna leave out of, because if you go down the wrong exit and there’s say a mosh pit of fans, you’re screwed.

Just being able to making sure she’s ready, making sure she’s ready for interviews, trying to control the questions in a way, but you know, let them ask what they want to ask. You knew what the interview situation was going to be going in, and making sure she was ready, like talking to her about her Vegas show. I wasn’t working on the account when she had her Vegas show, but she would ask me, “OK, let’s talk about Vegas, remind me.” I’m like, “I wasn’t there, but…” and I just started reminding her stories and stuff.

She is a legend for a reason. She knows what she wants, she’s a perfectionist, and she doesn’t accept anything less, which is amazing. Same thing with Barbra. And working with the two of them, and even with any of the other clients, like you just learn, you just really quickly pick up on how to handle certain situation and certain small things.

Yes there’s a glitz and glamor about all of that, but it’s down and gritty. I mean, I just found a photo of us doing the Late Show with Jimmy Fallon, and I’m in Asics sneakers, jeans, sweater, a peacoat and a scarf that doesn’t match, and longer hair, and I’m like, “What the hell was I wearing?” But again, I’m 26 years old, and it was at the end a long day of press touring up and down New York City, going to different places, and you can just tell, you’re just like, “Well, we’re done.” And it’s an amazing photo, but it’s just the grind of everything that was, so those are experiences you never forget.

Jeff O’Keefe (right of center) with Bette Midler on the set of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

So how does working one-on-one with Bette Midler or Barbra Streisand compare to working with NASCAR drivers? Because now you’ve done Turner, you’ve done RCR stuff, now you’re with Toyota, so you’ve worked with a variety of drivers. Is there any comparison?

I mean, there is. It’s handling personalities, how to work with people, how to handle logistics, how to manage social. One of the things that we did with Bette when she wasn’t filming anything, she didn’t have a tour going on, is we got her on Twitter. And she was resistant on it at first, so I remember we’re coming home from an event in DC and on the train, and we’re sitting there and she’s like, “Jeff, teach me this Twitter.” It’s like, “What? Alright. Here you go. This is your timeline, you pop this open, you can write anything you want. And if you want to mention somebody, you do the @ symbol.” Literally basics. And she’s like, “What?” And you know, just getting her comfortable and acclimated to it.

And eventually, even after I moved on, when she got into a little bit of a back and forth with Kim Kardashian, I’m like a proud parent watching their kid go off to school. Like this is so great, I’m going to frame this.

But all of that in working with different types of personalities, whether it’s celebrities, whether it’s the people at Calvary Hospital in the palliative care unit, it just teaches you how to handle variety but also think different ways and be creative, whether you’re doing PR, whether you’re doing social and not box yourself in.

Did you ever get comfortable around Bette and Barbra? I feel like with NASCAR drivers, they’re a little more down to earth maybe than I would picture those women being, because they feel diva-ish. Is that fair?

You get comfortable to a point with everybody. You get comfortable to a point with whether it’s Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand, Anna Deavere Smith, again, Calvary Hospital, or whether it’s Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Daniel Suarez or Erik Jones. It doesn’t matter. You get comfortable with them up to a point, but you have to stay professional. You don’t want to become that friend zone with them. You still need to act professional because there’s going to be a time where you need to handle business with them, and you need them to have that trust with you, whether it’s handling PR or whether it’s handling social media, whether you need to tell them they did a great job on a social post or be like, “Eh, we need to talk about this.” There needs to still be that level of separation.

In general, what would you recommend to people who would love to be in your position?

That is probably one of the best questions because from Turner, at the end of 2011, I got laid off. They lost a couple sponsors, I think Dollar General, Ricky Carmichael and Monster moved out, so they just didn’t have room for people and they cut a few people out of their marketing and PR department.

I didn’t have a job. I moved down here, picked up my life and moved down here to work in NASCAR, I was like, “What do I do now?” And I saved up money, but to bring this full circle, I just remembered Sean always saying, “Networking. You have to go out and network.” And I just remembered the whiteboard with the business cards, I was like, “Alright.”

