The Driven Life: Ryan Preece talks about betting on yourself

(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

This is the latest in a series of self-improvement/motivational-themed podcasts (also transcribed for those who prefer to read) involving people in the racing world sharing insight into successful habits. Up next: Ryan Preece, Cup Series rookie for JTG Daugherty Racing.

It’s well documented that you had to take a risk, take a big bet on yourself to advance your career. When you were trying to make this decision, did you feel like this was by far the clear option for you?

No. It all really goes back to 2016 when I raced at JD Motorsports (in the Xfinity Series). At the end of the year I re-evaluated everything (after finishing 17th in the standings). I’m a racer. I come from winning a lot of races, and I didn’t see myself getting to where I wanted to be, so I moved home. I went home (to Connecticut).

From Charlotte?

From Charlotte. This was 2016. Going into 2017 I was hired by the guy I was driving for, Eddie and Connie Partridge, the (owner of) T.S. Haulers Motorsports, to work full-time on the race car. I had one of the most successful Modified seasons I had had.

So in 2017, there was an opportunity that came about that year. Carl (Edwards) retired, and a friend of my texted me. Kevin “Bono” Manion, a crew chief at Ganassi a while back, he worked at (Kyle Busch Motorsports) at the time, and he told me to call Steve de Souza (who oversees Joe Gibbs Racing’s Xfinity Series program) at the time because there would be some openings. To me that was the opportunity that I needed because I knew I could win races; I just needed the car, I needed the team.

So I did everything I could to come up with funding as soon as I talked to Steve about what it would take. It got time to close it out and there was still $80 grand that needed to be found. I basically I looked at two people and said, “Hey, I need $80 grand. I need to figure this out, otherwise I can’t race this race,” or whatever it was going to be. And they loaned me the money.

It wasn’t like going to a bank, so I didn’t have to sit in an office and explain my business plan. I told them, “Hey, this is the opportunity I needed” and I’m lucky to have been surrounded by people like that.

But the mindset I had was I knew I could win races. I was winning from 2011 or 12 on — I was winning 15 to 20-plus races a year. And I knew that if I had the right opportunity that I could do it.

So ultimately it all came down to me believing in myself and not really accepting failure, not being content with just being at the Xfinity level in 2016. It was like, “Hey, I don’t want to just be here; I want to be successful here.” Sometimes taking a step back helps you get three steps forward.

I think that’s kind of a mindset that might be lost in today’s day and age. People might think taking a step backward is a bad thing when it might not necessarily be. But I was fortunate enough to have those opportunities and then do my part in them and succeed.

Let’s talk about that taking a step back part because I think that’s really interesting. I do think that there’s a mentality out there today where you always have to keep moving up the ladder, and if you’re not, like you at least make a lateral move. And you moving back home from Charlotte, I’m sure a lot of people once you told them, were like, “You’re leaving Charlotte?”

People who were close to me even said they didn’t agree with the move that I made. But at the end of the day it was really my decision. I see every in and out of this sport. It was the path that I needed to take.

I’m 28 years old, and in racing terms that’s very young still. Back in the day, you look at drivers and they were just getting Xfinity Cup rides at 28. They weren’t even getting full-time Cup rides until sometimes 30 or 33. You don’t have to be in Cup by the age of 21 to 24. It isn’t always going to work out that way.

You don’t have to drive a Late Model, or you don’t have to drive a Modified, you don’t have to drive a midget. You don’t have to race on dirt, you don’t have to race on asphalt. If you’re good at racing, you know you’re mentally tough enough and you’re obviously talented enough to do it, you’re going to get there or hopefully you get the opportunity to at least try to get there.

So there’s not necessarily one way to make it here, and I think that’s kind of a lost thing that we’ve seen in racing. There’s almost been a certain way that people think that, “Hey man, if I want to get to this level, I’ve got to do this, this, this and this.” It might have worked for a couple guys here, but it’s not necessarily going to work for you.

I didn’t have the funding to go run a K&N car or run an ARCA car. It just wasn’t gonna happen. So I did everything I could with where we were racing Modifieds and then Tommy Baldwin was a huge help along with other people to get me in Xfinity. My first start with Tommy I think was 2013 or 14 — one start in 2013, two starts in 2014 — a couple Cup starts just to kind of get me approved to get me through this process.

It’s been a six-year process to finally get to this point. It doesn’t have to happen overnight.

You’re always getting advice from people when you’re trying to make moves and you’re trying to figure out the right decision. But it sounds like you trusted your own gut enough, and that’s really hard to do if people are telling you something different. If you go against that because you believe in yourself, that’s a very powerful thing.

