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In the Driver’s Seat with Ryan Reed

Sports can be fascinating with athletes and teams coming together when a big change takes place.  While the option of folding may seem like the easier choice over weathering through growing pains, changes are a lot like a NASCAR XFINITY Series race.  As legendary Buffalo Bills head coach Marv Levy once told his four-time AFC conference championship winning teams, “If it’s too tough for you, it’s just right for me.”

Ryan Reed has been resilient and steadfast with the chances to his team dynamics in the past year.  While his longtime crew chief Seth Barbour moved over to teammate Darrell “Bubba” Wallace’s No. 6 team, Reed has worked on his chemistry with Phil Gould.  Gould spearheaded the efforts of Brian Scott and Elliott Sadler before transitioning over to the No. 16 Lilly Diabetes/American Diabetes Association Ford Mustang crew.

Currently ninth in the points race following a steady 11th place result in Saturday’s XFINITY race at Richmond International Raceway, this is a determined team that’s seeking to race their way into the inaugural Chase field for this NASCAR division.  Reed isn’t content with settling for top-15 results but rather, he’s seeking for consistent top-10 finishes and scoring that elusive second career win.

Hampton, GA - Feb 26, 2016: Ryan Reed (16) gets ready to practice for the Heads Up Georgia 250 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, GA.

Hampton, GA – Feb 26, 2016: Ryan Reed (16) gets ready to practice for the Heads Up Georgia 250 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, GA.

This 22-year-old racer from Bakersfield, CA knows how to win as he raced his way to a thrilling victory in last year’s season opener at Daytona International Speedway.  All of the ingredients and components towards stronger race day performances and results are there with a proven crew chief, a team at the track and back in the shop that gives their absolute effort throughout the season, and partners who have confidence with their on track ambassador.

Earlier this week, I caught up with Reed to get his thoughts on the season thus far.  Candid, cool, and thoughtful of the great support around him and his racing efforts, he didn’t mince words but he was optimistic in this season that’s been trying at times.  He’s made no excuses or thrown anyone under the bus.  Instead, his strong spirit is one embodied by the great outlook he has with the men and women who work with the No. 16 team as well as the support from the race fans.

Let’s get to know more about this Roush Fenway racer by getting “In the Driver’s Seat with Ryan Reed” right here on The Podium Finish!  Just be prepared for some cycling and go-kart racing along the way.

Rob Tiongson :  We’re about a quarter of a way into the 2016 season and you’re sitting ninth in the XFINITY points standings five top-15’s after eight races.  How would you evaluate your season thus far and what areas do you feel you and the 16 team have to improve on?

Ryan Reed :  We could’ve had a worse start.  However, this isn’t up to our standards.  Even though it’s not up to our standards, we’ve had a lot of bad luck.  At Bristol, we were running 12th and we broke the right front wheel.  There’s just been some bizarre freak things that we couldn’t really find like loose lugnuts.  We chalked that up to bad luck.  We’ve had a couple of problems on pit road where some were my fault and some were mistakes during stops.

We need to clean those up and have better luck.  Our worst race was at Texas and we finished 14th.  We need to improve on those days and not have 14th place runs.  At Auto Club Speedway, we were running around sixth or seventh when we pitted under green when a caution came out that put us a lap down.

Those are the types of mistakes when you’re having a good day, you can’t have them.  You need to capitalize on top-10 starts and finishes.  Those are the biggest things we need to improve on to have good days.

Overall, I feel like we’ve improved and we’re learning a lot.  We’ve had some real changes this year with the bump stops which we feel like we’ve been learning a lot and picking up on speed.  Everyone at the shop has been working really hard.

Roush Fenway has improved a lot on the Cup side, as you can see, week in and week out, they’re bringing top-10 racecars to the racetrack.  We’re learning a lot from them right now and one of the things they’ve found (that’s helped them), we’re definitely adopting for the next few races and hopefully see a lot of the same success they’ve had.

We’re working really hard and with the Chase format, it’s great as we feel we’re in a good position points wise.  We’re also bringing better, faster cars to the racetrack.  It’s about getting better all year and come Chase time, it’s about being in the best spot we can by having the best racecars we have to make it to the Championship round by the end of the year.

RT :  You’ve transitioned from working with your old crew chief Seth Barbour to your new team leader in Phil Gould.  Tell me some of the things that Phil’s brought to the table that’s different from Seth in terms of approaching the race weekend and with the cars.

