WHAT IS YOUR APPROACH TO THIS WEEKEND AT POCONO?
“I’ve always loved this race track and continue to love it. It’s a very challenging race track obviously with the three unique corners and with this new car there are certainly a few unknowns. Anxious to get out there on the track to see what the pace is going to be and what the characteristics with the car, track and all those things are going to be so we can start tuning on it for the race. Doesn’t look like we’re going to be tuning on it for qualifying and certainly this has been a great track for us over the years and continues to be even in recent years. We look at our last couple seasons and the tracks where we’ve gone and actually have run really well and haven’t gotten the wins versus some that we’ve run really well and we have gotten the wins and I think Pocono is just one of those tracks where maybe when we’ve had some misfortune and things not go our way, this has been one where things have gone our way. Hopefully, that continues.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE NEW SAFETY FEATURES AT POCONO?
“I think a repave always gives opportunities for tracks to evaluate their surface, their pit road safety features and all those types of things. I’m only going off of memory of the last time that I was here. I’d have to kind of do another sort of walk around or laps to evaluate where everything is, but I know that when I left here the last time I didn’t hit anything and that was a good thing. I don’t remember anybody that did that had issues. I know that every track, their intentions are to make the best experience for the drivers, competitors, the fans and the safest environment and Pocono certainly has stepped that up in a big way over recent years. Even though we maybe still complain or point out certain issues at different tracks, we always know that their intentions are certainly the right thing and Pocono I think for a few years there were a little bit behind and now I feel like they are one of the leading ones because of the repave it gave them that opportunity.”
TALK ABOUT WANTING TO GET THE WIN AT POCONO:
“We go into every race trying to win. We’re further up in points at this point this year than we were last year and I don’t feel like we’ve had a terrific season. We’ve certainly had our challenges so it’s sort of refreshing to come to a place that we know we can win at and there’s a lot of different ways to win at this track. Sometimes the fastest car doesn’t always win so you have to play the pit strategy right, fuel mileage, try to tune the car to the conditions the best you can and hopefully you come out of here on top. We’ve seen that a lot at this track over the years. You never give up and anything is possible. We saw that with Joey (Logano) here, we’ve seen it with many different drivers. Sometimes the fastest car does win and that’s our goal going in is to try to create that and we look forward to those challenges and coming out of here, even though we’ve been struggling along the way so have some of the other guys that we’ve been battling with in points so we kind of keep flip-flopping going back and forth, back and forth and find ourselves in 11th after a good, strong finish at Dover and we want to get some momentum and consistency going.”
IS YOUR WHOLE FAMILY WITH YOU THIS WEEKEND?
“My wife is going to be here, but the kids are not going to be with us on Sunday. They’ll be happy that we win either way, but we certainly love having them for victories and they’ll be at a lot of races this year and hopefully we can get some wins. Listen, right now we just want to get a win. That’s the most important thing, but I love having them with me. To me, this race and Homestead, especially Homestead just because this one we kind of lucked into it with the rain where Homestead we went out and really had to battle and work for it. Plus, because of the rain here we were sort of in a make shift victory lane and everybody was soaking wet where at Homestead we were able to relax and enjoy that moment with the kids there and it was awesome.”
WILL YOU BE RACING THROUGH 2016 WITH THE SPONSOR EXTENSION?
“Can you pencil any driver in for every weekend for every year? I feel like the same things apply, nothing has changed for me. We’re still competitive and still being challenged and have goals and my back is hanging in there. We’ve got sponsorship, which is a positive thing for our team and the sport. We’re very excited about Axalta. This has been a real tricky type of year for them and transition for them internally as well as for us as a team because we’ve known the name of the company, we’ve maybe seen some of the logos, but they are a worldwide company and we have to be patient with all that. Because of the transition and the sale of how DuPont went about it, this was a season that was sort of guaranteed. The next seasons ahead were not guaranteed and so it’s pretty exciting to know that they have that interest and have been working with Hendrick to sign an extension. I want to race for a long time, but I can’t say how long that is going to be at this time.”
DOES IT EVER HELP FOR AN OWNER TO GIVE A DRIVER AN ULTIMATUM IF THEY HAVE STALLED OUT OR ARE THEY GIVING ALL THEY’VE GOT ALREADY?
“Other than the sponsorship side of that, drivers usually know before the owners know of where they stand with the team and what kind of pressure is on them to perform. Sometimes the owner is ahead of the game when they are negotiating and talking to a sponsor and the sponsor is saying, ‘What are the driver options out there?’ That owner might not necessarily be passing that along to their current driver. I think we’re all under enough pressure and are driven by the competition to go out there and perform in such a way that we don’t need any outside encouragement or pressure from sponsors or team owners and so I’ve never been in that position, I’ve always been fortunate being in the position where the sponsors and team owner are always asking me, ‘What can we do to help? How are things? Where are the strengths and weaknesses within the team and what do you need so we can go out there and step up our performance?’ That’s always been the case whether we were winning or whether we weren’t winning. I know that’s a tough position to be in as a driver because I can imagine and put myself in that position and I’ve been in that position prior to the Cup Series. I’ve talked about this before, getting fired was one of the best things that ever happened to me because it kind of laid my career path, but it was a hard thing to go through to know that somebody didn’t want me behind the wheel of the car because I wasn’t getting the job done. They were right, I was tearing up a lot of stuff and things weren’t going very well. Sometimes it’s just not meant to be and sometimes it’s just the combination. I was driving the No. 23 S McBride in the All-Star Series, sprint cars and all dirt sprint car stuff, but it was my first big opportunity to drive for a fully-funded real operation in sprint cars and it didn’t go very well. I got fired and then it went really well right after that for some reason.”
