WHAT IS YOUR OUTLOOK FOR THE RACE WEEKEND?
“It’s a good track for us, a good place for us to come and fight and do battle like what we’ve been used to doing this year and last year to claw our way into the Chase. There’s not enough points that are safe enough and you want to get those wins to try to secure things up for you. We’ve got a lot of tough competitors that we’re racing and battling with for 10th in points as well as this wild card spot. To me, our focus is just getting out there and living up to our full potential and get some consistency out of it. It’s been one of those years where we’ve seen guys, they hit on something and they go out and win the race and it’s not necessarily, there is no way to predict when and who that is going to happen with. That’s why we just have to continue to stay focused and work hard because that could be us and if it’s not then we have to make sure that we’re knocking down those top-10s.”
WILL YOU START USING YOUR TEST SESSIONS NOW TO MAKE SURE YOU MAKE THE CHASE?
“We also had some tire tests that we had scheduled. We tire tested at Indy, we tire tested at New Hampshire. I feel like the one at Indy paid off for us, the one at New Hampshire did not. The conditions were different when we went back I felt like and now we’re having to go back there again. We have a test planned there this coming week. I think that we’ve got some good tests planned. That’s the tricky part about it is that it has to balance out for all of your teammates. It incorporates the whole organization on these tests. We’ve got to compromise a little bit for us where we’re at in points versus where they are and they have to compromise with us a little bit. I think we found the best balance right now and we’ve got a good plan.”
WHAT CHALLENGES WILL THE ADDED SPEEDS PRESENT AT WATKINS GLEN?
“This car definitely has a really good amount of downforce in it and drag, which helps you get in the braking zones and is definitely going to make lap times come down at a place like Watkins Glen that is such a fast road course. I don’t know if the tire changed there compared to the past and if that contributed to that as well. The faster you go and especially if you’re getting into braking zones harder than the harder it is to have an advantage in those braking zones versus your competitors. The more challenges come along with that and of course the faster you go, the more on edge that you’re putting the grip of the tires and the car. I look for it to be a pretty exciting race. If it’s tough to pass then that means that the restarts and those double file restarts are going to get wild and crazy like we’ve seen so much of in the past on the road courses.”
IS THIS SPORT MISSING YOUNG DRIVERS TO COME BATTLE WITH THE VETERANS?
“I think that’s always great and it’s always exciting to have and Jimmie Johnson’s been the dominant force. I don’t think a lot of people thought of him as the young gun because he wasn’t super young when he came in the sport, but he certainly has taken all the challengers and thrown them off to the side. I feel like nobody has really rivaled him and he doesn’t really have a rivalry there. If he can keep that up, which all signs point that he will then an exciting young driver comes along and is with a good team that can challenge him, that would be the best thing this sport could ever ask for in my opinion. There’s a couple of them out there, but they’re a few years away unfortunately. Then there’s always those surprises, guys you don’t anticipate, guys you didn’t know about that come out of nowhere and just blow you away. Jimmie Johnson is sort of one of those guys. I don’t think many people anticipated him to do what he did in the Cup Series and look what he’s done. There’s guys that aren’t on the radar that could do that and then there’s a couple that we all know about that are on the radar.”
DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE MENTALITY TO WANT TO RACE EVERY NIGHT OF THE WEEK? “You’re trying to compare my mentality to Tony Stewart’s mentality? I think he could sit right here and argue that as well. No, I remember 1991 when I was racing Nationwide and Silver Crown and midget sprint cars and it was cool and exciting and fun and everything, but when I got full-time in the Nationwide Series, I just wanted to focus on that. I tried to do Nationwide and Cup a couple times and I didn’t really enjoy going back and forth, but my hats off to the guys that do that and enjoy it and do well with it. I did not see his video and I spoke to him and he seems to be okay. I’m glad to hear that, but sprint cars are to me some of the most exciting and fun race cars there are to drive. Anything that you do, you could put yourself at risk so I think that he knows the risks versus the rewards and chooses to do that and I think that’s awesome and he certainly is very impressive when he gets in them how competitive he is and winning World of Outlaw sprint races or being competitive in those races is unbelievable. I certainly look up to him in that way because I raced those guys in sprint cars and know how difficult that is. Especially when you’re not doing it all the time. But you know, if he was a young driver that was coming to work for Hendrick Motorsports, I would try to discourage him from doing that because that’s an investment to us as a team. We ask a lot out of our sponsors and our team and everything, but he’s the team owner so there’s no asking that out of him. You don’t want to take away that joy that those individuals have, you want them to make those decisions and choices on their own and just understand what they’re getting themselves into. Some of the younger guys maybe don’t always appreciate that, but somebody like Tony does and handles himself well with it.”
