ON RACING AT AUTO CLUB SPEEDWAY:
“I really like this track. There are a lot of grooves. We’ve talked about that before like race tracks where you move around and you’ve got to try to find different lines to find a good speed with the car. The balance of the car might be different and you can move either from the top to the bottom or from the bottom to the top to get your car to get going and do some things to get your car competitive. So, I like that. It’s real rough down the straightaways. The corners are fine; not that rough at all, if they just repave the straightaways this place would be a blast. It’s pretty rough, especially down the back straightaway, middle to the end of the back straightaway, corners are in good shape. Should have a pretty good run this weekend if we do everything right. Had a pretty good run last year here. We felt pretty good in race trim this morning when we started out and we’ll do more of that tomorrow to figure out exactly what we need to improve on. Went into qualifying trim and just dragging the splitter trying to get the car low is a real challenge with the bumps. Going down the straightaway, the car is bouncing and bumping and carrying on, you can’t really read shock loads and you can’t really figure out where the splitter is because it’s really hitting on the straightaway, you don’t really get a good gauge of where the splitter is in the corner because it bumps so bad on the straightaway. Really fighting that and didn’t run any good lap in qualifying that I was happy with so worried about just how we’re going to qualify, but I think we’ll race well and this track is wide enough that if we don’t qualify well then we can move up, if the car is good we can move up.”
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO DO A NCAA BRACKET WITH FANS?
“I got asked to do it. I never filled out a bracket before so it was my first time. I kind of like to watch the tournament, it’s interesting to see who the Cinderella teams are and how far Carolina can go. I tend to pull for Carolina in college basketball. I don’t know, I got asked to do. I think Jimmie (Johnson) and I got asked to do it together so Mike Hoag (road manager) came over to the house the other day and we sat down, thought it through and made my picks. I think I was 11 and five this morning, I don’t know how I’m doing today.”
HAVE YOU EVER DONE ANYTHING ELSE LIKE THAT?
“Well, I’ve only ever done fantasy football and I didn’t really know if brackets were even that fun to do. It’s my first foray into that. I think it’s pretty fun to do with your friends, but I’m such a football nut and focus so much on fantasy football that’s really all I ever thought about doing as far as fantasy sports go, but this is pretty fun. I’m having a good time with it. I hate losing, but I hate making the wrong pick. What are you going to do? There’s a lot of games.”
SHOULD YOU BE GOOD AT CALIFORNIA BECAUSE YOU ARE GOOD AT MICHIGAN?
“No, not really. The surface here, there are two totally different surfaces, especially with the new repave at Michigan. Steve (Letarte, crew chief) and the guys might say it’s true because there’s some things in the setup I’m sure that are similar in the way the car travels and the loads the car sees in each corner of the vehicle, the engineers really get into that stuff. There may be some things in the setup that correlate between the two tracks that we can carry some improvements we made at one to the next one and it work. The way you drive them and the way you race them are two different things.”
WHEN YOU SEE YOUR TEAMMATES CELEBRATE SUCCESS DOES IT MAKE YOU WANT IT THAT MUCH MORE?
“The fans really like it when you go to victory lane obviously and you get a lot of great feedback from the fans, but man, it’s really different when you go into the shop and you see the employees that don’t actually travel. You get to go around and see every single one and ring the bell and they get into it and they get excited. Every employee rings the bell. It’s fun, I enjoyed that. I thought it was a good way to sort of bring everybody together as one unit, one team. I’m ready to ring the hell out of it. It was a lot of fun and I’d like to do that more often because the employees and all the people that work really hard on the cars that don’t get any credit, don’t get the kind of credit we do and don’t get to travel, they really enjoy that.”
DOES IT ANNOY YOU WHEN PEOPLE FORGET THAT YOU CONTENDED FOR A CHAMPIONSHIP YEARS AGO?
“No, not really. When I hear about people talking about the fast start I just feel like you have to take a lot of different factors into the equation. We’ve had good fortune, we got real lucky. We couldn’t have got luckier at that Bristol race. We were running good and Steve (Letarte, crew chief) did make some good adjustments there toward the end that I think would have helped us maybe finish 10th. A lot of guys wrecked out and we got a good restart where everybody on the outside got hung up and we passed three or four guys just on that restart into one. Then with the newer tires we got a couple guys before everybody started filing to the top in the next few laps and then that was it. Those scenarios have been working in our favor and they don’t always work in your favor and you’re not always going to get to come out on the better end of those deals, but we have. We’ve ran well, we’ve had good cars too, we also had real good fortune on where we were restarting, what lane we’re in and just having good opportunities to get positions for various reasons at the end of these races. I think it’s a long year, going to have some bad luck, it’s bound to happen. Nobody runs the whole season perfectly and I’m just trying to get as many points as we can as early as we can so when that bad luck comes it doesn’t hit us as hard as it hits some of these guys early. These guys that run so well and then have something silly happen to their car or whatever and get in a hold early. They really have to grind and it weighs on you trying to make that up and get back into a comfortable position in the points. Everybody wants to be in the Chase, it’s so important to be in the Chase. So much publicity for your team and so much excitement to be able to race for the championship. Trying to build on the points early is important to me, but we’ve been so lucky in so many scenarios too in order to finish like we have in the last couple weeks, but it’s a long year.”
