Inside the first test with Martin Truex Jr. and Joe Gibbs Racing’s new No. 19 team

If the new combination of Martin Truex Jr., Cole Pearn and Joe Gibbs Racing ultimately results in a championship, let the record show their first laps together were a bit unusual.

When Truex strapped into the No. 19 Toyota for the first time Wednesday morning during a Goodyear tire test at Auto Club Speedway, he didn’t immediately drive onto the track.

Instead, Truex made laps around an empty garage so the team could calibrate a GPS system.

For eight minutes, Truex slowly circled a long, red-roofed building — over and over and over. He couldn’t help but chuckle at the strange start to his test.

“They told me to go drive around for a bit,” he said. “It was like, ‘OK, whatever, guys!’”

Truex eventually got bored and looped back to the Cup garage so he could buzz the members of his team, who were standing outside the garage stall watching the scene unfold. The crew burst into laughter as the 19 car passed by.

If there were any first-day jitters, they surely ended right then.

Martin Truex Jr. smiles after climbing into the No. 19 car for the first time. (Photo: Jeff Gluck)

JGR allowed JeffGluck.com to get an inside look at the No. 19’s first test as a group, and it certainly didn’t seem like there was much of an adjustment period between the team members. That’s because much of the old Furniture Row Racing team’s road crew lives on, just in a different uniform.

It wasn’t only Truex and Pearn who joined JGR — former 78 team crewmen actually make up the majority of the new 19.

Car chief Blake Harris, engineer James Small, interior mechanic Todd Carmichael, tire specialist Tommy DiBlasi and engine tuner Gregg Huls were all at FRR, and spotter Clayton Hughes also followed Truex to JGR.

Meanwhile, aside from the hauler drivers, only three of the current road crew worked on the 19 car last year: Engineer JT Adkins, front end mechanic Dave Rudy and underneath mechanic Ryan Martin. In addition, shock specialist Drew Bible joined the 19 from Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 car.

“The core of us are from the 78, and we definitely have our little ways we like to do things,” Pearn said. “It’s funny — I’m still not used to seeing the 19 (on the door) because it’s all the same people, it’s the same sponsors (as the 78). But then you’re part of a different group. It’s got a weird feeling to it.”

Pearn started working with JGR on the 2019 roster while last season was still wrapping up, but he said many of the decisions came down to which former 78 personnel were willing to move from Colorado and continue in racing after FRR shut down.

The California tire test, despite being across the country from their new homes, was a boost for a group that otherwise might have rolled into Daytona Speedweeks still unsure of its chemistry.

Not only did the crew get to shake any winter rust when it comes to making changes to the car, but everyone got to bond as well. A team dinner Tuesday night at the Mexican restaurant El Torito following a long flight was the first real chance to get the entire group together (they went to Outback on the second night).

“Everybody gelled really early, and then getting to do this test and be on the road together before the season gets started has been really helpful,” Pearn said.

Martin Truex Jr., Cole Pearn and the No. 19 team debrief after a run during their first test session together. (Photo: Jeff Gluck)

As for the test itself, nothing initially seemed abnormal.

“We’re going to run the black ones,” Pearn said, deadpan, while pointing to a large stack of Goodyears.

But it turned out to be one of the more unique tests Goodyear has conducted at a non-plate track. If the new rules package works as intended, all of the big ovals will resemble something akin to pack racing in 2019 — and everyone needed to get data about how the cars would handle around each other.

As a result, the three teams at the test (Truex, Joey Logano and Daniel Suarez’s No. 41) spent much of their time drafting together instead of doing single-car runs.

“Usually at a tire test, you’re out there by yourself all the time,” Truex said. “You go out there, you make your laps when you’re ready, you come back in, change tires. But running with other cars, you can definitely get a lot more information.”

Here’s how most of the test went for the 19 team: Truex would go out to do a run of 15-25 laps with the other drivers while Pearn ran up to the roof of the infield pit suites to watch. They’d return to the garage, where Pearn would lean into his driver’s window and say, “Whaddya got?” Truex, often animated with eyes widening as he spoke, would express his opinion of the latest changes. With no engine noise, other team members would gather behind Pearn to hear what Truex had to say.

Pearn said the biggest takeaway from the test wasn’t necessarily the newness of his team working together, but the new ways it will have to conduct business in 2019. Getting the car to work in a draft will now be more important than raw speed, so crew chiefs will have to find a balance between the two.

“It’s going to be hairy,” Pearn said. “The All-Star Race was short, and now you think you’re going to be four hours of that, basically being pretty chaotic the whole time, is going to be pretty mentally taxing. It’s going to be a lot more to deal with.”

Truex echoed that sentiment and said figuring out the rules package would be a much bigger challenge than figuring out the flow of his new team — which he believes is already in a good place.

“I feel like we’re already integrated into the JGR system and everything is going smoothly,” he said. “The question is going to be how do we make stuff better? How does that work? But with us as a group, so far everything feels like a little bit of a continuation of what we’ve been doing.”

Fans at the test asked Cole Pearn to bring their merchandise to Martin Truex Jr. for signatures. Pearn did, then jogged back to the fans after Truex signed. Pearn joked he was trying to get some “good karma.” (Photo: Jeff Gluck)

12 Questions with Daniel Suarez (2018)

(Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The series of 12 Questions interviews continues this week with Daniel Suarez of Joe Gibbs Racing. Suarez must win at Indianapolis on Sunday in order to earn a playoff bid for this season. 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?

First of all, I don’t have dreams very often for whatever reason. When I’m sleeping, I’m sleeping. But (it happens) when I’m thinking too much about something — like Pocono (when he had a shot to win), for example. After Pocono, I spent days thinking about what I could have done different on that restart, and one of those nights I was dreaming about it.

So for whatever reason when you start thinking a lot about something, you just happen to dream something related.

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

I think it does. At least it does for me. I feel like as a driver, we race so often, so there’s always a comeback.

My mom makes fun of me that I don’t remember a lot of things she says to me, but when it comes to racing, I remember exactly everything. Like what the car was doing or who hit me or who was too aggressive toward me. So eventually, it turns around. We always remember that.

I feel like it’s always good if you did something wrong to apologize and move on. That’s the way I like to do things. It shows respect. But there’s always a line — sometimes the apology is not enough. So you still have that payback in the future.

