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.

12 Questions with Christopher Bell (2018)

The series of 12 Questions interviews continues this week with Christopher Bell, the Chili Bowl champion, Camping World Truck Series champion and current Xfinity Series driver for Joe Gibbs Racing. This interview was recorded as a podcast but is also transcribed for those who would rather read.

1. How often do you have dreams about racing?

I haven’t dreamed about racing in a while. As a kid, I used to always have nightmares that I wouldn’t be ready in time. I don’t know why, but I would always have nightmares that I would miss my heat race at the Chili Bowl or something. Like I wasn’t dressed in time and the next thing you know, your heat race or the feature’s pushing off and you’re trying to get in your car. I would have those dreams quite frequently whenever I was a kid. Recently, I haven’t dreamed too much about racing.

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

If you intentionally wreck someone, then there’s no need to apologize. If it’s an accident and you really didn’t mean to do it, I think you need to make that effort to connect with him. Generally, if I accidentally get into someone, I guess I don’t go immediately because everybody’s still wound up from the race. But within a couple hours, I’ll reach out and try to talk to him.

Like via text?


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

Honestly, this is gonna sound weird, but growing up and following (Kyle) Larson’s footsteps, the biggest compliment that people have given me is when they compare me to Larson, because he’s the greatest race car driver I’ve seen. And so for people to have me and him in the same conversation, it’s pretty cool.

4. NASCAR comes to you and says, “Hey, we are bringing a celebrity to the race and we’re wondering if you have time to say hi.” Who is a celebrity you’d be really excited to host?

I don’t know. I don’t really follow too much of the celebrity scene I guess, but recently, I just watched Ride Along and get a good laugh out of Kevin Hart, so that’d be kind of cool.

He’d be fun to hang out with at the track.

Yeah. He’d make you laugh, anyway.

5. In an effort to show they are health-conscious, NASCAR offers the No. 1 pit stall selection for an upcoming race to the first driver willing to go vegan for a month. Would you do it?

No. I live on meat, so there’s no way.

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

I’ll be good at this.

You have good memory?


Then I probably didn’t go hard enough because I was like, “There’s not enough NASCAR races to where you would probably remember most of the NASCAR races.”

If you picked a dirt race in 2013, I’d tell you where I finished.

Well let’s see. Where did you finish in the 2014 Belleville Nationals feature?

Second. No, third. No, sorry, fourth. I think it was, Rico (Abreu) won, I finished fourth.

You did finish fourth.

Sorry, it was ’15 when I finished second to (Bryan) Clauson.

How do you have such a good memory for a race? I can’t even remember races from this year.

I don’t know, man. That’s just something that I’ve always had. For the most part, you can tell me any race and I’ll be able to tell you where I finished and pretty much how the race went. I remember at Belleville in 2014, the dash is what lines you up in the feature, and I think me and Rico were running first and second in the dash and I thought I had a flat tire, so I pulled in. So I finished last in the dash which was sixth or eighth, and I didn’t have a flat, so I felt really dumb and my confidence was beat down. Keith (Kunz) the car owner was mad at me because I pulled in and didn’t have anything wrong with the car. And then I started in the back, and couldn’t make our way up through there.

Wow. But you got to fourth.

Yeah, I did get to fourth, so that was OK.

7. Who is the best rapper alive?


He’s got a long track record.

When I was a kid, I used to love listening to Eminem and I could actually pretty much rap or sing most of his songs word for word.

Even now if it’s on the radio?

I lose some parts of it, but yeah, if the right song comes on.

8. Who has the most punchable face in NASCAR?

Oh man. (Pauses) The driver in the number 60 car has wrecked me a couple of times.

They have rotating drivers.

Yeah, I think we know which one it is.

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 Swift, motorhome driver.

Just to be fun to hang out with?

Yeah, she looks good, too. So we’ve got Tom Hanks and LeBron for spotter and crew chief? I guess I’d have to put LeBron on the spotter stand and that leaves Tom on the pit box.

You feel like Tom’s leadership is gonna help steer your team in the right direction there?

Yeah, I don’t see LeBron being a crew chief.