So when it came to racing and opportunities and kind of how all that went, I’ve asked for advice from very few people on what I need to do. Because every time I try to force something to happen it just never worked out.

I remember after I won Iowa and after I had run Kentucky for JGR I went to Joe (Gibbs), I went to Toyota, I went to all those guys and said, “Hey, what do I need to do to get a ride?” because nothing was coming about. It was like I finally after I went to them and said everything I could, I remember going home and I’m like, “Alright, well, I’ve done all I can at this point. Now it’s up to fate.” If it’s meant to be it’s meant to be.

And I remember I got a phone call. It was like 8:30 in the morning and I was taking my brother golfing for his bachelor party. I got a call from Steve de Souza saying, “Hey Ryan, we got a sponsor and they want you in the car for 10 races.” And it ended up turning into 15.

But that’s fate. I did my part and then a lot of it was the right people and everything else kind of falling into place. It was definitely a risk, but at the end of the day it’s no risk, no reward.

Is it just a matter of purely listening to your gut or do you write things down and weigh options when you’re trying to make tough decisions?

If you talk to my wife she’d tell you absolutely not, it’s like shoot off the hip.

So it’s trusting your gut.

It’s trusting my gut. I knew I’m capable of winning races. I’ve won a lot of races, and I’m very proud of that.

Sitting back in 2016 when I saw JGR 1-2-3 in practice, qualifying and racing for quite a few races, I knew they were a dominant team and that’s what the sport is all about. It goes in waves. I’ve always kind of looked at which team I felt was going to be the dominant one or the one that seemed to really be making strides in their program and that’s something that I still stay in touch with these days.

You hear Kevin Harvick say, “You can’t drive a slow car fast.” And that’s something that I learned when I was racing Modifieds, because there were times when I’d win three races in the row — and then we go up to the next race and we couldn’t run ninth. As much as a driver can win the race, a team helps them win that race, along with the crew, the crew chief building that setup. It’s really a team sport. So that’s something I learned.

We’ve been building our setup with this team (at JTG’s No. 47 car). We’ve been working on our speed and trying to find that niche for me, and once we get there we’re going to be running just like the 37 has at multiple times this year. We’re going to get there and I think that all those moments helped prepare me for this.

What’s the most important thing if somebody’s considering making a move or taking a bet on themselves to quit a job and try something else? What do you wish people would know about that process?

It’s a risk. It is. But if you believe in it and believe in yourself, if you’re willing to do what it takes — and I’m not just talking about putting your eight hours a day and that’s it, because it’s going to take a lot more than that. It’s going to take a lot of risk. But at the end of the day if you’re sitting there thinking to yourself, “Man, I can do this. I know I can,” believe in it and do it.

I’m from New England, so Barstool Sports is a big deal, and I watched the documentary that’s been going on with Dave Portnoy and how he started Barstool and how he’s built it to what it is this day. And that’s inspiring, too. I mean, that’s the American dream. Whether you enjoy his content or not, he is living the American dream on what he built. He took a risk on himself, just like I’ve taken a risk and many others have taken risks.

By being content and living your day-to-day life when you want more, you’re not going to get to that point by just sitting in your chair waiting.

How do you overcome the fear to do it?

I’ve never had fear when it came to things. I’ve always believed in myself, so I never feared failure — because failure was never an option, right? I just knew.

So I can’t relate to somebody who fears failing, because if you fear that you’re going to fail, more than likely you’re going to — whether you want to hear it or not. So you’ve just got to believe in yourself.

At the end of the day stay positive, and hopefully — not hopefully — it will end up happening.

12 Questions with Chris Buescher (2018)

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

1. How often do you have dreams about racing?

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

You have a fear of snakes?

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

That’s not cool.

No, it’s really not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’d be the last one to do it?

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

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

Was that fifth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Who is the best rapper alive?

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

There’s some crossover there.

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

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

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

You stop with the hard rock.

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

8. Who has the most punchable face in NASCAR?

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

It kind of is.

Sorry, I don’t have have an answer.

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

There. I would give you an honest answer then.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wing it.

You don’t strategize?

Do people do that? People honestly say they do?

Seems like they do. They scout it out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pick a sky high number.

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

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

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

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

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

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

They’re like, “No, you idiot!”

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

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

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

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

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

Straight from there?

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

That’s a celebration right there.

That was a celebration to remember.

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

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

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

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

Previous 12 Questions interviews with Chris Buescher:

July 14, 2015

July 27, 2016

Sept. 13, 2017


A Good Day: Daniel Hemric, Ryan Preece get Cup rides based on talent

Just when you thought money was the only way to get an opportunity in NASCAR, along comes a trio of talent-first stories to provide at least some evidence to the contrary.

