12 Questions with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2018)

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

The series of 12 Questions interviews continues with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. of Roush Fenway Racing. These interviews are recorded as podcasts, but also transcribed on JeffGluck.com for those who would rather read.

1. How often do you have dreams about racing?

I don’t dream very much. Well I’m sure I do, but I don’t actually remember them or wake up and be like, “Oh wow, that was crazy.” When I was younger, I used to dream quite a bit around racing. Now that I do it for a living, maybe I don’t dream about it as much.

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

I always feel it’s necessary to apologize if it’s an accident. I’ve gotten into people on purpose and I definitely ain’t calling them if I feel like they deserved it, right? So I’m not apologizing. That’s the way I roll.

If somebody gets into me on accident and I know it’s on accident, I expect at least like a, “Hey, sorry about that.” And then I’ll let it roll off. But if it seems intentional, I’m like, “I’ll get them back.”

So there’s no fake explanation later where you’re like, “Oh, I really didn’t mean to do that” even though you did? You just don’t bother.

Yeah, I just don’t bother. I feel like they really understand after that: “Alright, he meant to do that.”

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

Throughout my racing career, I always loved when people are like, “I love how aggressive you drive, on the edge,” because I feel like that’s my driving style. So I like it when people feel like I do that. And get the most out of the car. I feel like that’s always a positive compliment you can get as far as driving a race car.

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?

Probably Alan Jackson, that’d be cool. I feel like there’s a lot of cool sports celebrities and people that come to the track that you get to meet, but I feel like Alan Jackson doesn’t do a whole lot outside his (singing), so I think that’d be cool.

That brings up a good point because we see so many country artists — but not Alan Jackson, unless he came through in the 90s or something. Surely he’s been to a NASCAR race at some point. (Editor’s note: We forgot about this notable Alan Jackson video featuring some legendary drivers.)

I would think so. His music and him scream NASCAR, so I don’t know. That’s who’d I want to come hang out with me. I wish I could have hair like he did, especially in the 90s.

You almost did for a little while.

Yeah. I might try and get it again, but I don’t know. I mean, long blonde hair is pretty solid.

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?

Who says vegan’s healthy? There’s people that say you need to eat some meat, right? Protein.

That’s a good point.

But for a No. 1 pit stall, it depends on what track they would give it to you at. I would definitely do it for pit stalls where it feels like it’s a huge advantage, a track position racetrack. So I’d probably do it. I quit eating candy for a month one time, and I feel like that was probably harder than going vegan for a month.

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. Are you good at remembering races or no?

I’m OK, but I don’t know. After so many years, I feel like they run together.

Do you remember where you finished in the 2014 Bristol night race?


That was the year before, I think.

No, that was the first race (that year)! When we raced at night (because of a rain delay). So we finished ninth?


Well I don’t remember that one then.

You started 21st, you finished sixth.

I do know that we don’t qualify good there, or we didn’t. We did this year.

You actually started 21st in that race where you finished second as well.

Yeah, so that threw me off, because we ran like four night races in a row, I feel like, at Bristol, because of rain. So that was a trick question.

You finished behind Kurt Busch and ahead of Carl Edwards in this race. Do you remember racing them at all?

Yeah, that one’s kind of a blur. Now the spring race of that year, I remember. Carl won, we finished second, it was raining like two laps to go.

That would have been too easy though if I was like, “Oh, second.” It sticks out. I had to make it somewhat hard.

No, that was good. I like that. That was cool. Has anybody for sure guessed it?

Yes, some people have totally nailed it out of nowhere.


7. Who is the best rapper alive?

I don’t really think any rappers are good. I like Colt Ford, he’s solid. Is Kanye West considered a rapper?


I’ll go with Kanye West. I could not tell you a song that he sings, but we’ll go with Kanye.

8. Who has the most punchable face in NASCAR?

Oh, I remember this question. I told (Kyle) Larson I was doing this when we were watching sprint car races last night.

That’s right, he picked you (in the 12 Questions earlier this year).

Yeah, he said me because we actually did (punch each other) at Knoxville last year (explained here).

I really think any face is punchable, just depending on what they did. Like if somebody crashes me and they want to come up and complain to me about why we got in a wreck, I’d probably do that. It just depends on how mad I am.

I mean, there’s a few that you would punch and then run the other way.

I don’t know how people would fare with Newman. I don’t think very well.

Yeah, I don’t know. You might want to get five hits in real quick. But you gotta be ready to take another one.

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.

Oh wow. I’d probably put Tom Hanks as my spotter; I feel like he’s somebody I’d want to listen to. I feel like he probably has pretty good ideas of what’s going on.

I feel like LeBron would be a good crew chief, just because I feel like he basically coaches his teams now from the court. So I feel like that’s what a crew chief does.

And so I guess Taylor will be driving my bus. Hope she can cook. I doubt she cooks, but I don’t know, maybe she does.

She probably has people who do that.

Yeah. Well as long as she can bring those people.

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

Pre-race bathrooms are a necessity. I think (car chief Scott) Brewer here, he helps point them out for me. He scouts them out for me. I’ll get to the car after intros and he’s like, “Hey, nearest one is over here or over there.” So that’s the way we roll over here on the 17.

But it’s kind of tricky. At the 600, our cars were on the racetrack (instead of pit road before the race). They got done with the national anthem and I was like, “Man, I’ve got to go to the bathroom.” I had to run all the way across the grass into basically the media center, go to the bathroom and run all the way back out.

So you probably were breaking a sweat already before you got in the car.

Yeah, I was definitely getting warmed up. But even if you don’t have to go to the bathroom, you go to the bathroom just to make it easy. Like I had to pee at Pocono on Lap 10, and I just was miserable.

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

Well, I haven’t tried a backflip in a while, but I used to be able to do a standing back tuck on the ground without jumping off the car. I used to give Carl a hard time when he was here at Roush; I was like, “You can’t do them on the ground? You do them off the car?” But I haven’t done them off an object other than into pools and stuff. I used to be able to do them just standing on the ground. Maybe I’ll send you a video.

I mean, I would take any kind of money. But I don’t really care because that means we won the race, and that’s really all I need. Probably a Bristol night race would be cool. I might try it there. Try it. I might leave my helmet on.

12. Each week, I ask a driver to give me a question for the next interview. Last week was Jamie McMurray. He said that you and Clint Bowyer used to gang up on him and make fun of him for working out, things like that. He noticed that you now work out a lot and it’s a part of your lifestyle. So he wants to know, what changed in your life that made that important to you?

I tell Jamie — I still mess with him — he rides his bicycle for like four or five hours a day. Who has time to ride a bicycle for four or five hours a day? I always mess with him and say, “I don’t know why they wear aerodynamic spandex and stuff. Just pull a parachute and ride your bike for an hour instead of four hours being aerodynamic.”

But no, I did CrossFit for a long time and enjoyed it, but just kinda got burnt out and just decided to stop working out. I twisted my ankle and hurt my wrist and then I was like, “Nah, this isn’t going to work out.”

