HOW DO YOU FEEL HEADING INTO THIS WEEKEND WITH THE NEW CAR?
“I feel pretty good. The weather is obviously great, which is keeping it nice and consistent for us out there. I think we have a little different tire as well, but don’t hold me to that. Just trying to get in tune with what it’s going to take for as well as for this unique qualifying session that we’re going to experience tomorrow. I felt pretty good. Our Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, we were just working on race runs and trying to keep the rear grip in the car, which is something we struggled with here last year as well. Felt like we took off pretty good on runs and then really lost the rear grip and it’s something we’re dealing with again today and some of it is in the setup and some of it is just, that’s Sonoma.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE NEW QUALIFYING FORMAT?
“I’m looking forward to it just because it’s nice to have in the back of your mind knowing that you’ve got a little room for error if you have to run another lap. I think from a time standpoint it makes sense for TV and for the fans that are here to know that it’s kind of a start and stop. I’ve said before, when we get into knock-out qualifying like F1 does, then you’ll see me get pretty excited about doing it this way.”
WHAT MAKES A TALENTED DRIVER STRUGGLE ON A ROAD COURSE?
“I’m trying to think of who we are talking about? Oh, Matt Kenseth. I don’t know, when was the last time a Roush car, basing it off of him being at Roush, but the last time a Roush car won. I don’t know what those stats are. I think a lot of it has to do with your willingness to kind of explore and enjoy the adventure that it is. Then your team has to back that up with the right car, brakes, setup for you to be able to do what you need to do. Matt’s a great driver and I’m sure if the car is where it needs to be then he’ll be a threat for a win on a road course. I wouldn’t necessarily put it on Matt.”
HOW DID THE CHANGE IN QUALIFYING FORMAT CHANGE HOW YOU PRACTICED TODAY?
“We didn’t change anything. I guess if we would have been really far back in our race runs with some of the quicker laps then we might have had to change our game plan and switch it over into qualifying trim to get a little bit higher up in the order. I think our philosophy in looking at it was that it’s not that we need to be in the last group that goes because I think it could be an advantage track condition wise to go out earlier, but you also don’t want to get in too early of a group where somebody is throwing debris out on the track or spinning off and you’re not allowed to get a clean lap in. I really like where we’re at, I believe we’ll be the lead car of the third group. I think that’s perfect, sorry, third from last group. I kind of like where we’re at and we didn’t do anything different. We just did race runs and that’s what we would have typically done. I guess if we just had one practice today and we were going to qualify then we would have run some qualifying runs at the end. I guess that would be the difference. We are going to do some qualifying runs on this next practice.”
HOW AWARE ARE YOU OF THE CHASE STANDINGS AND WILD CARD AND IS THIS RACE AN OPPORTUNITY?
“It is. I think we just look at this as an opportunity for us to run well and a chance to win. The bonuses are that it could contribute toward the wild card and help us in the points. Our focus is the same every weekend, we go trying to get the best finish that we can when we have confidence going into a track that we can qualify well, race well then that certainly helps us accomplish our goal. I’ll be honest, last weekend at Michigan I was not really looking forward to qualifying. I’ve struggled at that track qualifying since they repaved it and we struggled again. I was pretty happy with my car when we took off and it was unfortunate that we only made six laps. I feel more confident this weekend that we can qualify inside the top-10 and be a threat to go up there and battle these guys for the win. I think that we learned a lot last year and we were pretty good and we had a few things that we were missing so we’re taking those notes and then adding them to this car and hopefully we can improve over the weekend to be a real threat.”
WHAT IS THE ISSUE WITH QUALIFYING?
“I put a lot of it on myself. I think I’ve got to be able to give good information back to the team to help them make adjustments and you have to go out there and be aggressive and if the car just doesn’t feel right and you don’t really have that confidence in it then you’re not going to go out there and go fast. On those types of race tracks particularly like Michigan a repave, really rock hard tire, that’s what I’ve struggled with the last several years. Whether it’s old school, whether it’s me just getting old or we’re just missing something. I’m sure if Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) was here he would say the same thing and that is why we’re able to work through it and go week to week and not tear one another’s heads off because it’s my job to give him confidence that he is doing his job and give me confidence in what I’m doing. We also know it’s something we have to work on. The nice thing about this weekend is it’s more traditional. This is pretty typical tire, typical track. It’s a new car, but not a lot has changed here over the years. You hear me say that a lot, when not a lot has changed we seem to be able to be confident and consistent and competitive at those tracks.”
SOME HAVE SPECULATED IT IS THE HARD TIRE THAT IS HARD TO GET USED TO. DO YOU THINK IT’S MAINLY THAT AND CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE FEEL OR WHY THAT HAS CHANGED EVERYTHING FOR YOU?