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

For me, the biggest compliment I’ve had is I have a good personality. That’s what I like to hear, that I have a good personality and I’m smiling and stuff like that. Because at the end of the day, that’s not related to racing — that’s something on the side of it.

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?

You know, it would be awesome to have a race car driver like Fernando Alonso or somebody on that level so they can get involved with this sport. I’ve had some friends who have come to NASCAR (and raced), like Nelson Piquet — he’s been racing everything and he knows how difficult stock car racing is. So it would be awesome to have Fernando. He’s a great guy and he’s very competitive. I wouldn’t be surprised if someday someone brings him to the racetrack and he gets that itch to try it out.

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

No, man. (Laughs) I love chicken too much. I think I had chicken like how many times yesterday? Two times? No, that’s wrong — three times! And my sushi. Yeah, I think that’s enough to qualify well and still be close to Pit Stall 1.

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 NASCAR Mexico Series — the 2012 race at Aguascalientes. Do you happen to remember that one at all?

Let me think. I was always fast at Aguascalientes. Maybe second or third?

You finished second. You started on the pole, led 44 laps and Ruben Rovelo won the race.

I remember part of it. I was leading the race in the last restart and I missed a shift and I stacked up the whole line. He wasn’t even on the front row.

I had an agreement with second place that I was going to restart on the outside and he was going to let me in. And the guy who was on the inside, he just held to the agreement too long — because I missed a shift and he was waiting for me! We passed the start/finish line and Ruben made it three-wide. I went to third, and then I passed second place and at the checkered I was right on the bumper (of the winner).

7. Who is the best rapper alive?

Maybe Eminem. I don’t follow rap a lot, but I think he’s funny.

8. Who has the most punchable face in NASCAR?

Punchable? Like to go hit them?

It could either be you want to punch them in the face or their face just looks like…

… Like it could take it? (Laughs) I think I can hit Ryan Newman and he wouldn’t even feel it. (Laughs)

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. Choose one to be your crew chief, one to be your spotter and one to be your motorhome driver.

OK, LeBron is the crew chief. Tom Hanks can be the motorhome driver. I personally think the spotter is extremely important, but if it’s an easy race, you can do without it. So we’ll put Taylor there.

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

Oh man. You ask your PR guy maybe 30 minutes before. For some reason, all the PR guys know as a driver, every time after driver intros, you’re looking for a bathroom. Because you have to do it. It seems to me every time I ask, “Hey, Tyler (Overstreet) — where is the nearest bathroom?” He knows it. But most of the time, we have to wait a little bit because there’s a line of drivers. Everyone is there.

11. NASCAR decides they miss the highlight reel value brought by Carl Edwards’ backflips and want a replacement. How much money would they have to offer for you to backflip off your car following your next win?

I don’t think they would have to pay me anything, man. I would love to do it. I’d just have to train for it. If you can guarantee me I won’t get hurt training for it, I would do it.

After seeing you at the Winter Olympic training last year and your workout videos, I feel like you’d be able to do it.

I honestly think I’d be able to get it done, but it takes training. More than being strong, it takes technique. And to develop that technique, you make mistakes. I can’t afford to get hurt. So that’s why I say if you can guarantee me I wouldn’t get hurt, I would do it. That would be a lot of fun.

Plus, Carl Edwards is a friend and a great driver. Obviously, nobody is able to do what he did after the race because after the race, you are tired. So to do that after a race, that means you are in pretty good shape. So he was pretty damn strong.

12. Each week, I ask a driver to give me a question for the next interview. Last week’s was with Brad Sweet. His question for you was: Have you ever driven much on dirt, and if you did want to race on dirt, what car and what track would you want to race?

That’s a good question. In Mexico, we don’t have one racetrack that’s a dirt oval. All the dirt we have is for motorcycles. But in the west (part) of Mexico, in Chihuahua, they do have some dirt racing — but it’s with old cars. It’s more for fun, not professional racing. That’s the only kind of racing I’ve heard of with cars on dirt in Mexico.

So my background is just so different, that’s not something I have done. I’ve never been on dirt in my life. The first time I got invited to a dirt race, five or six years ago, I showed up with a white shirt — you could tell I was 100 percent a rookie. I wish one day I could try it — maybe a sprint car, because those things are fast. I saw your video after you did a two-seater and I was impressed you were impacted like that. So maybe a sprint car would be a lot of fun.

As for a racetrack? Maybe Eldora would be good.

Do you have a question I might be able to ask for the next interview? It will be with an IndyCar.

Yeah, actually. When I grew up with my family, I was watching more IndyCar than NASCAR. That’s because in my hometown (Monterrey, Mexico), IndyCar — actually Champ Car — used to go there every year. So I used to go there when I was 13 or 14 years old with my father and watch. That was a lot of fun to see the noise and the power of those cars. I enjoyed that a lot.

So my question would be: How much do they enjoy road-course racing versus ovals? And one day, would they be interested to try NASCAR either on an oval or road course?


Previous 12 Questions interviews with Daniel Suarez:

July 9, 2015

April 19, 2017

The Top Five: Breaking down the Bristol night race

Five thoughts after Saturday night’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway…

1. Again…MORE SHORT TRACKS!

The next time someone asks me what I like about NASCAR, I’m just going to point to this year’s racing at Bristol.

NASCAR was at its best on Saturday night. There were great battles for the lead all night, fantastic moves throughout the field, unpredictable outcomes, high emotions and almost too much to keep track of at times.

It was fun! Three hours of pure entertainment that never got boring and had intriguing subplots from the opening laps.

Is it being greedy to ask for more?

“Bristol is an awesome place,” Kyle Larson said afterward. “If we could race here every Saturday and Sunday, our grandstands would be packed, our TV ratings would be very high. Let’s build more Bristols.”

Amen! For all the talk of what ails NASCAR and how it could be better, the issue so often comes down to the tracks themselves. And it continues to feel like more short tracks could solve a lot of NASCAR’s problems.

Yet the reality of adding more short tracks seems so unlikely at the moment.  Instead, NASCAR is locked into this intermediate track racing and now has seemingly come up with a solution to slow down the cars in order to put on a better show next season.

Ugh.

If only someone in power could slam their fist down on the table and say, “NO! Enough. That’s not what we need. The real solution is to shake up the schedule and start going to more short tracks.”

No, it wouldn’t change things overnight, but 20 short track races per season sure would do a lot for the health of the sport.

