TALK ABOUT LAST YEAR’S WIN AND THIS PAINT SCHEME THAT YOU HAVE THIS WEEKEND:
“We are excited about the car. The car looks great. It’s not difficult to come up with a cool paint scheme when you are working with Superman and like we did last year with Batman and all that. It’s pretty simple to come up with something really cool and fun. Definitely makes that kind of a job easier. I think the car does look good. Hopefully it’s as fast as it looks good. That is going to be more important to be able to repeat and get the win this weekend. We feel pretty good coming in to this race. We had a great run last week that sort of hopefully got us back in the right direction. We talked about it last week after the race, but we kind of had some misses here lately and not many hits. As far as showing up to the race track and being competitive and getting the job done putting together a full weekend. We haven’t been able to do that. We started the season off so promising the best that I had ever started a season. It just seemed like things were going so perfectly and it’s the way it is in this sport. You will think you have everything going in the right direction and then odds and fate and everything else get in the way.
“We feel like we are coming through a stretch of races and race tracks if you take out Sonoma that we should run pretty well at and have a lot of confidence at. Not that we won’t go to Sonoma and hope to run well, we will, but the track record speaks for itself there. We did test at Kershaw (Carolina Motorsports Park) to try to get ourselves a good chance of getting maybe hopefully my career-best finish at that place. We will try to do that. We are just hoping for another good weekend. We would love to get a win. If we can get a good run and put two in a row together and give us more momentum, give us more confidence. This is a great race track. Enjoy coming here, always enjoyed racing on this track and just looking forward to getting out there and getting some practice.”
RICK HENDRICK SAID YOU AND STEVE AND YOUR TEAM WERE PERFORMING BETTER COMING INTO THIS RACE THAN YOU WERE ONE YEAR AGO WHEN YOU ENDED UP WINNING. DO YOU AGREE WITH THAT ASSESSMENT?
“Well, it’s probably easier to see the truth from his position on the other side of the fence so to speak. It’s more difficult to see growth and improvement within the team when you are part of the team. It’s kind of like when you are a kid and you are getting taller. You are 10, 11, 12 years old and you are wanting to be six foot three (inches) one day you can’t tell you are getting taller unless you are marking the door jam. Otherwise you wouldn’t notice any change of height. That is kind of what it feels like when you are part of the team. You don’t really notice when things get a little bit better or things get a little bit worse. Really what you end up doing is you are never really satisfied just like that kid, you are never really satisfied with where you are at. You are always wanting to be better. I feel like we are as good. I think we started the year off doing so good and having so many good runs back to back there. I felt like, yeah, we were starting the season better, we are a better team and we are able to do a better job than we were last year. But then we came back to reality and had some rough weeks. You kind of revert back to trying to scramble and feeling like you need to get better and feeling like you need to work harder. Hopefully that stuff is going to start to pay off. We are working hard. We ran good this past weekend and I feel like we will be competitive this weekend. That doesn’t answer the questions we have at places like Charlotte, Dover that we have to go back to. We still have to work hard and figure out what we have to do to get back to those places and be faster. The answers aren’t here at Michigan. They weren’t at Pocono the tracks are all too different. We still got some holes to fill so to speak.”
WHY HAVEN’T YOU WON AND HOW FRUSTRATING IS IT?
“Well, we have come close. We almost won Charlotte last year when we ran out of gas coming off the corner. I don’t know if we could have won Daytona this year to beat Jimmie (Johnson) if we had a few more laps. It’s been good to be close. That is the difference I think between where we are and where I want to be. We want to win more races. We want to win numerous races and multiple races in a season. We want that to be the status quo. We want that to be the norm. We want that to be what is expected. When we first started working together we were trying to figure out how to get a 15th-place combination into the top-10 and we were happy when we did. Now when we run in the top-10 it’s just another weekend and what do we have to do to win. That is how we feel. I think that the perception from you guys is similar to how we feel. We are like a lot of teams trying to find that extra step. It’s difficult to win in this sport. It’s really competitive. It’s not much more for us to be able to get to that level to be able to win more than just that off chance such has been the case last year.”
DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU ARE IN A WINDOW NOW OF YOUR CAREER WHERE THIS IS WHERE IT HAS TO HAPPEN NOW AS OPPOSED TO TWO OR THREE YEARS DOWN THE ROAD THAT YOU HAVE TO MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN RIGHT NOW?
“No, I don’t really feel that urgency. I feel pretty young still. I feel like I’m in good shape. I feel young in my mind. I feel like I have good energy. I’m not burning out. I think that the passion and the commitment probably goes before the physical end of it goes in this particular sport. I feel like I’m in the best opportunity of my career. There is a ‘seize the moment’ kind of feeling because I’m in such good equipment around such good people. I don’t feel like there is a clock in the background ticking away that is annoying me or anything like that.”