RR :  A driver and crew chief will tell you that sometimes, you just need to shake things up and getting a new chemistry that can be really helpful.  You can easily get stuck in a rut with a driver/crew chief combination so it’s important to have a good relationship.

With Seth being Bubba Wallace’s crew chief and the No. 6 unit being our teammate, we still work a lot together.  It’s been great but it’s also very interesting.  You’ll see a lot of the other race teams, where they move crew chiefs around, and it really is just business and racing where you’re trying to win races.

Working with Phil, who’s worked a lot with Richard Childress Racing (RCR) and worked with lots of different drivers, he’s got a different demeanor that’s helped me a lot as a driver and I’ve learned a lot from him.  He has a different approach with the race weekend and how we work during the race week together.  It’s helped a lot.

I feel like we have all of the guys working with Phil respecting him.  I see them working really hard for him which is a really big deal.  It’s a good part about being a crew chief and a great team leader.  He’s exceptional.

As for the fact that he’s really helped me with setting up the racecar, we’ve really hit on some things early on in the year.  I feel like if we work on something new that may not work, we can always go back to the baseline.

We feel like we have a great place to start week in and week out to be competitive.  I’m really excited about that and the future with Phil.  We’re working really hard and he’s working really hard.  We’re getting more competitive and heading on the right track.

RT :  Would you say, because of the fact that you have a new crew chief, that it requires a bit of a transition for Phil to understand what you want out of the racecars and how he assists the team with building cars more towards your liking?

Hampton, GA - Feb 26, 2016: Ryan Reed (16) gets ready to practice for the Heads Up Georgia 250 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, GA.

Hampton, GA – Feb 26, 2016: Ryan Reed (16) gets ready to practice for the Heads Up Georgia 250 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, GA.

RR :  Oh yea, 100 percent.  Every time you make a driver/crew chief change, there’s a lot of learning.  Every driver and crew chief has a different way of communicating.  For every driver, it’s a huge part of their responsibility to give feedback about what the racecar is doing.

What may be loose or tight for me is probably different for any of the other drivers that Phil has worked with in the past.  It’s about feeling that out and we actually have a pretty good understanding of each other right away.  It sounds simple but it’s really not.

When I say the car is loose and needs to get tighter on entry, he makes that adjustment and it helps.  It sounds simple enough that the driver asks for it and the crew chief gives that to you but it’s not really that simple.  It can be really hard, especially if you don’t have great communication.

I think it’s been a great start eight races in and it’s only going in the right direction.  We just have to work really hard to understand each other and communicate with 100 percent effort.  As long as you continue to give a 100 percent effort and are not complacent, come summer, we’re going to be in a great place and hopefully have results to show for it.

RT :  We’re heading to some pretty solid tracks for you with Richmond, Talladega, Dover, and Charlotte on the way.  Does it help team morale and confidence when you know you’re going to speedways where you’ve had some great runs in recent times?

RR :  I feel great about it.  If you look at what we’ve had for speed this year, we’ve had top-10 racecars.  Obviously, having top-10 racecars and getting those results are two different things.  We just need to convert.  Bristol is probably the worst track for me on the schedule and we had a decent run in 12th place.  At Bristol, that’s probably the best run I’ve had there until we broke the wheel.

You can’t lose sleep over it.  You have to chalk it up and say, “When we go there in August, we’ll have a better package.”  Richmond is one of my favorite tracks.  I had a top-10 there in my rookie year.  That’s the place where I feel I naturally understand that place really well.

We bring superspeedway cars to a place like Talladega.  It’ll be a chess game with a lot of luck involved and I feel great about our chances there.  It’d be great to get a win there to get locked into the Chase and work on our speed for the rest of the year.

At Dover, Roush has brought great cars there over the past couple of years.  As a whole, there’s some great tracks coming up like Michigan.  We’re getting towards a part of the schedule where we feel comfortable and confident which really helps.

RT :  I asked Daniel Suarez about his thoughts on the Chase system now being in the XFINITY Series so I wanted to get your take.  Do you like that the XFINTIY Series now has a playoff format like the Cup series and has it changed the way that you and your team have approached these races versus the past few years?

RR :  First of all, as long as the fans are happy and it’s putting on better racing or making it more exciting, that’s the number one priority.  To me, it sounds like the fans are enjoying it and are excited about it.  Definitely, it’ll be exciting as we get into our playoffs.  I’m really excited to see and get our first season in the Chase underway to see how it all plays out.  It’ll add a lot of excitement.

