How important is the regular season championship heading into the Playoffs?
“It definitely means a lot and that was our ultimate goal coming in here tonight. After as good as we were in stage one leading those laps, we thought we were going to win stage one until tires got put on and we fell a few positions back. All in all, it was a really good effort from everyone at HRE (Hattori Racing Enterprises). Scott (Zipadelli, crew chief) and all the guys, they worked really hard. Just kind of what we talked about earlier today was at the end of the race it just not falling our way. We really thought a caution was going to come out, we wanted to leave a set (of tires) laying just in case a caution came out with 30 or 40 (laps) to go. It went green the rest of the way and all those guys pitted. Our Tundra, we just started fighting really free entry and really loose off on the long run. Then I was just kind of holding on at that point. I was praying for a caution. I think we still had a shot at it if the caution could have come out. If we had 20 or so laps to go, we could have had a shot at the win still. All in all, we did our job today getting the 15 bonus points and the regular season championship, which is really nice to have those bonus points, but kind of stings a little bit because we definitely felt that we had a better truck tonight than an eighth place finish.”
How has this team progressed since you came on board last year?
“Last year starting off the season, getting the win at Daytona was nice, but then we went through just a really bad spell of having issues, whether it was engine issues or something happening to where we didn’t finish the race. This year, we’ve been in our stride pretty much all season long. There’s been a few races where we feel like we were a little off, but every weekend so far we’ve felt like we’ve been in contention for wins and nice, solid top-fives and top-10s. Just consistency this year. Me and Scott (Zipadelli, crew chief) are working really well together. Having a year under your belt with a crew chief and then being able to do a second year with the same group of guys is huge just because you kind of know each other, you kind of know what the driver likes and you know what kind of adjustments the crew chief is going to make by the tone of your voice and what you’re saying on the radio. We’ve been just gelling really good and it’s nice to have the regular season championship, but we still have a lot of work to do to get that championship at the end of the season.”
Will you race any differently in the Playoffs?
“The way I’ve always raced is be aggressive and take chances when you can and make moves. If you have to go three-wide on a restart then you go three-wide on a restart to try to gain position because clean air is huge in the Truck Series no matter if it’s a short track or a big track. That’s just kind of my mindset is just being aggressive and just trying to stay up front each and every week and just having nice, solid points days and getting stage points and obviously stage wins are nice to have because then you get Playoff points. It’s just nice having those points. As aggressive as you can be is kind of the key and Bristol is one of those animals that we haven’t really figured out yet. Last year we kind of struggled. We ran back half of the top-10 all night long. That’s kind of one of those unknown races for us that we’re going to go into and just try to get as many points as we can. We’ve been working really hard on our short track program and I think it kind of showed at Gateway. We didn’t start off great at Gateway, but we were really good at the end of the race and finished third. Here tonight, if we could have been on the same tire strategy as everybody else we could have definitely had a shot at the win and at least a top-three finish. It just goes to show how good our short track program is this year and hopefully we can keep it up.”
— Toyota Racing —