This is 2012. I interviewed with people and just circumstances, so whether you don’t get jobs, jobs don’t get filled and literally coming to Daytona, people were like, “Make sure you’re in Daytona because you don’t want to get left out. You don’t want to not be on the bus.” I’m like, “Oh my God, what?” So I did anything I could to get myself to Daytona. I ended up freelancing for an ARCA team doing PR.

Oh wow, I didn’t realize that.

Yeah. Then the next week, I was like, “Well I’ve got black pants, I’ve got a white shirt, I’ve got a hot pass through a friend. I’m going back down.” And just walked in like I owned the place. Just, “Alright, I need to be on pit road.” I had a truck hot pass, and I’m going out for the Duels.

I didn’t have a job for a year. But in that time, the amount of networking I did, the amount of doors I banged on, whether it’s PR reps, the amount of team PR reps with MWR, RCR, Hendrick, you name it, I was like, “Let’s grab coffee.” I grew an addiction to coffee through that year trying to meet people. And it all comes full circle no matter what. It may not happen right away.

One of the first people I met in this sport outside of Turner was at the Darlington truck race. (Then-coworker) Chip Wile, who was James Buescher’s PR rep who is now pretty big time, he’s kind of a big deal with Daytona (Wile is president of Daytona International Speedway). He brings me in the media center, introduces me to people, I’m dressed at that time in slacks and dress shoes, oversized button down shirt that we had to wear at Turner, and he introduces me to Lisa Kennedy from Toyota, I’m like, “Oh hi, nice to meet you.” You know, cool. Literally the first person I ever met outside of Turner.

I go through ’11, ’12, I ended up doing freelance work for Red Horse — a Toyota team — then ultimately doing freelance work for Ryan Truex. I was doing about eight or nine Gibbs races. Well that tied me right back into Lisa and her team at Toyota.

Then, you know, so in that year, I picked up freelance work, I made a lot of money, and then the government took it with the 1099. It was amazing. Did the RCR (social media) job, which is a whole other story with social because it was literally creating a social presence, literally taking baseline accounts and just being like, “OK, what is our voice? How are we handling all of this?” From (Kevin) Harvick in his final year through Austin (Dillon) going up to Cup to winning a Nationwide championship to the years with (Ryan) Newman to almost winning a championship, like how are we handling this on social? And going through and just through all that, learning the social world, to tie this back to social.

And three, four years in, you’re in a job for awhile and we’re in Chicago and Lisa comes to me. She goes, “Hey, let’s talk.” And all of a sudden, that led to my time now with Golin and Toyota Racing.

So the biggest thing, back to your question because that was a really short answer, is network. You never know who you’re going to run into and you never know who you’re going to talk to.

That’s a great lesson. Hopefully people will pay attention that because I think that’s probably the biggest thing, the whole key to this. Where can people follow you on Twitter if they want to shout at you?

@JeffOKeefe, it’s a very Irish name. And then obviously you have to follow @ToyotaRacing.

12 Questions with Chris Buescher (2018)

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues with JTG Daugherty Racing’s Chris Buescher, a Texas native who heads to his home track this week. These interviews are recorded as a podcast, but are also transcribed for those who prefer to read.

1. How often do you have dreams about racing?

I would say probably once a week. It’s pretty often, I would say. If it’s not racing, usually it veers off to snakes or something.

You have a fear of snakes?

I love snakes, but my wife’s terrified of them and I think somehow that transfers into my dreams, which is not fair.

That’s not cool.

No, it’s really not.

2. If you get into someone during a race — intentional or not — does it matter if you apologize?

If it’s intentional, I don’t think you have any plans to apologize. I think that’s probably understood.

You’re gonna rub a little bit and you’re gonna race, and it’s kind of understood. I get run into, I don’t expect anybody to come say anything to me. If I get plowed or I get dumped for something what I consider dumb, I would expect something to be said.

Not that it makes it any better, but sometimes it is just the fact that someone did say something, at least they took the time to either own up or say, “Hey, I did that on purpose,” or whatever it was. But to have some kind of acknowledgment of it is nice sometimes.