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

That’s (public relations representative) Donald (Edwards’) job, man. He’s always scoping it out for me. Sometimes they’re tough to come by. There’s a lot of these racetracks that we go to and it sucks. Like, that’s a problem. It shouldn’t be a problem. Port-o-pissers on pit road is a must-have. You’ve gotta have them.

You gotta wait in line sometimes?

Yeah. I’m trying to think…where did we go that’s bad recently? Vegas. We had like five or six drivers lined up in Vegas waiting to go into the port-a-potty. It’s an issue. It’s a real issue.

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?

I think they just need to give Daniel Hemric a different tapered spacer and it’d come back. (Smiles) No, Daniel has been doing it ever since I can remember, he just hasn’t had the opportunity to win in NASCAR. So there’s a guy out there that will do it if he ever wins, and he will win at some point. That’s not for me.

He says he can do it standing flat-footed on the ground. Do you think that’s true?

I’ve seen him do it, so yeah.

12. Each week, I ask a question given to me from the last interview. Last week, I interviewed Kyle Larson. His question was, “What year will you win your first World of Outlaws championship?”

That’s a great question. So I’m in Xfinity now. The hard part is you don’t know how long your NASCAR career’s gonna last. And then after you’re done with your NASCAR career, do you have the opportunity to go Outlaw racing? But that’s a dream of mine.

I’m 23 now. I would say 50 is too old to win an Outlaw championship. So, maybe, hopefully by 20 years from now…that would be ’38, right? 2038? Hopefully by 2038 I’m an Outlaw champion.

So you have a long enough NASCAR career, but you don’t want to get too old to where you’re not competitive.


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

I guess just, “What drives you? Why do you go race?”

12 Questions with Kyle Busch (2018)

The 12 Questions series of interviews takes the green flag for its ninth season with Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing. These interviews are recorded as a podcast and are also transcribed. You can find previous interviews with Busch at the bottom of this post.

1. How often do you have dreams about racing?

Not that often, really. I’m actually not a dreamer, I guess. When I was a kid, I dreamt a lot. I remembered a lot of dreams. But since I’ve gotten older, I really don’t dream a whole lot that much anymore. I don’t sleep all that well. Like I don’t get into deep, deep sleeps very often. I don’t know what that is.

Funny story. Last year when I was at Bristol Motor Speedway, after the Truck race, it wasn’t until like 2 in the morning that I went to bed. (Wife) Samantha and (son) Brexton, they weren’t there, so finally when I crashed out and I went to bed, I was out-out. That was the deepest sleep I remember since Brexton’s been born, and I woke up in the morning and I was like, “Oh my God, where the hell am I?” You ever have any of those, like in a hotel room? Like, “What city or what state am I in?” I was like, “Where am I?” And it took me a second. Man, that was the best I’ve slept in a long time. I don’t get those very often.

You’re like, “Oh yeah, I won Bristol?”

I did. I woke up and I was like, “Oh yeah, I think I won last night.”

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

I think if you get into them intentionally, I don’t think it matters if you apologize. I think if you get into them accidentally or unintentionally, then I think it should mean a little bit when you apologize, you know?

How do they know?

Well, you go up and tell them, “Man, look: I’m sorry, I did not mean to do that. That was totally my bad, I did not mean to do that.” But obviously, if you kind of get into somebody and then you don’t ever go talk to them afterwards, they’re kind of like, “Oh, OK. Well, I guess he kind of meant to.”

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

Well that’s like tooting your own horn, so I don’t know. I’ve had a lot of compliments over the years and I’ve a lot of non-compliments over the years. I guess, people all the time want to compare you to other drivers and I always kind of say that you can’t always compare somebody to somebody else who’s not in the same era. People want to say, “You’re like Dale Earnhardt” or “You’re like Richard Petty” or whatever and his 200 win thing. It’s not the same. It’s what I’m doing in my time right now, and it’s not the same as what they were doing in their time back then.

4. NASCAR comes to you and says, “Hey, we are bringing a celebrity to the race and we’re wondering if you have time to say hi.” Who is a celebrity you’d be really excited to host?