First there was Ross Chastain, whose ability to elevate his JD Motorsports ride earned him a chance with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Xfinity team — for whom he recently won the Las Vegas race. The rest of his story is still unwritten, but at least he got a shot.

Then, on Friday, two talent-first drivers were given the kind of opportunities that represent hope for the future: Daniel Hemric was named driver of Richard Childress Racing’s No. 31 Cup car and Ryan Preece was announced as the driver of JTG Daugherty Racing’s No. 47.

Both will compete for Cup Series Rookie of the Year and neither had to bring armored trucks full of money to do it.

That might be a small victory, but it’s still notable these days.

Hemric, a North Carolina native, grew up with NASCAR dreams while racing in the Summer Shootout at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He became one of the country’s best Late Model drivers and has consistently contended in NASCAR’s lower ranks — albeit without a win.

“It just says it can be done,” Hemric said of making it to the top without millions of dollars behind him. “To any racer out there who thinks it can’t be done, today is a huge step to show it can be.”

Then there’s the story of Preece, who took a gamble on himself by borrowing money to secure two starts with Joe Gibbs Racing’s Xfinity Series team. In his own personal must-win situation, Preece finished second to Kyle Busch in his first race with JGR and then won at Iowa. That led to a pair of additional races in 2017, when he had two more top-five results.

This season, Preece won another Xfinity race — and $100,000 in the Dash 4 Cash, which allowed him to pay off his loans.

It also opened the door for even more opportunities with JGR and caught the attention of JTG Daugherty, which hired him on talent alone.

“If you are going to fall down that hole of ‘Money, money, money’ you will never make it,” Preece said. “I’m not saying it’s easy, it’s not. There were a lot of nights I didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t know what my future was going to be. I didn’t know if I could even make it to this level.

“I was going to try, though. I was going to try like hell.”

The effort resulted in a job at NASCAR’s highest level — and it might not have happened had he never invested in himself, first. As it turns out, that was a necessary part of Preece’s journey.

“The fact that he has been able to win in Xfinity against the best of the best, obviously that put him higher up on the list,” Geschickter said. “He was definitely on the radar anyway … (but) it didn’t hurt.”

Will stories like these suddenly become a trend? Not likely, as money continues to rule in today’s NASCAR. But that makes them all the more notable when a team rewards a driver with an opportunity based on talent — not how much money they can bring.

12 Questions with AJ Allmendinger (2018)

AJ Allmendinger, shown here at Phoenix, is 23rd in the point standings this year after finishing 14th last week at Pocono Raceway. (Photo: Action Sports Inc.)

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with AJ Allmendinger of JTG Daugherty Racing. Allmendinger heads to Watkins Glen International this weekend as one of the contenders to score a playoff-clinching victory.

1. How often do you have dreams about racing?

Unfortunately, pretty much every day. Or nightmares. Either one. Depending on how it’s gone that weekend. It’s something I wish I could be better about –just shutting my brain off when I leave the racetrack and forgetting about the weekend, whether it was good or bad or not. But my brain’s never worked like that — and I’m 36, so it’s probably not going to stop until I’m done.

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

No, no. It really doesn’t, because if you’re on the opposite end of it, you’re the guy getting hit or wrecked. The “sorry” really doesn’t matter. Whether you do think it’s on purpose or not, I think you say it just to try and make yourself feel better, especially if it’s on accident. If it’s on purpose, then you don’t really care. But yeah, you try to say sorry — but you know if you’re on the other end of it, it doesn’t matter to that person.

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

That I care. Whether it’s about going out there and giving everything I have and knowing how much I care for my guys especially, knowing I appreciate them and care about how hard they work whether it’s going great or it’s going awful. I hope anybody who has worked with me knows that I leave the racetrack giving everything I have. I care about it.

My passion for it, whether it comes out in a good way or a bad way, whether it’s frustration or happiness, I just care about it. I care about looking good for my guys, the sponsors, the team, for myself — and I will always care. I guess the day I stop just caring while I’m in the race car, I probably should just stop.

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?

Tiger Woods, Rickie Fowler. Probably a lot of golfers, because I have a huge passion for golf. I love golf. I try to go out on the course during the week and think I’m a PGA golfer and get to the end of round and look at my score and I go, “That’s probably not going to cut it.”

But yeah, I think Tiger would be awesome to just take around the racetrack. I mean, it’s Tiger Woods, so there’s an aura around him. There’s very few people in the world that you can say, “Yeah, I’ve been around or been able to meet the best ever.” And Tiger would be one of them.

Do you think after your racing career is over you can get good enough to be on the Senior Tour or something?