And then after that — I’m not superstitious, but there’s times like last year where I’m like, “We’re running good, guess I’m not going to work out. I just can continue to play golf and race.” And so that’s what we did.

But then this offseason I got with PitFit training in Indy. They do a lot of IndyCar drivers, a lot of (NHRA) Top Fuel drivers, some sprint car drivers work out there. But it’s more race car driver based, a lot of the workouts that they’ve got me doing and things like that. You know, reaction time, hand-eye coordination when your heart rate’s really high, things like that. So I’ve been enjoying doing that over the last probably month and a half.

I don’t know who the next interview is going to be with. Do you have a question I can ask another driver in the garage?

I think you should ask your next driver if they would be game to have a Wednesday night race, like a one-day show, at Bristol once a month.

Once a month?


Like a side series or part of Cup?

Like part of Cup. Just go in there, kind of like a (local) short track race. Like you have an hour of practice, then qualifying, then race that night. Do it all in the afternoon and night. I’ll see what the driver’s poll is on that. Because I really would like to run Bristol every other week.

Yeah, I can see that based on your results.

Yeah, every other week let’s go there.

Previous 12 Questions interviews with Ricky Stenhouse Jr.:

Sept. 28, 2011

March 28, 2012

May 18, 2016

Aug. 30, 2017


News Analysis: Matt Kenseth returning to NASCAR

What happened: Matt Kenseth will return to the NASCAR Cup Series on a part-time basis, Roush Fenway Racing officially announced Wednesday. As Jordan Bianchi of SBNation.com first reported, Kenseth will split the No. 6 car with Trevor Bayne at Roush, where Kenseth started his career. Kenseth’s first race back will be the Kansas Speedway race in May.

What it means: Roush found a new sponsor, and it’s likely any sponsor wants a big-name driver if possible. It certainly makes a deal more attractive. That coincided with an opportunity to improve performance; Bayne’s best finish this season is 12th and he sits 26th in the point standings, while teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is 19th in the standings. At the very least, Kenseth can come in, drive some races and give feedback on whether the problem is the cars or the drivers. He just won his second-to-last start in November and the cars haven’t changed much since then.

News value (scale of 1-10): Uh, 9? Pretty high! As far as driver comebacks, the only thing bigger would be if Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart decided to race again for some reason. This is also be significant in the ongoing narrative about young drivers, since it could represent a shift back toward putting value on veteran performance.

Three questions: How will Kenseth perform in what currently appears to be second-tier equipment? How many races will he ultimately drive this season? Is there still time for Bayne to save his job, or is this the beginning of the end?

12 Questions with Trevor Bayne

The series of 12 Questions interviews continues this week with Trevor Bayne of Roush Fenway Racing. Bayne is carrying a career-best 19.6 average so far this season and is 21st in the Cup Series point standings.

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

Growing up, most of it came from natural ability — but once I got to this level, I realized that you’re gonna have to work at it. I sat down in the office with (Roush Fenway competition director) Kevin Kidd probably two years ago and we talked about that exact topic: How far is your natural ability gonna get you versus your work ethic?

You look at the best guys and they work hard. So I’d say in the last year, I’ve ramped it up to about my max. This year, I said my goal was to try and burn myself out, to try to work as hard as I could and see if results came from that and see where it got me.

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?

I don’t know if I have a pitch. Man, I just always try to be myself, try not to compromise any of my values or anything like that. So, if they want somebody that’s just gonna be themselves, that me.

That was weak sauce, wasn’t it? (Laughs)

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

The hardest part of my job away from the racetrack is just managing time with family. I know everybody in our sport has that. I bring my two kids (Ellie and Levi) and my wife (Ashton) with me every weekend. (The kids) were screaming on the (team) plane this weekend on the way here, and I felt so bad for my team having to listen to it. They act like they don’t mind, but…

My family means so much to me, so it just requires so much time and so much effort. Listening to Carl Edwards in his retirement speech or whatever you want to call that, he talks about how racing requires every bit of your attention all day, every day. And like I said, I’m working at it, I’m giving it all my attention. So just managing family and racetrack (is difficult).

Most people, if they have screaming kids on a plane, they don’t know anybody and it’s all strangers. If you’re on a plane, and it sounds like it’s all your friends and your team and you’re like, “Oh no!”

We sat on the plane last night, and (Trevor and Ashton said to each other), “We’re flying commercial the rest of the year, because at least we won’t know the people.” (Laughs) They can’t be mad at us.

I think dragging your family around 38 weekends a year, four days a week and having them cooped up in a motorhome, I just feel bad about that. But it’s probably harder on my wife than it is for me.

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

That’s fine with me. Actually here in Dover last year, my wife didn’t come for some reason and I was up in the restaurant right there on the backstretch, and a fan recognized me and I sat down and ate dinner with him the whole time. He bought my dinner; I thought that was really nice. So I sat with him and ate with him and his wife. They’ve been coming here for years and got to know him a little bit. But I think stuff like that is cool and it doesn’t really bother me.

So they were eating and you sat down with them, or they sat down at your table?

We were in line together and they were kind of doing the look — looking back, trying to be not obvious — and then finally they just turned around and said, “Hey, are you Trevor Bayne?” I said yeah. So I got up to the line and when I got up to pay, the (cashier) lady said, “They got it.” So I thanked them and they realized that I was by myself and said I could sit with them, so I did.

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

It’s just the work ethic of these guys. I don’t know anybody in any real-world jobs that work as hard as these guys do — the hours they put in, the travel, the time commitment that it takes. We try to show that (through) the media coverage and TV coverage, but my job is really dependent on them. I can only do as much as my race car allows me to do, and so they determine how we run on the weekends (along with) their work ethic and what we do in the shops.

So I think just painting that picture of just how important it is to work together as a team, how important it is for these guys to be as committed as they are and for me to be successful and for us as a team to be successful.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

We’ve got this whole cycling group text going on, so I don’t know if that counts, but we’re always talking about when we’re gonna go ride.

I actually talked to Carl Edwards on the phone this week, just checking in with him, seeing how he’s doing. That’s probably the last guy I talked to.

Is he gonna come back?

No. (Laughs) He’s loving life, man, I’ll be honest with you. He’s been all around the world bicycling and sailing. It sounds pretty crazy. But we were just talking about life.

It’s funny how people are gone for a few weeks and they’re just forgotten about. It’s unbelievable how quick our sport does that to you, so I think about those guys a lot and try to stay in touch with them.

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

Some of them are. (Laughs) Some of the personalities around here are entertainers. I mean, that’s what we’re here for, right? For entertainment. I try to do my entertaining on the racetrack, try not to do it on social media or after the races or whatever. But that’s our sport: Entertainment.

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

Give me the middle finger and you’re gone. Yeah, you’re dumped. That’s like cussing me out to my face. Michael McDowell and I always talked about that –we’ve got a no middle finger policy. I got it (at New Hampshire) and the guy got sent, so that’s just how it is. I don’t think you and I standing here would talk to each other like that, so I expect the same respect on the racetrack. Most of the time, it’s just heat of the moment when those guys do it and they would never say that in person, but still you’ve gotta have self control. So I am partially an enforcer on that one.

