The Top Five: Breaking down the Dover spring race

Five thoughts after Monday’s race at Dover…

1. The natives are restless

How long did you think it would take before some in the NASCAR garage started making sharply critical comments about the rules package?

If you had 11 races into the season, you win.

Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and team owner Bob Leavine were among those who voiced…um…concerns about the rules package after the Dover race.

“The package sucks,” Busch told reporters, including Frontstretch’s Dustin Albino, on pit road. “No fucking question about it. It’s terrible.”

“Let me second @KyleBusch statement, this package sucks,” Leavine tweeted shortly thereafter. “Has nothing to do with where he finished.”

“Here’s the hard thing about the package,” Harvick told reporters, including Davey Segal. “NASCAR’s tried to accomplish a lot of things with one particular package, but you look at how the cars drive behind each other, and from a driver’s standpoint, it’s hard to race them. Anywhere.”

The NASCAR Foundation may be getting some donations after at least two of those statements, but that doesn’t mean they’re not true. NASCAR certainly doesn’t want drivers to bad-mouth the package, but the majority of the drivers feel the same way Busch does — they’ve just been biting their tongues for awhile now.

This rules package, aside from greatly benefiting the Talladega race, hasn’t lived up to expectations at intermediate tracks and outright hurt the racing at ovals 1 mile or less.

At some point, if that trend continues, drivers are going to get bolder about speaking their minds. The frustration has been bubbling and building just beneath the surface, and it was only a matter of time before an outspoken driver like Busch said something.

Now, will that change anything? Not immediately. If anything, Leavine’s comment may carry more weight — because it’s the team owners who would have to agree to any midseason changes to the package.

But if drivers start to voice their opinions and the momentum builds for a change, NASCAR ultimately might be forced into going a different direction.

2. Gibbs World

A hot topic one month ago was the combined domination of Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske — something that was interrupted only by a superspeedway-generated Hendrick Motorsports victory last week.

It was easy to look at JGR and Penske after eight races — back when JGR had won five races and Penske three — and go, “They’re kicking everyone’s butts!”

But now JGR has won SEVEN races (out of 11), so maybe it’s more like JGR is doing the butt-kicking by itself.

For example: Four Cup Series drivers have multiple wins this season — and three of them drive for JGR. Meanwhile, other traditionally strong teams like Stewart-Haas Racing haven’t won at all.

While Busch and Hamlin struggled on Monday, Truex stomped the field and won by more than nine seconds. So the organization clearly has speed, even on days when not all the team’s cars hit on the setup.

What’s the point of noting this? We’re starting to approach the time of the season where trends are identified and become storylines, like the Big Three hatching out of its spring egg last year. So just keep in mind JGR is starting to pile up a crazy total of wins — at least for the first week of May — and might have a chance to go on a historic run of trophy-hogging.

3. Dover needs a rain deal

Dover is one of the last tracks in NASCAR without some sort of weather protection plan for fans, which hurt some of the track’s loyal customers in the wallet this weekend.

Pocono has the “Worry-Free Weather Guarantee,” where if a race is rained out and your ticket isn’t scanned on the postponed date, you automatically get a refund.

Speedway Motorsports Inc. and International Speedway Corp. have both adopted weather guarantees of their own, where fans can exchange any unused grandstand ticket for another race at an ISC or SMI track within one year of the originally scheduled race (or next year’s race at the same track).

But Dover — along with Indianapolis, as far as I can tell — are the lone remaining tracks without such fan protection programs.

Granted, a Cup Series race at Dover hadn’t been rained out in 12 years (which is a pretty incredible run). So it’s not like this was a big issue for the track.

After Sunday, though, the track should step up and implement a weather guarantee for the future. I received tweets from fans who had to eat the cost of their tickets because they couldn’t return on Monday — and some vowed not to make that mistake again.

It’s just not good to put your core customers in that position, which I’m sure is being made clear to track officials through fan feedback. Hopefully Dover can learn from this weekend and make an improvement soon.

4. Who needed it more?

Both Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman had great runs on Monday, helping Chevrolet retain some momentum and helping their teams move back into the playoff picture.

But in my view, Bowman’s finish was more important than Larson’s.

Larson finally had a race without a piano falling out of the sky and landing on his car, which is good for him. He needed a nice, clean run — and he got one. The thing is, I haven’t really heard people wondering aloud if Larson would ever get back to being competitive again. It was more a matter of time before his streak of misfortune ended and he started running well.

