Our series of weekly driver interviews continues this week with Turn One Racing's Cole Whitt, who is also a Red Bull Racing Team development driver. Whitt is having a fantastic rookie season in the Camping World Truck Series, where he sits second in the point standings. We spoke with Whitt prior to this week's news about the Red Bull team.
SBN: Who is the most underrated driver in NASCAR?
CW: I think Martin Truex, he runs good a lot and most people don't notice it – same with David Reutimann. Both those cars run good, but a lot of times something happens where they just don't get that run that they need.
SBN: What's a race you didn't win in your career that bugs you because you feel like you should have won it?
CW: It has to be Dover last year in the K&N race. First practice, we were top of the charts. Second practice, we were top of the charts. In qualifying, we were second. Then we went out and led every lap up until lap 25, when we cut a right-front tire and knocked the fence down. We just had everyone covered.
I'm not usually one to say, 'No matter what happens, we would have won,' but we had that. That day, I felt like we had the car.
SBN: What driver did you most want to be like growing up?
CW: That's a pretty easy one for me: Dale Earnhardt Sr. When I was watching NASCAR growing up and racing go-karts, Dale Sr. was the man. The way he raced, that's who you wanted to be like.
SBN: So does that mean you intimidated people in go-karts?
CW: Nah! I don't think so. He just had his own style. He was the man, you know?
SBN: Who is somebody famous you'd like to meet who you haven't met yet?
CW: I'd like to meet Lance Armstrong. He would be very cool to talk to and listen to the inspiration he's probably got. He's gone through a lot of ups and downs in his life, but still comes out on top. He'd be cool to talk to.
SBN: Do the recent allegations against him affect your view of him?
CW: I don't think so. Just his story of his whole life and how many people he's touched, that's inspirational.
SBN: Where does your motivation to win come from?
CW: It feels so good when you do it, that's one thing. I want to win for everyone – for all my team guys – of course. But just the competition side of it is so tough in NASCAR. I think wanting to prove to everyone you can do it is part of it. Prove to myself I can do it, too. Just the drive to succeed and be faster than everyone – I just want to be better than everyone. It all adds up, though – you want to do it for your sponsors, your crew, yourself, everyone.
SBN: So what does winning feel like?
CW: It's been a little while! I've almost forgotten. We've had a lot of good runs lately, but it's always been like second or third. Back in my sprint car days, we were winning a lot back then. You'd walk around like you're the man – you did what you came there to do that day, and you couldn't have done it any better. Total success.
SBN: I'll give you two choices and you pick the better one: Would you rather win the Truck Series championship this year without winning any races, or would you rather win four or five races but not win the title?
CW: That's tough. I would really love to have a championship. To put the whole season together is more important than winning races. A lot of people might disagree with that, but I think at the end of the day, you think about Jimmie Johnson. Nothing against Kyle Busch – he wins every race – but when people say, 'Who's the best?' you say, 'Jimmie Johnson.' He's won five titles in a row, how could you not?
So I think a championship means more to the team. It says you might not have been the best everywhere you went, but you were good everywhere you went. I think that's what's cool – being good everywhere you go. Some guys will be good on short tracks but struggle on big tracks; some guys will be good on big tracks but struggle on short tracks. Being able to put every race together and run well on every type of track, that's cool.
SBN: Would you rather win the Truck title before you get to Homestead or win it off of Turn 4 of the last lap of the season?
CW: I'd rather clinch it next race (laughs). As soon as possible, I'd like to clinch it. If you clinch it sooner, then you can go into the last race going, 'OK, now we can just go all out and go win the race.' It'd be less stressful on you; maybe not as exciting for the fans, though.
SBN: Last year, Brian Vickers was forced to take a year away from the sport due to health issues. But if you could take a year off – without the health problems – and come back knowing you had a ride guaranteed, would you ever want to do that in your career?
CW: I would always want to keep racing. Maybe after a little while, if things were going good...no, you know what? As I say that, I don't even think I could.
I guess if I did, I wouldn't be able to stay away for long. I'd have to jump in at least once or twice here and there. But if I had my choice, I'd race every day.
SBN: Let's say you were going to make your own four-car Sprint Cup team – you and three other guys. Who would you want to join you? And you can't pick any current Red Bull drivers.
CW: If I could put together three other guys on a four car team, I'd probably pick Jimmie Johnson – just the way he runs – and Kyle Busch – I guess just for the way he runs, too (laughs).
For the third guy, there's probably a lot of different guys I could put up in there. I think I'll pick Martin Truex Jr. – he seems to click off some really good runs at times. He always surprises people and he's always right there.
SBN: Eventually when you retire – probably many, many years from now in your case – what do you want your retirement story to say about you?
CW: Well, in a perfect world, I'd love to leave this sport as the greatest who ever raced. I'd love to have 12 championships or whatever, and all in a row. That's in a perfect world.
But realistically, I'd love to make it to the Cup Series, win races, run up front consistently and be a contender. And hopefully win championships.
At the end of the day, I'd still like to be remembered as someone they could go to and talk to – always be a humble person who loves life and likes to have a good time.
SBN: What's something people may not know or understand about you?
CW: A lot of people just think I'm a 19-year-old kid who wants to go do crazy things all the time, but I go pretty slow on my off-days. I eat, sleep and breathe racing. I'm at the shop every day with my Truck team guys and try to be with them as much as possible.
And on my off-weekends, I just like to hang out with my friends, relax around the house, go fishing. I don't need to be staying up til 2 a.m. going to a club or anything like that.
SBN: How much does your personality change from inside the car and outside of it?
CW: It changes a lot. My family sees that a lot. Away from the racetrack – if I haven't been racing for awhile – I get kind of moody and real temperamental. I get pissed off real easy, I guess, because racing is all I can think about doing.
At the same time, when I get to the racetrack, I get pretty quiet and focused on what I have to do. After the day is done, I'm usually pretty relaxed. I sit down and think about what we could have done better – or how great we were.
But when I get out there and put the helmet on, the whole world goes away and it's all business, really.