The problem is it’ll never happen. It’s a pipe dream at this point. So we just have to somehow accept there’s only two more short track races for the rest of the year.

Sigh. At least we had Saturday night.

2. Kurt makes case for No. 4

Any race winner who isn’t part of the Big Three at this point is going to spend a week being the focus of the “Are they the fourth driver?” storyline.

It just happened with Chase Elliott after Watkins Glen. Now it’s Kurt Busch’s turn. Kurt, c’mon down! You’re the next driver to get the spotlight as No. 4!

But “Who is the fourth?” is a valid question because it seems so up in the air, doesn’t it? I have no idea who would be the last driver at Homestead if all of the Big Three were to advance.

Elliott? Busch? Clint Bowyer? Denny Hamlin? Larson? Those seem to be the top candidates, but that’s a lot of drivers for one spot.

Seriously though, it might very well be Busch. He has playoff experience, is still at the top of his game and Stewart-Haas Racing continues to show it’s consistently the best team at this point in the season.

But there’s also a chance by the time you read this column in a couple weeks, we could all be focused on someone else.

3. Common sense, please

I totally get that people were angry with Kyle Busch for wrecking Martin Truex Jr. while going for second place in the final stage.

But to say he did it on purpose? C’mon, guys.

There would be absolutely no logic or reason for Busch to suddenly wreck Truex, his pseudo-teammate (Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row share information and debrief together) and fellow title contender (how dumb would it be to start a feud at this point in the season?).

It wasn’t a battle for the lead and it wasn’t a bump-and-run situation, because there were still plenty of laps to go. Busch just screwed up. I would bet almost any amount of money he didn’t do it on purpose.

He said as much after the race, though surely not everyone will take his word for it.

“I crashed the 78, so that was my bad, totally,” he said. “Totally misjudged that one just coming off the corner. Knowing there were still plenty of laps left, I wasn’t even in a hurry and I just misjudged it by four or six inches, whatever it was and I clipped him there and sent him for a ride.

“He knows that wasn’t intentional at all and we’ve worked really, really, really, really well together these last two or three years and that shouldn’t ruin anything between us.”

Busch and Truex crew chief Cole Pearn have a good relationship as well, so again — while the 78 team might be mad in an emotionally charged moment, they surely know it was unintentional.

“Maybe I’ll send them a sorry cake to the Denver shop for the guys having to work extra,” Busch said. “They’ll probably throw that (car) away anyway, but it ruined their day from being able to get a win or even a second.”

4. You’re ruining it for everyone, you idiot

After the race, Kyle Busch walked out of the infield tunnel and up the ramp to where drivers get in their golf carts. Fans typically line the chest-high fence there for autographs, and Busch actually stopped to sign a few despite his sour mood.

As he got in his golf cart, though, a fan went after Busch. According to several eyewitnesses, the fan gave Busch some not-so-friendly pats on the arm before reaching into the golf cart and making much harder contact. That brought Busch out of the cart to defend himself, and the two men were chest to chest as public relations woman Penny Copen stepped in between them. Police then arrived to detain the fan.

As if it wasn’t obvious, that is a totally unacceptable situation. No fan should ever, EVER confront a driver after the race. Between this and the guy who accosted Denny Hamlin on pit road at Martinsville last year, everyone is walking a fine line. It’s not going to take much for fans to completely lose access to the drivers, which is something that has made NASCAR great over the years.

Busch, no matter how much you may dislike him, shouldn’t need to be fearing for his safety when he’s leaving a racetrack. This is ENTERTAINMENT, after all. The drivers are putting on a show. It’s not some political demonstration where two sides clash in the streets.

Don’t make NASCAR bring in riot police to get drivers out of the track. If you see this start to happen at a track, don’t be afraid to alert security. You’re not snitching, you’re saving your fellow fans from losing valuable access to the stars of the sport.

5. Playoff picture

This is turning into such a weird season. Not only have three drivers dominated at the top, but there’s virtually zero points drama at the bottom when it comes to the playoff bubble.

I can’t remember if there’s been a cutoff race where it was only win-and-in, but this year’s Brickyard 400 is shaping up to be that way.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. missed a chance to capitalize on his best track, pitting under green twice with problems Saturday to finish five laps down while Alex Bowman snagged a top-10.

That leaves Stenhouse a whopping 79 points behind Bowman for the final spot with two races left.

Even if someone else wins Darlington or Indy — like a Daniel Suarez or Ryan Newman — there still won’t be much playoff drama with the points. That’s because Bowman is 32 points behind Jimmie Johnson for the 15th playoff spot, which is where the line would move to.

This storyline is not a huge deal — since whoever is the last person in the playoffs isn’t going to beat the Big Three anyway — but it’s kind of odd to see the standings look this way.

12 Questions with Denny Hamlin (2018)

Denny Hamlin has done a 12 Questions interview in all nine years they’ve existed. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images for NASCAR)

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing. These interviews are recommended as a podcast, but also transcribed for those who prefer to read.

1. How often do you have dreams about racing?

Four times a week.

That’s a very exact answer.

I just feel like most nights in my dreams, I’m thinking about racing of some sort — whether it be why my car is doing this or that or why we didn’t do this or that or why we did good. Four nights a week I feel is like a really solid number.

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

Yes. I’m on the record for saying this many times. Even if you’re not sorry, you’ve got to fake it. If you don’t fake it, you get Matt Kenseth’d into the Turn 1 wall at Martinsville.

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

If they tell you you’re underrated. I think that’s the biggest compliment.

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?

Drake. Lil Weezy (Lil Wayne). Any rapper. I like them.

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

I only get the pit stall for one week?

Yeah, just for one race. You look conflicted.

Couldn’t do it.

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.

I’m not going to be good at this.

You’re not good at remembering races?

No.

Do you happen to remember the 2012 New Hampshire spring race, the July race that year?

July. OK. We were fastest in first practice, fastest in second practice. Hold on — I may be thinking of the fall race. (Thinks for a moment) I’m just going to go ahead with this.

I think I was fastest in all practices, we qualified with race pressure air in the tires — we qualified 28th I believe — and got to the lead about lap 100 and won the race.

No, sorry.

That was the race after?

I wouldn’t pick a win because that would be too easy.

Hold on then. Yes, I remember the race I think. I think I finished second to Kasey Kahne. That was when we had the debacle on the radio with me and Darian Grubb and he says, “You need two or four tires?” I said, “I don’t know, I just need tires.” And he took it as I needed four tires. We restarted 15th and only got back to second.

