“You can’t predict it but you can certainly try to do your homework. Look at past races, look at your performances and things you’ve done and try to improve on it. You just approach it with a positive attitude. I’m excited about this week. That’s the first time I can say that in a long time coming into a Talladega race because for us it’s not about racing for points, it’s about racing for a win and being aggressive. I feel like at the end it’s just finding somebody you can connect with to get into victory lane. I feel like from our team, the homework they’ve done and the research they are doing and improvements they’ve made to the car as well as just looking at video, and talking to my spotter, I’m excited about the fact that we can come in here and not be looking at a conservative approach. I think that can get you in just as much trouble as being aggressive.”
YOU’VE BEEN INVOLVED IN A COUPLE OF CRASHES HERE IN CHASE RACES, HOW DEVASTATING IS THAT TO A CHASE RUN AND HOW DOES THAT AFFECT THE WAY YOU APPROACH THINGS HERE IN THAT SCENARIO?
“It is devastating and that’s the difference between where I’m at in points and where the guys in the top five are in points. They’re sitting there going okay we can’t afford to get caught up in the big one and I’m sitting there going I can’t afford to not be leading laps, running up front and not win this race. So, we’ve been saying from the beginning right after Chicago where we had our trouble that we’ve got to put solid finishes together, go for wins, and we’re going to need a little bit of help from the other guys having issues. This is a weekend that anything can happen.”
HOW MUCH OF THAT IMPACT YOUR CHASE RUNS WHEN YOU HAD THOSE THINGS HAPPEN?
“I don’t remember. I couldn’t even give you specifics. I have no idea.”
YOU HAD A 38TH HERE AND A 36TH HERE.
“Yeah, but where were we in points? How that affected, I have no idea. You don’t ever want to wreck, certainly when you are in a tight points battle. This place can either be your best friend or your worst enemy.”
CAN YOU PLAN A MOVE FOR THE LAST LAP, OR IS ALL JUST A REACTION?
“Yes, if you have 20 to go and you’re working with somebody and you guys kind of put yourself into position. But, this place typically comes down to a five-lap shootout or a green-white-checker and in that sense you can’t. The car in front of you, you’re pushing. If you are on the front row, it’s the car behind you that’s got to push you or you’ve got to get connected with somebody and you’ve just got to go. There’s no working that out, predicting that, it just happens or it doesn’t happen.”
WITH WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU ON THE FINAL LAP HERE IN THE SPRING AND SEPARATING YOURSELF FROM KYLE (BUSCH) AND WINNING THE RACE, ARE YOU SURPRISED THAT WORKED?
“Yes and no. I go back a little further. The No. 16 was pushing the No. 17 on the restart and they got a great lead. They came off of turn two and got separated. That to me cost them the race. The No. 18 and the No. 2 did a great job staying connected from that restart, getting the lead, and maintaining it. You look at how Brad (Kesolowski) approached turn three and how it made them separate in a natural way instead of seeing these big slingshot moves and cars wiggling around and about to wreck. Whether it was planned full out or just it just worked out that way, either way it makes you think about it if you are in that position at the end. That’s what happens, when you are being pushed you are sitting there going okay is there a chance for me to win this race or do I just settle for second. The guy behind that is pushing is going let’s see when I make my move. The only other thing I see about that move, other guys are so far back that usually being disconnected that early is going to cost you the win. Those guys were two-by-two and quite a ways back. In any other scenario I think that you lose the race being disconnected in the middle of (turns) three and four.”
WOULDN’T IT BE IN THE BACK OF YOUR HEAD THOUGH, IF YOU WERE IN A SIMILAR SITUATION?
“I’ve got a couple of different scenarios. I’d like to be in that position. I’d like to try to win it. Who doesn’t want to be leading on the last lap? Either way can be a great position to be in.”
WHAT CHALLENGES DOES BRAD KESELOWSKI FACE BEING THE POINTS LEADER THREE RACES INTO THE CHASE?
“I like the way Brad handles some stuff and handles the pressures of this sport. For me, it’s more of you are really tested when you are in that points lead with three races to go, not after three races. I think they’ve got good momentum. They’ve won two of the first three races. This is a track that he can win at; he’s shown that in the past. So, he’s got to be pretty excited about things right now.”
AT A TRACK WHERE SO MUCH IS OUT OF YOUR CONTROL, HOW FRUSTRATING CAN IT BE TO HAVE TO BE AGGRESSIVE?
“That’s the thing, our approach is to try to keep as much in our control as possible. That’s where we’ve sort of given up on the past and we go okay I’m not going to choose to go to the back but I’m also not going to overheat the engine. That in itself can sometimes get you to the back. We’re going to be more aggressive when it comes to the temperatures we run, but we also know what happened to us in Daytona. That’s was more from a failure, so we’re going to push the limits of the temperatures this weekend. We’ve seen other teams do it and get to the finish. We’ve got a pretty good plan when it comes to that and by doing that you can sort of raise your percentages of being at the front a little bit more. We’ve seen crashes happen on restarts at the very front, so it doesn’t guarantee anything. I’d rather be at the front than just be handing around the back. We were about mid-field last time we were here and got caught up in a wreck being all by ourself. There’s no set approach. You’ve just got to go with what’s happening. Coming into the race our plan is definitely not to be in the back. That changes from the beginning of this Chase. What our thoughts were of how to approach this race verses where we’re at in points now. It puts us in a different position and gives us a different approach.”
RACING IN GENERAL IS ORGANIZED CHAOS, WHAT WOULD YOU DESCRIBE RACING HERE AT TALLADEGA?
