Your thoughts about honoring SPC Ronald David Rennison on your Toyota at the Charlotte races, and about what the 600 Miles of Remembrance initiative means to you?
“My thought on that is that I have a lot of respect for people like Specialist Rennison who serve our country and protect us, and especially the ones who pay the ultimate price like he did. I’m very proud to be part of a sport that gives so much respect to the service members. Specialist Rennison is the brother of a high school friend of one of our road crew guys (Barry Boeckenstedt), which makes him part of the Gaunt Brothers Racing family, so to honor him this weekend gives our team a direct connection to our fallen hero. I’m very happy to be racing this weekend with such special meaning, and a very special red, white and blue Toyota paint scheme to honor America, and we’re looking forward to carrying the name of a special soldier, also.”
What are you looking forward to when you get to Charlotte Motor Speedway for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600?
“I’m very happy that we are having it on its originally scheduled day. The other two races we’ve had so far were make-up races. I’m very happy that NASCAR is making all of this effort. I have a lot of respect for everything they’ve been doing and the way they’ve been easing us back into our season and actually helping to carry the trend of getting things back to normal. It’s very important to me that we are part of the world slowly getting back to normal, even though we are just a small part of the world as a racing series. The Coca-Cola 600 will definitely have a different feel this year. The first two races have been very different. They feel more like practice than like a race as far as the atmosphere. But there is a definitely a lot on the line and we will go out there and do our jobs. This is the world we are in right now and we are one of the lucky sports to be able to be out there doing what we love to do. We need to keep doing it the same way we did the first two races and hope everyone stays healthy, and we’re hoping soon that many other sports are going to be able to get back to action.”
How would you assess the team’s first two races back since the shutdown?
“I actually felt good after the Darlington race Wednesday night. The car felt like it had more potential. It’s not a top-20 car, yet, but it was better than Sunday’s car that finished 25th. That’s what we’re looking for. That’s what I’m looking for. It doesn’t matter how much, just as long as we keep improving. That will bring us more and more speed, eventually. It’s been a step in the right direction. We’ve had some good, important meetings where we talked through all the things we’ve learned so far and where we need to go from here. I feel if we keep up the improvement, we’re going to end up getting better and better. Hopefully Charlotte is another step in the right direction and we keep improving.”
The Coca-Cola 600 will be the first and only race where there is a qualifying session before the race among this first batch of races since returning from the shutdown. How important is qualifying for a race as long as the Coca-Cola 600, especially when the cars are impounded between qualifying and the race?
“Personally, I like qualifying. I think it’s good. Obviously, we’re a non-chartered team, so we’re always at a disadvantage when there’s no qualifying and there are more than 40 cars (on the entry list). I’m not sure how many there will be for Sunday, yet, but I always like the chance for us to be able to go out and earn our own starting position.”
The Coca-Cola 600 is such a long race. How do you prepare for it?
“As a human being you try and perform at 100 percent the entire time but, when you’re running a marathon, you’re not going to be as strong in the last 30 minutes. That’s normal. Fatigue is setting in, your muscles are tired, you’re running out of fluid, and you’re hungry. Racing is the same way, especially in the Coca-Cola 600. We start running out of energy and your mind gets tired after four hours of racing. But I look to this race as a marathon and you have to be on top of your game for the last part of this race. So I always try to keep that in my mind when I’m in the car. This isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon.”
What hurts the most after the Coca-Cola 600?
“It’s a combination of things. Your neck is tired, your lower back is tired, legs are tired and you’re just fatigued. You definitely feel it the next morning after a 600-mile race. You feel like you worked out a lot the day before, and you did inside the car. Two and a half of these 600-mile races and I could be home in Monterrey, Mexico. It’s crazy to think of it that way.”