For me, that’s great and good for our sport.  I don’t think it really changes how we race all that much because of the dynamic of having the Sprint Cup drivers in the races.  You have to points race because getting a win in the regular season isn’t always a given at all.  You just can’t have days where you blow motors or 30th place days.  You have to be smart and still watch your points by staying in the top-12.

If you do all of that, you’ll be in great shape.  We haven’t changed our approach but we know that we need to have good solid days and not make big mistakes.  If we do that, we’ll be alright.

RT :  You mentioned about the unique dynamics of XFINITY Series racing where you have to contend with the Cup drivers.  It’s a hot topic that isn’t quite new in your series but the XFINITY Series has been built around an image of being the breeding grounds for young racers like yourself, Daniel Suarez, Bubba Wallace, and Brandon Jones to name a few.  What could NASCAR do to really capitalize on this in light of the way that Sprint Cup drivers have dominated the XFINITY races over the past several years?

RR :  Like you said, it’s a hot topic and it’s something that gets talked a lot about and it’s probably one of the most frequently asked question for me.  Honestly, all I can do is just go out there and beat everyone who I’m racing against.  At Richmond, we had to race against Cup drivers.  NASCAR will find the right balance and figure out a way to make it fair.

I mean, it’s not fair right now, like you said, ultimately, it’s a proving grounds and we want to race on Sunday against the Cup guys.  If we can beat them on Saturday, it just gives us more of an opportunity to prove that we belong there on Sunday.

For me, it’s about going out there, learning from those guys, and ultimately trying to beat them.  On the days we outrun the Cup drivers and teams, those are the days we learn and feel good as a driver.

RT :  It’s a double edged sword basically as you said.  It’s a great measuring stick because you can go, “I was able to beat Kyle Busch or Dale Jr at Texas.”  Does it get to a point where it’s frustrating for you guys where you’re giving it all you can but we’re getting beat?

RR :  No – you’re frustrated because you didn’t win.  It’s not because Kyle Busch beat you.  It’s because you didn’t win.  It doesn’t matter who beat you.  As a racecar driver, you’re out there to win.  Once we’re all strapped in our racecars, yea, you look at the fact that you’re racing against a guy like Kyle Busch, but at the same time, you don’t look at any differently except that you’re trying to beat them.  It’s about getting the balance.  Ultimately, the fans allow us to do what we want to do and we’ll go from there.

RT :  I’ve got to ask, from your perspective, what was it like to drive in one of the heat races last weekend at Bristol?  Do you think it worked and if so, what did you like about it and what aspects of them would you want to change? 

RR :  I thought it was really cool and it brought me back to my roots.  I grew up racing heat races out in California in a late model.  I thought it was really cool.  It was a change of pace.  With the Dash 4 Cash, it’s a big part of it about getting yourself locked in and go for the $100,000 in the main event.  There’s a lot at stake in the heat races.

It’s a balancing act because you want to be aggressive and get yourself in the Dash 4 Cash but obviously, you need to have a racecar to compete in it so you can’t tear your stuff up.  I thought it was cool that they changed it up.  Bristol is its own kind of track.

We’ll see a different product at Richmond for the heat races.  We’ll go out there this weekend and I think it’ll be a little better example of what heat racing is.  Richmond is more of a true short track.  I think you’ll see a different product and it’ll be exciting.

RT :  You know what it’s like to race for the Dash 4 Cash as you were one of the four eligible for the bonus at the July 2014 race weekend at Loudon so you’re no rookie with this.

RR :  Yea, that was cool.  We finished a spot behind Regan Smith and that cost us the $100,000.  We’d definitely like to get back in it and try to redeem it and win it.  Richmond is probably our best shot of all the tracks to make it happen.  We’ll see and maybe we’ll take home a big check by the end of the weekend.

RT :  It seems like this generation of racers really take their health seriously as I saw how you and Brett Moffitt did some amazing cycling earlier this month.  How much of it would you say helps you during the racing season, particularly when the conditions become more grueling and demanding from the driver’s seat?

RR :  It really helps.  A lot of drivers are now in amazing shape and that’s set the tone for us.  Jimmie Johnson was one of the first drivers to set the tone.  A lot of the drivers are in great shape, don’t get me wrong.  But he’s an amazing athlete and talented racecar driver.  You have to acknowledge that and how well he runs.  He’s in great shape and that has to help him.  I love cycling and working out.  Staying in the best shape that I can, the better I feel that I can do in that racecar.