No. I’m working on that. But I would love after my racing career to be able to do something on TV for golf. That would be probably something I’d be hugely passionate about and really get into. My golf game is definitely not close enough. I do have 13 years to work on it, but it’s not looking good right now.

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?

Yeah. I’ve actually tried to go vegan in the offseason. I try to be as healthy as possible. What you put in your body is critical and I’m learning a lot more about it over the past year or two. I’ve kind of went through stomach issues — a lot of it is probably stress that I’ve put on myself — but food is definitely a big thing in that.

It’s great having Kroger as a sponsor, because they’re very health-conscious and it’s fun to be able to talk to them about what’s in their stores. Especially their new stores, you can see the direction the world is going and they’re kind of following along with it, so I enjoy it. So I’m very fortunate to have Kroger as a sponsor to be able to do that.

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 2014 Martinsville fall race, the Chase race that year. Do you happen to remember where you might have finished?

The Martinsville fall race…I’m trying to think back, I’m just trying to get the exact number. I know how we ran there. I want to say ninth.

Oh my gosh, yes! That’s correct.

Yeah. Nailed it.

You finished right behind Denny Hamlin. You started 15th that day, that was the race that Dale Jr. won. You must be good at remembering races.

I can remember most races, yes.

That’s amazing. Why do you think that is?

Because I care. That’s it. I couldn’t tell you my girlfriend’s birthday, I couldn’t tell you anything about dates or phone numbers or people’s names really, but I can pretty much remember every race that I was in. Do a lot of people get the answer right?

Some people get it somewhat close. We’ve had a couple people get it right, but some people are just like, “Nah. No idea.”

(I remember) the races that I’ve run the whole race. (Although) in NASCAR it doesn’t matter if it’s 34th or 37th. But yeah, I can remember generically almost every race I was in and kind of how it went.

7. Who is the best rapper alive?

(Laughs) I mean, right now, I’ll be honest, even though he doesn’t put out a lot of music anymore, I’d have to say Eminem. He’s got some sick lyrics still. But I mean, I would have to say 8 Mile is the best movie in the world, right? Nah, I’m just kidding.

8. Who has the most punchable face in NASCAR?

(Laughs) I’d have to go with Ryan Newman. It’s a big face.

You’d have to run though.

I didn’t say that I wasn’t going to get punished after.

A close second — or a tie for first — is probably Brad (Keselowski).

He’s been picked by a few people.

I would say probably, if I had to go with recoil after the punch, I’d definitely take Brad over Ryan.

I’m just assuming they might punch you back after.

Yeah, and so if I’m going with that, if that was part of the question, if there’s a recoil…the only thing is I would have to run quickly if I punch Ryan. I think I can outrun him, but if he got to me, he’d land on me and crush me.

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.

I’m not sure how his eyesight is, but I’d go Tom Hanks for sure as my spotter. He’s got a soothing voice, just keep me calm. So I would do that.

I guess it’ll be Taylor Swift as my crew chief because if the car’s going to be ill-handling, it’ll be nice to at least talk to her.

And LeBron, in case I got in a fight after, you always want your motorhome driver to be a big dude. So if I did wreck somebody with my ill-handling car that Taylor Swift gave me, I’d need LeBron James to be there to throw down with me.

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

Well, I really try to look at the urinals before qualifying and kind of where they’re located, and then I just try to qualify around that. It’s like Fontana, there’s only one, it seems like, down at the end of pit road — so you really have to qualify up front so it’s not that big of a walk.

But you know, there’s certain tracks that have urinals right in the middle. So if I see that, then it’s like, “Yeah, 20th. Good for a bathroom.” It gives you extra time so you don’t have to get out of the truck, run to the bathroom and all of a sudden it’s the national anthem.

That’s the excuse I’m going to go with for my mid-20s qualifying.

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?

Just all my medical bills, because I wouldn’t get halfway over.

Really? You’re such an athletic guy though.

Yeah, well, I’m a very athletically stiff guy, so the launch off the car would be (bad). I could get halfway over and land on my neck, so they probably have to cover my after racing life insurance policy, disability stuff, so I get paid.

12. Each week, I ask a driver to give me a question for the next interview. Last week’s was with Kaz Grala. His question was: Do you know anyone who can sponsor him, and if not, do you have a backup car he can borrow?

No. And I’m always questionable with my practice habits, so I need my backup car. So I’m going to give him a big fat no and no.

I mean, shouldn’t he go with possibly going to a zoo (for sponsorship)? He’s got an animal name, like a Kaz Grala. Seems to me like that’s what he could go with. Has he tried that yet? Maybe go back to him and ask him that.

There’s a lot of zoos that would be up for sponsorship.