Bowman, though, is a different case. Since he’s yet to win in the No. 88 car and doesn’t run up front, it seems like he’s always getting mentioned as someone who could be on the hot seat. (His contract runs through 2020, if you were wondering.) So stringing together back-to-back runner-up finishes — with Dover way more impressive than Talladega — is a fantastic development for him.

Hendrick has obviously been down the last couple seasons, so Bowman has had somewhat of a built-in excuse. If a seven-time champion can’t run up front and win, would you really expect Bowman to do so?

But measuring success in that case really comes down to comparison against teammates, and Bowman was the best of the Hendrick drivers at Dover.

He’ll need more than that to stay with the team long term, but runs like that certainly help his cause.

5. What’s next

After three short tracks, a superspeedway and whatever category of track Dover is, it’s time for a return to the type of venues that make up the meat of the schedule.

Kansas is up next (a Saturday night race this weekend) followed by the All-Star Race and Coke 600 at Charlotte. Then it’s off to high-speed tracks Pocono and Michigan before an off week. 

Perhaps the package will work better at one of those tracks (Michigan, maybe?), thus temporarily alleviating some of the criticism. I’m sure NASCAR would more than welcome that, if so.

But it will also be worth watching these upcoming races to see if the Hendrick speed burst is an illusion, whether Busch can keep up his freakish top-10 streak (now 13 in a row dating to last year), whether the Penske cars can get back to the top tier of teams with JGR and whether drivers like Kevin Harvick or Kyle Larson can break through for their first wins of the season.

12 Questions with Matt DiBenedetto (2019)

(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Matt DiBenedetto of Leavine Family Racing. These interviews are recorded as a podcast but are also transcribed for those who prefer to read.

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

I’m an iPhone user now. I used to be Android, but I switched because I’m not very technologically savvy and I feel like everything in the iPhone world is easier.

It sounds like you were almost our first Android answer of the year. Android has completely struck out so far to this point.

Oh man, it’s been like four or five years probably, so I switched quite awhile ago. Everyone said stuff just works easier and it does better, especially for dummies like me.

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

I think the selfies — like having your phone ready and obviously turned the right way and ready to roll — that’s more of a memory they have with the driver and the fan.

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

Not quite. I’ve learned to calm myself down on the street because there have been instances where literally it was like “I’m going to wreck this guy. Oh wait, I’m on the street, I don’t want to go to jail.” (Laughs) So I’ve learned driving on the road, when other people do that, to just kind of look at them being silly and blowing it off.

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

Inside the race car safety equipment? Yeah, there’s one that — I don’t know if I should even speak of. But a really long time ago, I was in my teens, and my glove caught — I was actually spinning and my glove caught the buckle and it took all my seatbelts off and undid them. So my steering wheel was a little bit too low, which was my fault, and it just was a freak situation of like spinning and kind of freaking out, reacting really fast and turning my hand all the way down here. When I did, it just caught them and turned — a very odd situation. It wouldn’t happen nowadays; stuff’s advanced a lot more, but yeah.

So this was during a spin?


Oh crap. Were you hurt?

No, not at all. No problems. But definitely was an attention grabber.

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

Let’s go with no on that one. It’s probably better I just drive. I think it’s usually better if they do their jobs and I do mine. I get in there and just make that thing go as fast as it can and they make they the car go as fast as it can.

Then if something happens where you guys get caught and we the media comes to you and we’re like, “Matt…” you can actually say, “Well I didn’t know.”

Exactly. It’s always better if you can truthfully play dumb. The less you know, the better.

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

I would say probably heavy seafood. It was a super hot day at Dover years ago and a truck driver was cooking a bunch of shrimp and clams and mussels and stuff like that. He was like boiling it all and it was like 90-something degrees outside and I was like, “Oh my gosh, NO. This is horrible timing.” It was already miserably hot and it just smelled like fish and seafood around our place. So I would go with that for sure.

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

Uh, yeah. Have you seen how big the universe is? We’re like less of a grain of sand. So I’m going to go with yes, and there’s like maybe some super technologically advanced racing division. But yeah, we’re very small.

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

Usually the typical question is, “How’s your car?” That’s normally how it starts. But it was different though when (AJ) Allmendinger was here. We talked about some really off-the-wall stuff that was not pertaining to race cars at all and we would mess with each other a lot and he would, you know, inappropriately smack me on the butt or poke me in the butt or whatever. (Laughs) We played around a lot. So yeah, there was no serious conversations between the two of us.