I don’t remember the radio part, but that’s correct. You finished second to Kasey Kahne. You led 150 laps.

OK. I had the right year.

So you remembered both races that year. But you said you don’t remember races!

I know. But specific ones where you’re really fast, it’s easy. Ask me about the one I ran eighth at Kansas in blank year, I would never know.

7. Who is the best rapper alive?

Alive? Lil Wayne is the best rapper alive. I would just say Jay-Z — you can talk about, great history, fabulous rapper. He’s amazing.

But I just feel like as far as natural talent, Lil Wayne is the best alive.

Nobody’s said Kendrick Lamar all year. Why do you think that is? Am I just overrating him or something?

Probably. Nas said rap was dead many years ago (the 2006 album Hip Hop is Dead) and I just believe that it’s different now than what it used to be. But Lil Weezy can still kick it. It’s a shame he’s in contract disputes with his label or whatever, and got all these probably awesome songs that we’ll never ever get to hear because they’re arguing. (Editor’s note: Lil Wayne’s three-year legal battle with the label was ended last month, potentially clearing the way for a new album).

8. Who has the most punchable face in NASCAR?

Oh geez. I don’t know. If I want to punch somebody, I need to make sure I can beat them up. I don’t wanna get beat up.

Maybe Brad (Keselowski). That’s probably a popular answer. (Laughs) But I like Brad, just for the record.

Chase Elliott said a couple weeks ago you were his answer last year, but he seemed to indicate that is not still the case.

Yeah, we’re good.

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. Choose one to be your crew chief, one to be your spotter and one to be your motorhome driver.

Taylor’s for sure gonna be the motorhome driver. We’ll say for obvious reasons there.

LeBron, for his vision, is going to be the spotter. Great court vision, and I see it as great track vision.

And I’ll go with Tom Hanks — smart guy — he’s gonna be the crew chief.

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

Go before you leave the garage or bus.

You’re not one of these people who go last minute?

No. I’ve never understood that. Like I’ve never had to go and then five minutes later had to go again. Now everyone’s different, but I never understood the people who got off the truck after intros and hauled ass to the bathroom. I never understood that. Don’t know why they do that.

That’s true. I guess why not just go in your motorhome before you walk out to intros in the first place? It’s only a 20-minute difference.

Yeah, I guess. Unless you’re Matt Kenseth’s age and then you have to go every 10 minutes.

11. NASCAR decides they miss the highlight reel value brought by Carl Edwards’ backflips and want a replacement. How much money would they have to offer for you to backflip off your car following your next win?

They wouldn’t have to offer me anything as long as it wasn’t against asphalt or concrete. I’d give it a try.

Do you feel like you’d have a shot to land it?

No. But I’d give it a try.

12. Each week, I ask a driver to give me a question for the next interview. Last week was Kasey Kahne. He wants to know how much time you spend a week on the Golf Guys Tour and the Hoop Group, because it seems like you spend a lot.

It is a lot of work running two leagues between basketball and golf. I’ll estimate between the chats, making rules…(it takes) 12 to 14 hours a week.

So a couple hours a day?

Yeah, somewhere in that range. That might be on the low side. It depends. If there’s an event that week, it’s 40 hours. Have you ever tried to line up 16 divas’ schedules? It’s not easy.

I didn’t think about that. You have arrange the tournament, but you have to make sure everybody is available.

What we try to do is we all meet for dinner in January or February and we say, “Alright, these are the dates we’re gonna hit.” We’ll look to see if anyone has any conflicts at that moment. And if not, we all lock it in on our schedules and then we build our real jobs around it.

So each driver or whatever has to go to their manager or PR rep…

…and mark it on their schedule and say, “Look, we’re locked in, can’t do it.”

What if a conflict pops up? Do you have the change the whole tournament date?

No. If there’s only one or two who is going to miss it, we move on and add a sub.

So they get no points?

Yeah. We have eight events and we drop two (worst performances). So there’s two drops.

That’s painful though, because you don’t get to drop a bad day if you’re absent.

That is correct. People think, “Oh, it’s just a throwaway.” But now you put pressure on yourself to perform in the other events.

Better have a good manager.

Yup.

The next interview is with Kaz Grala. Do you have a question I can ask him?

What’s the most disappointing loss you’ve ever had in your career?


Previous 12 Questions interviews with Denny Hamlin:

Nov. 10, 2010

Oct. 26, 2011

Nov. 7, 2012

Aug. 8, 2013

Oct. 14, 2014

May 28, 2015

Sept. 7, 2016

July 12, 2017

 

12 Questions with Erik Jones (2018)

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues with Erik Jones, who is in his second year driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. 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?

Not a whole lot. Every once in awhile I’ll have one. I guess when I’m really thinking about a given race coming up or thinking about certain things. Maybe I just watched a racing video or something before I go to bed, and then I’ll have a dream about racing. But in general, I don’t remember a lot of my dreams anymore.

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

It does and it doesn’t. I’ve had guys that have gotten into me that have apologized and haven’t apologized, and I’ve gotten into guys and apologized and haven’t apologized.

You know when it’s intentional and when it’s not intentional. And if it’s not intentional, honestly, it is what it is. I mean, you’re frustrated as a driver — I’m frustrated if it happens to me — but you can’t be all that mad. It wasn’t their intention to do that, you know they already feel bad enough about it. But if it is intentional, I don’t think there’s much that needs to be said there, either.

I guess there are times where I really feel like if I did something completely wrong, I’ve gone to guys and apologized. But if it’s something small, I usually don’t say anything about it. You just kind of move on.

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

Overall, I’d have to say that someone was proud of the work that I was putting into whatever it may be — not only racing, but I think just anything that I was up to in life. Just proud of the work that I was putting in at that point in time, the effort was paying off and it was helping everybody and better for everybody. That would be a big compliment to 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 really excited to host at a race?

Matthew McConaughey. I’m a big Matthew McConaughey fan, so that’d be pretty cool. I think he’d like it too. I don’t know if he’s ever been to a race, but that would be kind of neat.

It seems like he would. He seems like he’s kinda got the Southern relatability going on.

I think he’d just be a guy who would kind of sit back and not be a big ego guy. He’d kind of just be along for the ride and really want to take it all in and explore. So I think that’d be pretty neat.