Two years ago, they brought Peyton Manning to the Bristol Motor Speedway. Actually, Nationwide brought him, but NASCAR let some of us know and they knew I was a big Peyton fan. So I was like, “That’s cool, I’d certainly like to have my time to talk to him or meet him, shake his hand, that sort of stuff.” I also maybe took like three or four of my favorite items of Broncos gear to the side and gave them to those guys and even spelled out on a piece of paper and wrote, “Sign here in silver” and “Here’s the silver (pen) that actually works,” and stuff like that. Yeah, I was that guy. I did that with Peyton Manning.

So who else would I be that kind of guy with? I’ve never met (Tom) Brady yet, so Brady would probably be one of those guys. But that’s kind of where I’m at. I’m more into the sports world than anywhere else. No politics. Movie stars? Not really.

5. In an effort to show they are health-conscious, NASCAR offers the No. 1 pit stall selection for an upcoming race to the first driver willing to go vegan for a month. Would you do it?

If it was for more than one week.

Just for one race.

No. No, no. I haven’t won enough poles in my career that I think that’s mattered — where I’ve ever won a race because I had the No. 1 pit box. So, no, I wouldn’t swap.

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

Fantastic. This ought to be good. So you give me clues?

No, I’m just going to ask you. I have some information about the race, but I don’t remember it, either. Where did you finish in the 2016 July New Hampshire Cup race?

Spring New Hampshire of 2016… uh, let’s see. Last year was 2017, so the year before that, July… spring… I’m gonna go with fourth.

It was actually eighth.

Was that the one where I had two speeding penalties? I didn’t remember if it was that race or if it was last year’s spring race that I had two speeding penalties.

I’m not sure. You led 133 laps. You started second. And something must have happened. Matt Kenseth won. That’s all I know. I just went and looked at Racing Reference.

Well leading 133 laps of 300, that means I was up front a lot of the day and I probably threw it away at the end. So yeah, it sounds like the one where I sped twice on pit road. (Editor’s note: After looking it up, that was last year’s July New Hampshire race.)

7. Who is the best rapper alive?

Oh man. This is like asking who the best President ever was. You get in a lot of trouble with fans these days and whose opinion matters most, which none of them do.

My favorite of all time, which I’ve always listened to, has been Eminem. I enjoy listening to Eminem and kind of hearing what his take is. Obviously, he’s kind of graphic sometimes and a little bit dirty or whatever. But I know a little about Tupac. He’s obviously really good.

You know who the guy to ask this question would be? Mark Martin. Mark Martin would absolutely know for sure who the best rapper is. So if you can get in front of Mark, he’ll be able to tell you that.

8. Who has the most punchable face in NASCAR?

Every single one of them.

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.

Tom Hanks is used to being alone (in Castaway), so he can be the motorhome driver. He’d probably find his own Wilson somehow.

LeBron seems to be pretty good at playmaking, play-calling, things like that, so I’d say he’d be the best at being the crew chief.

And I guess it wouldn’t be so bad to listen to Taylor on the radio all day long being your spotter, but I can always turn that one down — or off.

Do you ever turn your spotter down?

I don’t remember where it was or what year it was, maybe it was (former spotter Jeff) Dickerson, and he was just talking so much. I don’t really remember what was wrong, maybe I was going backward and we just sucked and we were just fading and he was always just telling me, “Car inside, inside,” or whatever and I was like, “I’ve got it! Just shut up! I don’t need your help anymore.” So I have told my spotters to shut up before. That’s when I’m in a bad mood going backward. Those things tend to happen.

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

Two things: You have a good PR guy, and he kind of scopes it out a little bit, and you have a really good bus driver, and he’ll scope it out for you, too. And if you have a really, really, really good bus driver — which I do, mine’s the best out there — he’ll actually go by the john and kind of stand there and when you’re on your way up, watch where I’m coming and he won’t let anybody else in. Then I’ll have the one I can get into and not have to stand outside of it and wait.

We do need help at some of these racetracks if anybody’s listening, to get the port-o-johns on pit road. Like Indy, it’s kind of tight there, but man, there is nowhere to go to the bathroom. You have to go back in the pagoda, and you have to go to the second floor to go to the bathroom. That’s the only spot to go to the bathroom before the race at Indy!