Do people know realize that if they do that to you that’s gonna happen? It seems kind of dumb if that’s your policy and people know that. Like why would they even do that?

I think they found out a few times. Then they’re mad, like “What was the deal?” I’m like, “You’re flipping me off!” How many times have you been flipped at on the road and wished you should send somebody? We can here, and I do. So that’s kind of my policy.

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?

Yeah, I think I am actually more that way than the negative side. Maybe in that race, if someone ticks you off and you have your mindset or whatever that is, you’re gonna race them, make it hard on them. But same thing goes for someone who lets you in; if you catch them a straightaway back and they don’t race you super hard and let you in early in the race, I think you definitely pay that back more so than the negative side.

But it’s kind of that race (only). For me, I don’t carry things week to week. I can be just fuming mad at somebody at Loudon and we show up at Dover and I don’t even think about it. I feel like if you try to keep a checklist of good and bad in your mind, you’re just gonna be a mental head case. There’s no way you can keep up with it, and then you’re just gonna be out to get somebody every week or out to help somebody every week instead of running your own race. So I just try to clear the list every week.

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

I’ve had dinner with a lot of people. I don’t know. I mean, obviously all the race car drivers in here, I have eaten dinner with them. Man, it’s been a few years since I’ve been in the famous club, hanging out with people. Right after the 500 (win) obviously I was able to do all kinds of stuff like that. But honestly, I couldn’t tell you. I don’t think about it.

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

I think my goal this year was to finish as strong as we started this season, and I still think I have room to expand on that. You come to Daytona excited and ready to go racing, and by this point in the season, if you don’t make the playoffs, you’re kind of burned out, you’re ready for Homestead to come and go race and get a month off or so. We just have a long season. So for me, it’s just continuing to figure out how I can manage my season better, how I can finish as strong as I start and get the results at the end of the year.

12. The last interview I did was with Chase Briscoe, and his question was: Outside of NASCAR, what would be the biggest race you would like to win? 

I’d love to say go run an F1 race or run the Indy 500, but there’s no way my wife would let me get into an open-wheel car. So I’m not even gonna go there. I think it would be really fun to run a Rallycross race and win an X Games gold medal or something. I was friends with Scott Speed and he was talking about how he never thought he’d get an X Games gold medal, how cool that is because of action sports athletes. I think that would be kind of neat to run one of those and get a medal at the X Games.

That would be pretty badass. I don’t know who the next interview is with, so do you have a question I can ask another driver in general?

(Ricky Stenhouse Jr. walks by.)

Stenhouse: It’s not me.

Yeah, I already did a 12 Questions with Ricky.

Bayne: Ricky, how many Pop Tarts do you eat everyday? I’m just kidding. What do you think, Ricky?

Stenhouse: Take a chance. Ask them if you can have their car.

Bayne: At what point in the season do you start thinking about Homestead and get to the last race? There we go. I know for me, if we don’t make the playoffs, I’m ready to go. I said a couple of weeks ago, it should maybe be like football: If you don’t make the playoffs, you don’t get to come play.

Nah, I think for the next driver (the question is): “How do you keep your head on to finish the season strong?” Since that’s something I’m working at, I’ll have to read their answer. But at what point in the season do you feel like the fatigue of the season and start looking forward to the end, and how do you keep your head on and keep pushing forward to the end?

12 Questions with Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

The series of 12 Questions interviews continues this week with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., a two-time race winner this season for Roush Fenway Racing. I spoke with Stenhouse at Bristol Motor Speedway.

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

That’s a tough question. I think a lot of us feel like we got here on our natural ability, but a lot of hard work goes into that as well. Growing up racing sprint cars, I had to work on all my cars and do all the work with some buddies. When I got here to NASCAR, you try to refine and hit your marks and maybe get a little more patient. So I don’t know if there’s a percentage, but it definitely takes both.

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?

I’m not really good at sales pitches. But I think right now we’re doing a good job at trying to get (Dale) Junior’s fans. Obviously, winning the superspeedways, Junior’s fans, I feel like he got a ton from his success on those, and he’s kind of got a big group of followers. So I’d like to snag a few.

But really, I just need to keep going out and getting us to perform better. I know that our best performances are still ahead of us. We’re still gaining on it, so I think if the fans want something to look forward to as we keep building, definitely come be a fan of ours.

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

The hardest part is really just managing time. We don’t get a whole lot of time at home. There’s things that we have to do for our job, but there’s things that we want to do for our fun time outside of it, and it tends to end up causing a lot of travel. Sometimes I think you just get run down. So really trying to manage all of that — like right now I’ve been home one night in three weeks, so I think it’s just trying to not run yourself down too much and manage that.

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

Yeah, I don’t mind at all. I think that’s cool, being recognized outside the racetrack. It’s funny, I got a lot of people coming up to me outside the racetrack at dinners and stuff, asking me if I did American Ninja Warrior. So that’s kind of cool. But yeah, just come on up.

So they recognize you from the show? They’re like, “Hey, aren’t you that guy?”

Yeah, and I told (Ryan) Blaney that — since he did it with me this year — and he’s said he’s gotten that a few times as well.

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

There’s teams that do a lot with a little — and you recognize it, people talk about it a few times throughout the year at superspeedways. There’s points in the weekend that a car that doesn’t have as much resources is able to go put some fast laps down for the equipment that they have. Not necessarily go to the top of the board or anything like that. But I feel like that happens quite often.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

Last driver I texted? (Kyle) Larson.

You have golf game coming up or something?

No, we went to dinner last night. We went to play golf yesterday on our golf group (the Golf Guys Tour). Last night we got back and we were like, “We’re tired, let’s go to bed.” Then he texted me, “Hey, are you still gonna go eat?” And I was like, “Yeah, let’s go.” So we went and had some Mexican (food).

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

Yeah, I think we are entertainers. I think everybody in sports is here for entertainment. Is it circus entertainment? No, it’s competitive entertainment where a lot of fans enjoy what we do and the show that we put on, and we try to go out and do the best that we can for our fans and our sponsors. But really, we want this to be a good race, which will be a good show for people to watch.

It does seem like a circus sometimes, though.

(Smiles) Yeah, I wasn’t gonna say that, but it seems like a circus sometimes.

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

I may have done it one time. I get really mad if somebody does it to me — I feel like it’s kind of rude. Every now and then people will give a hand out of window and it’s like, “Oh, OK, they’re not super happy about that.” But the finger, I feel that’s a little far and I’ll try to run into them if they do it. So it really gets me kind of irritated.

So you’re not a finger-giver. Only one time.

Yeah, maybe once. Maybe. I’m saying maybe because I don’t recall. But yeah, I think it’s a little disrespectful.

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?

One hundred percent. I think that’s really the key if you want some of your races to go smoothly. If somebody lets me by and I’m way faster, if that position gets reversed, I try to remember that so I can pay that favor back to them and you can kind of expect that a few times. It goes both ways, but I think it’s starting to get back around.