3. What is the biggest compliment someone could give you?

I’d say it probably wouldn’t go anywhere around racing. I’ve had people that seem to appreciate how normal I am away from this deal. I’ve made a lot of friends that just wouldn’t have expected it early on, and I just got to know a lot of people that said that it was actually a lot easier to talk to and become friends with (me) than they thought. And I always thought that’s pretty neat, kind of always my goal. I mean, I like to be as normal as possible, so I think that’s a compliment for me.

4. NASCAR comes to you and says they’re bringing a celebrity to the track and they want you to host them. Who is a celebrity you’d be excited to host?

I am very disconnected from that whole side of our world. I don’t have cable at the house. I don’t have anything but internet. So I don’t know a whole lot going on.

For me, it usually comes down to other action sports. Like Travis Pastrana, I got to race with him at Roush, and he was awesome to be around and that was really cool. There’s a couple of artists that I’d like to talk to or be able to show around our garage area, like Randy Houser. I get a little mixed up in my music choices — it varies from country to hard rock. So a little bit all over the board there.

5. In an effort to show this is a health-conscious sport, NASCAR decides to offer the No. 1 pit stall selection for an upcoming race to the first driver willing to go vegan for one month. Would you do it?

I’ll be in pit stall 39, man. Hate to tell you, but you’re gonna find me at the back of that list.

You’d be the last one to do it?

That just wouldn’t work for me. We have way too many sponsors that could not handle me being vegan. But beyond that, I’m a meat and potatoes and Bush’s Beans kind of guy. I couldn’t ever do it, no. As great as that first pit stall is, I’d just have to apologize to the team and figure something else out.

6. It’s time for the Random Race Challenge. I’ve picked a random race from your career and you have to tell me where you finished. This is the 2015 Darlington Xfinity race from the year you won the Xfinity championship.

Was that fifth?

Yeah, it was fifth actually! Wow, you knew that right away.

I remember a lot about that weekend. We were racing Chase (Elliott) for the championship that weekend with Ernie Cope as (Elliott’s) crew chief, and he’s our competition director now. I like to give him a lot of crap, so this actually came up a few weeks ago, just talking about the Darlington race.

Practice was not that good for us. We were somewhere in the mid-teens, qualified OK, got started, I hit the fence Lap 1 — and the car got better. And we were actually able to drive up and run good all day.

It ended up when we left there, it kind of felt like it was a good turning point for us because we had hit a rough patch and it wasn’t looking up, and actually the 9 had their issues that weekend as well and ended up being a huge points day for us.

Yeah, I remember that one pretty well. It was the first time we ran the AdvoCare yellow and green checkerboard car, and I’m a pretty big green fan. I have the entire door off that car, actually.

So was this just a unique race, or are you always that good at remembering races?

No, that was a unique race. I love Darlington. You picked the race I remember a lot about. That one just had a lot more story behind it. There was a lot more going on that weekend than just a normal race. You could ask me where we ran at Kentucky in 2015, I couldn’t tell you what the car looked like, where we ran, anything. But Darlington, I remember that weekend really well because it was a big weekend for us for that entire season, really.

7. Who is the best rapper alive?

I do not know much rap. I don’t honestly know what classifies rap from hip hop or any of that.

There’s some crossover there.

But I like older stuff, like Nelly. That’s really about all I know. Shaggy’s probably not rap, is he?

He does some rap, but I guess I wouldn’t really count him as a rapper.

I don’t venture far into that side of things.

You stop with the hard rock.

Yeah, pretty much. I listen to a little bit of Eminem and the older stuff again, but I don’t know a whole lot about that world.

8. Who has the most punchable face in NASCAR?

(Laughs) Oh man. Who ran into me last week? Where were we? Nobody really ran into me last week. Man, if you’d asked me the week after Bristol, I could have come up with something pretty quick. I had several people I could have gotten around to. But that seems like a loaded question.

It kind of is.

Sorry, I don’t have have an answer.

Next time I see somebody run into you, I’ll come running.

There. I would give you an honest answer then.

9. NASCAR enlists three famous Americans to be involved with your team for one race as part of a publicity push: Taylor Swift, LeBron James and Tom Hanks. Pick one to be your crew chief, one to be your spotter, and one to be your motorhome driver.

We’re gonna go with LeBron for crew chief. It seems like he’s assertive and likes to talk, so I think that will work out, make some decisions.