9. What makes you happy right now?

Doing what I love every day. That’s it. And I appreciate it a whole lot more because of the path I’ve had to go about. Truly, I live for this stuff. So just being able to do this, mainly my only passion, and being able to do it for a living and progressing the way I have and having to do it the pretty old-school way, it makes you love and appreciate it so much more.

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

Yeah. And I’ve seen this question asked to other drivers and some say no. They are crazy or they apparently have not been through the same path that I have to get here. I would do way worse than that for the situation. So the ones who have said no or, “Oh, that’s too much,” they’re crazy. I’m going to send them through my path to get here and I promise you they’ll change their mind.

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

We’re going with 95.

Is there someone on the track who you do not like to try and pass? Like every time you see this person, you’re just like, “Oh no, not this guy?”

Ryan Newman.

That seems like a common answer people may have.

Yeah. Nothing against Ryan — he races everybody the same — but when you catch him, it’s like, “Oh, this is going to be a task right here.”

12. The last interview was with John Hunter Nemechek. He wants to know: If you could get a tattoo, any kind of tattoo, anywhere on your body, what would you get and where would you get it?

I possibly will get my first Cup win somewhere on my arm. I don’t know if it’ll be inner arm or outer arm. I never really want a tattoo other than that. That’s the only way I’d get one. It’d be a good, meaningful tattoo.

So like how Austin Dillon and his team after Daytona 500, they all went and got tattoos right after? So we should see you at a tattoo parlor right after your first win?

Mine might be a little more thought out, probably. (Laughs) It’ll be meaningful and a little more serious. I like what he did, it was very spur of the moment and totally kudos to him. But I think I’m planning mine out.

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

I would say, what do they think is harder and easier about racing an open wheel car versus a stock car, if both? What they think would be harder, and what they think is also easier. So what’s harder about stock car racing that they think, what’s harder about open wheel racing.

Previous 12 Questions interviews with Matt DiBenedetto:

May 15, 2018

12 Questions with Kasey Kahne (2018)

Kasey Kahne celebrates after winning last year’s Brickyard 400. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

The 12 Questions series of driver interviews continues this week with Kasey Kahne of Leavine Family Racing. Kahne finished fourth last week at Daytona International Speedway. These interviews are recorded as a podcast but also transcribed below for those who prefer to read.

1. How often do you have dreams about racing?

That’s interesting. I actually never really do about driving the car. I feel like my dreams, when I do have them, it’s like I’m going to miss the race or miss qualifying or miss practice. Like I can’t get my seatbelts buckled — they’re too short. I just can’t get them that last little bit, or for whatever reason I can’t put my glove on. Like just weird stuff but I can’t figure out how to do it. Or you can’t find your helmet. I don’t know why, but those have kind of always been my dreams about racing.

That would freak me out, just trying to think about getting your glove on over and over and the cars are starting.

And then it’s like the race is starting in the dream and you can’t do it because you can’t get your glove on. But that’s not really how it goes. I mean you’ve got tons of time before the race starts (in real life).

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

I think it always does. I feel like you might as well get on the same page and talk about it. It’s usually probably not the best idea right after it happens — although sometimes it is if it’s not intentional and you’re pretty sure they understand that. Then that’s a good time just because it’s over with.

But I think the sooner the better — no later than Monday if it’s a Sunday show — just try and get it figured out and talk about it and then you can move on and you know if that person is still mad at you or if it made sense the way you explained it or you did them wrong.

They might eventually get you back. But at least you know, and at least they know where you’re coming from also. I think it’s good to get it out there.

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

I always like compliments about a couple things: being a good person, treating a person with respect, treating people the way I want to be treated. And when somebody compliments me on something like that, I feel good about that.

Also, anytime I get a compliment about Tanner, my son, just no matter what it is, like, “You’re a good dad” or  “You have a great boy” — just anything to do with him that is a compliment for him or for myself, it makes me feel good.

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?

Tom Brady. For one, he’s my favorite quarterback. Over the years he’s just so clutch, so perfect when you have to be perfect in that situation. So I just always thought that about him. And to be able to have someone like that at the racetrack and show them around, to me that would be unbelievable no matter what I got to show him, like about the cars or around the racetrack — just different things that NASCAR has going on throughout the weekend. I think that would be pretty awesome.