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

No. No way. No. I couldn’t. I like a salad every once in a while, but not that much.

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 2016 Fall Charlotte Xfinity race.

That’s a tough one, because we ran second for a long time that day but we had a restart at the end and we didn’t run second. Did we run fourth?

Fifth. That was pretty close.

It was hard to remember because that day, we ran second all day to (Kyle) Larson. We had a caution with like five to go or something. We got shuffled on the restart and didn’t finish as good as we should have.

Wow. Do you remember all races that well, or is this just one that sticks out?

No, that one sticks out. That was the first year of the Xfinity playoffs, and we’d gotten ourselves into trouble about advancing in the next round and we had to finish pretty well that day, and I just remember trying to very conservative. Fortunately, we had a really good car and we just ran really good all day, and when the caution came out, I got nervous because I didn’t want to get wrecked and not advance to the next round.

7. Who is the best rapper alive?

It’s hard not to say Eminem. He’s from Detroit, that’s where I grew up — close to Detroit. I’m a big Drake fan, too. Those two guys right there are probably the best ones for me, but I guess if I had to put one above the other, it’d be Eminem. He’s a home state guy for me, so it’s hard not to say that.

8. Who has the most punchable face in NASCAR?

Wow. Anybody in NASCAR? I don’t know, that’s a tough question. I feel like somebody’s gonna get mad at me. I mean, the funny one for me to say is Kyle (Busch) because he’s my buddy, and I know people would like that.

I don’t know. There’s probably not anyone I really want to punch in the face right now. I mean, nobody’s really made me mad. I think (Ricky) Stenhouse wanted to punch me in the face after Bristol (when they had an incident), but I told him at Talladega, “You finished good. I spun you out and you finished well, so I can do that weekly if you need me to.” But I don’t know. I don’t think there’s anyone that I have marked down on my list right now.

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. Choose one to be your crew chief, one to be your spotter and one to be your motorhome driver.

Taylor’s driving the motorhome. Then we’ve got Tom and LeBron. I’ll take LeBron as my spotter because I think he’d be motivational. I think he’d pump me up. I think he’d do a good job. I don’t know what he’s like, but you watch him and he coaches the Cavaliers, as they say a lot.

And I guess I’ll take Tom Hanks on the box. I think he’d be pretty calm and cool and be able to sit back and make some focused decisions. So me and LeBron would be rockin’ it, keeping it pumped up on the racetrack.

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

Well, a lot of times Alicia (Deal, Jones’ PR rep) will map one out for me. Sometimes I’ll watch as I go around the track. You can kind of map it out. Sometimes I’ll do it at qualifying — you’ll see right away if they’ve got port-a-potties on pit road. That’s the key. That’s the best racetracks right there.

But if they don’t, that’s when you run into a problem and you’ve gotta kind of find the bathroom back in the garage. That’s when it’s a struggle.

I really try to hydrate a lot the days before so I don’t have to drink much water on race day, which sometimes works, but not always.

But that still means you have to make the stop.

I do, I still make the stop. I get nervous.

11. NASCAR misses the highlight reel value brought by Carl Edwards’ backflips and decides a replacement is needed. How much money would they have to pay you to backflip off your car after your next win?

Do I have to complete the backflip, or just attempt it?

Just attempt it. It’s up to you.

I don’t need a full rotation?

They just want you to try it.

Oh man. I’d do it for $75 grand. I mean that’s a big number, that’s a lot of money, but yeah, I’d attempt it for that. Into the grass, because I wouldn’t make it.

They might have to pay your medical too, though.

It’d be fine. I’ll ask (Daniel) Hemric for some tips first. He’s good at it. He can do them right on the ground. Like he can do it right here.

12. Each week, I ask a driver to give me a question for the next interview. Last week was Matt DiBenedetto, and his question for you was: Who do you think is the next guy that is going to come up and be the next breakthrough driver in NASCAR?

Like in a lower series?

He said it could be somebody from a lower series who’s going to come up, or it could be somebody who’s around now and is just going to start winning races.

I would say from lower series, it’s Todd Gilliland. He’s really talented. I’ve been impressed with him for awhile. He’s just really good in stock cars. I watched him in Late Models for a long time and he didn’t have a lot of success, but once he got into K&N and Trucks, he’s ran really well.

At our level, at the Cup level, I’d love to say it’s me. I’d love to come and break through and win some races. But I think all of us are right at the cusp of having a lot of race wins. I think myself, Chase (Elliott), Ryan (Blaney), Daniel (Suarez) — all of us are right there and we’re just trying to find that last little bit to really get there and really be super competitive every weekend.

I don’t know who the next interview is going to be with, but it’s going to be an IndyCar driver. Do you have a question I can ask somebody in IndyCar?

Is IndyCar racing really about how hard you can possibly drive the car with all the amount of downforce you have — how hard you can actually push? Or is it super finesse?

NASCAR is very finesse, especially with the low downforce. It’s very finesse and very having to back everything up and slow everything down. Is IndyCar more of all-out, high downforce, just getting all you can get, hustling as hard as you can, or are there tracks that you go to that are very finesse? It’d be interesting to me.

Editor’s note: These interviews were posted out of order due to the Indianapolis 500, so Jones’ question has already been answered by Alexander Rossi


Previous 12 Questions interviews with Erik Jones:

April 21, 2015

Sept. 21, 2016

June 21, 2017

 

How I Got Here with Dave Alpern

Each week, I ask someone in the racing industry about their career path and journey to where they are today. In this edition of the series, I speak with Joe Gibbs Racing president Dave Alpern. This was recorded as a podcast, but is also transcribed for those who prefer to read.

How did this begin for you? How did this whole thing start?

I grew up outside of D.C. in Northern Virginia. J.D. Gibbs and I have been best friends since seventh grade; we went to intermediate school and high school together. We went off to different colleges, and J.D. was kind of on the five-and-a-half year plan, and I got done a little bit early. I was on the four-and-a-half year plan.

So his dad was starting this race team when we were getting out of college, and I got out first. They needed cheap labor, so I was an unpaid intern, believe it or not.

I actually started college as an electrical engineering major until I realized I was really bad at math and science, which are two key components to being an engineer. My dad was an engineer, but I hadn’t bothered to take a personality profile which would have said, “You’re gonna be a horrible engineer.” So that lasted a year. I got my degree in communications to be a broadcast journalist. My dream when I was in high school and college was to be a SportsCenter anchor. Obviously, I failed at that as well.