Is there a line?

Yeah! Typically you’re waiting like three, four guys, and the NASCAR officials, they’re right there too because that’s race control, so they want to go to the bathroom. And there’s only two stalls, you know? So racetracks, we need some help with restrooms on pit lane, please.

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?

No, I’m not gonna answer that one. You can’t do that one. I would say who would be the best to do the Carl Edwards now, right?

Who would be?

Noah (Gragson), I think would be.

He can climb a fence.

Well, I think we can all climb a fence. He can also throw up, too. I think Noah would be the one that can probably get it figured out, I just don’t know how athletic he is. He seems to kind of be on that wild side, wild enough that he kind of wants to have something like that. So I would say Noah should be voted in for doing the backflip. 

But as far as them writing a check, I don’t know. It would take a certain amount of money and I could probably figure out how to learn to do a backflip, but I’m not gonna say how much.

12. Each week, I ask a question given to me from the last interview. Last year, I ended the season interviewing Landon Cassill. He wanted me to ask: What is your driving style? Do you use a lot of brake? Do you get to the gas earlier than most?

Well, anybody can look at my style nowadays with the new data. Information’s gonna be available to everybody. They can pick and choose. I wish I had that when I was a rookie. I certainly wouldn’t have waited 13 years to win a championship. So that’s a whole other topic.

What’s my style like? Places you go, you’ve gotta be different. Some places you go, you’ve gotta drive into the corner hard and let it roll and let it get back out of the corner. Some places you go, you’ve gotta be rolling out nice and slow and easy and letting the thing kind of set and get into the corner nice and smooth, and then hammer the gas on exit. Other places you’ve gotta roll into the throttle on exit. It all depends on where you go.

Typically, for however many years, the saying has been, “Easy in, hard off.” So you kind of let it float in, get in there easy, get the tires all set, and then you mash the gas and try to drive out of the corner really, really hard and strong and get a good run down the straightaways. The straightaways are your friend, especially when you have good horsepower under the hood. That’s the time in which you cannot lose or gain as much ground to the rest of your competitors.

Interesting. I might use that for video games or something.

Yeah, video games for sure. Easy in, hard off on video games. No question. You cannot drive it too far into the corner in a video game; it just doesn’t work.

Do you have a question I can ask the next person?

With life on the road so much, how do you balance your travel and your motorhome and where you eat and whether you go out to eat or whether you cook in? How do you balance what you feel like you want to do on a given weekend? Is it because you go to a cool town like Las Vegas that you’re gonna eat out every night, or is it BFE nowhere, somewhere like Pocono or Loudon, whatever, and you’re gonna stay in and just cook out? How do you balance all that?


Kyle Busch 12 Questions interviews through the years:

May 25, 2011

April 18, 2012

April 10, 2013

March 12, 2014

August 11, 2015

October 13, 2016

February 22, 2017

The Top Five: Breaking down the Michigan race

Five thoughts following Sunday’s race at Michigan International Speedway…

1. Oh, that restart

Kyle Larson’s brilliance behind the wheel of a race car — it doesn’t matter what kind — is the sort of raw ability that every race fan can appreciate. And that was on display for all to see on Sunday.

Larson’s fourth-to-first move on the overtime restart — first slicing his way up the middle, then getting right to the bottom before anyone had time to really counter — was perhaps the best moment of his NASCAR career so far.

Today’s NASCAR is so much about the car and less about the driver, but Larson has shown several times how much the driver still matters. He is willing to try things others do not or cannot, and it provides for quite a show whether the attempt succeeds or fails.

This time, it worked — and Larson completed a week where he forced those who scoffed at his “last true racer” comment several months ago to wonder if maybe he was right.

2. Truex vs. Kyle

In the majority of races this season, the fastest cars have been either Truex or Kyle.

It’s just that the “Kyle” role has switched between Larson and Busch.

Larson was leading the points until he dropped off a cliff recently and tumbled to third with five finishes outside the top 20 in a seven-race stretch. It looked like he lost all his momentum as the Toyotas took over, but questions remained whether that was a product of losing his crew chief to a suspension.