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

No. I wouldn’t.

You like your meat and cheese too much?

For sure, and you can still do really well on other stalls and still eat the way I like eating.

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 2011 Darlington Cup race.

I was in the Red Bull No. 4, we were super fast early in the race and I hit the wall. I might have even been leading; if I wasn’t leading, I was running second. I feel like Carl Edwards was up in the mix. But we were running up front and had a really good car and I hit the wall and ruined our chances of winning. We got the big Darlington stripe. I feel like we finished fourth, but without the damage we would have had a much better shot.

Wow, that’s amazing. You did finish fourth. You led more than 120 laps. That was the race Regan Smith won. Are you always that good at remembering races, or does that one just stick out?

A lot of things that went on in ’11 stick out. That was one of my favorite years in Cup racing for a lot of different reasons. And most races at Darlington stick out. That’s a track I’ve always had on the top of my list to win at. And I have a bunch of poles there and I’ve came close a bunch of different times but never been able to pull those off. So I remember those races really well. If you had asked me something else, I probably wouldn’t know.

7. Who is the best rapper alive?

I actually like rap, but I don’t usually know who’s singing. Or rapping, I guess.

So you like the song, but you’re like, “I don’t know who this is?”

Right. I actually just heard a song recently that I was like, “Man, that’s actually really good. That guy’s good at that.” But I had no clue who it was.

When I was younger, Eminem was my favorite. But that was a long time ago, I’m not sure anymore how much new music he has or anything.

He’s put out some stuff, but it’s not like amazing like the old stuff.

Yeah, the old stuff, I just always liked that.

8. Who has the most punchable face in NASCAR?

I think about someone up top calling the race (from the NASCAR tower) because there’s so much relying on their calls and so many of them are the right calls and good calls and even the ones that I wouldn’t think are right sometimes can be right. But sometimes I just can’t believe certain calls. Like it just irritates me so bad.

Like when you watch it back?  (Editor’s note: For some reason, I thought Kahne was referring to spotters and didn’t grasp he was referring to NASCAR at first.)

No, when I’m actually in the car. I may not have all the information at the time, but I can get as mad about some of that stuff as I can about a lot of things.

Are you talking about a spotter clearing somebody or something and you’re like, “I can’t believe that?” I’m confused.

I’m talking about like David Hoots. (The frustration) just comes from the call and then because of that, that person I guess. Whoever makes that call.

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.

So I think Tom Hanks is my crew chief because I feel like he would just be really in depth and just really figure it out and tune it up. Call a great race. Like he’d have all the information, do all the research. So Tom’s the crew chief.

LeBron’s the spotter because he’s just going to motivate me. I mean, he’ll just motivate the whole race. I don’t even like to be motivated, but if LeBron James was trying to motivate me, I think it’d be awesome. So LeBron’s motivating and he’s the spotter and helping me win the race. And Taylor Swift’s driving my motorhome.

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

Actually, the key is probably the interior guy (a crewman who is in charge of the car’s interior like the seat). They have usually walked the area, so a lot of times I’ll just ask him and he’ll know where the closest bathroom is because he knows I need one right before we go. So the key is the interior guy.

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?

A lot of money. A ton of money. I mean, I would definitely break my neck on the backflip — like there’s no way I could complete it, so I would need a lot of money to attempt it. NASCAR money. A lot of money. (Laughs)

12. Each week, I ask a driver to give me a question for the next interview. Last week was Aric Almirola. He has a question about Tanner. So he asks, “What is your favorite way to spend a day with Tanner from start to finish? What would you do in a day that you would both have a great time?”

Good question. We have those days, so it’s actually pretty easy. It has a lot to do with doing things and moving. He really likes going to the race shop; we have kind of our routine, so he has his people that really likes. At the race shop he has Roe (office manager Roseann Greene) and my sister (Shanon Adams) and Lisa (Backer, his longtime manager) and the guys in the shop working on the cars.

Basically we get up, we have breakfast, we watch a little bit of Paw Patrol, go to the race shop for an hour, I get a good workout in, he gets to play with everybody there. And then from there it’s pool time, water, outside, swings, slides — just kind of more than anything, running around playing and enjoying the time. And I don’t mind that either; I like relaxing. So to let him go do his thing and me get to relax and just keep my eye on him is a nice afternoon.

