How confident are you coming into the race weekend at Pocono?
“Definitely have some confidence coming here to Pocono. It’s a really good track for us the last few years. Last year we had a couple really strong cars here and if I remember right, we had a lugnut knock the inner valve stem off both races. Had a little bit of bad luck here, but we had really, really fast cars and excited to come back. I love coming up here, it’s really close to where I grew up and I guess it’s a second or a third home track if you get three. It’s always fun to come up here. We’ve got some good friends up here and I enjoy the area. That coupled with a race track that’s been good to us makes it fun and definitely looking forward to having a good weekend.”
How do you view the new winners this season compared to those expected to have won by now?
“It’s definitely been interesting. I honestly don’t pay a ton of attention to what other guys are doing. We kind of try to focus on our own deal and we feel like there’s probably been a few weeks where we gave them away or kind of missed out on opportunities to win. It’s been neat to see some new winners and it’s been interesting to see some of the guys that we all expect to win and typically win by this time of the year not win yet. Some of that is just the way racing plays out and the way things go. I still think some of those guys who haven’t won have been really strong and been consistent. Still a lot of racing to go before the playoffs start so I wouldn’t get too caught up in it.”
Is there anything that you feel has been of bigger benefit to your team this season?
“I think for us, just having another year together under our belts and another year in the Toyota camp – certainly this year has been an improvement and we’re in a spot where we can get better. Last year we started out with a lot of new things and had to kind of learn our way early on in the season and got some good results through that time, but definitely not at the level of confidence or consistency that we’ve had this year. I think that’s part of it. We continue to build that relationship with the people we work with and our partners and then just Cole (Pearn, crew chief) and I and our team, just continue to build on that notebook and that success that we’ve had the past few years. It takes time to put together the notebook and all these little things we learn along the way that you can look back on a year ago, two years ago, three years ago and kind of still use those things as a direction. That’s been neat to go and do that and be with the same group of guys and continue to get better and grow together. That’s been a big part of all that. It’s been good and we’re always looking for ways to improve and just being together and learning together and growing seems to be a part of that.”
How does being a veteran and a rather calm driver lends itself to success at Pocono?
“Having fast cars is certainly the best place to start and all the other things because that’s the hardest part to get and I have to give my team a lot of credit for helping me get in a good place and let me get in a good state of mind with a good approach each weekend, good confidence that’s consistent. The team is a big part of that. Pocono is such a rhythm race track and a comfort race track, it’s a place where you can go win both races one year and come back the next year and it takes you a few laps to find that rhythm and find that comfort because it’s such hit your marks, sensitive kind of place. Even today we have power steering issues, we have brake issues and we only made four laps in practice. As good as we were here last year, I felt like I was lost the first lap out there. It’s such a challenging track and so different from where we go each and every week that you have to have confidence in your team and you have to have a fast race car. That’s the number one thing.”
What is team morale like with your success and Erik Jones having a strong season?
“I think team morale is good, everybody’s having a good time and enjoying themselves. They work so hard that it’s nice when it pays off and that continues to motivate the team to keep pushing and keep working and when they see results in the effort they put in then it pushes them to go even harder. We’ve got a great bunch from top to bottom and we’re doing a good job and I think they’re enjoying themselves as well and that’s always a big thing.”
What is the biggest difference having two cars?
“Honestly I don’t think there’s a whole lot of difference having two cars. That’s a good thing that I can say that, it hasn’t really changed a lot the way we race or the way we approach racing because we hired a lot of new people over the winter and bringing on a second team is a big deal. They’ve done a good job of just all working together and kind of approaching racing and using the same ideals that our team did. They are a good fit together and that’s why it hasn’t been a big change, which is good.”
Did you have the stage points figured out before the season started?
“We planned it all. We said this was exactly how we were going to do it and here we are. Everybody comes with the same plan and it starts with being consistent and running up front each and every week and having fast race cars and we’ve been able to do that. At the same time we’ve been able to not make mistakes, be consistent, not a lot of issues and I think our only really bad races was Talladega and that’s Talladega. We’ve been able to just get more points than everybody so just a job well done by our team and all of our guys. It’s really going better than we even imagined so far. It’s been fun and it’s been a real treat to be consistently up front each week, leading laps and I’m having a blast right now so I’m having fun.”
Is it taking some teams longer to figure out how important these stage points are going to be?
“I think they know how important they are, they’ve just been hard to get. It’s difficult with the pit strategy the way it can play out and the stages, it’s definitely changed the racing without a doubt and it’s been hard to manage how to be up front for the end of the race to try to get the overall win yet not give up those playoff points throughout the race. It’s definitely been different and I think each week and each race track is different. I think Pocono this weekend is going to be interesting because you can pit without going a lap down almost like a road course. There’s going to be some wild strategies going on and just depending on how the cautions play out, it could mix things up a whole lot. We’ll see how it plays out and hopefully we get some more points.”
What memories do you have about Richard Petty?
“I don’t have anything that’s really over the top of sticks out, but just seeing him around the race track and what he means to the sport, the fact that he’s 80 and he doesn’t look a day over 60. He’s just an amazing person and he’s so great to talk to. Just such a huge part of the sport so it’s cool to see him around each and every weekend and fun to talk to him. He’s always got something funny to say or always has a story. I don’t know how he hasn’t run out of stories yet, just an awesome guy. Really glad he’s doing well and he’s still hanging around here.”
Can you talk about your thoughts heading to Michigan next weekend?
“Looking forward to that, it’s another place where I have some good fishing holes. I’m serious. Fishing just helps keep the stress level down and lets me focus on driving and lets the team focus on the cars. Michigan should be interesting. Last year we ran this low downforce package there so we have a little bit more history than most of the tracks we’ve been to this year so we’ll just see what it brings. Such a fast track and definitely different than anywhere we go so it should be fun.”
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