“Here, in this (exhibit), we have the ‘Kaz Grala.'”

The next interview I’m doing is with Ross Chastain. Do you have a question I might be able to ask him?

Yes. Could he beat Joey Chestnut in a watermelon-eating competition?

Previous 12 Questions interviews with AJ Allmendinger:

March 16, 2011

June 24, 2015

March 29, 2017

12 Questions with Chris Buescher

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues with Chris Buescher, who is currently 26th in the standings for JTG Daugherty Racing. Despite missing the playoffs after making it in 2016, Buescher’s average finish has improved by five positions over last year.

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

I’d to think that it’s been 50-50. I feel like I’ve been able to hang tough. Early on, I kind of had some idea I could do this, and from then on it’s just been working at it to to fine-tune it through the years.

2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and now Dale Earnhardt Jr. have all either retired in the last couple years or will retire soon. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?

That’s all the guys that I grew up watching before I was even racing, before I was racing hardly anything. So for me, I feel like I can relate to a lot of the drivers from a lot longer ago. I feel like I’m a pretty normal person. I’ve worked on race cars all my life. I’ve been able to be a big part (of the team), being in the shop and working through the last handful of years to understand what goes into them. So I feel like I’m a bit more hands-on, I’d say.

That actually reminds me: When they announced that you had re-signed with JTG, they said you’re in the shop more than any other driver they’ve worked with. Why do you go in the shop so much?

Because I have friends there. (Laughs) I like going in and just seeing what’s going on. I don’t really get my hands dirty anymore; I think everyone’s scared that I don’t know what I’m doing, and I probably don’t at this level. This is the best of the best that work on our race cars every week and that are on the track every week.

So it’s a way for me to go in and hang out in a much less stressful environment. Race weekends are very much down to business and get things done, and you can goof off and have a good time, but everybody’s stress levels are a lot higher. I feel like when you’re at the shop, you get a little more personality out of everybody and can hang out, go to lunch, talk about something other than racing sometimes. I think everyone likes to take a break every now and then with the length of the season and how often we are traveling. So for me, it’s just a good way to go catch up.

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

A lot of that, for me, is trying to dress up. I don’t get too fancy most of the time, so a lot of our functions we go to, a lot of events, I have to really focus on that.

JTG Daugherty has a thing with golf around here that everybody likes to go have meetings and hang out with sponsors and discuss business on the golf course, and I’ve played two games in my life — both this year as a matter of fact — and I’m horrible. So I’d say that’s got to be the hardest part of my non-driving part of this thing, is trying to figure out how to play golf at this point.

That’s gonna be a work in progress. Golf takes a long time to learn, so that’s pretty frustrating.

Yeah. AJ (Allmendinger) is very good, Ernie (Cope) is very good, Trent (Owens) is very good — and I’m not. We were at the shop hitting a couple the other day and I actually hit the building on my first shot. So, not good.

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

I’ve had that a couple of times. It’s actually kind of fun because I feel like I’m still under the radar enough to where no one’s ever sure of themselves. It’s always like, “Well, maybe…”

They’re like, “Is that Chris Buescher…?”

We get a lot of that, and that’s actually kind of fun. I like to mess around with people for a little bit and then yeah, we’ll sign stuff. It depends on how nice of a restaurant, I guess.

So wait — do you try to tell them at first that you’re not Chris Buescher and see the look on their faces or something?

I’ll usually tell them I work in racing or I’m a mechanic or something and then kind of ease into it and see if they catch on or see if they believe it. I like to play games for a little bit.

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

Something that I think a lot of fans don’t realize is how much time and effort our teams put in. (Richmond) being a Saturday night race is actually very nice for teams, especially the crew members. They get back from a Sunday night race and they’re back at work mid-morning Monday and roll right up until that plane takes off. It’s a very long season, and it’s a commitment by everybody in the garage area that’s very time-consuming. It’s very difficult to live any kind of normal life in this business, and I think everybody deserves a lot more credit than what they get on the amount of dedication they have to this sport to make it what it is today.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

Probably AJ. And before that it was probably (Matt) DiBenedetto, I would say. That might have been social media though. He wanted to go four-wheeling with us next time.

He felt left out?

Yeah, we had a little fun in West Virginia last off-weekend, and I guess I forgot to invite him. I didn’t know he wanted to go.

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

Certain ones. (Laughs)

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

My policy is trying to keep it down to three times a year or less. I used up one (at Darlington), and I think I had one earlier this season as well. White gloves are bad for that policy. I try to do it discreetly.

What did the person do last week (at Darlington) to deserve that?

I kind of just got run over. We all but wrecked. It was Turn 1 all the way to the exit of Turn 2 sideways, and it was bad. I felt it was very deserving.