So I finished college right as Coach was starting a NASCAR team, and he asked if I would help for six months. I said, “Man, that’ll look great on my resume. It’ll be great experience.” I just had this hunch. Everything Coach does turns to gold, so I’m gonna hitch my wagon to him for my first gig.

I literally moved to Charlotte, and then me and J.D. and another guy, Todd Meredith, we were all three recent college graduates. We lived in an apartment together and we went to work at this startup race team. We had 15 employees and we had no idea what we were doing. And when I say that, I’m talking about (doing everything from) putting stickers on cars to booking hotel rooms.

I speak to college students a lot and I tell them: Forget cell phones. This is pre-email! You weren’t emailing people.

They didn’t even have anywhere to put me. So they literally emptied out a broom closet and had to run an extension cord in there for a lamp because there were no plugs in the broom closet, and I had like a little elementary school desk — that’s all they had room for — and a chair and a lamp and a phone. But who was I gonna call? I had nobody to call. Maybe a hotel on occasion. And that’s kind of how it started; that’s about as unglamorous as you can think.

Not only did you not have any experience, but did you have any idea about NASCAR?

I had an uncle who I grew up with, my uncle Jimmy, he passed away many years ago. But he used to take me to Dover and Richmond. We would go to those races when I was growing up, and I was a No. 88 Darrell Waltrip fan when I was little; he was in the Gatorade car, and I had T-shirts and stuff from that. But I wasn’t what you would call a big fan, I was just aware of NASCAR. We would spend more time wandering around the grandstands and the area around the track than we did watching the race.

I had some familiarity with it, but I was by no means a NASCAR fan, nor did I one day say, “Hey, I want to work in NASCAR.” For me, it was more about the who than the what. In other words, I was teaming up with the Gibbs family. They could have been selling coat hangers and it wouldn’t have mattered to me. I believe in what they’re about and I wanted to be with them. The fact that it ended up being in NASCAR is kind of a bonus. That’s a lot more fun than coat hangers. But I’m glad that that’s the business they were in, but I had no aspirations to do that at all.

Dave Alpern (second from right) poses with his family and the Gibbs family after Carl Edwards’ victory in the 2015 Coca-Cola 600.

If that’s the case, it sounds like everything had to be self-taught and learning by experience. How did it evolve from starting out and not knowing anything to getting to where you are at this point?

I have no idea. (Laughs) We have a sign in our lobby that talks about how we want everything that happens in our company to be evident that there’s direct intervention of God, and I would say our whole history is that way.

I’ll never forget sitting at our first championship in 2000 when Bobby Labonte won and we’re sitting at the table and it’s J.D. and his wife and Todd and his wife and me and some others, and we kind of literally looked around and go, “This is a miracle. We just beat the best teams in the world and won a championship. Are you kidding me? If people only knew we had no idea what we were doing!” Now, I’m speaking for me; fortunately, we had a lot of people who did know what they were doing back in those days, with (Jimmy) Makar and Coach.

But honestly, when we were small, you kind of had to do everything. Now, as we get bigger, we have 600 people. We brought in Chris Helein, as an example, many years ago to run all of our communications and our PR and he came with Joe from the Redskins. But for 15 years prior to him, we didn’t have anyone in that department.

I was in licensing — Joe called me “the T-shirt guy.” For many years I was the T-shirt guy, and that was what we did. Now we’ve got J.J. (Damato) who’s an expert and who came from the NHL and NASCAR. But I literally have done every job in the front office, so for me now, it enables me to relate to those people, to remember what it was like when we didn’t have a department.

Most of my counterparts (presidents of other race teams) do not come from a marketing background. Some of them were attorneys, some of them come from the competition side. Most of them are smarter than me in a lot of areas, but I view the world in NASCAR from a sponsor (perspective) and a fan’s eyes because that’s how I (came up).

I mentioned there was Todd Meredith and there was myself and there was J.D. Todd was our chief operating officer, and probably 95 percent of his job was internally focused inside the company — operations, people. For me, for 20 years, 95 percent of my job was externally focused. So in other words, I was sponsors, media, the community, my counterparts, tracks. And then J.D. kind of hovered between the two of us.

So for me, in the last three or four years as I’ve expanded my role (as J.D. Gibbs fell ill), what’s been the biggest change has been focusing inside the building and going to competition meetings and worrying (about performance). That’s probably the hardest part, because I’m wired to where when I come to the racetrack, my tendency is I’m immediately wanting to go talk to other people or sponsors. I went to dinner with Marcus (Smith) the other night. I’m thinking of the people in the ecosystem of racing, because that’s how I was brought up.

But that’s a long way of saying having done almost every job in the front office on the business side, I think it has equipped me to relate to every single person because I know what it’s like — whether it’s booking hotel rooms or running the show cars or doing the social media.

There could be jobs where the employees think, “The boss is not in touch with what we are doing.” And the employees are resentful like, “This guy, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He hasn’t been in this role.” But since you’ve been in all those roles, you’re coming from it like, “I’m asking you to do something that I’ve actually done.”

They do say on the competition side, that I don’t know what I’m talking about. (Laughs) I’m sure they do. I just kind of sit there and go, “Let’s make sure we go fast.” OK, thanks. “Keep pushing the accelerator. Keep going fast.”

Over the years I’ve learned — and this comes from Coach — everything we do is predicated on one thing, and that’s winning and going fast. So when we make decisions, literally, I can tell you over the years, particularly in the early days, the question was always, “Is this gonna make us go faster?” So if it was a financial decision or a capital purchase, you would ask the question: “Does this make us go fast?” And if it doesn’t, we probably weren’t going to do it.

We didn’t have a sign out front of our building for over 10 years because it was going to be too expensive and it didn’t make us go fast. So we said, “Let’s just use the money on something else.” We’re in the competition business, so at its core, you can be great at everything, but if you’re not leading laps and winning races, you’re not going to be around.

So Joe’s philosophy from the beginning was to pick the best people and go fast, and everything else kind of just takes care of itself. As important as social media and marketing and everything is, ultimately, all these people want to win. They want to run up front, and if you’re not doing that, you’re not gonna get the best drivers, you’re not gonna get the best people, you’re not gonna get the best sponsors. We feel like we’re in this business to do well and to lead laps. That’s what we focus on, and that comes from Joe on down — and he’s the single most competitive human that I’ve ever met, and so we do everything we do to win.

