By: Ashley McCubbin
For each driver who currently races in the NASCAR Cup Series, they have each taken their own road to earn an opportunity to race amongst the best stock car competitors in the United States. Though with each journey, there have been some lessons they have learned along the way in evolving as a individual.
I took the opportunity to speak with eight drivers about their careers to date, and posed a simple question – If you could go back five years ago, what would be one piece advice you’d offer yourself? This is list is the result.
1. Enjoy the Journey More
While the world of motorsports comes with it’s own level of pressure at each level, don’t forget to enjoy every step along the way and the experiences. Michael McDowell feels he did not enjoy his rookie season in the Cup Series due to focusing on the pressure put on himself, team, sponsor, and manufacturer to perform.
“I just felt like I needed to achieve and probably expected more out of myself than was really fair for a rookie coming into the Cup Series,” he told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “So, I didn’t enjoy that first year as much as I should have. Going to Daytona for the first time or going to Indianapolis and the Brickyard for the first time and experiencing that. I didn’t take in the experience because I was so consumed with the result and performance, which is a part of our sport, but I didn’t take the time to really take in how cool it is to be one of 40 and to come to these iconic racetracks and run your first Bristol Night Race and all those things.
“So just enjoy the journey a lot more and take it all in.”
2. Race Smarter, Not Harder
While everybody is always focused on pushing themselves to the fullest, Ben Rhodes advises to not try so hard, but rather drive it at about 80%. Going over the edge can prove costly, as evident by some of the run-ins the ThorSport Racing driver has experienced with fellow competitors over the years. As he says, “I think many times throughout my career and I’ve tried too hard and got myself into mistakes.”
His experienced teammate Matt Crafton made it simple and easy to remember in his advice to Rhodes – “race smarter, not harder.”
3. Take Advantage of Every Opportunity
While everybody would love to be racing on Sundays in the best equipment alongside the brightest stars of the sport, it doesn’t happen right away. So to ensure you gain as much as experience and am ready for when the dream scenario lands in your lap, take every opportunity you may get along the way.
“That’s something I always tell young drivers,” Anthony Alfredo said. “There are a lot of younger drivers that I’ve tried to help out or people that reach out on social media and they might be racing late models or even Legends cars and I just tell them I think one thing I’ve learned the last couple years is running part-time has humbled me in a way that when races can become few and far between at times you learn to make the most out of every single one, so that’s what I always tell them.
“If you go out there and run every lap like it’s your last, you gave it your best effort and no matter where you finish you can sleep well at night knowing you did all you could.”
4. Believe in Yourself
It’s no secret, being able to make it to the biggest stage of motorsports is not the easiest task and it can cause doubts to enter the conversation. It’s why Ross Chastain says you just need to believe it will happen, no matter how impossible the end goal seems.
“I was doing it. I did believe but I just couldn’t see it,” he said. “I couldn’t see the end goal. I knew what I wanted to do. I knew what we were talking about and what we were trying to prepare to do but yeah. I would probably even back up farther than that and when I first got to NASCAR, I was so naive in the Truck Series. People were telling me there was a way, but I just knew the real facts of it and I didn’t know if it would actually happen.”
5. Never Give Up
As Joey Gase says “it’s hard to beat someone that never gives up,” and that can be true for many things in life no matter the end goal. No matter how bleak things may get, Josh Bilicki says don’t throw the towel because “things may not form right away, but if you keep working hard, it’ll definitely be achievable.”
“Stay working hard.” Kaz Grala said. “I think over the last few years, I haven’t been sure what I was going to do, the path was going to be for me to stay racing in Xfinity or move to Cup one day. It seems like the truth is, if you keep working hard for it, keep pushing, keep working hard for sponsorship and networking with teams, and do what you believe you should be doing, things should work out in the end.
“By no means have I made it where I want to be yet, but I feel I’ve been able to steadily move myself forward by dedicating myself to the level that I want to in this sport. So I’d tell myself to keep pushing and push even harder if you can because I do things pay off when you do that.”