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

I don’t think it’s a case-by-case deal. I think you get to know who you race around a lot of times. I think you just kind of build up a resume, so to speak, with other drivers. So when you’re around certain ones, you kind of know what you have from a good side. And I’d say on the bad side of things, I think more or less, more times than not it’s unexpected, and so that’s why you feel like you deserve retaliation. And then there’s those where you fully expect it going into it and you know that’s how you get raced.

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

I just happened to run into Miss Brazil at a steakhouse like eight or nine years ago. That was kind of neat. That was in Vegas.

How did you know it was Miss Brazil?

She was wearing her sash. She wasn’t trying to hide it by any means.

She was in the restaurant with the Miss Brazil thing right on there?

Yeah, so we got to sit down and talk to her and the people she was with for a while. That was kind of neat. At the time, I was nobody, so that was pretty cool.

Did you just go up and say, “Hey Miss Brazil, mind if I sit down?”

I don’t remember exactly how it happened. I don’t think that’s how it went; I’m not that slick. But between the people I was with and the people that she was with and had there, I think something about racing came up and then we got to talking.

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

A lot of things. (Laughs) Just a lot of things come back on the track, trying to go faster in these things, trying to understand these cars, trying to understand the bump stops, the splitters on these things. It’s all very different from everything I grew up racing, and I think that’s been the hardest thing for me to adapt to. I feel like the cars feel more like a go-kart now than a stock car in a lot of ways, and that was not my upbringing. So it’s been a challenge for me.

12. The last interview I did was with Aric Almirola.  His question was: Why did you agree to do this interview?

Why the heck I agreed to do this interview? Because Kelly (Boyd, his public relations rep) told me I was going to do this interview.

It’s that simple, huh?

Yeah, pretty much. It’s always fun to do something that’s a little bit outside of just the racing questions that you get every week, and I think you’ve hit on something here that makes it a little more enjoyable than the normal one.

You’re making me blush. Anyway, I’m going to the IndyCar championship next week, so I’m probably going to do the next 12 Questions with an IndyCar driver. Do you have a question I can ask one of them?

What made them crazy enough to strap into one of those things? And that’s not insulting in any way — they’re braver than I, I will give them that.

Those dudes, I watch them and go, “What are they doing?”

(Laughs) It looks awesome and I bet it is so much fun to drive, but I could never convince myself to do it. No way.

This interview was brought to you by Dover International Speedway. The cutoff race for the first playoff round takes place at Dover on Oct. 1. Here’s a link to buy tickets (and make sure to come say hi at the tweetup).

The Top Five: Breaking down the Martinsville race

Each week, I’ll provide some quick postrace analysis with five thoughts from the race. This week: Martinsville Speedway.

Brad isn’t so bad

Martinsville is one of the tracks where Brad Keselowski gets booed the most in pre-race introductions. The reasons why people don’t like Keselowski — he’s brash and runs his mouth at times, races some popular drivers too hard and is unapologetic and unflinching when it comes to on-track incidents — all come to the forefront here.

So it was interesting after the race when Keselowski decided to dash into the stands to greet a group of fans — some his, but not all — who had stuck around to watch victory lane on the frontstretch.


“This might not be the track where I get the loudest cheers,” he said with a laugh. “But that’s OK — that’s part of what makes this sport go around.

“I just felt really good about it and saw a couple people I knew up in the grandstands. … I just thought it was worth saying hey.”

You may not want to hear this, but that’s more of who the real Keselowski is than what you see on the racetrack.

Keselowski is the type of guy who uses reporters’ first names in news conferences when answering questions. Not because he’s trying to kiss media butts, but because he’s respectful and personable.

He is fan-friendly (did you see his Facebook Live videos in the first couple weeks of this season, when he surprised people in the campgrounds?), intelligent and a good ambassador for NASCAR, his sponsor and his team.

And yet, so many fans hate his guts! It’s honestly a shame for NASCAR as a whole, because Keselowski has the type of personality that could make him a really popular driver. The problem for fans is since he’s opinionated and never backs down from a fight, they’ve already determined he’s a villain.

There’s probably nothing that can be done to reverse that for now — maybe people will come around later in his career — but fans who don’t think there are interesting drivers with personality in the series are overlooking Keselowski.

Stages Right

Stage racing continues to produce unexpected results. For example: Who would have imagined it would prompt a lapped car to bump the race leader out of the way?

That’s exactly what Ricky Stenhouse Jr. did at the end of Stage 2, sending Kyle Busch up the track and costing Busch a potentially valuable bonus point for the playoffs this fall.