I’ll put Taylor as the spotter. Might make Radioactive, it might be a dramatic radio experience that weekend.

And we’ll put Tom Hanks driving the bus. I feel like that would be good. That’s the one you get to hang out with the most during the weekend, so yeah. I think I could handle that.

And then Taylor yelling at you or saying, “No don’t go there!” would be on Radioactive.

Exactly! I feel like I’d get yelled at a lot. I would be yelled at a lot the week after, right? She’d have all kinds of stories about it then.

Yeah, she’d write a song about her experience.

Exactly. To be the theme song for Radioactive the next week.

10. What is the key to finding the best pre-race bathroom?

I wing it.

You don’t strategize?

Do people do that? People honestly say they do?

Seems like they do. They scout it out.

No, I don’t. You’ll notice that when we come around from the back of the truck for a ride-around, we’ll get to Turn 4 and I’ll wave, but my head’s the other way. It’s nothing against anybody sitting in the Turn 4 area in the stands — like I am waving to you — but I am hunting at that point, just trying to see something on pit road. But it’s usually just trying to find something on pit road. I didn’t know there was a routine for that.

Seems like some of the guys have one. You might need to look into that.

You might need to tell me who’s got routines so I can ask and figure this out.

11. NASCAR decides they would like the highlight reel value brought by the Carl Edwards backflips and want their own version. How much money would they have to pay you to backflip off your car following your next win?

Will they pay whatever I ask, is the real question.

You have to name your price or else they won’t have anybody.

I’ll do it, and I’m not afraid to do it, so it sounds like I need to give them a number that makes some money.

Pick a sky high number.

Yeah, I’ll just tell them a million dollars to do it and no problem. I’ll do it. I’m not afraid.

This backflip fund of theirs has been saving up money, they just need somebody.

You know, (Daniel) Hemric will probably do it for free. So they really should, in cost-savings mode — I know they like cost-savings ideas — Daniel Hemric will do a backflip for free.

12. Each week, I ask a driver to give me a question for the next interview. Last week was with Ryan Blaney. He wanted to ask about your famous Pocono win. He wanted to know: When you saw the big fog rolling in, did you know that you were going to win right then? What was going through your head?

First of all, I think his win is probably more famous than mine at Pocono. But I messed up. I didn’t realize we were in the lead, and we were running second, and the 1 pitted right before that fog rolled in.

Then it got really foggy all of a sudden and the spotter came over the radio and said, “Hey, I’m having a hard time seeing you back there, can you see anything?” I said, “Oh yeah, I’m good, no problem!” (Laughs)

They’re like, “No, you idiot!”

So two laps later, I got, “Hey, I really can’t see you, are you sure you can see?” I was like, “Yeah, it’s gotten pretty bad.” So I almost messed up my first Cup win.

But once it set in, everyone had radar, everybody knew it was coming. I figured when they evacuated the grandstands, we had to be minutes away. And then the next 30 minutes went by. They evacuated pit road. People put their pit boxes away. Figured, “Ah, we’re probably minutes away.” And we waited another 20 minutes until the lightning actually started hitting around the racetrack, and then said, “Alright, we’re gonna go to shelter, but we don’t know yet.” And then on our way to shelter, as the rain starts coming down, they said, “Oh by the way, we called it” — 80 minutes after we started our red flag. And it blew my mind that we waited that long.

So it was pretty awesome. It was a makeshift victory lane. Didn’t get to do a burnout, didn’t get to go to the famous Pocono victory lane. Did it under the crossover in the garage over that you drive under making laps around the garage, and went to the media center. The bottom fell out while I was at the media center, and I had to walk back to the hauler.

Everybody else was loaded up and gone because they knew it was called — everybody knew except the eight of us that were standing on pit road. And so my hauler was the only one in the garage area at this time, and the garage was under about eight inches of water across the center, and I had to go waddling through it in my suit and shoes. I had no way to get across this small river. It was a little bit miserable after experience.

Then the best part was we flew to Utah for a driving school that night.

Straight from there?

Straight from there. And we took Jack (Roush’s) plane, which required two fuel stops to get there, which meant it was like an eight- or nine-hour flight from when I left Pocono. Not much time to celebrate. So I think we ended up at Denny’s in Utah that night and (Ricky) Stenhouse bought dinner.