The next interview is with Denny Hamlin. Do you have a question I can ask Denny?

How much time a week does he actually put into the Hoop Group and Golf Guys Tour during those seasons? Because I know he has all kinds of stuff going on to make those things go. So how much actual time is he putting into that? Because I feel like it’s a lot.

It seems like it would be. They have social media accounts, they have all sorts of professional trophies and stuff going on.

Yeah. Trophies, they have dinner outings, they have the full-on tournaments, they have the same with the Hoop Group,  I feel like they have gambling. It’s all types of things are wrapped around those two groups. And I think Denny is behind all of it, so he has to be putting in some serious hours.

Previous 12 Questions interviews with Kasey Kahne:

May 12, 2010

July 27, 2011

April 4, 2013

April 30, 2014

April 30, 2015

March 23, 2016

April 12, 2017

News Analysis: Kasey Kahne to drive Leavine Family Racing’s No. 95 car

What happened: Leavine Family Racing, which currently fields the No. 95 car with Michael McDowell, announced Kasey Kahne will take over as its full-time driver in 2018. Kahne and Hendrick announced last month they would part ways after this year, but Kahne was ultimately able to remain in the Cup Series with another team.

What it means: Though his new home is certainly a downgrade from powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports, this is a good move for both Kahne and family-run Leavine (pronounced “leh-VINE”). Kahne is only 37 and has some prime years ahead of him, and this will allow him to race in an environment without the pressure that comes with being part of Hendrick. At the same time, Leavine’s performance has been improving over the years — McDowell has been the best car in the Richard Childress Racing alliance at numerous races this year — and figures to only get better with an 18-time race winner in the seat. In addition, Leavine should be able to build a sponsorship program around a driver whose loyal fan base has continued to support him through several miserable seasons at Hendrick.

News value (scale of 1-10): Five. This move was expected for awhile, so it’s not a surprise. It also involves a team that isn’t well known to many fans, though Kahne’s part of the announcement makes it notable enough to get a decent amount of media coverage.

Three questions: Will lowered expectations actually allow Kahne to improve his results (McDowell’s average finish is only one spot behind Kahne this season)? Why did Leavine remain part of the RCR alliance instead of working a deal with Hendrick? Will McDowell be able to remain in NASCAR in some form?

12 Questions with Michael McDowell

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Leavine Family Racing’s Michael McDowell. I spoke with McDowell at Dover International Speedway. This interview is available both in podcast and written form.

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

That’s hard question. For me I would say 60/40 — 60 (percent) being working at it, 40 (percent) being natural ability. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been competitive and been able to run at a high level, but I feel like the biggest separation in my later years in my career is just working hard at it.

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?

It’s funny, because I think that your fans are your fans because they like you and because they can relate to you. You hear people say, “Well I was a Tony fan and now I’m trying to figure out who to be a fan of.” Normally they’ll migrate to someone similar personality-wise, driving style-wise, something like that.

So I don’t really have a pitch. I like to think that my fans are my fans because they relate to me and because they want to be fans of Michael McDowell.

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

This job’s not very hard. We get paid to drive around in circles. But there’s a lot to it. I think the hardest part is just balancing your work life and your family life. That’s probably the hardest thing just because racing requires everything you have. Even when you’re not doing it, you’re still thinking about it.

When you’re home, you’re still thinking about the next week, I’m watching video and I’m looking at data. Even when I’m not doing those things, I’m still thinking about it. The hard part is just being able to switch it off and switch it on. It’s ingrained in you, racing, so you just live and breathe it.

You sort of never get away from it in some ways.

Exactly. It feels like you never get away from it.

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

Yeah, for sure. I don’t have any issues with that. It doesn’t happen all the time, so for me it probably wouldn’t be that big of a deal. I feel like there’s always a time and place to do it, so timing is very critical. But for fans, they don’t know what that looks like. It’s what we signed up for, so I always just have a little extra grace knowing that they’re just excited and it’s not that big of a deal, whatever it is you’re doing.

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

There’s lots of stories. From 15th back doesn’t get enough coverage for anybody. We’re a sport of 40 drivers compared to other sports that have hundreds and thousands of athletes, and yet we still only focus on 10 guys. So I think just telling the other stories and telling who those people are and their teams, there’s just more to it than the 10 guys that are all retiring.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

Hold on. Let me get my phone.

