CAN YOU TELL ME WHAT THE ADVANTAGE OF STARTING THE RACE AT CHICAGOLAND IS AND IF THERE IS AN ADVANTAGE?
“I think the only advantage is if your 1.5 mile program is really strong and if that has been a really good track for you in the past.”
HOW ABOUT FOR YOU?
“It’s been an okay track for us. We actually were running really well there last year when we had the trouble that we ran into with the throttle. But I am very encouraged by how well we ran last weekend at Kentucky, and I think our 1.5 mile program is actually pretty strong this year. So, first we have to get in the Chase, and then we can start worrying about how good we are going to be in Chicago.”
WHAT KIND OF RACE ARE YOU EXPECTING HERE THIS WEEKEND?
“Well we know the temperatures here are going to be warm so certainly you are going to slip and slide around a little bit more than what we did here in February. Other than that I think we have just gotten more laps and experience with this car in the draft between the Daytona race, Talladega race, and I feel that we have all just gotten more comfortable and are wanting to get more aggressive out there. I am not sure to be honest with you until we get out there.”
YOU ARE 12TH RIGHT NOW AND SITTING ON THE BUBBLE, SO HOW MUCH DOES THE REALITY SET IN THAT YOU STILL HAVE SOME WORK TO DO?
“You know, we have just had such an inconsistent year and so many crazy things thrown at us that I am impressed that we are 12th, and I am pretty happy with that to be honest with you. I feel like we have so much more potential that if we just live up to our potential that there is no doubt that we can get in the top-10.
“Every year we see where those positions eight through 14 or 15 are just crazy swapping every single weekend. So we just have to go out there and focus, do our job – do it well, and get to the tracks like New Hampshire that are coming up. We also need to do well at some of these other tracks that are coming up, and get some great finishes and make sure that we do that.”
BEING IN THE POSTION YOU ARE IN, DOES IT MAKE IT TOUGH TO SET IT ON KILL AND GO FOR THOSE?
“No, I feel that is pretty much where we are and I would rather be here honestly than maybe eighth. I feel at eighth you can be a little too conservative and trying to maintain in that top-10. For us, we are so tight among us…..ninth, and 10th, and further back – we don’t have any choice but to go out there and go hard and be aggressive.”
REGARDING COMING UP ON THE 20TH RACE AT INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY AFTER YOU GOT THE FIRST WIN AND BEING FROM THERE
“You know, it’s hard to believe that it’s been that long and that really blows me away. As a kid growing up, before I even moved to Indiana, Indianapolis Motor Speedway was very special to me. I had always dreamed of racing there and to finally get that opportunity to do it there in 1994 in that first Cup race was a dream come true. I had never even imagined winning it and now we have won three more times since then. I love going there. I love the fans, I love the atmosphere, I love the track, and I just love everything about it.”
GIVEN WHERE YOU ARE IN THE POINTS AND IF IT COMES DOWN TO THE LAST LAP, DO YOU ALMOST HAVE TO TAKE A DECENT FINISH OVER GOING FOR THE WIN?
“The first thing you have to do is to survive here. You have to get to the final laps, which is not an easy thing to do. We are going to look at where we qualify, we will base our strategy on that as well as how things went the last time we were here, and that is how we are going to run this race. We are just going to have to come with the best strategy that is going to get us a win and get us a good finish. If we are in the closing laps of the race and we have a shot at winning it, then we are going to go for it. You have to go for the win and that’s always the case.”
REGARDING HOW TOUGH IT WILL BE ON THE WILD CARD BUBBLE WITH FORMER CHAMPIONS ALL AROUND YOU
“That is true and somebody is going to be out, or actually more than one. At this point, and I think this is how we race every race and every year, is that we race ourselves. I try to focus on what our car and what our team is capable of doing, and get the most out of it. I don’t think we have lived up to our full potential this year and have had a lot of crazy things happen. I am hoping we can put some of that behind us and really start putting some finishes together like we have the past couple weeks. If you do that; it takes care of the competition, points, and all those things. That is what I am focused on.”