That meant Michigan was going to be a huge test: Would Larson run well on a 2-mile track (a layout which has now generated all four of his career victories)? If not, that would seem to confirm his summer slump.

Apparently, things are just fine. Even though Larson didn’t have a dominant day, he was there at the end and figured out a way to win.

We’re back on the bandwagon now. Pencil him back in for the Final Four at Homestead, along with Truex, Busch and Jimmie Johnson.

3. Kenseth’s nightmare scenario

Matt Kenseth was in a lose-lose situation on the final restart that ended up with the lesser of two evils.

Going into overtime, Kenseth lined up third — on the inside of the second row — behind Erik Jones. His best shot would have been to push Jones on the restart and hope he could make it three-wide, but that could have resulted in a Jones victory.

And that was not going to be good for Kenseth. A new winner from below Kenseth’s spot in the points could have knocked him out of the playoffs (he’s currently holding on to the last spot). Plus, it would have meant helping Jones, the driver who is replacing Kenseth, get his first career win. That probably wouldn’t feel great.

I am not sure what happened and didn’t see any quotes from Kenseth after the race. But on the restart, Kenseth appeared to lay back and try to get a push from Chase Elliott (either that, or he spun his tires).

Ultimately, Kenseth ended up with a flat tire in the ensuing mess and finished 24th. He’s now 31 points ahead of Clint Bowyer for the final spot (see standings below) with three races to go.

The overtime finish cost Kenseth roughly 20 points, which is pretty painful in the battle for a playoff spot. But actually, that wasn’t the worst-case scenario. Because if Jones had won, Kenseth might not have had any points race to worry about at all.

4. Did you notice?

Chris Buescher is having a much better season this year than 2016, when he made the playoffs thanks to his rain-shortened Pocono win.

Buescher finished sixth at Michigan — his best finish of the year — and was right in the mix for a top five on the overtime restart. That was really impressive for a car that doesn’t typically contend there.

Overall, Buescher has improved his average finish from 26.1 to 20.7, already has as many lead-lap finishes as all of last year (11) and picked up his third top-10 of the season.

He’s not going to make the playoffs this season, but he’s trending in the right direction regardless.

5.  Uncertain futures

Bubba Wallace’s victory in the Truck Series race on Saturday was both a feel-good story and a frustrating reminder of the state of NASCAR.

Wallace has been sitting at home for a month, got into a truck for a one-off deal — and won. That’s great on the surface, because everyone watching probably went, “Yes! This will help his chances of getting a ride — and he deserves it.”

But will he get one? Despite being both talented and marketable, there’s no good news yet.

It’s the all-too-familiar problem of today’s NASCAR: Unless a driver personally has money — whether through family or a loyal sponsor — he can only hope the exact right opportunity at the exact right time magically comes his way.

I got another reminder of this on Sunday while watching the race with Gracin Raz (we recorded the post-race podcast, which you can find here). Raz finished fourth in K&N West Series points as an 18-year-old and then was fifth last year. Now 20, Raz has been forced to cut to a part-time schedule running a Late Model he and his dad work on in their garage.

We were chatting during the race and I was asking what the next steps are. The answers aren’t clear, but the solution is: Money. There’s not really much — if anything — Raz can do to jump in a car and prove himself, because that’s not what matters. It’s what money he can bring somewhere to get an opportunity.

Here’s a talented young driver who was just starting his career (and won a K&N West race in 2015), but there’s no pathway forward. The ladder to the top has broken rungs. The same can be said for Wallace, who waits in the same situation — just at a higher level.

It’s a sobering reminder: How many young drivers are there out there, scattered across the country, who could excel if they got the right opportunity?

Sadly, only a lucky few will ever find out — and that’s not healthy for a sport that should be built on the best talents.



By patron request, I’m going to start including the playoff picture at the bottom of the Top Five each week. Here’s how it looks now:

IN (13): Truex, Larson, Harvick, Ky. Busch, Keselowski, Hamlin, Johnson, Blaney, Ku. Busch, Newman, Stenhouse, Kahne, A. Dillon.