That’s a celebration right there.

That was a celebration to remember.

The next interview I’m doing is with Austin Dillon. Do you have a question I can ask him?

I wanna know if he wins a race at the Roval, how does he think his belly flop slides are gonna go on the new (artificial) turf? Does he think that’s still a possibility or is he gonna have to come up with a new celebration? I know he’s won at Charlotte before.

Yeah, you would think there would be some sort of a turf burn situation.

Like the turf’s got sand in it and stuff. It’d be gritty. It’s a thought. He might have to rethink the celebration.


Previous 12 Questions interviews with Chris Buescher:

July 14, 2015

July 27, 2016

Sept. 13, 2017

 

The Top Five: Breaking down the Martinsville playoff race

Five thoughts after Sunday’s Round 3 opener at Martinsville…

1. What if….

I recently invented a special machine that allows me to travel between parallel universes and watch NASCAR races in two different dimensions. I just arrived back from the alternate universe where Joey Logano elected to race cleanly and NOT move Martin Truex Jr. for the win at Martinsville.

If you’re wondering how that decision went over with everyone, I brought the postrace transcript from Logano’s runner-up press conference from the parallel universe. Here it is.

REPORTER 1: “Joey, it looked like you had a chance to move Martin out of the way on that last lap and backed out of it. What was going through your mind there, knowing that may have cost you a chance to reach Homestead?”

LOGANO: “Look, I love winning. But clean driving is everything to me. If I can’t have the respect of my competitors, I don’t want to be doing this. Martin raced me fair and square, so I wanted to do the same in return.”

REPORTER 2: “That’s great, but what do you say to your fans and team after passing up a guaranteed shot to make the final four?”

LOGANO: “Martin is a classy guy. We attend each other’s charity events and he’s always so nice when my wife and I see him in the motorhome lot. I know we’ll be friends for years to come. It’s just not worth it to ruin that relationship. Heck, we’re supposed to go out on the lake together this week!”

REPORTER 3: “Joey, it looks like Twitter is lighting up with fans who say you must not want a championship badly enough if that’s how you race. How do you answer critics who say you get paid millions of dollars to do whatever it takes to win?”

LOGANO: “Have you ever been loudly booed by a crowd? Have you ever had a driver’s significant other tweet something negative about you? I mean, geez. Those things hurt. I don’t want any part of that. I would rather be a good guy and keep my reputation intact than do anything to make people think I’m a dirty driver.”

(TWO MONTHS LATER)

SPONSOR: “Joey, we like you a lot, but we’re paying $20 million a year for our car to win races and championships. We’re going to be moving on.”

LOGANO: “Aw, OK. I hope we can still be friends!”

2. Respect for Truex

Is it possible to agree with Logano’s last-lap move and still empathize with the obvious anger felt by Truex and Cole Pearn?

Absolutely.

Truex had an incredible drive on Sunday. He had his qualifying time thrown out and started in the back, only to make it through the field — at Martinsville, no less! — and contend in the top five almost the entire day.

Truex fought his way toward the front, then patiently and cleanly worked Logano for the lead until making what seemed to be the winning pass.

Had Truex won, that would have been one of the highlights of his career: First short track win, a win-and-in ticket to Homestead, high stakes with his team getting ready to shut down and people loudly saying he’s the most vulnerable of the Big Three drivers to miss the final four.

Instead…Logano ran into him. And now making Homestead is no sure thing.

Frustrating! Super, super frustrating! Who wouldn’t be angry about that?

I still don’t blame Logano for making the move, but it’s completely understandable why Truex and his fans would be upset about it. When looking back in a couple weeks, that one moment could very well be the difference between competing for a championship and missing out altogether.

That said, as mad as he may be now, I see no scenario under which Truex retaliates. He’s just not that kind of driver. Even if he doesn’t make Homestead, Truex isn’t going to go out and ruin Logano’s championship race with a crash. He might race Logano hard, but Truex won’t pull a Matt Kenseth. No way.

3. What’s the code?

I’m not a driver, so this is just one interpretation of what’s OK on the last lap in NASCAR and what isn’t.