Dave Alpern speaks during the 2015 NASCAR Media Tour. (Nigel Kinrade)

You mentioned that your role has expanded to the competition side, and I assume that coincided with J.D. having to step aside. How difficult has that been for you to not only take on those extra responsibilities, but you’re seeing your best friend go through this and you’re trying to pick up the slack and do him proud at the same time?

It’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced in my life. My whole career, I was in a really good position because when you work for a small family business, there’s some comfort in that. If you work for a big public company, there’s a lot of politics and there’s climbing the corporate ladder and worrying (about the next step). For many years, I kind of had the comfort of knowing, “Hey, I work for a family business. I’m as high up the rung as I’m ever gonna get,” and there was comfort in that. I was very happy and comfortable with my role, sort of just really being there as almost like a chief of staff for J.D. and for Coach.

Candidly, I had many years where I thought, “Gosh, is there something else for me someday? I’ve been doing this for a long time, I’m very comfortable in this role, I feel like I’ve done everything there is to do.” And I had no idea that God was preparing me for something that I never in a million years would have fathomed.

So when J.D. got sick, I began to do a lot of helping take up some of the slack for him when he was having treatment. It was very unnatural for me at the beginning, partly because this is supposed to be my best friend’s role — not my role — and I’m not a Gibbs.

If I was honest with you, I would say that I’m still not totally comfortable (with the title). I remember when I got named president. So many people were congratulating me and stuff. It meant a lot to me that people were congratulating me, but they didn’t realize, deep down I would much rather still be the T-shirt guy or be the whatever, because I want my best friend to have this role and I miss going to the racetrack with him.

So yeah, this whole thing has been very difficult and I have confidence, as I see from his family, that as hard as things are, I do believe everything happens for a reason. I believe that everything filters through the Lord’s hands and so I have to trust as much as I don’t like this, God’s been faithful to this company. I said at the beginning, our company is literally a miracle the way that we’ve year after year, you see how things have happened that would not have happened apart from the intervention of the Lord. And so as much as I wish this wasn’t how things were supposed to go, it has, and we’re just trying to do our best amidst it.

Joe has been incredible. J.D.’s wife and his kids, I mean, they’re literally an amazing family. They are so strong. Like I said, J.D. is the toughest guy I know, and he’s fighting it and he’s battling it. But it’s still going to the racetrack, especially here, we normally stay up in (Interstate Batteries chairman) Norm (Miller’s) condo, and J.D. always stayed there with me. I miss having him at the racetrack. So it has been a tough journey. I feel very grateful to have been in a position to be able to help the family out.

The last thing I’ll say is, you asked about thinking about J.D. Honestly, when I make every decision that I make, I think, “Alright, how would J.D. approach this? What would J.D. do?” And I hope I’m treating things not really the way I want to do it, because it’s not my company. I may have a fancy title, but ultimately I’m just a steward of somebody else’s company and I’m trying to do a good job. I’m trying to do what J.D. would do in a decision.

I always joked J.D.’s “excited” and “depressed” are about an inch apart. He was the most steady guy, and so he didn’t get emotional. And this (job) is one big crisis. There’s like 10 crises a day and you gotta just stay measured. I try to think about that, channel my J.D. “Alright, Dave, don’t get too excited. You gotta be smart here, you gotta be calm.”

J.D. would make the decision that’s best for the people. He wouldn’t get emotional, he’d never make decisions based on emotion, he would do the right thing. I think we’ve made the best out of the situation and I’m watching J.D. fight, so that’s all he can do is fight and keep trying to win and do things the right way.

Dave Alpern and his family (courtesy of Dave Alpern).

Does that sort of take it to another level for you as far as your determination and your passion to help the company succeed? Because you’ve been put in this role where you’re, it’s not only the company, it’s your friends.

I go to work every day working for a family that I love. Yes, that’s a huge part of it. I’m not sure if I’d still be doing it if it was just a nameless, faceless (business). This isn’t a job to me; my whole family has been raised (in NASCAR).

I have twin boys who are 21 — they’re at Chapel Hill — and I have a senior in high school, and I have a picture over my desk and it’s 22 straight years, from the same spot on the porch of a house that we rent in Daytona. Every year in my sons’ lives, and it’s them growing up, sitting on my lap in the same spot. Of course they’re not on my lap anymore, but it’s one of my prized possessions. They told me it doesn’t matter where we work or what we do in our whole life, we’re taking off and we’re going down for that picture. And if the guy sells the house, we told him, “You better tell the new people there’s gonna be a family coming on the porch taking a picture.”

That’s just an example of these traditions that I have in my family that we do. My family came with me to the California race, and J.D.’s boys came and Melissa, his wife, and we all went to Disneyland the day before Fontana. It’s who you’re doing it with is the thing, and it’s not just now the Gibbs, it’s the people that work for us that have become friends, and you love their families.

J.D. used to say that all the time — what he thought about most when he woke up and when he went to bed was the families that are depending on us to make good decisions. Now it’s 600 of them. So you talk about 600, that’s not just 600 people, that’s thousands of people, because it’s spouses, parents, kids, neighbors, aunts, uncles.

When you make a decision, sometimes people might criticize a decision and what I want to tell them is, “We care. We love that you’re passionate about it. But just think about us, because we’ve got to make good decisions. The last thing we want to do is do something that’s not smart for all those people.” So I love working with a family that I know cares. I can see it; I’m in the meetings when Joe is laboring over, “How do I make the right decision?”

I can tell you that every Monday for 26 years, we have a little group that gets together and prays for the whole company every week. Joe Gibbs leads it, and he’s praying for people by name at the company. If you’ve got something going on with your family or whatever. And I think to myself, “Where else am I gonna go where people care like that?” I would hate to be at a company where you’re just some number, you’re nameless, faceless.

But we really have a family. Again, it’s a 600-family family, which is a lot different than it was in the early days, but as best we can, that culture has stayed there where Joe really cares about the people. Again, we want to win, we want to take care of our people, and it is a special place. It’s a stressful place a lot — it’s a stressful business — but it’s a great, special place to be a part of, and I’m grateful that I’m a part of it.

The Top Five: Breaking down the Texas race

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

1.  Busch is back

It had only been nine races since Kyle Busch last won, which isn’t much of a drought by anyone’s standards.