Points Bubble with four races to go:

14. Chase Elliott +62

15. Jamie McMurray +52

16. Matt Kenseth +31


17. Clint Bowyer -31

18. Joey Logano -98

(Everyone else more than 100 points or one win behind)

The Top Five: Breaking down the Pocono race

Five thoughts on Sunday’s race at Pocono Raceway…

1. Two-time Cup champion Kyle Busch?

Kyle Busch haters can skip over this part, but the guy is a serious championship contender despite not having won in more than a year until Sunday.

For most of the season, the best car each week has been either Martin Truex Jr. or Kyle Larson. But Busch has been creeping into the picture lately, and he’s been the one to battle Truex the last couple weeks while Larson hasn’t shown as much speed (even before incidents which resulted in finishes of 28th and 33rd).

Busch hadn’t won since the 2016 Brickyard 400 and Joe Gibbs Racing hadn’t won all season until two weeks ago, so everyone has been busy talking more about that than how the 2015 Cup champ might have a pretty good shot to do it again.

Busch has the most poles, second-most laps led and third-most top-five finishes this season. And perhaps most important, he is now tied for the third-most playoff points with Larson and Brad Keselowski.

As JGR continues to gain speed, Busch has been out front the most. He’s led at least 74 laps in four straight races now. That’s a very dangerous car for his rivals to deal with.

“… We’ve had speed, we’ve been right there, we’ve been able to do what we should be doing: That’s running up front,” Busch said. “It’s just been a bit frustrating on the finishing side.”

It’s scary, because with all the near-misses until Sunday, you get the feeling the No. 18 team hasn’t even performed to its potential yet. If Busch and his team start converting all the close calls into wins? Watch out.

2. What’s the point?

Speaking of championship contenders, I was puzzled by the No. 78 team’s decision to pit late in Stage 2 and give up what seemed like a sure playoff point — which would have made 30 on the season.

I get that Truex and Cole Pearn were going for the win, which meant sacrificing a stage win. Had it worked, they would have made a trade for four additional points than a stage victory brings.

But that’s only if it works. It didn’t. So instead of one playoff point, the team left with zero.

“That was the gamble,” Truex said. “That was our mindset before the race. We figured if we felt like we were good enough to possibly win the race, we’d have to pit before the end of that second stage. Just stuck to our plan.

“It didn’t work out, so obviously now I wish we would have stayed out and won that stage. That’s part of it.”

I can’t recall every situation that led to 14 stage wins for Truex this season, but it seems like the team had been going all-out for playoff points every week until Pocono. And as has been discussed frequently, those points are going to be a massive factor this fall in deciding who makes it to Homestead. So why not take as many as possible when the opportunity presents itself?

Truex and Pearn had an easy one point, gambled for four more and ended up with none. That’s what a team in a trailing position should do, not the leader.

This was like a basketball player passing on a wide-open layup with a 20-point lead; there’s no need to take a contested three in that situation.

3. A different level of speed

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was pumped after finishing 12th, pleased he and the No. 88 team “finally put one together” and had a “complete race” despite an early speeding penalty. Earnhardt ran in the top 10 for much of the second half of the day — something he didn’t anticipate after fighting a loose condition on corner entry all weekend.

But even on a good day, he wasn’t really close to running with the top cars.

“Man, I don’t know where the speed is that the front three or four have,” he said on pit road after the race. “They’ve got it every week. We don’t have that, and we’re not going to find in that garage on Friday or Saturday. If we don’t show up with it, we’re not going to find it. That’s somewhere in the shop.”

Earnhardt said it was probably only a matter of time before Busch started matching Truex’s speed, given the information-sharing arrangement between alliance partners JGR and Furniture Row Racing.

But he’s not sure where the speed is coming from, and that’s concerning.

“It’s nothing you can visually see,” he said .”We’re all in the garage together. We can see under their cars, see the springs they’re running, stuff like that. But it’s not in anything like that.

“They’ve got a lot of speed somehow. They’ve got a lot more speed than everybody else. Gotta give ’em credit.”

4. Season slipping away for Logano

Joey Logano’s season of misery just keeps snowballing as the playoffs approach all too quickly for his team’s liking.