I feel like back in the day, that was kind of known to be the code. Now I think people are realizing that they can make it tougher on themselves if they want. 

So after Mark Martin left, it kind of went the other way and now it’s sort of getting back to being more respectful because the younger guys sort of figured things out, perhaps?

Yeah, I guess so. From the sounds of it, Mark was really good at really…I don’t know if you say “courteous” on the racetrack. But some of your fans don’t like (being respectful) and some of your teams don’t, so you gotta balance it. You can’t just let everybody go; you have to race. We’re out there to race. So you just pick and choose your battles: When do you think it will pay off better for you to let somebody go, or to really push it?

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

I don’t know. Probably Luke Bryan.

He’s pretty popular.

At that dinner, Pharrell stopped by. We didn’t technically have dinner with him, but he came by and hung out for a little while. That dinner was Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan, Pharrell stopped by and Little Big Town. It was a big group.

That’s a good dinner right there. That’s pretty epic.

Yeah, it was good. It’s fun sometimes. At the ESPYs you get a lot of good dinners as well — before Peyton (Manning’s) last year, we all had dinner. And there were also a lot of other people eating dinner — Blake Griffin, too.

You’ve had a better answer than a lot of the drivers this year.

Oh, that’s good. Yeah, Danica and I get to meet a lot of cool people.

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

Patience. I get a little irritated pretty quick. Even if it’s throughout practice and we make changes that don’t quite go the right way. I’ll come in and talk to (crew chief Brian) Pattie and he’ll say, “Look, we had to do that. That was on the list of things we needed to try.” And I’m like, “Well if you felt like it wouldn’t be better, we shouldn’t do it!” So I get a little frustrated pretty quick, but sometimes it’s better. Not all the time. (Smiles)

12. The last interview I did was with Chase Elliott.  His question was: How is your golf game, and are you expecting to win the Golf Guys championship this year?

Oh wow. (The Thursday before Bristol) my golf game was not good, but I’m sitting third in points, so I feel like I have a good opportunity to win our championship. I really want to. Denny (Hamlin, who founded the competition) won it last year and we say he makes all the rules, so it kind of worked in his favor. But he’s second in points right now, so it’s gonna be a good battle.

I’ve got to go work on my game. We’ve been really busy this whole year, so I haven’t been able to work on my game as much as I wanted to. But we’re running better over here, so that’s really what matters to me.

How many matches or rounds do you have left?

I believe four rounds. We do eight events. The points increase as we go the last two events or three events. You want to run second or third every event, so then you can win the points by a lot.

When you win, it puts you at deficit. I won one event so far, but you gotta get so many points based on your handicap. Well when you win an event, we always add two points to your points that you have to get, so it makes it difficult and challenging to keep scoring those points. So you want to come on a run right as the Tour Championship (is approaching).

I don’t know who the next driver is, but do you have a question I can ask another race car driver in general?

My question for any driver would be: What did they do on the off weekend? And if it was fun, why didn’t they invite me?

I mean, I got plans, but…

At least you could get the invite.

Yeah, I mean a little reach-out like, “Hey, we’re doing this. Do you want to come?” That would be cool.

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).

Social Spotlight with Jackson Martin of Roush Fenway Racing

Each week, I ask a member of the racing community to shed some light on their social media usage. Up this week: Jackson Martin, the Social Media and Digital Marketing Manager for Roush Fenway Racing.

Is it just you or is there a team of people you are a part of with the Roush Fenway social accounts?

We’ve got a couple different people who touch the accounts. It’s primarily me, but also my boss Kevin Woods, who is the Vice President of Communications at Roush Fenway. He’ll do a lot of on-track stuff too.

We’ve gotten a lot better this year about trading off weekends so you can get a little time at home, a little time away. We also have another woman, Amanda Efaw, who pitches in sometimes, too. So I’d say it’s mostly me, but there’s a lot of voices touching the accounts, too.

For some reason, I picture the Roush account as you guys coming up with really fun stuff together, like bouncing stuff of each other and then sharing it out. I just picture it as sort of this fun, collaborative effort because the stuff you come up with is very unique, very creative — and clearly some thought goes into it.

For the most part, yeah. Sometimes it’s a little off the cuff and we can get ourselves into trouble when we do that. But as a whole, the marketing arm of Roush Fenway has done this really cool thing the last couple of years where particularly when performance was not great, not where we wanted it to be, the marketing team basically took the concept of, “We want to also be the marketing agency for our sponsors.”

So most of the time you come in, you pay however much you do to be the paint scheme for the week and that’s what you get. You can make of it what you will, you can pay someone else to do that. And they said, “No, we need to offer something else to our sponsors.” So we really try to be that marketing team for you, and that’s already included in what you’re paying us and we try to make the most out of our sponsorship. So it’s not just on you: We look at what your goals are, but also we try and help you in how we know with the best practices.

And so sort of born out of that, we do do a couple of things a lot like a marketing agency might be and a lot of that involves us sitting around a room together, kicking around ideas. We draw up a whiteboard for every single week of just ideas, things that we can do, things that we can have fun with, wins that we have. Because I think outside of like two (tracks), we have wins at every single track on the NASCAR circuit in Xfinity and Cup.

So really it is. It’s such a collaborative effort between not just us, but also the communication managers, the PR people who are doing stuff for each individual team. In doing that, I think that’s how we get the most creativity, just sitting around kicking ideas back and forth.

It seems like your general philosophy is to have fun with the accounts. What messages are you trying to convey in general and how do you balance that with the competitive side of racing?

I think that’s interesting. They hired me as someone who really had no experience in NASCAR, and Kevin Woods has told me that part of that was getting some fresh eyes on the sport. I definitely brought that — I had no idea what I was doing. And so it just became let’s have fun, let’s give people a reason to follow us. Even if you’re not necessarily a fan of Roush Fenway, we want you to enjoy what we’re doing.

Some of that got born out of what I did when I was at Vanderbilt University. I was the sports editor for the Vanderbilt Hustler newspaper, and our football team was awful. Just so bad. They were 2-10 my freshman year. (The paper) made the mistake of giving me the Twitter account. And so we just go and have fun at games, you know. Maybe we were losing to Alabama by 40 points, but I was going to tell you what the band was playing, what the music was in the stadium — we’re gonna have some fun with what was going on.

And think that sort of fed into my philosophy here, which is that if you’re following us, you’re probably following Jeff Gluck, you’re following Jim Utter, you’re following the other media accounts. You have a pretty good general idea of what’s going on in the race, even if you’re just keeping up with Twitter.

So we need to be different; we need to give people a reason to follow us, a reason to enjoy what we’re doing — and fortunately the leadership at Roush Fenway bought into that. They give us a lot of creative freedom and hopefully I don’t abuse it too much, but it’s worked out great so far.

How do you know where the line is and do you ever cross the line and have to backtrack a little bit?

