Toyota Racing – Sammy Smith
NASCAR Xfinity Series Quotes
CHARLOTTE (September 12, 2023) – Joe Gibbs Racing driver Sammy Smith was made available to media as part of the NASCAR Playoff Media Day.
SAMMY SMITH, No. 18 Pilot Flying J Toyota Camry TRD, Joe Gibbs Racing
What’s kind of been going wrong these last couple of months?
“I think it has just wrong place, wrong time. I feel like we’ve been in good positions, where we were running, and got wrecked. I think we have had a lot of speed and brought speed to the track every week. I just think it’s been a rough couple of weeks to where we’ve had speed, and running up front and we just get taken out. I don’t believe in luck, I don’t believe in any of that stuff, so I don’t know what to call it, but we have just kind of have to reset – like we did – we had a good solid reset in Kansas. We were really fast there. We had a good practice, good qualifying, good first two stages, just got taken out there with nothing I could do about it. I think just try to reset and have a strong mental side of things and try to go into the Playoffs with a good mindset. I know have the team and the cars to do it, we just have to go execute.”
Do you embrace the Playoff format?
“For sure. I saw something about a week ago, that if it was like they used to do with the 33 races, we would be like 13th in points, so yeah, it is definitely exciting to get the Playoffs started this weekend. At the end of the day, it doesn’t change anything on what we are doing, it doesn’t change my mindset, it doesn’t change anything. I think it is just another reset where we can run up front, and we can be there. We just have to execute, and I think we can make it to the final four.”
How close are you to finalizing your plans for next year?
“I think we are close. Still figuring out some things. I have a good management team, and hopefully we have some stuff to announce soon.”
What percent chance do you give it that you return to Joe Gibbs Racing?
“Yeah, I’m not going to talk about that stuff today, I’m here to focus on the Playoffs. I know you have a job to do. I’m still working on things.”
How much is it a confidence booster knowing the championship race was in Phoenix?
“I think that’s one of the positives of only winning once this year – it’s the track that the final four’s race is at. I thought we were really, really fast. We were very dominate. We just have to make it to that final four, and I think it’s all about execution. JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) has been awesome with everyone, to my teammate John Hunter (Nemechek), to my crew and team. The whole 18 team has taught me a lot and I think we just have to go execute that and just have a solid three races this round and take the second round as it comes. I don’t think we need to look too far ahead of ourselves. We just need to take one race at a time.”
Does it give you confidence that you can get the job done if you make the Championship 4?
“That’s definitely a confidence booster in a way. I’m sure the other three cars that would be in the Championship 4, if we make it there, are going to be equally as good. They are going to get better. We are going to have to get better too. We are not going to be able to go back to the track with the same package. That would be foolish of us to do that and think that we are going to go dominate again, because that would not be the case. I think it gives us confidence that we can go there and think we have a shot. I know we will be good. I think that every weekend. I think we’ve shown some speed everywhere. We just have to get the Playoffs started right, and get the stuff turned around that’s not going right.”
What do you think are your biggest strengths heading into the Playoffs?
“As a team, we have a lot of speed. We have a good team around us. I think being mentally strong going into the Playoffs is a good thing. Knowing you have to reset your mind if something happens on track, resetting it right away and not letting it bother you. I think we a lot of strengths. I think we have the capability to be running up there with Austin Hill, John Hunter (Nemechek) and Justin Allgaier. I think those are the three other guys I can see making the final four. I think we are right there with them. I feel that way about me and my team. I don’t know how everyone else feels. We just have to go out there and prove it to everyone else and prove it to ourselves that we can do it.”
Does the last few races worry you at all?
“I just try to take every race as it comes and not let the past ruin the future. I’m not a driver that really drives off motivation or momentum. I love to race. It’s a passion that I love to race. I think the last eight weeks have been frustrating, but we just have to reset like we do after every race, whether we have a good race or a bad race. We just have to reset. Reset our minds, reset our team, and for me, it’s just trying to be a good leader for the 18 team and trying to be that leader that takes us to the Championship 4.”
What was it like the first time you went to Bristol?
“I actually ran there in a Super Late Model first. I think I was 14, 15 years old, which is very fast. I think we were running faster than the old Cup cars were. I think moving up to ARCA and then Xfinity, I think running the Super Late Model helped getting that super-fast feeling out of the way. The ARCA cars were almost wide open in qualifying with the tires super gripped up with the resin, you can’t pass with how low horsepower they are and a lot of downforce. ARCA cars are fairly easy to get around there and then the Xfinity car last year was tough. A lot less downforce, a lot more power – felt a lot more free. You can kind of move off the bottom. Hopefully, it’s the same way this year. It seems to be a track that you have to hold on and remember to breathe.”
What memories do you have the first time you saw it?
“It was super cool. I’ve been watching races there since I was a younger kid. I was always waiting to race there. It’s one of my favorite tracks, so I think there is some fun keys that make it what it is – the high speeds, the banking, the tight racing. Hopefully, it will be a good track this weekend. I think they are putting resin down, hopefully, they get it kind of wore in during the Truck and ARCA race that we can move up in the Xfinity race.”
What are the memories that stand out early in your career?
“There is a lot of special moments. I started racing when I was eight years old. For the first two years, kind of just did it for fun – and after that, it was something that I had a real passion for and something I wanted to do. I’ve been doing it with my dad, and then the last couple of years been with other people. There has been a lot of great memories of my mom and dad coming to the track. I’ve done online school since I was in sixth grade, just traveling around the country doing racing – doing what I love. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Has there been a learning curve on the intermediates this season?
“Yeah, I think so. I never really ran any races in ARCA on mile-and-a-halves or intermediates, so I think that was the biggest thing for me was going from short tracks to intermediates in a Xfinity car. A lot of guys do ARCA and have that experience or do Trucks, so it’s been a challenge that way – just the jump – I feel really comfortable. The more experience is better for me, so I think we continue to do that. We have three intermediates in the Playoffs, so we just have to go out and have a solid races.”
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