Sunday was another race where everything seemed to go wrong.

Not only did the team lack the speed it needed to be competitive, but both Logano and crew chief Todd Gordon made mistakes on pit road.

Logano was caught speeding with 36 laps to go and had to serve a pass-through penalty under green, but then locked up his tires coming to pit road. When Logano told the team he hurt his tires enough to possibly incur a flat, Gordon quickly made the call to pit for four tires.

But that was a no-no, because pitting while serving a penalty requires another pass-through down pit road. By the time it was all over, Logano finished 27th and one lap down.

The result was Logano’s eighth finish outside the top 20 in the 12 races since he won at Richmond but had the win ruled to be encumbered. He’s now 69 points behind the cutoff with just five races until the playoffs begin.

I caught up with Logano as he was walking glumly away from his car on pit road and asked whether he’s ever faced such a stretch of adversity in his career.

“I don’t think so,” he said.

But Logano said his team “still knows how to do it” and added “we’ve just got to built some momentum back up.”

The thing is, momentum might not be necessary. It just takes one great race (or one good race where everything falls into place) to make the playoffs, and Logano is certainly capable of doing that.

There’s not much time left, though.

5. Sunday doubleheader (kind of)

Qualifying on the same day as the race was kind of weird, even though there were a lot of positives on paper.

The flow of race day seemed all messed up, and the laid-back atmosphere that qualifying brings took away from the typical Sunday morning vibe — where the anticipation builds in the hours before the event.

Maybe I’ll get used to it (a similar schedule will be tried again next week), and I hope that’s the case — because there definitely some good sides of it. Fans get added value with on-track activity before the race itself (some of whom never get to see a Friday session at the track because they don’t come for the whole weekend) and drivers/teams get an extra day at home (after all, the Cup Series really doesn’t need to be at some of these tracks for three days).


I just wish the schedule could be tightened up a bit. After qualifying, there was roughly a 45-minute gap until the drivers meeting, then a 90-minute gap until the green flag.

Lunchtime quietly rolled by without much fanfare, and the sun started to shift in the sky before the race finally went green at 3:21 p.m. ET.  People were just milling around waiting for it to start.

But come on — this is NASCAR! Big-time auto racing, right? It shouldn’t feel like waiting for the leaders to tee off at a golf tournament.



By patron request, I’m going to start including the playoff picture at the bottom of the Top Five each week. Here’s how it looks now:

IN (13): Truex, Larson, Harvick, Ky. Busch, Keselowski, Hamlin, Johnson, Blaney, Ku. Busch, Newman, Stenhouse, Kahne, A. Dillon.

Points Bubble:

14. Chase Elliott +39

15. Jamie McMurray +38

16. Matt Kenseth +17


17. Clint Bowyer -17

18. Joey Logano -69

(Everyone else more than 100 points or one win behind)

Joe Gibbs defends Furniture Row pit crew suspensions

Joe Gibbs gave a simple defense of his decision to suspend two Furniture Row Racing pit crew members who work for his race team.

Why the suspensions?

“Because of their action and what they did,” he told a small group of reporters Sunday morning at Pocono Raceway.

Martin Truex Jr.’s pit crew is employed by Joe Gibbs Racing, so Gibbs had the authority to suspend them after two crewmen confronted Kyle Busch crew chief Adam Stevens after the two drivers wrecked at Indianapolis.

Gibbs said the video, filmed by FOX Sports, “didn’t capture everything that happened there,” though he wouldn’t elaborate on why.

“We always sit and we consider our employees very important to us and the way they act,” he said. “So anyway, we felt like we worked through it the right way.”

Gibbs also said he did not consider disciplining Stevens for his role in the altercation.


“Because everything that happened,” he said. “I think we took everything into consideration and did what we thought was best.”

Was Gibbs concerned about the criticism directed toward JGR and the appearance he was hurting the team’s top competitor?

“People are always going to say all kinds of things,” he said. “I don’t think we’re worried about that. And obviously, (the crewmen will) be back. That’s one of the best pit crews on pit road.”

More: My analysis of JGR’s decision on the suspensions