WHAT DID YOUR FIRST WIN HERE AT CHARLOTTE MOTOR SPEEDWAY DO FOR YOU?
“I know how special that win was. That first win to come in the 600 and I meant everything I said. Coming into the Cup series I think everything is unknown. You don’t know if you have what it takes. You don’t know if you came into a team that got assembled that has what it takes. With that many unknowns you hope to get the opportunity to win one race. Now I just hope I get the opportunity to win another race. That is kind of how I have gone throughout my career is just work as hard as you can to do your part as a driver to go and have opportunities to win races. We have gone through some great times and won a bunch of races. It all started right here and hopefully another one can come here.”
WHEN YOU COME INTO A TRACK WHERE YOU HAVE WON BEFORE DO THINK ABOUT THAT AT ALL OR DOES THAT EVEN ENTER YOUR MIND?
“I think there is a period of time over the years where things seem to stay pretty constant for a certain number of years. We would come in here and pretty much be a threat for the pole and a threat for the win. Then things just started evolving faster than that. They used to maybe last five years then they started lasting three years. Now I feel like year to year and that is technology and engineering that has become a part of this sport. Before long it’s going to be each race or every couple of races like you see in other forms of motorsports like Formula 1 for instance. You can find something that quick. That is where I think we are right now is that a lot has changed from last year to this year. We are off to a slow start, but I think as an organization we have the tools that it takes to make up those gaps. To get ourselves back into a position to win and I think we learned a lot from the All-Star Race. Had a pretty good car and didn’t show for it. There is no doubt I feel like we can be a threat in this one.”
WHAT DO YOU EXPECT TO HAPPEN IN THE 600 ON SUNDAY?
“Well, it’s a long race. We certainly know that. This track definitely changes quite a bit with temperatures. We see whether it be during practice, qualifying or in the race. Yet, the competition has gotten so tight you can’t afford to give up too much. You used to be able to pace yourself you can’t do that anymore. You’ve got to have the car adjustable like you’ve always had to have it when the race starts. If it’s warm during the day the track is going to be slick and the balance is going to be different. The pace is going to pick up as the sun goes down. You’ve got to be able to be to be ready for those changes and that speed to pick up as well. That is why I love the All-Star Race it really tells us about the night conditions. We don’t get any night practice so it’s the one practice that we have to know what the track should be like when the sun goes down. The rest is really about getting a good lap in for qualifying, getting a good starting position and be ready for what the track is going to be like when the race starts.”
YOU ARE PSEUDO TEAMMATES WITH STEWART-HAAS RACING (SHR) THEY ARE KIND OF STRUGGLING. ARE YOU GUYS STILL WORKING AS CLOSELY WITH THEM THIS YEAR. WHAT DO YOU THINK IS GOING ON WITH THEM?
“I mean all the information is openly available like it always has been nothing has changed there. I think the crew chiefs talk among one another quite a bit. I talked to Tony (Stewart) from time to time, but I know that they haven’t been a part of our debrief call in’s and sit down meetings that we have on Tuesday as much this year as they have been in the past. You know who knows, some of it could just be when it comes to Tony and the No. 14 car I think I saw them like this before, then they went and won a championship. In my opinion they probably are struggling a little bit more than they would like to, but they are also a team that could turn things around fairly quickly and get back on track.
“I can’t say a whole lot. We are in an organization that we have a lot of guys running very well up towards the front of the points and we are not there. We do have conversations every week and sit downs. Sometimes even when your cars are good you don’t always put all the pieces together. That has been out thing this year. We’ve got a great cars, great crew chief, great pit crew and I think I do a pretty good job; but getting them all to come together in synch when it counts most. We did it at Darlington we had a third-place finish. We did a pretty good job at Martinsville, had a good finish. The rest of the races those things haven’t come together. We haven’t been able to get the results. So, some of those things could be the same with Stewart-Haas.”
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE JIMMIE JOHNSON’S CAREER?
“Pretty phenomenal I mean certainly from the Cup side of it. I think that a lot could be said about what he did prior to getting into Cup about how hard he had to work. If you were analyzing if the talent was there, but maybe the results weren’t always there. So, I think some people kind of looked over him when in reality he had a tremendous amount of talent, work ethic, desire and passion. When you put that combination with Chad Knaus, Hendrick Motorsports and that team they have assembled from that point forward the rest is really history in what his career has been and the numbers that he has put up I think speak for themselves.”
YOU WERE THE GUY WHO ENDORSED HIM TO RICK HENDRICK AND LOWE’S. HOW DOES REALITY COMPARE TO WHAT YOUR EXPECTATION WAS IN 2001?
