“I’d like to lead-off with everything that’s been in the news with Boston and Texas and all over the place. It seems like there’s a lot of really scary stuff going on. And it creates a lot of pride to see the country rally together and be strong. So anyway, I’m feeling for all those people out there who are suffering.”
WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION WHEN YOU HEARD THAT STORY IN BOSTON ACTUALLY HAD A NASCAR CONNECTION WITH HENDRICK MOTORSPORT5?
“Well, obviously the Boston Marathon is an incredibly bit marathon. But when it hits close to home and you realize that somebody who is connected with this sport was hurt, it’s a small world. I think it makes you just be more aware. We are a big sporting event too. Security has been a lot tighter around here (Kansas City) from the get-go, and there’s good reason.”
DOES THIS MAKE IT HARDER TO RACE THIS WEEKEND?
“No. You get in the car and do your job. That’s what we do. But it’s just a time to let people know to be careful and sow some compassion.”
ON QUALIFYING AND HOW IT IMPACTS HER WEEKENDS
“I was over talking to Tony (Stewart) after practice and said, ‘Look, I’ve got to figure out how to qualify better.’ And you know a lot of the runs there have been obvious issues, whether it be really loose or really tight or having a moment at the end of the first lap which leads into the next lap, so it kills both of them. You know there have been reasons. But all in all, it’s not necessarily my strong area and I know that. I was saying that in the Nationwide Series, it was kind of the same thing. And once I really got comfortable in the car and understood it and what it did when you pushed it, and obviously developed a set-up that I am comfortable with, things really changed. And all of a sudden it was like a light switch and I was like all right,
“I’m actually not so bad at qualifying these things anymore. But it took time. And so, I’m sure that it does happen like that with me. All of a sudden something happens and I’ll feel more comfortable and there’s more speed there. But it doesn’t stop me from pushing and trying to figure out how to get better at it. I think the best thing that we can do at this point in time is to try and get a car underneath me that I feel comfortable with and try and develop a good platform that we can go each and every weekend to these 1.5-mile tracks and to the short tracks too, and just know what I have, as well. There’s something to be said for coming to the green, and yeah, you’ve got to be fast through (Turns) 3 and 4 coming to the green. So, just knowing what you’ve got underneath you so that you know what it’s going to do when you push it.”
ON THE FAST KANSAS SPEEDWAY
“The cooler temperatures; the track holds the grip better when it get’s hot and it gets a little bit more slippery. And also it’s better performance for the engines to have this cool air. All in all, it’s fast out there. So they asked me, ‘Is it lateral low that’s making it step-out or making it move, or is it the throttle actually?’ And I’m like I don’t know. I can’t separate them. You’re carrying so much speed that it’s hard to separate throttle from lateral. But I like it. I don’t mind it whatsoever. We started out with a much better platform right off the bat. We were respectable in speed on the first run so it was just a matter of; and then on the second run I hit the wall on entry to (Turn) 1. Unfortunately we did all our qualifying runs with a bent track bar and truck arm. We’ll be trying to get it right for qualifying having done all those runs with it bent. But we definitely got better off this weekend than a lot of others.”
THIS IS ONE OF THOSE TRACKS THAT YOU ALSO RACED AT LAST YEAR. ARE YOU REAPING THE BENEFITS OF THAT THIS WEEK?
“Yeah, anytime you have track time in that car, I think it’s helpful. I have notes from last year; my own notes. The team has notes from what we did. It is helpful. But at the end of the day, you can be really good one year and not the next, based on the car and what the set-up is like and if it has potential in it and if you’re comfortable with it. So things can change very quickly based on the balance.”
ON DARRELL WALLACE, JR., THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN DRIVER IN THE TRUCK SERIES, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE HIM?
“You’re just another driver out there. You have to go out there and push hard and prove yourself with your on-track activity just like anybody else does. I know that from my position, I’ve had a lot of opportunities through sponsorship and with my unique situation that I am in being a girl in this sport. But your staying power relies on you performing, so take the opportunities, but then you have to make the most of them.”
WOULD IT BE TOUGHER FOR A BLACK MAN TO MAKE IT IN THIS SPORT THAN A FEMALE?
DO YOU REALIZE IT’S BEEN FIVE YEARS SINCE YOU WON IN JAPAN?
“Is it really? Oh, that makes me feel bad (laughs). You know, I felt like there were a lot of years in IndyCar that were really strong and then there were some that weren’t and I felt like the ones that weren’t were toward the end. So, just like in this series, as it is in IndyCar, you have to have the right situation going on and you have to have a fast car. But yeah, five years ago; it’s time to do it again!”
OTHER DRIVERS HAVE BROUGHT THEIR DAUGHTERS OVER TO MEET YOU. DO YOU FEEL THAT YOUNG GIRLS WILL HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY NOW BECAUSE OF WHAT YOU’VE DONE? MAYBE YOU’VE INSPIRED SOME OF THEM TO GET INVOLVED
“Maybe just from the perspective of that they would think about racing. It’s not a normal sport for a kid to try because it’s not something you go play in school, right? In school, you play basketball, volleyball, all those kinds of sports like baseball. Racing is not one of those. So, your family has to have the means to be able to do it and then you have to have even the scope of knowledge to be able to run a car. I think it might just make people a little bit more interested and maybe they want to become race car drivers. But what I always tell little girls or little boys is that anybody who wants to become a race car driver has to work really hard and it has to be your passion and if you find that it is, so be it. But if not, then follow that because I think you can make a career out of anything.”
HAS THE THRILL OF WINNING AT JAPAN FIVE YEARS AGO JUST WORN OFF BECAUSE IT’S BEEN SUCH A LONG TIME SINCE THEN?
“It’s sill a happy memory. It’s still my one win in IndyCar. But you know, it was a long time ago and it was a good feeling and I’d like to get that feeling back.”
FOR THE KANSAS TRACK, IS THERE A PARTICULAR CORNER OR AREA OF THE TRACK THAT YOU NEED TO WORK ON?
“Not necessarily. I think it’s just a matter of making the car comfortable enough and also the car; let’s just say, I went out, I wasn’t driving hard enough, I wasn’t on the stops right, and then I go out and I do it and all of a sudden it’s better. So we make a change and then I go in a little bit harder and all of a sudden we hit the splitter and the front takes off. So then you make another change. You go back out and I go in even harder and then I get loose. So the harder you go, the more things you unveil about the cars. For me and my comfort level, I’m so methodical of a build-up driver that you kind of keep uncovering issues with the car the harder you go. So it’s both ends. And it’s just a matter of going in deeper, using less brake and getting on it harder. It’s that simple.”
WITH TV RATINGS UP A LITTLE BIT THIS YEAR, DO YOU LIKE TO THINK THAT YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR A LITTLE PIECE OF THAT?
“I always say it takes all of us out there to make an entertaining race. If it was just me out there it would be really, really boring. I understand your question. I think that when I’m running, let’s say at Daytona, and qualifying on the pole, there are a lot of stories written and so it drums up a lot of attention and interest and pure curiosity like how’s this going to work out? Is she going to be good? Is she going to hang on? Is she doing to drop back? So that curiosity might lead to viewership. I’m flattered by that. But again, I think we’ve seen throughout the races this year that there has been a record number or at least a new record number of lead changes at race tracks and that’s the kind of stuff that keeps fans coming back.”