SB Nation's driver interview series is back in 2011 – with 12 all new questions. Up next is Josh Wise of Go Green Racing and JR Motorsports. We spoke with Wise at Las Vegas.
SBN: Every driver has races they didn't win that bug them. Which one bugs you the most?
JW: For me, it's probably a USAC midget race called Turkey Night. It's a big race that's been around forever, and some of the best guys have won it. It was always a race I grew up watching and wanted to win really bad. I want to win that race as bad as I want to win a Nationwide race, you know what I mean?
Two years ago, we qualified on the pole and led probably 70 laps, but faded. Lost the brakes and finished third. That was just such a heartbreaker – I'll never forget it. It's a really hard race to win – a lot of good cars show up who are competitive – and I had an awesome car and a good race and everything, and we ended up running third.
It'll be one that haunts me, because it was sooooo close.
SBN: Who is the most underrated driver in NASCAR?
JW: I think it's a sport of underrated drivers. You've got drivers that probably aren't so great driving really great equipment and they do well, and then you've got great drivers in lesser equipment that I'd probably say their names and people would look at me like I'm cross-eyed.
Lately, I think Regan Smith has been doing really good. And Marcos Ambrose is super talented, but you don't hear a lot about him. Well, you hear about him on the road courses – but you should, because he's an animal out there. But even on the ovals, I think he runs really hard.
SBN: If you could pick your own teammates – manufacturer and sponsor conflicts aside – who would you pick?
JW: I would choose Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch, probably. From my perspective, I think Jimmie seems like he works real hard at it, he's really good, he gets it, he's methodical – he's obviously incredible, right? And then Kyle Busch is just super talented.
SBN: What would they provide to you as teammates that would be so helpful? Advice or setup notes or what?
JW: I think those would just be two guys that would just be really cool to lean on in a teammate situation. You could walk over to their car in the middle of practice and ask them questions about things you might be having problems with.
SBN: When you retire someday, what do you want your retirement story to say about you?
JW: That's probably a two-way street for anyone you ask that question to. I've sacrificed my whole life to be a race-car driver, so of course you want to be known as a great race-car driver who runs hard and is respected and has been successful.
But I have a year-and-a-half-old little girl right now (Harlow), and she's brought a lot of perspective on other things that are really important in life, too. So I think I'd want to be remembered as an awesome dad to my little girl. That'd be the main perception that I'd be worried about – I'd want her to think, ‘My dad is awesome.'
SBN: Which driver did you most want to be like when you were growing up?
JW: There were two. I grew up in the Sprint car world, so I grew up watching Tony Stewart – he was one of my heroes. And probably even more than him was a guy named Jay Drake. He and Tony came up through the ranks together and stuff, and Jay was just a really amazing driver.
You would watch and he just did really cool things with the race car, you know? Watching him drive was like art. You'd just sit there and sit back and enjoy it. So he was probably my main one, even though it was a close race between those two as far as my heroes as a little kid.
SBN: Drivers become experts at getting out of a track quickly after the race. What's a memorable postrace escape you've had?
JW: Every week probably has something a little memorable about it. One that sticks out was I think in Kansas last year. I was driving for (JR Motorsports) that race, and I was riding back with the crew guys. They leave some of the rental cars for some of the Hendrick Cup team guys, and then everyone kind of piles into vans and goes to the airport.
Well, the car was parked in an area it wasn't supposed to be...and the car got towed. We couldn't find it. We had to go just asking every traffic person and police officer where they would have towed it, and they kept telling us the wrong lot. Basically, we went on a scavenger hunt for our car for like 45 minutes, and we finally found it parked in this grass lot.
Then we knew we were going to be late and everyone (waiting on the plane) was going to be mad at us, because everyone wants to just get there and get home.
I was riding with some of the 88 crew guys, and he's driving so fast that the GPS can't keep up with us. We'd pass a street and the GPS would be like, ‘Make a right!' And we'd say, ‘Shoot, we just passed that street!' I think we made like 30 U-turns. So we actually cost ourselves more time by driving fast since the GPS couldn't keep up.