YOU RECENTLY SAID THAT YOU HAD CHANGED A LITTLE BIT IN THAT YOU DIDN’T HANG OUT WITH DRIVERS AWAY FROM THE TRACK. HAVE YOU CHANGED IN ANY OTHER WAY IN YOUR RACING WITH STEVE (LETARTE, CREW CHIEF) AND IF YOU COULD EXPLAIN THAT?
“Well, I don’t think it’s by choice I think it’s just the nature of the sport and our age and what was fun five, 10 years ago and what is fun now. I think people go in different directions. People come and go. I learned a really hard lesson back when I race late models and I first got paired up with Gary Hargett to run late models. That was the first guy I was introduced to that was really going to be a guy that I worked with and a guy that would mentor me. He became a really close friend. I was only about 20 years old he was about 55 years old, but he was like a father in a sense. Just really big time mentor and I just listened to him followed him everywhere he went. We raced together for several years down at Myrtle Beach and stuff. Then there came the day when I had to make a change not from him, but I had to make a change where the car was. We were keeping it down at his place and I wanted to bring it up…Dad offered me the place to put it where his deer head shop was. I thought ‘man for me to be a better race car driver I need to be working on my car everyday’, instead of driving down there to Union, South Carolina once a week. I knew I had to do that and Gary wouldn’t come up there to work he wasn’t going to drive an hour to work. I had to make the decision to help myself and then he and I weren’t going to work together anymore. That was a really tough choice.
“I learned then that people are going to come and go things are going to change in your life. Things don’t last forever. I’ve got some great friendships, made some great friendships in this sport. I still consider a lot of those people friends, but the days of being able to take a weekend off before Daytona and go down and hang out with an Elliott Sadler or Jamie (McMurray) or (Martin) Truex those days are gone. We had a lot of fun and I’ve enjoyed some good times with all these guys that I race with, but you get older and your priorities change a little bit.”
YOU SEE THE NO. 48 TEAM FROM THE INSIDE WE SEE THEM FROM THE OUTSIDE. IS THERE A SENSE THAT THE FANS AND THE MEDIA DON’T APPRECIATE WHAT WE ARE SEEING FROM THOSE GUYS OR MAYBE EVEN WHAT THEY ARE DOING THIS YEAR THAT WE WON’T APPRECIATE IT UNTIL IT’S OVER WITH?
“I think that there are those that appreciate it. I certainly appreciate it. I think just to sit and think about winning five championships in a row is, even though someone has done it, it’s unbelievable. Even though it’s been done and there is someone in that garage right now that has done it, it’s hard to believe that it happened. I don’t see it ever happening again. You think about all the great accomplishments in the sport. If you were fortunate enough to remember where you were when they happened and think about how different it is from that moment when you were there and witnessing that happen to 10 years down the road when you recall it as a memory. There is a bit of a difference there. There is probably more appreciation for how challenging and difficult of achievement it was. I certainly think that everybody appreciates it. I think we are still pretty much in shock that it’s accomplished, that it happened.”
WHAT ARE YOUR IMPRESSIONS OF JASON LEFFLER AS A PERSON AND AS A RACER AND WHAT WILL YOU REMEMBER ABOUT HIM?
“I will remember the pass he made to win at ORP (O’Reilly Raceway Park) when he basically just sold the farm down in (turns) one and two to make that pass. It was a really aggressive move, but that was a hungry driver. It’s the perfect definition of how hungry he was and most all drivers have that somewhere inside them. It was just a really interesting moment. I wasn’t very close with him. Didn’t have a friendship I would say, but that was an impressive moment. When I think about him that is one of the memories that I appreciate the most; I think it said everything about him as a driver. He liked to race. You always heard about the guy running here and running there. He had up’s and down’s in the top tier series as far as the Truck Series and the Nationwide Series, but he didn’t seem to let that deter him from doing what he liked to do. If he could be racing somewhere he was there racing.”
CAN YOU NAME ONE WORD TO DESCRIBE WHAT A LAP IS LIKE HERE AND THEN A DEFINITION FOR THE 200 LAPS?
“It’s just a simple race track that has not got a lot of challenges. It’s very easily laid out and understandable for a driver. It really comes down to just getting your car to work. There are no bumps or no bad transitions, there is nothing really that you are out there fighting or worried about or dreading. It’s just a simple race track and very wide, there is a lot of room that invites hard racing, passing. It’s a place that I enjoy. A lap here especially in qualifying driver’s aren’t supposed to be terrified, but terrifying is a word that comes kind of close to what qualifying is like here especially with this new surface and this tire. Last year it was a guessing game as far as whether that thing was going to stick in the corner or not. The guys that did run well, as far as I remember (Greg) Biffle got the pole last year. He was quite shaken by the process of running that lap. It was an impressive lap. The racing is different. It’s amazing how much the racing itself when you are in the race it slows down everything sort of slows down and the laps aren’t a challenge anymore just trying to run on the edge of the grip. You are just trying to find some clean air, trying to find a little speed through the center, do whatever it is that needs to help you get to that next car in front of you. It’s quite different than the way qualifying is being as treacherous as qualifying is.”