HOW UNIQUE IS NEW HAMPSHIRE MOTOR SPEEDWAY AS COMPARED TO OTHER TRACKS THAT WE HEAD TO? “New Hampshire is very flat, but has long straightaways so you carry a lot of speed into the corners. It’s hard to maintain a lot of speed for such a long, flat corner. I have always enjoyed New Hampshire although the flat tracks have not always been my favorite types of race tracks growing up. It’s been one that I have enjoyed and we actually did the tire test there. We have run well there the last couple of years, so I am certainly excited to get there and optimistic about how we can do.”
ARE YOU GOING TO TEST SOMEWHERE BECAUSE OF WHERE YOU ARE IN POINTS?
“I am not, but my team is. I have three tests planned over the next month or month-and-a-half, so we are going to be testing a lot this summer.”
ARE ANY OF THOSE NASCAR TRACKS?
“You know the way it works, it’s all NASCAR tracks and that is just the way that the testing rules are this year. The way those rules are this year, you have to come together as an organization and decide where you are going to test. Obviously we get invited to the Goodyear test and if we decide that is going to be beneficial then we usually go. I think there have been some verification tests that have come up like at Atlanta. I don’t think we are going to be doing that, but we will have a Hendrick car there. We are looking at test dates and all that right now, and I think they are all NASCAR tracks.”
WAS THERE A POINT IN GROWING UP AND RACING THAT YOU FIGURED OUT THAT YOU CAN DO THIS AND GO A LONG WAY?
“No. I mean every step of the way, you find out and the question gets answered. I wondered if I had what it took to go to the next level, but I was fortunate that when I got in the car that things went well. I was comfortable, confident, and was obviously fortunate to have good race cars. The statistics kind of spoke for themselves every step of the way, and on to the next step until I got here. Until I got that first win in Charlotte, I didn’t know if I had what it took to be in the Cup series. But that day said a lot to me, my team, and from that point on – there was no turning back.”
REGARDING HIS SON RACING ONE DAY
“You know he is three. I am sure that both of my kids will get behind the wheel of a race car at some point whether it’s just for fun, a hobby, or something serious and that is up to them as far as their excitement, passion, or work ethic. If they really want to pursue it at that level, you will know it based on them wanting to get in the car over, and over, and over again. If that is the case, then absolutely. I have had an amazing experience in racing and why would I not want to share that with them or help my kids have that opportunity?”
THIS RACE USED TO BE ALWAYS RUN ON JULY 4TH; WOULD IT MAKE SENSE TO GO BACK TO THAT?
“Was it always July 4th?”
FOR THE FIRST 29 YEARS IT WAS JULY 4TH AND FOR THE LAST 25 YEARS IT’S BEEN WHATEVER THE SATURDAY IS CLOSEST TO IT
“That is interesting and that is a good question. Good observation. I guess I didn’t know that. I think I have raced this race on July 4th but think it was on a Saturday. (laughs). So to run it on the Saturday or the weekend makes sense. But I don’t know. I think getting into the heads of the fans and the people who would attend this race, and would watch it at home…..that is the research that NASCAR, the tracks, and the media do a much better job of than I do. That is all that would matter to me is whether the fans would enjoy it being on July 4th.”
ARE MID-WEEK RACES SOMETHING THAT WOULD BE FEASIBLE IF THEY HAD IT LIKE ON A WEDNESDAY?
“I would love to see that. I think when Monday Night Football ends, we should start Monday night racing. But that is just me. I have always felt like needed weekday races, but of course I came from Thursday Night Thunder, and Thursday Night Thunder was ridiculously successful back in the day. I am not saying we need to do it every week, but if we could find the right week in the schedule and mix it up, make it special, and make it make sense for the fans at home as well as the ones that could attend then I think it would be awesome. I think July 4th might make sense because everybody is off on that day and looking for something to do. Of course, we are not off, but I think that is why it could work.
“It seems like every time I talk to NASCAR about doing a weekly race or one mid-week, they say ‘oh well if you do it on this day you won’t get as many people coming to the track, so the track suffers, and if you do it on this day then maybe the track does well but then the people at home won’t watch it because of this’, so it always seems to be some kind of obstacle. But the fourth makes the most sense.”