I’d like to think I have a lot of common sense. We haven’t pushed over the line very often, though there is one specific incident that I remember where I got in trouble with NASCAR corporate.

Two years ago in Michigan in August, they were running the high drag rules package and so they had to seal off the windows of the car in order to get the best aerodynamic advantage. Everyone was talking about it the whole weekend and it was blazingly hot, like 95 (degrees). NBC was running a thermostat in someone’s cockpit that showed that it was 165 degrees in the cockpit of the car.

I was actually at home that weekend — I was doing it from my couch — and I thought that was funny. So I found a picture of the FDA safe cooking temperatures chart. A chicken needs to be cooked to 155 degrees internally. I tweeted that out and said, “By some measures, our drivers are safe to eat right now.” And NASCAR got really upset about that and they wanted us to take it down. Kevin Woods was at the track and said, “We won’t do it again, but it’s got a lot of retweets. Can we just leave it up so it can show up on our social report?” “OK fine, but no more. Don’t talk about the heat anymore.”

That’s a great story. Speaking of fun, one thing especially about your Twitter account is you guys have really creative avatars, and you’re always coming up with the Jack Roush silhouette and doing something different with him. How do those get started? Do you give it to an artist? Who does that stuff?

So the Jack social logo that people have come to recognize was actually made by the guy who had my job before me, Yasin Id-Deen. He’s at the University of Michigan now. He’s a great guy who really, I think, set the table for me in so many ways. It was a fun logo and unlike a lot of corporate logos, you don’t take it too seriously because the social media guy made it.

I think the first one we ever did with that was when we were going to Texas, just sort of noticed, “Hey the Texas silhouette’s really recognizable, let’s stick the Jack head in it and try something new.” And we did, and it got this huge cool response. We didn’t do it for a couple of weeks and then we went to Talladega and Kevin Woods, my boss, is from Oxford, Alabama, so he made one with the Alabama outline. It sort of took off from there and then it became an every week thing.

So it’s either me or Kevin just playing around on Photoshop, finding something fun to do with it. It’s fun with weekends like (last weekend) when it’s a split weekend so we’ve got an ear of corn with the Jack logo for Iowa and then we’ve got the Sonoma road course outline. So you can do fun stuff. You can do state outlines, state flags — the Arizona flag looks great with the Jack logo in it. Or you can do the recognizable, like when we go to New Hampshire, we’ve got the lobster that we can stick it in.

And it’s just sort of a what else can we do creative to connect with these markets that we go to, because we go to 30 different places a year or however many different tracks it is. Let’s try and do something unique for all of them. We’re here all weekend, I’ve got my computer open, it’s a fun way to kill some time sometimes, trying to figure out what you can stick that logo in.

Any idea what Jack thinks of the logo or has he ever commented on it to you guys?

Normally all of our trackside apparel has the normal Roush Fenway logo, but I’ve started getting some stuff ordered with the social logo. I’m wearing a vest right now with it. Jack started laughing the first time he saw it. He said, “That’s pretty good.” So I think he likes it. I don’t know if he’s seen all of the different variations of it, but he definitely likes the original logo.

So you referred to Photoshop and it seems like you guys do tons of stuff whether it’s gifs or Photoshops. What is in your arsenal of tools as the social guy? If somebody wanted to get started on it, what things would they need to learn to get into a position like yours?

I think every team handles that a different way, and I think every person who’s in charge of these accounts handles it a different way. For me, I have always just liked to do as much stuff as I can possibly learn. When I was in high school, I worked on the newspaper, I did the radio show, I did a TV show — I just wanted to do everything. I wanted to learn how to do everything. I kept doing that in college and even here it’s just, “Do we need graphics? Sure, I’ll Photoshop it.” Do I not know how to do a specific thing? I’ll look it up. And so you do Adobe Premiere for video editing, you know, different stuff.

I think the best skill set you could have in this role, because it changes so much, is just the willingness to learn. Because all of this stuff, there’s a million different tutorials online, you can figure out how to do anything you wanna do if you’re willing to put in a little bit of work and a little bit of focus into it. So I think that’s the best thing you can have: Be willing to learn, willing to be flexible, be ready for some people who maybe don’t know how to do what you’re doing to want changes to it. Don’t take offense to that, but learn how to be able to do all of that stuff.

We focused a lot on Twitter, but you guys are active on a variety of platforms, if not all of the platforms that I can think of. How do you balance your time, your priorities, in figuring out what matters the most and where you need to pay attention to?

Like you said, every platform is so different, you have to treat them all differently; you can’t just go in with the same approach and just post the same thing on Facebook as on Twitter as on Instagram, but maybe you have to shorten the caption for Twitter. You just can’t do that.

We derive a lot of the value we get to sponsors. We actually have a social agency, Wasserman Media Group, who works with a lot of professional athletes, professional teams. They sort through all of our social and actually give us an evaluation on what we give back to the sponsors in terms of our posts. That ends up being a couple million dollars a year for a lot of them. Really, this stuff is valuable to them.

A lot of that value comes from Facebook. So for us, Facebook is a much more rigid process than the other ones. Like I said earlier, we do a whiteboard every week. A lot of that is lining up what’s gonna go what day on Facebook. Like this week, we have a bunch of Iowa and Sonoma wins, so it’s, “OK, what day is gonna be the best to post that video of Ricky Stenhouse when he wins at Iowa and Carl Edwards crashes into the back of him?” Because we know that’s our big video this week, that’s one people love to see because of the crazy finish. So that one might be a Thursday night for a Throwback Thursday or something like that.

You sort of flex it in within in but we’re trying to post two to four, two to five times a day on Facebook. But we have a lot of content, and trying to shoehorn in when everything fits where, that takes up a lot of brain space, a lot of planning just to get that right.

So we sort of follow the same type of structure on Twitter of doing Throwback Thursday, Winning Wednesday, but when you get to the track, a lot of your time is going to get eaten up by being at the track and that stuff. But you get to be a little more flexible.

A lot of times, I’ll think of a fun idea, Photoshop it or clip it out on Adobe Premiere, and it’ll just sort of go up whenever I get it done. You can also post stuff multiple times on Twitter. But so you get to have a lot more flexibility there, and I think that’s why we have so much fun with it, because you can throw something out and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t hurt you.

Whereas on Facebook, if you have a bad post, that hurts where you fit it in the algorithm for the next couple of days. You really have to have a really high quality filter on Facebook and Instagram.

Can you really tell when you look at your Facebook numbers and say, “We had a bad post and that really hurt us?” Can you see it in the numbers?

Absolutely. And I think you can tell when you don’t mix up your content enough. This is sort of more an anecdotal thing than an actual, but you can tell when you post like six videos in a row, you sort of start to have diminishing returns. And some of that is people aren’t as interested, but some of it is also you posted six videos in a row. So finding a way to mix that up, have a good mix of content of photos, videos, web links, entertaining stuff, serious stuff, I think that helps you a lot on Facebook to diversify what it is you’re doing.