SBN: Who is somebody famous you would like to meet that you haven't met yet?
JW: I don't know. I don't really have a lot of famous people I really look up to. When I tested at Daytona in the 88 car for Dale Jr. in January, I got to meet Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon – and that was pretty awesome for me, because I'd never met those guys. That was cool.
But there are no famous people I'd just go ga-ga over if I met them. I guess it would be cool to meet someone in music. Like maybe Snoop Dogg. Someone who has been around a long time like that, that'd be cool.
I actually saw him in a movie theater once in California. We were going to see one of the Friday movies, and a huge group of people walked in – and he was in the middle of it. We were like, ‘Snooooooop!' (laughs)
SBN: Last year, there were two types of seasons: A Jamie McMurray season (winning huge races but missing the Chase) and a Jeff Gordon season (not winning any races but contending for the title). Which would you rather have?
JW: Oh, I'd win the races. For sure. I think you'll probably get the same answer from everybody on that. It's about winning. It's a feather in your cap either way, probably. But it's hard to turn down winning races, especially like the ones McMurray won.
SBN: So why do we make such a big deal of the Chase then?
JW: Well, I think the Chase is a chance. It's a big deal to make the Chase. But after a few races, if it starts sorting out and you're not near the top, that's not as good. If you could do what Denny Hamlin did and go into the final race with a chance to win the championship, that'd be a tougher decision.
SBN: If you could switch lives with an athlete from a different sport, who would it be?
JW: Growing up in Southern California, I raced cars and went to school and rode dirt bikes with my brother – but I never had any skill at riding dirt bikes. I always thought it'd be an awesome thing, so I'd switch with someone like a Ricky Carmichael or a James Stewart. Supercross would be another awesome form of racing, and to be dominant in it, that'd be pretty cool.
SBN: How much does your personality change inside the car?
JW: It's funny, I like to joke around most of the time, but about 30 minutes before practice, I kind of change into a different person. A lot of the crew guys give me a hard time, like, ‘You never want to joke once you get your suit on.' Your focus just changes, I think. I definitely get a lot more serious when it's time to come to the track and work.
SBN: Do you get pretty pissed on the radio during races?
JW: No, not usually. Listening to other guys, I don't ever think it's ever positive if they scream at the team about the car. Like, ‘This car sucks!' or ‘This car is a piece of shit!' That just never does anything positive.
So if I ever feel that way, I might say it – but without pushing the button on the mic. Because they don't need to hear it. They're all working hard, they're all trying hard. And it just brings everybody down, I think, when you do stuff like that. If I do have an outburst, it's usually like, ‘Look at this idiot! What's he doing?' But never directed at the team or the car.
SBN: If you could take a year off from the sport and come back knowing you had a job guaranteed, would you want to do that?
JW: It would depend on what you could do with the year off. Could I go race more? I wouldn't really want to take off from this. I'd want to go race a Sprint car one day, and then a go-kart the next day, stuff like that. Right now, I spend all week working on even trying to get here and race, so this is actually my off-time now. If I could have time off during the week, I'd just want to go race more – if my wife would let me.
SBN: Where does your motivation to win come from?
JW: In any profession, if you're a driven person, you want to be the best at what you're doing. If you're a secretary, you're going to want to be the best secretary there is. If you're a race-car driver, you're driven by wanting to be the best that you can possibly be. And in racing, winning races is achieving that.
SBN: You're going to win the championship at Homestead. You can either do it with a last-lap pass on the final turn or you can have it clinched by the time you show up. Which would you rather do?
JW: Last-lap pass for sure. Oh yeah! Hands down. Being able to perform in that intense, demanding situation would be so much more awesome than showing up and riding around and collecting your trophy at the end of the day. The best memories I have of winning races have been last-lap passes. I have vivid memories of my emotions and feelings and the intensity of everything that was going on. Races where I've checked out and won by a few seconds, they're just kind of races I've won.