Ultimately, it can only help your chances of finishing a race strong.  To go out there cycling, especially with your friends, like with Brett, it’s a lot more fun.  Brett and I get along really well and we both love cycling.  We’re both competitive with each other and it pushes you harder with cycling.

RT :  Oh yea, I know how competitive you are.  When you did the go-kart charity race up here, you mentioned about that and how you and Ryan Truex are very competitive.  Have you got Ryan out there cycling?

RR :  Ryan’s not into biking but we did race go-karts up in Mooresville this week.  I finished third and he won.  I’m not too happy about that. (laughter) I have to work on my karting skills and get better with that.  We have a lot of fun but we can get along even if we are competitive with each other.

RT :  One of your biggest fans, Ashley Cote, wanted to ask  what kind of racecar do you prefer to contend with during a race – a loose handling one or a tight handling one and why?

RR :  Oh man, that’s a tough one.  It depends on the track.  Ultimately, you can probably do a little more with a loose racecar.  You can drive it well beyond its limits and make up a little bit for it as a driver.  With a loose racecar, you have more speed with them.

RT :  Alright, my friend…let’s try something different here with some Free Association.  Tell me the first thing that comes to mind with the following words:

Social media.

RR :  Twitter.

RT :  Friends.

RR :  Competition.

RT :  If you had a metal band and had to pick a fellow NASCAR driver as a bandmate, it would be…

RR :  Bubba Wallace as he’s good on the drums.

RT :  Race fans.

RR :  The best fans.

RT :  Challenge.

RR :  Winning.

RT :  One thing you couldn’t live without….

RR :  Chipotle.

RT :  Are you and Ryan Ellis big fans of that place or what?

RR : Oh yea we are.

RT :  Your toughest racetrack…

RR :  Bristol.

RT :  I wonder why though.

RR :  That place has been tough for me but we’ve been getting better there at least!

RT :  You know what it’s like to experience the thrill of victory as you won at Daytona last year.  How close do you feel you and your team are to getting that elusive second win and how happy would it make you and most of all, “The Cat in the Hat,” Jack Roush, to get one of his teams into the XFINITY Chase field this year?

RR :  It’s not just Jack but all of the people on the 16 team.  They work so hard.  I think every driver goes out there saying they want to perform and win.  It’s a lot more than just for myself.  It’s for sponsors like Lilly Diabetes and ADA.

It’d be big for the folks working 12-14 hours a day at the shop and on the road at the racetracks away from their families to bring the best racecars on the track.  That’s a huge sacrifice.

I go out there and compete for a lot of people but they’re all deserving.  We want to win races and a championship by year’s end.

RT :  I know how you drivers appreciate the guys and gals working on the racecars.  Any acknowledgements you’d like to make?

Daytona Beach, FL - Feb 19, 2016: Ryan Reed (16) hangs out in the garage during practice for the PowerShares QQQ 300 at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, FL.

Daytona Beach, FL – Feb 19, 2016: Ryan Reed (16) hangs out in the garage during practice for the PowerShares QQQ 300 at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, FL.

RR :  I’d like to give a huge thanks to our partners at Lilly Diabetes and the American Diabetes Association for helping us get on the track week in and week out.  I’d like to thank the fans too.  Hopefully this is a good luck interview for us and we can get a good finish.  I appreciate the time and hope to talk soon with you!

Author’s Notes :  I’d like to thank Ryan for taking the time during this race week to talk about his season and prospects of the Chase for his No. 16 team.  Photos accompanying this article are courtesy of Action Sports Photo, Inc.  If you’d like to keep up-to-date with Ryan’s season, in addition to TPF, you can “Like” his Facebook page and “Follow” his Twitter account as well as the No. 16 team’s account as well.  Best of luck to the 16 team in their quest for a Chase seed and that second XFINITY Series win!

Rob Tiongson is a sports writer and editor originally from the Boston area and resides in the Austin, Texas, area. Tiongson has covered motorsports series like NASCAR and INDYCAR since 2008 and NHRA since 2013. Most recently, Tiongson is covering professional basketball, mainly the WNBA, and women's college basketball. While writing and editing for The Podium Finish, Tiongson currently seeks for a long-term sportswriting and sports content creating career. Tiongson enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat. Tiongson is an alum of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and St. Bonaventure University's renowned Jandoli School of Communication with a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism.

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