Pulling it up on your nice red-orange phone case. I don’t know if that’s red or orange. Some combo of the two.

Yeah it’s bright, because I leave it everywhere, so this helps me.

The last driver — Cole Whitt. David Ragan. Those were my last two.

You have them in a group chat or something?

No. I asked David Ragan about Pocono, taking the kids to the waterpark. That’s the intense conversations you have with drivers.

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

Some of them are. There’s a lot of personalities in the sport. I don’t consider this to be an entertainment sport from the standpoint of us as characters. On the racetrack, I think it’s an entertainment sport. But there’s a lot of characters in our sport. There’s a lot of people who are quite entertaining that don’t always show it.

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

I’m not a big fan of it. Over the years, I’ve kind of changed a little bit. It used to be if somebody gave me the finger, I would do everything I could to get to their bumper and hit them. Most of the time if they gave you the finger it was because you’re holding them up and they’re faster than you so usually you can’t catch them to hit them.

I know that everybody has their own thing about it, but what I’ve learned is that most of the time when I do something of retaliation, I get myself in trouble, too. So it’s usually not worth it.

Did you ever successfully catch somebody and hit them after they gave you the finger?

Yeah lots of people, and that makes them really mad. But that’s the whole idea, you know what I mean?

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. I remember you kept a payback list on the inside of your uniform at one point. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

The races, they go in these momentums and they go in the ebbs and flows. Yes, you do remember when someone cuts you a break. And cutting somebody a break could be when you’re catching them really quickly and they just don’t hold you up. Or it could be just merging off of pit road and letting you not get pinned down on the bottom, whatever it is. So you do remember that.

As far as retaliation lists, same thing. I used to really enforce it and now it’s not that I’ve gotten soft, but it just doesn’t help anybody. If anything, it just hurts you.

AJ (Allmendinger) and I were at it at the beginning of the year, and we were just hurting ourselves, just costing ourselves spots because we were both in that red mist mindset and we weren’t going anywhere. So I was able to sit down with him after a couple of races like that and say, “Alright man, we gotta figure this out, even if it means we gotta cut each other a little bit of breaks for the next couple weeks just to get over the hump.” Because when you start losing points and you start tearing up bodies, it makes a lot of work for the guys for no reason. So heat of the moment, things happen and that’s part of it, but separating the track and off-track is important too.

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

I don’t know. Famous is relative to who you think would be famous and who I think would be famous. It’d be different right?

That’s true. It could be to you, so somebody you were fascinated by.

So probably Mario Andretti. When Marco (Andretti) was really young, I did some driver coaching with him at Sebring. Just being around the Andrettis, the family, was pretty cool because I grew up an Andretti fan and a Mario fan in particular. So that was probably pretty cool.

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

A lot. On the racetrack?

You can answer it however you want.

I don’t know how you are, but I’m constantly trying to improve, whether that’s parenting my kids or trying to be a good husband or trying to make the most of my opportunity here. So I’m constantly taking inventory of, “Alright, these are the areas that are good,” and you highlight those and, “These are the areas you still gotta work on.” I feel like probably more than anything, it’s just patience and just being slow to speak. Sometimes I get myself in trouble.

12. Typically at this point I ask a question that the last driver has given me, but I screwed up the last interview which was supposed to be with Paul Menard, so there is no question from Paul Menard. So would you like to ask yourself a question here and answer it, or would you just like to skip this part?

No, I want to ask you a question.

Oh, you want to ask me a question?

So with your job description change, how is it being an independent versus working for the big brother?

Well, it’s a lot more fun, first of all. I feel like I can do a lot more of what I want. But what I was worried about was not people like you — because you’ve always been nice to me — but some people that have more difficult PR people might not give me as many interviews and access. But for the most part people have said, “Yes,” all year, so that’s really nice. Does that surprise you?

No, it doesn’t surprise me, because this sport is still relational and you’ve spent years building those relationships. So I don’t think it matters who your work for or who you drive for, who your sponsors are. When you build good relationships, I think people care more about you than who you work for.

That’s nice of you to say. Thank you. So there will be a next interview, hopefully, but I don’t know who it’s going to be with. Do you have a question I could ask the next driver?

What are the reasons for retirement? What are the things that would cause to you say, “You know what, that’s it. I’m good.”

So when they know it’s time, what’s gonna be driving that decision?

Yeah, for sure.

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