“It’s hard to have those high expectations to meet the reality. I think it’s better that way. It’s better to have a little bit lower expectations. Now when we were talking to sponsors, we were pumping it up like he was going to win every race (laughs).
“But I think that my expectations were, ‘I think this guy has the abilities. If you put a team together like we have done for the No. 24 team, I think he’s going to do some spectacular things.’ But still even then, I don’t think any of us expected the whole thing to come together quite the way that it did.
“And now I look at it and every time he wins a race I shake my head and I go that’s unbelievable. Those guys are just so good. And you give Jimmie the sight of the victory, and where he takes that to is just a whole other level. I remember in parts of my career when it was like that for me where we were just that good as a team; that in sync, and that confident that we almost had the competition beat before the race even started. They’re in that position right now. Everybody is sitting there watching them; well no, we got ‘em we got ‘em. And then all of a sudden they’re gone and they win. That just puts another notch in the belt of the No. 48 team, but it also takes a notch out of the rest of the competition. And that’s a great asset to have as a team for a driver.”
CONSIDER THE NUMBER OF FUTURE HALL OF FAMERS THAT ARE RACING RIGHT NOW, THIS POSSIBLY BEING THE GREATEST ERA OF COMPETITION, HOW DO YOU COMPARE THE ERA NOW TO THE ERAS IN THE PAST? HOW WOULD ANYBODY SAY THAT THIS IS GREATER OR THAT IS GREATER?
“Oh I would never categorize it that way. I feel like throughout the history of NASCAR, there has always been tremendous individuals and talents that played their own role in history and were spectacular in their own ways and sometimes they came along maybe when somebody else was moving out or sometimes they were right head-to-head.
“And to me, I’ve always seen dominance as something that you can’t dominate if somebody else is there, beating you every other weekend. So, usually it’s recognized as dominance because you have an edge on the competition. We saw that with Richard Petty. We saw that with Dale Earnhardt, Sr. We saw that with me. And we see that now with Jimmie Johnson. I think that’s always going to hold true throughout history of this sport.”
DO YOU HAVE A PLATFORM WITH WHICH TO APPROACH THE 600 RACE? WOULD YOU BREAK IT DOWN INTO THREE 200-MILE SEGMENTS
“I think you have to have a plan for every race and try to understand what the challenges are and what you can somewhat expect from previous experience. And because this is such a long race, maybe instead of breaking it down in half, you could break it down into thirds. Even with all the well-laid-out plans it doesn’t seem to make it all go smoothly. Even with Ray (Evernham) we would kind of know things but we would still have to adjust as we go. And that’s the way we still approach it today.”
WHAT MAKES DOVER SO MONSTROUS?
“Well, the high speeds, big corners, the high-banked turns and then the high-banked straightaways as well. It’s just a track where you’re on the edge. There’s not a lot of room for air and when it does happen… One is it can happen by itself. On your own you can break your car loose and find yourself in trouble and it’s hard to recover there. Usually when you have a problem, you’re in the wall. And same thing when you’re in a group and it happens as a group, there is going to be a big wreck. So, it is definitely a monster.”
I ASSUME YOU HAVE TO RACE THE TRACK THERE FIRST?
“I like to try to race the track first everywhere. But, I think that at Dover, similar to Darlington, you have to really respect the race track. You can’t get too caught-up in the competition. If you get track position like anywhere else, you’ve got to try to maintain it. It’s just still very important, even at Dover. But survival and having a car working good there is the most important thing. I feel like it might be a little bit more there than it is at some others, but most of the time that is the case.”
THERE HAS BEEN TALK ABOUT MOVING THE FALL CHARLOTTE FALL RACE TO LAS VEGAS. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THAT?
“I can’t imagine not racing here three times a year, or certainly two points races. I love racing here. It’s nice to be home and this is such a special race track. And I feel like people flock from all over the country to come here not just because of the facility, but what else there is to offer with the Hall of Fame, the city (of Charlotte), the team shops and all those things. I would hate to see that. But at the same time, I think Las Vegas makes great sense from a marketing standpoint. When we look at the sport and where we’re at and how to grow it and get those seats filled, you would certainly think that a race in Las Vegas in October would do pretty well. I think Las Vegas deserves to have two races. I would not want to see us take away a race from here.”
WOULD YOU WANT TO SEE THEM ADD ANOTHER ONE TO THE SCHEDULE?
“No (laughs), I wouldn’t. But without putting any names out there, there are some other tracks that maybe could give up one (laughs again).”