Stenhouse said he wouldn’t normally make such a move because “You respect the leader.” But knowing a caution was about to come, he said, made him go for it.

“It’s as hard as I could drive,” Stenhouse said. “I’ve got sponsors, fans and a team to take care of. I had to stay on the lead lap. That was a turning point in the race. If (Busch) laps (Austin Dillon, who was the next car in line) and we’re stuck a lap down, it could ruin our race. So I drove as hard as I could, and it paid off for us.”

Stenhouse ended up with a 10th-place finish — his second top-10 in three weeks. He said he planned to nudge Busch just enough to get the lap back, but “didn’t mean to give up the win for him in that stage.”

Busch wasn’t impressed by the move. He said Stenhouse should expect payback, particularly since — in his mind — the bump wasn’t necessary. The defending race winner explained he intended to give Stenhouse a lane and allow the driver to get his lap back at the line; instead, Stenhouse “just drove through me,” Busch said.

“I was trying to be a nice guy,” Busch said. “But nice guys don’t finish first.”

Crew chiefs getting tire-d

Why in the world did Jamie McMurray stay out when it seemed obvious his severe tire rub was going to result in a flat — one that ended up wrecking his car?

Well, because the team — like many others that have gotten burned in similar ways before — thought the tire rub might go away.

Another part of the reason not to pit, McMurray said, was “If we pit and we lose three laps, you are never going to make those up here.”

The problem is, that’s not really true. Drivers have come back from incidents that put them multiple laps down at Martinsville, because there are so many cautions that wavearounds and even free passes are likely here.

This honestly isn’t to pick on crew chief Matt McCall or McMurray’s team, because this seems to happen every few weeks: A driver gets damage from another car or from brushing the wall, resulting in a tire rub; then, either because the team thinks it will go away or because it’s praying for a longshot caution, the driver stays out and ends up wrecked when the tire blows.

But these teams are really out-thinking themselves if that’s the case. Points for finishing 25th and laps down are still way better than last-place points after a wreck.

If it’s a minor tire rub like Kyle Busch had? Yes, that can go away. But when there’s THAT much smoke? I’m not an expert, but PIT, damn it! The tire isn’t going to heal itself.

Cash me ousside

Holy crap, did you see that outside lane working at Martinsville? They’ve been racing here for 70 YEARS, and the outside lane has never been a viable option (as far as I know) until Sunday. The new tire Goodyear brought laid rubber in the top lane, and Busch seemed to pioneer a new strategy of making the outside work.

Team radios were abuzz with spotters and crew chiefs telling their drivers about Busch’s line, and others seemed to try the same thing with some degree of success. Keselowski even made the outside lane work on a late restart.

Of course, it’s not like drivers have never made passes on the outside (Tony Stewart passed Jimmie Johnson that way for a win in 2011) — but it’s just never been the preferred way around.

And it wasn’t necessarily better than the bottom on Sunday, but at least it became an option. There was only one time all day where I noticed a driver hit the brakes to try and get the low line on a restart after pit stops, so that was an improvement.

It’s worth wondering whether setups can be geared to run that way in the fall, when the playoff race will have much more importance.


Hey, how about JTG-Daugherty Racing?

Sixth-place AJ Allmendinger had his best finish on a non-plate oval track since, well, this race last year (he finished second that day).

And second-year driver Chris Buescher, in his first season at JTG, finished 11th — his best result since a fifth-place run last fall at Bristol.

“We needed a good run,” Allmendinger said. “I actually felt like a race car driver today. That was a lot of fun.”

Maybe all is not lost for Allmendinger, who had a miserable start to the season after a 35-point penalty and three-race suspension for crew chief Randall Burnett, who returned Sunday. He moved up four spots to 26th in points (Buescher is 27th) and there are still two road courses ahead for Allmendinger.

12 Questions with AJ Allmendinger

The 12 Questions interview series continues this week with AJ Allmendinger of JTG-Daugherty Racing. I spoke to Allmendinger at Phoenix International Raceway.

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

I would say 50-50. You’ve got to have natural ability to be here for sure. When you’re at the top level, you’re racing against the best in the world. With that said, the difference between the top and the bottom is very tiny. So you’ve got to really work at it to keep trying to hone your skills and especially as they keep changing packages figure out what makes these race cars fast.

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

Nice hair. We’ll just go with that. Nice hair.

Do you give out free gel samples?

No, I still need a gel sponsor. I get a gel sponsor, and I’ll start giving out free samples.

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

For me, it’s the mental strain of it. Whether or it’s good or bad, you’re always thinking about it. Especially when it’s bad.

There’s a lot that comes with the job — sponsor obligations and having to do things like that. So it’s hard at times to put on a good face when you’re struggling to figure out where you need to get better.