You have a lot of fun with you replies and I can tell you take some joy in the interaction you have with other accounts. Is there any limit, like, “Make sure you don’t reply to this driver, he’s not on our team” or replying to another team? Or do you pretty much have free reign to interact with anybody in the sport?

I have pretty free reign. I sort of know what my limits are. Like I know that Hendrick takes their account very seriously: It’s very straightforward, very professional. They are not going to reply to us. They can’t. And I respect that because that’s what their style guide is: Very straightforward, very AP style, and I think there’s a lot of value to that.

That’s obviously not how we handle our account, but you know a little bit of the drivers who are willing to have a little more fun, the other accounts that have a little more fun. I miss Jeff O’Keefe, he used to run the (Richard Childress Racing) account. He’s now with Toyota Racing. We used to have a lot of fun with him, especially two years ago when both our teams were really struggling and we’d get into a trash talk war over a 15th place pass. We’d have so much fun with stuff like that. You can get into it with JGR — Boris has a lot of fun.

I tend to be a little more conservative with drivers, especially. But sometimes one of them comes along and jumps into our mentions with something fun. I think my favorite example of that was Landon Cassill. We’d do mid-race giveaways, like, “Retweet this to win this Greg Biffle hat.” Landon had like wrecked on Lap 5 or 6. He was out of the race for some reason, but it was a race that he had started in. He retweeted it, so we started to be goofy like, “Congratulations Landon Cassill, you won the Greg Biffle hat,” and then he turned around and say, “OK, if anyone can prove that they’re both a Landon Cassill and a Greg Biffle fan, I’ll donate my hat to you.”

So you have some fun, and we’ve done a lot with Landon. Landon’s a really good sport with some of the stuff that we’ve done. And it’s great because he’s another Ford driver, he’s with Front Row who we have that alliance with. So you feel a little more comfortable making those jokes with him, because he’s on the team, really.

But there are other guys who will have a lot of fun, too, particularly some of the lower series guys I think who might not have had their professional media training just yet. They’re willing to have a lot of fun with us.

Let’s talk about how you got into it. You mentioned you were at Vanderbilt and you didn’t have a background in the sport. People are always asking about how to get into the sport. How did you get into it?

I applied for this job on LinkedIn.


I was about a year out of school. I was still living in Nashville. I was working for a small digital marketing company in Nashville, and I wanted to do something else. I’d gone to school to be a sports writer. I had a sports writing scholarship at Vanderbilt, and I wanted to skip that step where they pay you $15,000 a year to cover high school football. Obviously I never figured out how to do that.

So I was working for a marketing company and just started firing off different applications to places. It did crack me up, actually — the day I applied to Roush I had also applied to a job at WWE, and I came back and told my roommate and his girlfriend, and my roommate’s girlfriend — she’s from New Jersey, just wanted to clarify that first — she looks at me and goes, “I thought you wanted to work in real sports.” It’s like, “Oh, Cristina…”

But yeah, I applied to this job on LinkedIn, heard back a month later, did a phone interview on the Thursday of the Phoenix race week, then was asked to come in for an interview, drove down to Atlanta where I’m from and where my parents live and drove up to Charlotte the next Tuesday. I interviewed, then the Thursday after that I got offered the job and I started for spring Bristol two years ago.

So within a month, I went from applying to being the new social guy at Roush. It was incredible. I was so fortunate. It’s not necessarily a strategy I would recommend to everyone, it doesn’t always pan out, but I got super lucky. I have the best job in the world. It’s so much fun.

What else would you tell people about your job, because everyone sees the end results of your job, right? But they don’t really get to see everything that goes into it. What else is something that people don’t really understand about all that goes into the social media world from a team perspective?

That’s something that my boss laughed about too when I applied for the job on LinkedIn, they probably got 200 or 300 other applications and a lot of it was probably, “I’ve got a Facebook account, I know what to do.” And you do get a lot of that too. I don’t think people realize that it is a job. There’s a ton of planning that goes into it. You can’t just show up and just, “Oh what are we going to do today? Same thing we do every night, Pinky — try and take over the world.”

Yeah, you don’t just show up at the track: you work in the office five days a week too, 8 to 5. And there’s a ton of planning that goes in but there’s you’re also talking with sponsors, you’re talking with the drivers, you’re trying to balance the interests of everyone who’s putting their time, effort, their money into this team, into this program. I would say a lot of working with sponsors, not just to accommodate what they think they want but to also help them see how we can best deliver these results to you.

I think because a lot of people have their own personal social media accounts, that’s what they think about it: “Oh yeah, I can post four times a day. That’s not a problem.” Well social media’s also rooted in traditional marketing strategy, and I think you really do have to have a grasp of what the things are that work in marketing to understand what works on social, too. Because obviously the landscape has changed a ton, but the more things change, the more things stay the same.

I think having that grounding in marketing pays incredible dividends in this job. Being able to be creative is a nice bonus to it, but in order to meet the needs of these sponsors who are paying millions of dollars to have their name associated with your team, to be able to be the public face of this team and especially to be working under such a legendary owner like Jack who’s won 324 races in NASCAR — he’s been winning NASCAR races since before I was born — that’s a big role to step into. And it’s one that you have to appreciate the levity of, I think, if you’re going to do a good job.

I’m curious, as somebody who didn’t grow up in the sport and now are in it and part of a team, what was that experience like for you at Talladega? You were going to victory lane and being part of the celebration, but obviously still balancing having to do your job in a very high-pressure moment.

Man, that was so cool. Like I said, I’ve been with the team two years, so that was the first Cup win that we’ve had since I’ve been there, and we had won two Xfinity races before: Chris Buescher at Iowa and Chris Buescher at Dover in 2015. And of course we had the Xfinity championship. Thank God at least I know a little about how victory lane worked because otherwise, man, that’s a lot that you have to get done right away.

Especially at a plate track like that, and you have a close finish like that, there’s a lot going through your head. Your heart’s beating out of your chest at a place like that. I had stopped chewing my fingernails. It’s something that I’ve struggled with my whole life. And now I’d gone two months totally clean, and that race I chewed them all down to the nubs.

But a lot of that planning that you put in, we have an entire win plan written out, like half a book worth of stuff that we’re going to do from a PR side, from a social side, from a sponsor relations side. When we win a race, we have a plan for what’s going to happen.

Like any good plan, about 20 to 30 percent of it is not going to happen at all, so you’re running around trying to balance (what can get done). I hate to jinx stuff, but you have a tweet written out for when they cross the line, which in our case was just #ParkedIt because of Ricky’s best friend Bryan Clauson and how much that meant to him.

So I hit send on that and then you’re sprinting out because you’re trying to catch a video of the burnout, or a video of the crew celebrating at the pit box. So you’ve got about 20 different things that you want to get done, so you gotta do that. Then you’ve got to run to Victory Lane where probably your cell phone’s barely going to work and you’re going to drain 80 percent of the battery in 20 minutes anyway because you’re trying to decide, “Do I do a Facebook Live, do I do a Periscope? Well if I’m doing a Facebook Live I can’t tweet too. Kevin, I need to you tweet something. I need someone else to put something on Instagram.” So you’re trying to grab all hands on deck, anyone who has access to the stuff, and do as many things as possible.