“I don’t know how organized it is, but pretty chaotic. The problem is trying to get everybody on the same page. Everybody has different agendas. You’ve got guys that are outside the Chase that say it’s all pretty much about wins here. You’ve got some guys that don’t like restrictor-plate racing and say I just want to survive. You’ve got guys in the top-five in points that just want to come out of here with a top-10. Then you’ve got guys like myself, that are in the Chase but further back and say what do we have to lose? We’ve got to come out of here with a strong finish or our season is done. So, to me I’d rather be in this position and not be over thinking it and just in there to win and be aggressive.”
CAN YOU TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT DURING THIS WEEK YOU WENT DOWN TO TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY AND INSTEAD OF WORRYING ABOUT TALLADEGA YOU GOT TO TALK TO KIDS? WHAT DOES THAT MEAN TO YOU?
“It was a great opportunity. I got to hand out at Lego Land and Discovery Center which was fun. We talked about the upcoming race in Texas on November 4th. I’m looking forward to that race and even more so because of what our raffle has done for the Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation and pediatric kids, as well as Speedway Children’s Charities. We are thankful to them and the contributions they’ve made to some great hospitals to help kids with cancer. I got a chance to meet some cancer survivors, young ones and it was awesome. To be able to spend time with them, build some cars out of Lego’s, race them and just have a fun, relaxing day with them.”
WHEN YOU GUYS WERE IN CHARLOTTE IN MAY, YOU WERE 25TH IN POINTS AND JUST HOPING FOR ANYTHING, WHAT’S YOUR OUTLOOK NOW AS COMPARED TO MAY?
“That’s what I love about the way our season has been. It’s thrown some curve balls at us and it hasn’t been the kind of season we had hoped for. We’ve also been dealt with a lot of adversity and had to overcome some tough races, and tough finishes. Some were in our control and some were out of our control. I think it’s made us a much stronger team. It either breaks you down and tears you apart or makes you stronger. I think it’s made us stronger, certainly my relationship with Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) and our engineers. Then you come into the Chase and you’re running good. Even though we had the problem in Chicago, the fact that we’re running up front only builds on that and gives us a lot to be excited about in these remaining seven races.”
HOW ABOUT CHARLOTTE SPECIFICALLY, WITH THE SUCCESS YOU’VE HAD THERE IN THE PAST AND HOW YOUR TEAM IS NOW?
“I look forward to Charlotte. I think we can out of there with a top-five or something last time we were there. We weren’t the best car and we weren’t bad, but I feel like we’ve made improvements since May. I feel like our qualifying efforts have been better, so I’m looking forward to that. I think overall we’ve got a great shot at being very strong in that race. I hope that we’ve gained some points by then or at least started to make ground up, and that we can come out of there with a great finish.”
DO YOU REMEMBER YOUR FIRST RACE AT THIS PLACE?
“No, can’t say that I do. I think it was in a Nationwide car. I don’t really remember a whole lot.”
AARP IS EXTENDING FOR ANOTHER YEAR, I ASSUME THAT’S A GOOD SIGN THAT THEY ARE INTERESTED IN RE-UPPING BEFORE THEY’RE FINAL YEAR?
“Yeah, definitely it’s a good thing. I love the work that they are doing. It’s been a privilege to work with them and learn about such an important cause and the fact that they are really making an impact. I think from the beginning of this relationship we knew it’s not going to happen in one year or even two years, it takes time to build a program up like that. To get not only the fans support but the corporate sponsor support that it takes to make that program successful. I think this is a great sign that momentum is still building and they know they need to continue to further that work. I love the fact that they’ve chosen our team and Hendrick to do that.”
DID MAKING THE CHASE IMPACT THAT AT ALL?
“We were already in discussions prior to that.”
IT’S FOR ONE YEAR BEYOND 2013, INTO 2014 APPARENTLY.
“There was a clause in the contract where they could re-up. It was already in the contract for 2013 but they had to make a decision whether they intended beyond 2013 so they had an out there. So, we knew they were going to re-up for 2013 but then they said we not only want to do that, we want to extend into 2014.”
HOW INVOLVED ARE YOU IN NEGOTIATIONS?
“Rick (Hendrick) and I we have our conversations about what my plans are. That involves what Hendrick Motorsports’ plans are and how they approach sponsors. So, we have to be on the same page. We are and I feel good about it. Once you get past that stage, then we have great marketing people and sponsorship folks that do a great job working with the sponsors so I’m not overly involved with it at that point.”
SO THIS KIND OF PUTS OFF THINKING BEYOND 2014 FOR ANOTHER YEAR OR SO?
“At this point in my career, I don’t take it year-to-year; I take it based on where we’re at with sponsorship. I look out and plan okay, if sponsors are saying we want to do a three-year deal or two-year deal or five-year deal we’ll sit down and have these conversations and talk about if where they are at is where I’m at. I feel good. Things are going well. We’re competitive. I’m as good back-wise and health-wise as I’ve been in a long time, so there is no reason for me to think any different than saying yes to their offer of going through 2014 right now.”
DO YOU THINK WE WILL SEE THOSE DIFFERENT STRATEGIES, HANGING OUT IN THE BACK AND RUNNING UP FRONT ON SUNDAY?
“I think you’ll see everything. I don’t think anybody likes going into a race and says boy I’m so excited about hanging in the back. They look at it as what is going to get us the finish that we really want? The win or the top-five. For us, I just don’t really see it being an option. Now, that can change when they drop the green flag. You never know. It depends where we qualify. It depends on a lot of things and what’s happening out there in the field. Coming into this weekend and knowing where we’re at in points, what approach and plan we’ve had in the past couple of races here that have not worked, we’re going to try to switch it up a little bit and see how that goes.”