By: Ashley McCubbin
After a solid rookie NASCAR Xfinity Series season, Jesse Little will return in 2021, just driving for a different team in B.J. McLeod Motorsports. The second generation racer will be hopeful of posting more solid finishes, following 10 top-15’s last year, highlighted by a pair of top-10’s.
He recently spoke with POPULAR SPEED about his thoughts entering the year, and more.
ASHLEY MCCUBBIN: What are your thoughts going into the upcoming season?
JESSE LITTLE: I like everyone else is pretty darn excited. I feel that there’s really nothing but positive momentum on my side, as far as I just had my first full-time year, been to every track that isn’t new to the schedule. I feel so much more confident in myself in knowing how to navigate the team aspect and chemistry. All of those things have me excited for this year.
ASHLEY: What are your goals and expectations?
JESSE: That’s a great question. For me, in my racing, it seems we’re unfunded and resourced. At the end of the day, I want to go out there and win, but I also want to put ourselves in the best position I can from start to finish, from Daytona to Phoenix. With that, my goal on the track performance wise, I really want to knock out top-15’s. Last year, I looked at it the same way – we wanted to go out and be consistent and some of the races some of the top guys ran into some issues, there were some wrecks, we were able to sneak out a couple top-10’s.
So that’s exactly how I’m looking at 2021. The speedway races and the road courses that are a huge equalizer for a team like us at BJ (McLeod Motorsports), and I think those are races that we can really shine. Other than that, my goal is to finish from that 15th to 20th place every weekend.
ASHLEY: What was the biggest thing you learned in 2020 that you feel will be beneficial in 2021?
JESSE: I was really able to in 2020 hone in and learn how to plan a race. What I mean by that is the start of it, realizing right away either my car handles really great and we’re going to have a good day as long as I minimize my mistakes, or we have a lot of work to do, we have to make a lot of adjustments, and we have to build it on it the whole race.
I was really able to learn and hone in on how to manage a race, and deliver the right comments to the crew chief so he can adjust it to the best way possible, and how to not get in a hole the first or second stage that we can’t rebound in the third stage. I think that’s something that I really landed on and helped lead to a lot of consistent finishes we were able to have.
ASHLEY: Along those lines, one of the big things in 2020 was the events with no practice and no qualifying, which affected a lot of people. NASCAR has already announced that will carry forward to this year. What are your thoughts on that?
JESSE: I think we will have six races through the year with practice and qualifying, but for those that we won’t, I kind of look at it very similar to how I approached them this past year, and that is being able to go into a race knowing that I have no experience there, but now I do. That’s the biggest thing. I can go in and be more aggressive those first 20, 30 laps because I have my notebook now. So I am looking forward to it a lot more this year than I was last year.
Going to Darlington and my first laps were under green – that was pretty nerve wracking and luckily, I won’t have to run into that next year. I think that’s a big equalizer for the small teams as the big teams don’t get all the time to tune and work on their set-ups in practice, so I’m looking forward to it.
ASHLEY: What track are you most excited for?
JESSE: That’s a good question. My track that I have circled every year is Dover. I have always enjoyed it as a driver, always ran there really well in everything from the old K&N East Series to Trucks, and even last year in the Xfinity car. Even though we’re not going there twice, just once this year, I’m still excited for that one. I have it circled, and honestly all the road courses. I really started to enjoy them more and more last year, and now that we have six or seven on the schedule, I think it’s going to allow myself to more accumulated to going right and left.
ASHLEY: We’ve watched your career to this point in building to being able to run full-time Xfinity Series. If you could give yourself one piece of advice five years ago, what would that be?
JESSE: Yeah, I’m glad you asked that because I love thinking about this. The biggest thing that I would tell myself and I even tell other people is no matter what, don’t get discouraged. The sport has no Manuel in how to be a Cup driver. There really is no how-to guide so it’s really important to be creative in this sport. That’s what I think I would tell myself back then is be patient, it’s all about timing and get creative.
There’s a million ways to make it work and all it takes one of them, one shot, and I probably wouldn’t have guessed five years ago that I would be in this position and I’m very fortunate that I am and looking forward to making the most of each and every opportunity.
ASHLEY: Outside of NASCAR, is there another form of motorsports you’d like to try one day?
JESSE: For me, I’ve always been interested in open-wheel stuff. I think just for the sheer excitement of driving those cars, whether it’s IndyCar or Formula 1, at the top level. Some aspect of open-wheel experience in the Indy stuff would be really, really fun for me. That’s kind of the biggest thing. But like all other drivers, if it’s got a motor and wheels, I’ll drive it.