WHO DO YOU HAVE WINNING THE NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP?
“Indiana. I think Indiana will beat Duke. I’m not a Duke fan.”
HOW MUCH DO YOU PAY ATTENTION TO THE DENNY HAMLIN AND JOEY LOGANO SITUATION?
“I don’t worry about it on the race track. Of course I think everybody in this room enjoyed all that stuff Sunday night. It was pretty funny watching them go back and forth. I don’t have Twitter so I wasn’t able to follow it too closely, but I did get some updates and hear people talking and texting back and forth so I got the gist of what was going on. I thought it was really entertaining. I think it’s over. I don’t think they’re going to go after each other. I think both of them want to win races and they’re going to concentrate on doing that.”
DO YOU STILL HAVE INVOLVEMENT WITH ADIDAS?
“No, I wear Asics, but I have to buy them. I don’t have a shoe deal anymore. The Adidas deal was company-wide for myself and Hendrick Motorsports. All the drivers, all the crew members, everything we got was Adidas apparel. It was a great relationship. I enjoyed working with Adidas, they’re a good company. The Adidas deal went away for whatever reason and I found these new shoes that I like to wear, they’re called Mexico 66s, they’re made by Asics and they are just like a retro old 70’s style soccer shoe, real comfortable. I’ve been wearing those. I don’t got a shoe deal, I don’t need a shoe deal. I don’t play basketball or anything like that. I’ll be alright. Adidas is a great company, I enjoyed working with them.”
DO YOU HAVE A PREFERENCE FOR THE OFF WEEKEND AND DO YOU HAVE ANY PLANS?
“Easter, yeah. Just being around family and friends. We’ve got all sorts of stuff planned to enjoy ourselves. It’s really the only off weekend I’ve got. My buddy Brandon Suggs is getting married on the other off weekend so we really don’t have but one off weekend this year thanks to Bubba. We’re excited for him. I’m just going to be around family and friends and take it pretty easy. I really don’t want to quit racing as well as we’ve been running. Hopefully, we can come out of here with a good finish and be able to breathe easy for a week off, but I would much rather be at the race track. I like my off weekends to be deeper in the summer that one before Daytona was always a good time.”
WHAT IS THE MOOD OF YOUR TEAM?
“I think we’re feeling confident. The guys seem to be happy with the results. My crew guys really work real hard and expect good runs and expect us to run well, expect me to do my job. They hold me pretty accountable. It’s early. We’re just kind of grinding it out, got a lot of racing left to run. Got a lot of things to worry about besides where we’ll be come Richmond after 26 races. We’ve got a lot of things to learn about this car. Still kind of going through a lot of growing pains with the car, understanding what makes it work. The mood is good. I think we see where we need to improve and I think a lot of people don’t see. We qualified poorly, really poorly last week. We struggled today trying to get the car up to speed in qualifying trim. That’s just an example of things we need to do better as a team that don’t get documented as much as how well we’ve run and how well we’ve finished I’d say. We feel like we’ve got pretty decent speed in the car in race trim. Would love to qualify better, love to be a little bit better and be more dependable when we put the car in qualifying trim that we’re going to be good. There’s always speed to find in the track in race trim, but it’s been going pretty good. I was really happy with how we run in Phoenix that really gives us a good burst because we really, really struggled there for a long time. Hopefully we can keep all this up.”
WHY DID YOU FALL IN PRACTICE THIS MORNING?
“The first few laps we ran were in race trim and I thought the car was good and comfortable and had good speed and then we went to qualifying trim and we weren’t able to run the faster laps that the other guys were able to run partly because of the splitter, but a number of things that we’re working on right now to try to put the car through tech. We’re making the changes we think we need to make to have better speed in qualifying and we’ll just see. I’d be happy if we could get in the top-15 after how lousy practice was going for us in qualifying trim. I’d be happy to qualify in the top-15 and just give us the opportunity to give us a good start because I think we’ve got a good car.”
DO YOU THINK THE DRAFT WILL PLAY A ROLE IN THIS RACE?
“You know I think it could at all the tracks like this and Michigan as well because of the shape of the spoiler. The rear spoiler being so big is really going to create a little more of a draft. The draft, you’ve always used the draft here and Michigan more so than at Texas or Charlotte. The dog leg sort of cancels that out a little bit, cancels out the opportunity to draft and side draft people because you’re trying to drive through there the best you can without hitting each other. At a track like this where there is so much straightaway and smooth straightaway as far as being able to just gradually turn down the front straightaway, you can side draft on guys and get away from guys and try to get guys to push you by people. It really works here.”