“If you took a hard tire to Atlanta it wouldn’t bother me. If you take a hard tire to a repave where the edge of the grip level is so fine, you are just on a razor’s edge. That is just not the way that I have traditionally been successful. There are guys like Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch, I think of these guys they just put it out there and Jimmie’s (Johnson) is probably one of the best at running a pretty loose car. When I think of guys really stepping over that edge I think of those guys. You saw Kurt (Busch) qualify well there. I don’t know if (Greg) Biffle qualified good there, but I would think he would on something like that. That is just not typically who I am. I’ve got to figure that is why I put a lot on myself. I’ve got to figure that out at those tracks because we are going to have to come back to some of those tracks. Kansas, Michigan and others that have repaves.”
WITH YOU GROWING UP SO CLOSE TO HERE DO YOU BRING YOUR KIDS AROUND AT ALL? LIKE TO WHERE YOUR OLD NEIGHBORHOOD OR WHATEVER AND SAY ‘THIS IS WHERE I USED TO DO THIS OR THIS IS WHERE I USED TO BREAK DANCE ON THE CORNER? DO YOU BRING THEM AROUND AND SHOW THEM YOUR OLD HAUNTS? DO THEY HAVE ANY APPRECIATION FOR THAT?
“First of all I was never break dancing on the corner (laughs). On a driveway maybe, with some linoleum laid down, a big beat box, no (laughs). My kids aren’t even out here with me this time. As my daughter gets older and her friends at home become more significant, especially around her birthday then we celebrate her birthday at home so they haven’t been traveling out here with us the last couple of years. I think as they get a little older then I might want to do that with them. Like what we would do with my wife in Belgium with her family and places she grew up. I think they are still a little bit too young to really kind of go through that process. I think your upbringing, your family and memories that were great for you as a kid, I think they are definitely something that I want to share with them and Vallejo (California) has played a big, significant role in that for me.”
YOU RAN THE MOST LAPS IN PRACTICE. DO YOU LIKE RUNNING AS MUCH PRACTICE TIME AS YOU CAN OR IS THERE SOMETHING YOU ARE WORKING ON THE CAR?
“Again, it takes so long to switch the car over to get it into qualifying trim so when we ran a couple of good laps there early on I think that we felt like we were fairly close. That we could just run longer runs and stay on one set of tires. We ended up changing to new tires right at the very end, the very last run. That is why. We were making four and five and six lap runs. Just really because I think we were really good in the race here the last time, but we just weren’t good long enough, so we really need to work on the rear-tire wear and grip. We wanted to run a little bit more this time to get a better idea of what we are going to be dealing with.”
CAN YOU DESCRIBE HOW DIFFERENT IT IS RACING THERE IN JULY VERSUS FEBRUARY?
“Well, it used to be a lot more different, a lot crazier and slicker. A lot different when we were in the daytime there, now that it’s nighttime even though it’s warm and humid the biggest significant change is the lights. Just being under the lights. I like it. I love racing under the lights at Daytona. I think it’s very cool and the conditions are fantastic. I know what it was like racing there during the day when it was 105 (degrees) so really enjoy racing at night.”
OVER THE LAST 10 YEARS OR SO THE CHARACTER OF ROAD COURSE RACING AT LEAST FROM US WHO ARE OBSERVING IT I THINK FROM YOU GUYS WHO ARE DRIVING IT HAS CHANGED REMARKABLE IN TERMS OF GETTING MUCH MORE ROUGH AND TUMBLE. JUST WANTED TO GET YOUR TAKE ON WHY THAT IS? IS IT THE DOUBLE FILE RESTARTS? IS IT THE FACT THAT THERE ARE SO MANY MORE COMPETITIVE CARS OUT THERE?
“You just answered your own question. You are good (laughs). No, that is all it is. The double file restarts make a big change. Pit strategy I think plays a role too where guys are taking more risks at not putting tires on and so you will get a mixture of guys who have more grip in their tires versus guys with less grip. You are coming through there and guys are sliding around and other guys are going to use them up coming through there. Then the double file restarts just compound them because it puts us closer together. I think because the field is deeper with the competitiveness and a lot of that is the car. The drivers have gotten better too, but the cars are so equal. They are almost identical. It’s hard to make a big difference with gapping cars and making significant advantages in your car. It really is going to come down to the drivers. I think that you are seeing guys be a little bit more aggressive because they know how hard it is to make their car better than the car in front of them. So they have to be aggressive as a driver to get that slot and usually if you get that spot you can keep it.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT DANICA PATRICK’S IMPACT NOW? IS IT PASSÉ FOR YOU GUYS EVERY TIME SHE COMES INTO A NEW RACE TRACK IT SEEMS LIKE THE LOCAL NEWS PEOPLE NEED TO KNOW ABOUT DANICA? HOW IS SHE ACCEPTED?
“I’ve always been supportive of any individual or team or sponsor, personality that brings more attention to this sport that is a positive for the sport. Whether that creates a story, whatever it is, she certainly does that. I think people are very interested in what she is doing and she is a great race car driver. I think it’s fantastic that people want to learn more about her and that it is a story. For us, she is another driver and we go out there and we race together every weekend. The more she is in the sport the more that you realize that is the case.”