This is your first race with Beard Motorsports and while you didn’t get a chance to know its founder, Mark Beard Sr., you’ve seen what he’s built. What does it mean to represent his legacy at Daytona?
“It’s very impressive to see this team go out and compete against these big teams that have 500, 600 employees. There’s one employee at Beard Motorsports, Darren Shaw. He’s there in the shop full-time. He’s the crew chief and he sets the car up, puts the whole thing together, puts the motor in – the guy does it all. And they’ve had some really good runs. Obviously, Brendan Gaughan is a great racecar driver and he’s been able to drive that car up to the lead at these superspeedway races. It’s just very impressive to see what they’re able to do and I feel very fortunate to be able to work with them.”
You and Gaughan are both Las Vegas natives who have known each other a long time. What insights has he given you in regard to competing at Daytona and driving for Beard Motorsports?
“It started off as, ‘You need to go ride and take your time and just be there at the end,’ but now it’s transitioned into Mrs. Beard giving me the thumbs up to go. She told me to ‘drive the piss out of it.’ Those were her exact words. I’m excited because I feel like that’s more of my driving style. It’s definitely going to be a new challenge, a new opportunity. There’s going to be adversity, but I know the car will be strong and, hopefully, I’ll be able to adapt sooner rather than later with the package for the Cup car being so much different from the Xfinity car. I’m confident in my ability at superspeedway racing. In fact, I’m a lot more confident than I was at this time last year. I’ve been able to run up front at these superspeedway races, lead laps at pretty much all of them, win stages, and I won the race at Daytona last year in the Xfinity Series. It’s going be a great opportunity. I’ve been dreaming of it my whole, entire life to make a Cup start and, now, I have that opportunity and it’s all thanks to the Beard family and Brendan and all the partners involved.”
Gaughan finished seventh in last year’s Daytona 500 driving for Beard Motorsports. Have you watched that race to see what he did to position himself to earn such a strong result?
“I watched last year’s Duel. I think Denny Hamlin did a good job in the first Duel in the way he got shuffled to the back and was able to leapfrog his way up. Just looking for small things like that. The Duel is going to be very important. Hopefully, we get a good qualifying lap in and we’re able to lock ourselves in, but you have to plan for the worst in this sport. Just being fully prepared in all avenues is the most important thing for me. You can never watch enough film, especially at superspeedway racing. There are some really good guys out there.”
Your fulltime job is racing for JR Motorsports in the NASCAR Xfinity Series where your car owner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., is one of the best superspeedway racers NASCAR has ever seen. What advice has he provided as you prepare to make the Daytona 500?
“I was always the guy to ride around in the back, save your car to the end of the race. Dale said, ‘Screw that,’ and he told me that I needed to go out there and have the mentality of almost like going out to GoPro Motorplex or any go-kart track around the country, where you’re beating and banging and somehow everybody ends up finishing the race even when you’re super aggressive. He said, ‘Do whatever you’ve got to do to be up front and do whatever you’ve got to do to just be able to learn how to pass. Learn your car. Use the first three-quarters of the race to learn your racecar, try to make moves. If you fall back and you get to the tail of the line, who really cares? Just learn because you’re going to want that knowledge for later in the race.’ So, I did that last year at Daytona and I think there was a significant difference in the way the stats were at the end of the race. I had a different approach this past year in 2020 and had the most success ever. Just being aggressive, not really daring, just learning the car with a wreckers or checkers mentality.”
You’ve competed at Daytona and Talladega in the Xfinity Series and in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. What can you take from those experiences and apply to racing in the NASCAR Cup Series at Daytona?
“It’s a completely different mindset. Before, it was just ride around and hope you finish the race. Now, I go out there and it’s full-send mode. It’s checkers or wreckers every single lap from the drop of the green flag. That’s what you have to do. You have to be aggressive to learn your racecar so you know what you have and what you need to do for the end of the race when it’s actually time to go.”
Racing for an independent team with no guaranteed starting spot means you have to balance speed with self-preservation. How do you run up front in the Duel and make sure you keep a straight racecar and are there at the finish?
“You always have to be patiently aggressive, just trying to stay ahead of things and trying to put yourself in good positions. I’m going to drive my ass off just to do my best job and be aggressive from the start of the Duel. Hopefully, we’re locked in and that’ll mean a different approach, but you’ve got to be on it from the drop of the green flag.”