DO YOU THINK ABOUT BEING A TEAM OWNER FOR YOUR CHILDREN IN RACING?
“Oh yeah, when my son was born I thought about that. My daughter, I kind of want to wait and see what kind of interest level she has. Just knowing the things that she’s interested in, I don’t see her being that one, but she is very competitive. My son just loves race cars already at a very young age. He reminds me of myself. I never wanted to get behind the wheel of a car, I was always like, ‘No, no, no, no.’ But when you got me in it, I loved it and I was good at it. That’s kind of how he is. Not really the first one to just go jump in at it, but once you do, he’s pretty excited about it and he does very well. I think both kids will drive a race car at some time and then to me, it’s introducing them to it and seeing what kind of interest level they have and whether they’re enjoying it and whether they’re good at it and go from there. It’s nerve-wracking for me to consider and think about that option because every parent that I talk to says that it’s like the worst torture you could ever have because you’re just not in control, that’s your child so you have this fear of just them not winning or getting hurt, all these things that you didn’t think about when you were doing it.”
CAN YOU UNDERSTAND HOW A DRIVER’S PERSPECTIVE OF A RACE IS DIFFERENT THAN THAT OF A FAN AND THEY WATCHED THE SAME RACE?
“Absolutely, but the driver is not watching the race, he is driving the race. There is a tremendous amount of excitement, pressure, and adrenaline rush that is going on inside that car. You could be racing for 26th and the camera never shows you and you may have had the best and most exciting racing you have ever seen but that doesn’t mean people watched it or enjoyed it from home. So it’s a huge difference and with the world we are in today, it’s the people up there in the grandstands on watching on TV that matter the most. Sometimes we wish we could change that from inside the car but we can’t so there is no comparison at all, and they are completely different views.
“I think what a driver means when he says that is that you wish the people watching, that are not inside the car….and even sometimes the pit crew guys….you wish they could get in there and understand what you are going through so that they would have a much better perspective. Not only in talking, discussing, and criticizing the details of the race, but also to know what we are going through.
“When I watch a race for instance, I watch it with a different type of view because I am a driver and I go, ‘wow, that was an intense moment’, where that might not have even fazed someone who has never driven a race car.”
DO YOU HAVE A TESTING GAME PLAN THAT YOU CAN SHARE WITH US?
“We are going to New Hampshire next week. We are going to Richmond and a couple weeks after that I think we are going to Texas and then we are going to Homestead in the next month.”
HOW MUCH INPUT DO YOU HAVE ON THE TESTING?
“You know, again, we discuss it in our Tuesday meetings and I think all the crew chiefs get together Monday meetings and they come up with the race tracks they would like to go to.
“They talk to their drivers and get that kind of information and then on Tuesday we look it up on a board and we come up with the best scenario that works for all of us.
“For me I think we have a good game plan that works for all of us. Again, I said earlier that it’s a compromise with the organization. When you have four teams, not everybody is going to be perfectly suited. But in this case, I think it suits our needs to get ourselves in the Chase and if we get in the Chase, then it suits our teammates to be very competitive in the Chase.”
YOU WERE HERE THE WEEKEND OF THE INDYCAR RACE, WHAT WERE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT?
“Yeah, it was so cool to see those cars doing those types of speeds around this track. You know, that was probably the thing that stood out the most and was most impressive to me. The cars are very cool so I enjoy seeing them up close and seeing the technology that they have. I think my son kind of liked that too – seeing the difference between our cars and the IndyCars. I can tell you what. I am very, very appreciative of this sport and this series that we are in because when you drive in that tunnel for an IndyCar race, and you drive in here for a NASCAR race – you get a perspective of how big our sport is.”
DID YOU TALK TO A FEW OF THE DRIVERS?
“Yeah, I talked to a few of the drivers. What I thought was interesting was that I thought at Indy it was some of the most amazing racing that I had seen in the IndyCar series in a long time and I was hoping that Pocono might offer some of that same type of racing. But they were saying that turn three was too long and flat of a corner for them to maintain that momentum behind somebody to get that big draft and make those passes down the straightaway versus Indy. I thought that was very interesting and it was true once the race started because that was pretty much what they had. I was really blown away with the speeds they ran in qualifying. I mean gosh, 222 (mph) and to go flat out around here….I was thinking about it today coming down pit road and how much I was braking going into turn three and I just can’t imagine those guys running wide open.