But the “losing streak” (I’m putting it in quotes because it was a pretty weak slump) may have felt longer for Busch because of some frustration along the way.

A second-place finish at Homestead last year (and in the championship) was one of four runner-up results since November. For a guy who is never happy with anything but a win, finishing second that often didn’t sit well.

“Certainly being that close, it gets a little old a little faster, you know?” Busch said. “… Being as close as you are, that kind of hurts a little bit more. Especially that final one — that one that matters, that Homestead one. That’s probably the one that stings the most.”

Much of the focus this season has been on Kevin Harvick — rightfully so, since he’s been a dominant force and has three wins. But don’t overlook Busch when talking about the best team of the season so far.

His last five races (starting with Las Vegas) have resulted in the following finishes: second, second, third, second, first.

And Busch now has seven playoff points — tied for second with Martin Truex Jr. Clearly, his season is off to a much better start than in 2017, when Busch didn’t win until late July.

“We’ll just keep plugging along,” he said. “I still feel like we need to improve more and more. It feels good to be able to run as fast as we are and still have the improvements that we can make.”

2. “Our bad!”

For the most part this season, NASCAR has officiated consistently. That did not appear to be the case on Sunday, when Ryan Blaney received an uncontrolled tire penalty but Kevin Harvick did not (when the situations looked to be at least somewhat similar).

After initially defending the decision, NASCAR released a statement acknowledging the non-call was an error.

“It was a judgment call, and after conducting a post-race review of the incident, an uncontrolled tire penalty for the 4 car would have been correct,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition. “We missed that call.”

There’s certainly an argument to be made that NASCAR shouldn’t have waited until after the race to determine the call was incorrect. Obviously, it would be preferable to get it right in the moment (and this would have been a MUCH bigger deal if Harvick ended up winning the race).

But honestly, I can’t ever remember NASCAR coming out like this a few hours after a race and saying, “Hey, we screwed up.” So that’s good! Kudos for that. They are human, after all.

Personally, I think it reduces some of the outrage to just admit a mistake when one happens and it makes it easier to move on. In the past, officials would have doubled down on the spin and put forth a “nothing to see here!” messaging strategy.

Fans can live with the occasional error if it is acknowledged.

3. Gunning it

 In comments to reporters after the race, Harvick shredded NASCAR’s new common pit guns and called them “embarrassing for the sport,” according to NBC’s Nate Ryan.

He emphasized that point in a media center interview, saying his team has had pit gun problems in four of the seven races this season.

“We had a pathetic day two days on pit road because we can’t get pit guns that work in our pit stalls,” he said. “Today we … got ourselves a lap down because the pit guns work half the time, they don’t work half the time.  Yesterday (in the Xfinity race) we had four loose wheels because the pit guns can’t get the tires tight.

“I feel bad for the guys on pit road because they get handed just absolutely inconsistent pieces of equipment. Today it wound up costing us a race.”

As crazy as it sounds, I hadn’t been on board with dumping on the pit guns because it seemed like only one or two teams was having a problem during a race — this out of roughly 200 pit stops.

And after all, it’s the teams who asked for NASCAR to step in and regulate this (it wasn’t even on NASCAR’s radar before the teams requested it).

“We’ll continue gathering information on the pit guns’ performance like we do after every race,” NASCAR’s Miller said. “It is too early to make assumptions without all the facts. It’s also important to remember that this is a collaborative initiative with the race teams.”

But as teams continue to struggle with the guns — and have their races altered by them — it’s looking like this concept should be scrapped if pit gun maker Paoli can’t get the guns to be more reliable.

As Busch crew chief Adam Stevens pointed out, teams can’t change their strategies — they have to take tires. And when the race comes down to something that isn’t in their control, it’s an uncomfortable situation.

“Is it concerning? It is,” he said. “I think it puts a lot of doubt in the (tire) changers’ minds, probably makes them make more mistakes up and down pit road than maybe what they would have if they had more confidence in their equipment.

“You’re definitely on edge, listening for a problem, looking for a problem.”

And despite being a member of the council that worked with NASCAR to implement the common pit guns, team owner Joe Gibbs has seen enough.

“I don’t like things not in our hands,” he said. “So to be quite truthful, I’ve taken a stand on that (with NASCAR). That’s something that I hope we continue to really evaluate.”

The last thing anyone wants is to see this impact the playoffs. If the pit gun issue can’t get resolved by the middle of the summer, NASCAR should give the teams six weeks’ notice and let them use their own guns once the final 10 races begin.

4. New kids

The veteran drivers ruled once again on Sunday, going 1-2-3 (Busch-Harvick-Jamie McMurray). They’ve won all the races since Daytona, although Harvick’s average age observation got reduced slightly with Busch’s win (he turns 33 in May).

But some of the “New Kids On The Track” — who appeared on a large cartoon poster outside the garage this weekend — had pretty respectable days.

Rookies Bubba Wallace and William Byron both had top-10 finishes (Wallace battled Harvick for the free pass spot at times and Byron held off Jimmie Johnson for the same position earlier in the race).

Other names on the banner with good days included Erik Jones (fourth), Ryan Blaney (fifth) and Chase Elliott (11th).

Maybe Eddie Gossage was onto something with his idea.

“We needed that,” Wallace said on pit road after finishing eighth. “Each weekend, something happened after Daytona (when he finished second). The only thing we did was shake it off and look ahead to the next weekend.”

5. What’s next?

We still don’t have a great idea which team is best suited for the long run this season.

Stewart-Haas Racing has four wins (Harvick three, Clint Bowyer one) and the Joe Gibbs Racing/Furniture Row alliance has two (one each for Truex and Busch).

In addition, the drivers from those teams make up eight of the top 12 spots (Team Penske’s three drivers and Kyle Larson are the others).

Harvick had boldly said on Friday he was better than Truex on 1.5-mile tracks, and perhaps that was going to be the case on Sunday (before Truex blew a tire and finished last). But then Harvick got beat straight-up by Busch — they were on the same strategy and restarted on the front row together with 23 laps to go.

Anyway, the point is: We still don’t know! There hasn’t been a decisive race yet where none of the contenders had a problem on a normal track (in other words, not an abrasive surface or a superspeedway or a short track).

And now with Bristol, Richmond, Talladega and Dover coming up, it’s going to be more than a month — until Kansas — when we get another chance to see which team has best figured out the intermediate tracks.