— If you can move someone out of the way and do it without ruining their day — i.e. without wrecking them or costing them more than a few positions — then it’s not only acceptable in NASCAR, but expected. And even encouraged by series officials.

— If you have a chance to door someone for a side-by-side finish, it’s a coin toss as to whether the other driver and the general fan base will think it’s an acceptable move. This often depends on the person initiating the contact.

— If you accidentally wreck the person while trying to move them (like Denny Hamlin on Chase Elliott), that is considered off-limits and there will be repercussions from both the other driver and fans.

— If you crash the person in a reckless-but-unintentional way (not necessarily on purpose, but understanding there will be full contact like Noah Gragson on Todd Gilliland), people may view it the same way as a blatant takeout.

— If you completely crash someone on purpose in order to win, that’s viewed as a dirty move that takes no talent and the fallout might stain your reputation for years.

Logano’s move on Truex — like any bump-and-run at a short track — is about the least offensive way to physically move someone and falls into the first category. That’s the type of move that can only happen in stock car racing and is a hallmark of what makes NASCAR fun. You’re not going to get that in Formula One, let’s put it that way.

4. Stuff that doesn’t matter

Over the last four weeks, I’ve taken a step back from NASCAR as I got off the road for the birth of my daughter. Though I’ve tried to follow the news as much as possible, there’s no doubt having a newborn at home makes it difficult to be as immersed in the NASCAR bubble as the weeks when I’m on the road at races.

And I’ve got to tell you: Looking at the big picture, it’s a bit alarming how the NASCAR world seems to get caught up in minor, tiny crap that doesn’t really matter and actually detracts from the sport.

One example is the race day morning inspection where qualifying times get thrown out. Here I am as a TV viewer who woke up excited to spend my Sunday watching some short-track racin’ across the country. I opened my Twitter app, and what was the big storyline of the day? Drivers getting their qualifying times disallowed, starting at the back for unapproved adjustments, crew members getting ejected, etc.

Seriously? This is what we’re talking about on playoff race day morning?? For a short track where aero doesn’t even really matter???

Officiating things that way certainly seems excessive. And yes, I know all about the reasons why they do it; I’m explaining the big-picture view of why it seems silly.

Another example was the race a couple weeks ago at Talladega. My wife was in the hospital that day and I was unable to pay much attention to the race, though we had it on in the background on mute.

When I tried catching up with what happened, the big controversy was apparently about whether NASCAR should have made the caution one lap shorter and whether officials should have thrown a yellow for a wreck on the last lap instead of having it finish under green.

Look, I completely understand why those are significant debates for those in the NASCAR industry and fans who are super passionate about the sport. But can you imagine how all this looks to casual fans or people who might want to give NASCAR a chance?

Headlines like Drivers criticize NASCAR for running them out of fuel with long caution! and Fans angry NASCAR chose drama over safety on last lap! just seem like such minor things from afar. As does Defending champion will start at the back today for failing laser scan on first try!

I’m not suggesting I have the solution to all this, because I don’t. And I’m not criticizing the media, certainly; when I get back at Texas next week, I’ll be all-in with the bubble once again.

But if these are the storylines, NASCAR has some real work to do. It cannot afford to be stuck on the minutiae, because there aren’t enough people left who care that much. Simplify things, focus on what really makes people want to spend their time on the sport (great racing and interesting driver storylines) and everyone will be much better off.

5. What’s next?

Logano taking a guaranteed spot at Homestead means at least one of the Big Three is going to have to point their way into the final four. After Martinsville, Truex and Kevin Harvick are tied for the last two spots, 25 points above the cutline.

I think both will be OK, as will Kyle Busch. Harvick is probably going to win Texas, Phoenix or both; Busch might win one of those as well. That means Truex, with a pair of top-five finishes, should be just fine.

Aric Almirola, Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch are already facing big points deficits after just one week. Are any of them going to win a race in this round? I actually think it’s more likely a non-playoff type like a Denny Hamlin or a Brad Keselowski will win, which would open up an addition points position for a Big Three member.

So as it turns out, perhaps all of the Big Three will make it to Homestead after all — just maybe not exactly how we expected.