Can you explain the significance this paint scheme holds for an open-wheel racer?
“The Lewis Nine Racing Midget was so famous in USAC racing. And I remember, growing up, it seemed like the who’s who of open-wheel racing always drove the No. 9 Midget, or the 19 Midget, or just any of the Nine Racing cars. This scheme was so recognizable because it was pretty much always the same. The white with the flames, the red number that for whatever reason was always crooked, but my favorite thing was always the flames. I think of all the throwback schemes we have done, this is my favorite. It ties back to so much for me. Tony (Stewart), my USAC days, dirt racing – there are just so many things this car signifies for me. I grew up watching this car all the time. Every time USAC Midgets came around in Indiana, this car was always battling at the front. Every time you’d watch Turkey night on TV at Irwindale, this car was always battling up front. You had Jason Leffler, J.J. Yeley, Kasey Kahne, and obviously, Tony in this car. But then, also guys who didn’t make it to NASCAR. You had Dave Darland, Jay Drake and a lot of the huge names in USAC racing. This is the team you wanted to drive for and, growing up, I always dreamed I would get to drive it. The team as it was then kind of went away around 2008, I think, but this is like I’m getting to drive it in some sort of way. Steve Lewis has done a lot for USAC racing, and Tony’s win in 2000 was a pretty big deal for him after going back to USAC racing, so I’m really excited to have this on the car for Sunday.”
For someone who doesn’t follow open-wheel racing, how big is Turkey Night?
“I think they probably get 60 to 70 cars for Turkey Night. It’s at the end of the season on Thanksgiving night when there’s not much else going on in the racing world. It started in the 1930s in California and it’s moved around to a few different tracks, but it’s still going today. It’s still one of the most important races, from a historical standpoint, to win and a lot of the most talented drivers in open-wheel racing have won Turkey Night. I think we’ve got a lot more NASCAR fans following grassroots racing now and they know about Chili Bowl and how big that is. This is the same. It’s just one of the biggest USAC races and, of course, (Kyle) Larson and (Christopher) Bell are both guys who have won Turkey Night a few times.”
What kind of emotion do you go through when you win on one of the most historic tracks on the NASCAR circuit?
“To win at a place like Darlington is a bit of rollercoaster, at least for me it was. It was already a big win for me, personally, with everything Marissa and I were going through. I don’t know that it really sunk in that it was Darlington and how big of a deal that was, or even the battle with Kyle (Busch). But looking back now, I think about how tough of a track Darlington really is and how cool it is to have a win at a place that is so iconic. I hope I get the opportunity to add a Darlington Cup win to my accomplishments, but I think any time you can say that you’ve raced and won at a place with so much history, it’s special.”