Are you excited to start your season?
“We couldn’t be happier to be here in Daytona. We’re a little bit nervous, I’ve never been to Daytona before so we have a whole new learning game in front of us. I think we can do it. It’s going to be good to get out here and do some drafting and learn this new ball game. This is the kind of racing that I’ve always looked forward to doing and just haven’t had the opportunity to do it because of my age. Now that I’m 18, I can finally race here at Daytona and we’re really excited.”
Does the ability to show your personality give you an advantage in this sport?
“You have to be so well-rounded in this sport. I still have things to work on, but fortunately I’ve been able to speak a little bit and drive too -- so that’s been good for us. It’s not just driving anymore. You see these drivers that are all out running eight miles a day like Jimmie Johnson, getting in shape and they’re working in front of a camera. You have to be well- rounded in this sport for sure.”
Do you worry about your personality changing as you progress in NASCAR?
“It’s something you have to keep in check. It’s definitely easy to fall into that hole, being in Mooresville (N.C.), that’s ‘Race City’ so that’s all you see all the time is racing, racing, racing. I love to go back home to Knoxville (Tenn.) and keep grounded. Actually, I got baptized this off-season and I think that was something that I was really looking forward to and finally got that done and got the weight off my shoulders. You have to stay grounded and keep the same person that you are. It’s easy to be in that cookie-cutter mold, but I think different people are what make this sport. When you look at Motocross or anything like that, they’re not all the same dudes getting off the dirt bike and we don’t want to be all the same person getting out of that race car. I think NASCAR has something to offer for everybody -- there’s a driver for everybody out there, for sure.”
How competitive is the Nationwide Series?
“I think your top-15 (teams) in the Nationwide Series are really, really stout. Whether it’s Nationwide drivers or Cup drivers because of the team support that they have. Those cars are so good -- you’ve got Joe Gibbs, Penske, Paul Menard is running full-time this year -- you’ve got some really good teams and hopefully we can be grouped into that category with Diamond-Waltrip Racing. Hopefully, we can be one of those teams that they know they have to watch out for each and every weekend. That’s our goal is to be a top-five team. I think we have the resources and the capability, now we just have to do it and try to get better every weekend. By the end of the year I would like to say that we are a top-three team every week. I think going into the season we may be top-10. It’s kind of hard to say because we changed so much in the off- season with engineers and tire guys -- we tried to make the best group that we possibly could. Jerry Baxter is still the crew chief on the car and I’m still the driver. Hopefully, we can keep working together like we did last year and just get better every race.”
What is it like to work for Michael Waltrip?
“He’s a great guy and he’s really good with sponsors and that’s really important in this day and time. That’s something I want to learn from him every week -- how to keep these sponsors happy and he definitely knows that. Michael Waltrip Racing had 100 percent renewal this season -- they brought back every single sponsor they had last year and that’s huge. I’ve never seen an owner more dedicated. He’s in the shop almost every single day. He works out with the drivers because he still has that mentality of a driver and I think that’s going to make him a really successful owner.”
Can you finish in the top-five in points?
“That’s our goal. We talked about it and Jerry (Baxter, crew chief) did an interview and he called me to tell me that he told them what our expectations were and that I needed to tell them the same. We both said top-five without even talking. In our minds, that was our goal. If you look at some of the teams that ran up there this year, I definitely think we’re on par with them, if not a little better. I think we can be up in the top-five by the end of the season.”