“The biggest thing that stood out when I got here last night was all the motorhomes and all the tents and camping and the number of fans that are here for the NASCAR races. Sometimes we see the decline or something going flat and we are not seeing these grandstands filled up, but let me tell you, go to an IndyCar race and then a month or two weeks later and come back here. We better be very thankful for all the people we have here. It’s pretty amazing.”
REGARDING IF KYLE LARSON IS MAKING THE RIGHT DECISIONS, AND WOULD YOU CONSIDER RUNNING A TRUCK AT ELDORA NEXT YEAR?
“I go back and reference 1991 for me and that was my first full year in the Nationwide Series and at that time you are building your career, aligning yourself with the best teams that you can, trying to win races, and trying to establish yourself to get to the next level. So I think that Kyle (Larson) is quickly doing that and getting a lot of attention. I think he should race everything that he can possibly get behind the wheel of. The tricky part is going to be when he is either running for a Nationwide championship or does make that move to Cup, is where he starts to draw the line on that. Because
“Sprint Car racing is in your blood and you want to do it, but again, the Cup team and sponsors invest so much into it that you want full attention. It can either be a distraction or it can either help you, you just never know. So, everybody might handle it a little bit differently but I certainly think there might be some cutting back and might not be so much of that.”
“He is doing beyond what he should be doing. Let me tell you what, that kid is unreal. I wish we had five or six more of him.”
WOULD YOU GET IN A TRUCK AT ELDORA?
“They need to shorten the rear bumper on those things (laughs). They look pretty loose to me before the rubber got down on the track. They look like fun but my whole thing about what I am driving whether it’s a dirt late model or a Sprint Car, a truck, or a Nationwide car, Cup….I just want to be competitive and want to get enough laps in the car or truck to be competitive at it.
“For Tony’s (Stewart) charity event, it’s for charity and we go there to have fun but I can tell you the fun quickly went away in that event as soon as guys started ramping up the seriousness and competitiveness of their cars and teams. To me, I didn’t have the time to commit to it so I was like, ‘hmm I’m not interested’, and if that is the way it’s going to be. If you just show up and run whatever you have and go have fun and everybody is laughing about it, then that is one thing. As soon as it gets very competitive then all the sudden the fun starts to come away and the whole meaning of it starts to get blurred. But I never say never.
“I watched it. I watched practice, I watched qualifying, watched the heat races. So I certainly was glued to it from a spectator standpoint. I was very impressed with the job that the drivers and the teams did. I was expecting to see a lot more chaos. So that part was fun and yeah, it made me think that I would like to get out there and try it. But I have no plans to.”
REGARDING HOW BATTLING FOR A CHASE SPOT NOW IS AS INTENSE AS IT WAS THE FIRST TIME THE CHASE WAS AROUND:
“This year has been a strange year for us. I feel like last year we showed a little bit more speed up to this point and I felt like all we needed were some breaks to go our way, and a few slight changes to get ourselves in. This year we just can’t seem to really get ahold of it. I am approaching it the same way where I give the best information that I can to the team. You know, continue to just work as hard as I can as a driver to bring us together to make those opportunities happen. The last couple weeks have gone decent, but know we are capable of just doing so much more. So it’s frustrating. It is. There has been frustration throughout the team that we haven’t been able to perform better than we have.
“So every year we have gone through this, it’s a different kind of stress level. There are stress levels of meeting your full potential, there are stress levels of trying to not let some silly thing happen, or there is the stress level of one little incident. For me this year it’s been a combination of needing more performance – especially in qualifying – and then I drew number one for qualifying. So that is going to be interesting.
“And also this year I feel it’s been very difficult, because we haven’t qualified good and being further back in the pack and not being able to pass, and not being able to get up through there. Or it seems like we are not able to get the strategy timed out at the right time. Seems like there have been many times this year where we try to short pit the caution comes out, and when we try and stay out a caution comes at the wrong time. So those kinds of things have been frustrating this year. None of it stops us from working hard together. We have been through enough that this team sticks together and they fight and we will continue to do that all the way to the end of the season.”