More than anything, especially since it’s every week and you’re racing every weekend and there’s so much going on, for me it’s the mental side of it. It’s hard, especially when you put a couple of bad weeks together and it kind of steamrolls.

I always tell people for sure it’s one of the best jobs in the world and it gives me a great life. All the things I want to do, I get to go do. But at the same point, it feels like the worst job in the world because you put so much into it and it feels like you get gut-punched half the time. Especially as I get older, I think that’s probably the toughest thing: I can’t let it go. It’s always there.

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

Depends on how hungry I am. If I’m really hungry, they probably shouldn’t come near me, because I won’t be the nicest person. I would make sure they come over after I’ve eaten, because I’ll definitely be in a lot more pleasant mood.

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

I think everything gets too much coverage at times.

We overdo it on everything?

It’s everything. Everything gets covered so much now. There’s so many media outlets to cover everything. The only thing I’d think sometimes is when you’ve got drivers that are doing well and certain incidents happen that take away from guys doing well, I think that gets covered too much. But it’s the world we live in — we want those fights. We want those arguments. We want those rivalries. So I think that’s what we go to first.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

Most of the drivers don’t like me, so I don’t really have to text back and forth.

Why do you say that?

Because I’m not a real pleasant person most of the time, and I was raised in a world where my dad taught me, “We bring our friends to the racetrack. We don’t come to make friends.” I think the last driver I texted was Tony Stewart, because I love me some Tony. We went back and forth, especially at Homestead, his final race.

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

We definitely live in an entertainment business. I wouldn’t call us entertainers. Hopefully we bring entertainment to the people watching — otherwise they’re not going to watch. And to a certain degree, you don’t want boring racing because nobody is going to want to watch that. But I don’t want to say we’re entertainers; we’re race car drivers.

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

Use it as much as I can. The thing is, nobody really knows I’m flipping them off because my arms are really short. So when I stick my finger out the window, it’s really just the tip of my finger so nobody knows I’m flipping them off. I try to wear white gloves, so if they do see me flipping them off, they’re going to see it a little easier.

The problem is now we have an in-car cam a lot, so I’ve got to tone it back a little bit. I make sure my team reminds me whether we’ve got an in-car cam that weekend or not to know if I can flip out inside the car without anyone seeing.

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

Definitely. It’s one of those things where you race how they race you and how you want to be raced. There are certain guys you just know are going to race you harder than others. But you also know you get to certain guys and you’ve got that relationship where it’s that give and take. (And) you know at the end of the race, no matter what, the rules are off.

Tony Stewart was a perfect example. The first couple years, about every other race, he tried to come down and kill me because, as he told me, I was doing something really stupid. I think it was Dover, we got to one race, and he beat on me a little bit and we were having a great run and I got tired of it and I drilled him, and after the race, he comes stomping down.

I thought, “Alright, here we go again. I’m getting first punch in though, because if he gets his hands around me, it could be trouble.” And he slapped me on the back and said, “That’s how we race!” And he walked away, and ever since that time, we were racing each other fine. It’s definitely a give and take, and you have a list of who raced you how and how difficult it’s going to be.

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

I don’t have a lot of famous people that I’m — I’m really to myself, so I’ve got a really small group of friends. Jeff, I don’t have a good answer for you. I don’t have anybody famous I’ve done dinner with.

You might be the most famous person you’ve done dinner with, apparently.

I guess, and I really tried to hide that fact.

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

(Laughs) Everything? Except my hair. We can go back to the hair thing. The hair is pretty good.

You’re really selling yourself short in this interview. You’re saying you’re not pleasant and hard to like and difficult.

It’s been a rough few weeks, man. And I’ve spent about three days in Vegas, so my energy level is quite down.

No, there’s so much to improve. The good side of it is I’ve somewhat got a good heart. I love animals, so we’ve got that. The people I truly care about and they care about me, I try to show my appreciation in every way possible. There’s just a lot to improve on, let’s just put it that way.

12. Ryan Newman was the last interview. His question for you was if you could build any type of racetrack — oval or road course — what would be the ideal racetrack?

That would be fun. It would be definitely a road course. Just add all the famous corners you could figure out — whether it was the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca, the top of the (mountain) at Bathurst, Mulsanne Straight (at Le Mans). Just try to take all those cool corners from so many different racetracks throughout the world and just put it together and have one really badass racetrack. That’s what would be ideal.

There’s a golf course in Myrtle Beach like that, right? With the best holes in the world?

They’ve got a few golf courses set up throughout the U.S. that I know of like that. Kind of the same deal.

Do you have a question for the next interview?

If they had to be one animal, what animal would they be and why?