So actually, Kevin was doing the Facebook Live there so I could tweet. His phone locked up, like completely locked up, we lost the feed, so we had to grab an account manager — a guy who works with Trevor’s account — we had to grab his phone, log in. So I’m tweeting from my phone, there’s no cell phone reception, so I’m passing him my phone so he can run into the media center and get this stuff out while I take more pictures. Man, it is just such chaos. But it’s fun.

And what you come to realize too is you have this plan for what’s going to work, but it really is just so in the moment. Things change so fast. That’s what you learn too from watching other sports, other accounts.

I take a lot of my cues from NBA teams. I think that NBA does the absolute best job of social media in sports in the whole world. Actually, cricket does a good job too, but I don’t know if people are going to be that interested in listening to me talk about the West Indies cricket team twitter account. But the NBA does such a good job, especially the Atlanta Hawks, the Charlotte Hornets — they have these great, creative people, and so you can see what works for them there and sort of apply it to what you do.

So I think at Talladega, we had such an emotional response on our accounts, such an excited one. It was probably a little over the top, but you sorta take that from watching other teams who do that and you realize, “Wow.” Maybe when you’re trying to sit down at a whiteboard and plan out what you’re going to do, you think of the most professional way to handle it, the most straightforward way. But then you watch some other teams do something and you go, “Sometimes people want emotion.”

Because if you try to put yourself in the seat of the fans of Roush, that’s how they felt. That’s the first time we’ve been in victory lane in three years. That’s what these people have been waiting for. People who are Ricky Stenhouse fans have never seen him in Cup victory lane. You’ve got to put yourself in their shoes because that’s what it’s all about. That’s who you’re marketing yourself to.

The Top Five: Breaking down the Talladega NASCAR race

Five thoughts on Sunday’s NASCAR race at Talladega Superspeedway…

1. First-time winner, but no fluke

Both of this year’s restrictor-plate races have been won by drivers who had never won on a plate track before (or anywhere, in Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s case).

That’s surprising in a time where the current plate package seemed to favor a few drivers who had perfected how to manipulate the draft once they got a lead: Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr., to name a few.

Kyle Busch is one of the good ones, too — but he seemed to get snookered by Stenhouse in overtime.

So what the heck happened?

When Stenhouse moved up to block Kasey Kahne’s run on the top side, Busch moved up to block Stenhouse — expecting to take away his momentum or at least get a shove.

And actually, Busch got what he wanted: A shot from behind. But to his surprise, it didn’t advance him.

“He got to my back bumper and actually hit me, and I thought that was going to shoot me forward,” Busch said. “He just turned left and passed me after hitting me. So, pretty impressive.”

Busch wasn’t being sarcastic; he meant it. It was impressive, and he repeated the term later in a second interview. Stenhouse deserved to win this race.

There have been fluky winners on restrictor-plate races throughout history, but Stenhouse isn’t one of them. For one thing, he started from the pole — which means Roush Fenway Racing built a very fast speedway car. And Talladega is also tied with Bristol for Stenhouse’s best track — he has a 10.4 average finish at both.

Look, it’s hard to read too much into any plate victory, because nothing translates to a “real racetrack” (as Busch put it Sunday).

But Roush Fenway really does seem to have something good going on this season. Stenhouse is now in the playoffs (wow!) and Trevor Bayne would also be in if it started today (he’s 16th in the standings).

Clearly, there’s been a lot of improvement over the offseason for a team whose three cars finished 21st, 22nd and 23rd in the point standings last season.

“(Over) the offseason, the whole attitude at our shop changed, and the people in each department were putting in more hours and working harder to make sure we started the season as best we could,” Stenhouse said. “We started a little stronger than we thought we would, but then we’ve also continued to make gains and continued to up our performance.”

2. The joy of winning

I’m sure this story is going to be everywhere, but this still deserves mention because, well, it’s completely awesome.

Apparently, Ricky Stenhouse Sr. was briefly detained by track security after the race while trying to get to victory lane and celebrate with his son.

Here’s the story, as told by Talladega public relations chief Russell Branham:

He was extremely excited about his son winning today, and naturally so. He was actually perched on the back straightaway up top the Alabama Gang Superstretch in an RV.

His son wins the race, he goes down, he tries to find a way to get across the track. He tried to climb the fence, found out he couldn’t. He begins running down outside of the perimeter road of Turn 3 outside the venue. He wants to go through the tunnel and get in here.

Our (security) guys saw it. Naturally, they stopped him, asked him who he was, said, ‘Would you get in the car?’ They placed him in the car, talked to him, they said, ‘Who are you?’

He said, ‘I’m Ricky Stenhouse’s father.’ (They said) ‘Hold on one second, sir. Let me call the director of security.’ Called our security, and our security guy said, ‘Take him to victory lane,’ and that’s what happened.

Seriously, how great is that? Even better is Stenhouse Jr. actually figured his dad would try to climb the fence (he did it before at Kentucky) and looked for Stenhouse Sr. when he came around on the cool-down lap.

“I went down the back straightaway after the race was over and looked up to see if he was there, but I didn’t see him,” Stenhouse Jr. said. “My dad has done so much for me in my career. … Everything that I know about racing I learned from him, and I’m glad that he was able to be here in victory lane.”

3. What’s up with Dale Jr.?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was as discouraged as I’ve seen him in quite awhile following his 22nd-place finish.

Earnhardt, frustratingly to himself and his fans, wasn’t a factor all day after starting second. He scored no stage points — at a place where he’s normally toward the front — and failed to lead a lap at Talladega for only the fifth time in 34 career starts (and second time in a row).

The loose wheel at the end of the race ruined his shot at a good day, but the No. 88 car wasn’t a player anyway. So what gives?

Well, Earnhardt said he hasn’t loved this rules package at plate races after a horsepower change at the start of last season.

“When they changed the motor after (2015), it took a lot of the speed out of the cars as far as how they create runs and maintain runs and how you can put together passes and do things on the track,” he said. “Now everybody is just stuck side-by-side. If you aren’t in the first or second row, you really are just kind of riding behind those guys with nowhere really to go. You can’t do much about it, because the cars don’t create the runs like they used to.”

That makes sense if you look at the results. In 2015, Earnhardt finished third, first, first and second at the four plate races.

Since then, he’s finished 36th, 40th, 21st, 37th and 22nd.

“I’d change a few things if I was the king of this deal,” he said. “But as long as the fans enjoyed the show, we’ll keep going down the road with what we’ve got.”

If that’s the case, it doesn’t sound like winning one of his remaining two plate races is as great of a chance as it once was.

4. Air AJ

Airborne cars scare the crap out of me, but AJ Allmendinger played it pretty cool after he landed on his roof on Sunday. Allmendinger even joked he had a “nice flight” during the Big One.

“It’s better than some of the flights we take back home,” he said.