DO YOU LOOK AT GOOD TRACKS FOR GUYS AROUND YOU IN THE POINTS?
“I would say I spend a little bit of time looking through the field and evaluating how we’re running, what our potential is, mainly has been the case for me most of the time is I put a lot more focus on what we’re doing and what we’re capable of doing than I do the rest of the competition. You have to evaluate what other guys are doing and how well they’re running and what kind of strength they have. I think Martin Truex Jr. certainly comes to mind like last week at Dover, we know that he runs well there. Their team is a strong team and they’ve had some good runs this year. You’re looking at how high, if we perform better than we have been and get some consistency, how high up in the points can we get and who are we capable of maybe outrunning on a regular basis as well as who is behind us and has potential to run us down. I would say much more of our focus is doing our job and I think if we do it to what we are capable of doing it doesn’t really matter what the other guys are doing as far we making the Chase. When you talk about winning the championship it gets a little bit different.”
IS DENNY HAMLIN SOMEONE YOU LOOK AT AS A WILD CARD CONTENDER AND DO YOU HAVE ANY THOUGHTS BESIDE YOURSELF OF WHO COULD BE WILD CARD CONTENDERS?
“First with Denny (Hamlin), you can’t count them out. Gibbs (Joe Gibbs Racing) is running so good right now, he’s been running good and they can strike and win at any time. Pocono comes to mind as a very strong track for him and I think it’s going to take a combination of wins and consistency for him just to get inside the top-20. If he gets inside the top-20 then chances are he’s probably going to be a wild card. Because I think to get in the top-20, he’s going to have to win. Then you take Tony (Stewart) and the thing to me that is so encouraging about Tony is they have not had a very good year, they haven’t run very well and then they go and win at Dover. From our standpoint and trying to relate, we’ve not had the best of years up to this point, but I think we’re just as capable as they are of winning races. That’s why you never give up, you never stop working and this is a sport that anything can happen at any time and so I think that run and that finish that Tony had is very encouraging for us. And a great motivator. We’ve had top-threes two out of the last three races and that’s also encouraging to us as well. I’m feeling pretty good about things right now. As up and down as it’s been for us, the fact that we’re even 11th in points, I think that tells me not only can we make it in the top-10, but I think we have the ability to be in a wild card and get some wins in there.”
HOW DID YOU VIEW THE FINAL RESTART AT DOVER?
“From inside the car I couldn’t tell. I just knew that we started to take off and then all of the sudden we were stacking up and now looking back on the video, that was the 15 (Clint Bowyer) started to go with Jimmie (Johnson) and then I think he checked up and then that stacked us up pretty bad. From inside the car I was just trying to figure out how not to wreck by the time we got to turn one. If I look at the video, it was a combination. I think Jimmie was really right there on that edge of anticipation in getting all that he could on that restart and I think Juan (Pablo Montoya) did a great job, I’ve been watching NBA Finals lately and watching the flop and that was as good of a flop as it gets. The leader has to me that ability and that position to do that. It’s his job to lead you to the green, to get the best start that he can and if he feels like somebody else is going to try to take advantage of that situation or get a little bit of a run on him, he can play that card, but it’s also at the discretion of NASCAR making a judgment call. I think if the 15 car kept going and passed the 42, I don’t think they would have called Jimmie. I think they would have thought something happened to the 42, but because the 15 checked up to not pass the 42, it just made Jimmie’s lead look so absurd.”
HOW IMPORTANT ARE RIVALRIES WEEK TO WEEK?
“I think it’s fantastic right because to me, we can have the best races that there are out there and without some kind of drama or other storyline that doesn’t seem like the sport gets the attention that I think it deserves. Unless we’re four-wide at the finish line, I don’t think that it’s enough. I think our racing has been great this year. We’ve got the new car and when I say racing, it’s not always the battle of the cars going back and forth, it’s pit strategy, it’s guys taking risks on no tires and four tires and fuel and side-by-side racing and finding different grooves. Guys that can come from the back to the front and I think we’ve kind of seen a mixture of all of those things. Again, I think that in order in this day and age with social media, with all the different type of entertainment that’s out there it needs the full gamut of entertainment, which to me is rivalries and sparks flying and things outside the norm of sports. I think rivalries are great because that creates that spark and gets people’s emotions going and shows the rawness and intensity of what really goes on. Sometimes we hold that back because there are risks involved with that whether it be a penalty, whether it be being judged or things that can happen and to me, it’s refreshing, exciting to see. I don’t like being a part of it, but I prefer to be watching it and being on the outside, but it’s highly entertaining and it certainly creates a lot of buzz.”