But what wasn’t as fun was hanging upside down in his No. 47 car as fluids leaked and Allmendinger waited for the safety crew to flip him back onto his wheels.

“Get me the hell back over,” he thought.

Allmendinger acknowledged he was worried the car would catch on fire, but said the key was to not panic. And he was reassured by the safety team’s rapid response.

“If they weren’t there that quick, I might have thought of trying to slide out,” he said. “But it kind of rolled over onto the window, so there wasn’t a lot of room that I was going to get out.”

Plus, he said, he didn’t want to loosen his belts and take another hit to the head, even though he joked “there’s not much in there to be that worried about.”

5. Snap away

NASCAR was featured as one of Snapchat’s Live Stories on Sunday and even had a new lens which could alter people’s faces.

But many fans were unable to use it due to the terrible cell phone reception at the track. Ugh. What a giant missed opportunity.

Granted, I still have Sprint, so maybe I just have a bad network. Some people had a signal (one of my friends has T-Mobile and said his worked). But I saw plenty of chatter from other people who had similar problems.

Talladega is in a relatively rural area, so you wouldn’t expect it would normally have decent cell service. And when about 70,000 people show up for a race, it certainly gets a lot worse.

But we live in an era where people want to share all their experiences via social media They want to show their friends where they are and what they’re doing. That’s basically free advertising for NASCAR! If fans can’t get any sort of cell service, though, a lot of that gets lost.

I don’t know what phone companies charge to bring in portable cell phone towers, but tracks need to figure out how to make it happen. Clearly, there isn’t a large-scale move to invest in wifi (though Daytona did it), so there needs to be another solution. Speedway Motorsports Inc. tracks have some sort of Verizon technology, but what about those of us who don’t have that carrier?

The whole NASCAR industry would benefit from better cell service at the tracks. This needs to be a very high priority on the list of fan amenities.

The Top Five: Breaking down the Bristol race

Five thoughts from Monday’s rescheduled race at Bristol Motor Speedway:

1. What a race!

Bristol was one of those races that was so enjoyable to watch, I was disappointed when it ended.

That’s it? Only 500 laps? How about 600?

Seriously though, I could have watched that racing all day. It was just SO much fun to see the drivers going all out, with close-quarters racing and two equal grooves (yes, even though the bottom wasn’t the dominant lane).

I found myself smiling through many of the battles for position (which seemed constant) — and even while watching the leaders navigate lapped traffic.

It didn’t matter there was no late caution or restart to spice things up (the last 32 laps were green), nor did it matter there was a typical winner (Jimmie Johnson, again?). Bristol was just highly entertaining all day long, with the VHT-aided bottom groove just good enough to even things up with the top lane. As it turned out, that made for perfect racing conditions.

“Honestly, I don’t think it gets much better than that,” Kyle Larson said.

The sticky VHT slowly wearing off through the course of the race made it so that the track was constantly changing, and Bristol and NASCAR deserve a lot of credit for making it work.

Jimmie Johnson explained it this way: When there’s anything that’s consistent in NASCAR, the garage will figure it out. Everyone is too smart. But when the surface underwent a constant evolution like it did on Monday, Johnson said no one could exactly nail the setup.

“The track intentionally tried to create the need to be on the bottom,” Johnson said. “… This race, without a doubt, would have been single-file around the top without the VHT on the bottom,” Johnson said.

There was only one bad thing about the race: It was held Monday, when many fans were at work or school and couldn’t watch. Thanks a lot, Mother Nature.

How unfortunate that so many people missed one of the best races in recent years.

2. Larson Legend

I made a beeline for Larson’s car after the race, because watching him was half the fun of Monday’s race. He got out of his car and we made eye contact, and he looked sort of puzzled because I was grinning.

It took a second for me to remember he finished sixth on a day where he could have won, and probably wasn’t thrilled about the result. But I don’t really care where he finishes; I just know he put on quite a show — and usually does.

This seems so premature to say about a driver with two career wins, but Larson is really going to be an all-timer in this sport. I don’t know if his dry wit will ever translate into superstardom outside NASCAR (he might be too reserved to be the Jeff Gordon type who can guest-host a morning talk show), but he’ll be a legend within it by the time he’s done.

Larson’s driving style makes races more interesting to watch, and that’s not something you can say about many drivers. No matter what his career stats say by the time he’s done, he’ll be remembered as one of the greats of this generation.

3. Ol’ Jimmie does it again

Seven-Time, already the best driver in NASCAR history, just keeps adding to his career tally.

He now has 82 wins, which is one short of Cale Yarborough and two shy of Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison. It seems very possible that by the end of the season, the only drivers ahead of him on the all-time list will be Richard Petty, David Pearson and Jeff Gordon — and he may be alone in championships by the end of November.

It will be extra special for Johnson to tie Yarborough whenever he does, because Yarborough was the only NASCAR driver he knew while growing up. Johnson recalled walking into a Hardee’s as a kid and thinking he was in Yarborough’s race shop.

However, I fully recognize it’s not so great for everyone else living in the Jimmie Era — not just fans of other drivers, but the other drivers themselves.

“The damn 48,” Clint Bowyer said. “You know what I mean? Hasn’t he had enough?”

He certainly has, but that doesn’t mean he’s about to stop winning.

4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. in trouble

If the playoffs started today, Earnhardt would miss the cut by 50 points. It’s not even close right now, and Earnhardt — with the exception of his top-five at Texas — just isn’t running that well.

That’s not news to him or his fans, of course. But if this keeps up, he’s going to be in the type of territory where he needs to win — and that changes how a team goes about a race, particularly with strategy.

It’s been a fairly miserable start for Earnhardt, who is 24th in the standings — behind rookies Daniel Suarez and Ty Dillon. He’s five spots behind Aric Almirola in the points.

I honestly don’t think Earnhardt has lost anything despite missing half the season last year, but he hasn’t had good luck (three DNFs due to crashes) and the car hasn’t been all that great in the other races. Bristol wasn’t going to be a memorable race for him even before his oil cooler broke.

He described his car as being too tight and said other drivers were “beating me really bad back to the gas” out of the corners.

“That ain’t no way to run anywhere, really,” he said.

5. Roush Fenway keeps plugging along

Chip Ganassi Racing’s hot start has been well-documented. Kyle Larson is the points leader and Jamie McMurray is tied for sixth in the standings.

But it’s not just Ganassi that is out-running some of the bigger teams this season.

Roush Fenway Racing is much improved, and both drivers finished in the top 11 on Monday (Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was ninth and Trevor Bayne was 11th). In addition, Bayne is 12th in the standings and Stenhouse is 16th (although would currently be on the outside of the playoffs because Kurt Busch has a win and is 18th).

If they keep collecting top-15 finishes, that will be enough to keep them in playoff contention all summer. And right now, they’ve combined for 11 top-15s after having a combined 24 all of last year — this after just eight races.

Are they going to win? Probably not anytime soon. But they’re both ahead of six drivers in the standings from Hendrick, Gibbs and Stewart-Haas, so that’s an accomplishment after the last couple years.