TALK ABOUT RACING AT MARTINSVILLE THIS WEEKEND:
“It’s all about the clock this weekend. I feel like we have a really good car to be able to learn the different nuisances with this car. Goodyear brought a little bit different tire, so we’re going to work through all that in practice. We did today and will tomorrow. But I feel good about it. You know, thus is just one of those tracks, and I know I’ve said it over and over again in here (media center) that things have just changed the least and the way you drive the track, even though the cars have gotten faster, it’s just the way you drive the track and how you use the brakes and how you roll through the center and how you apply the throttle, have just not changed tremendously here, versus what we’ve gone through at other tracks, aerodynamically and (with) mechanical grip and some of the faster tracks. It’s always a track I come to looking forward to, and I hope the same with this car. And so today, things went pretty well; so I’m pleased and excited about the weekend.”
YOU HAD A LOT OF SUCCESS EARLY IN YOUR CAREER AS A YOUNG DRIVER. HOW MUCH HAVE YOU CHANGED OVER THE YEARS? DO YOU THINK THIS IS A YOUNG MAN’S SPORT, AN OLD MAN’S SPORT, OR THAT ANYBODY CAN DO IT?
“Talented race car drivers, when they get with the right team, are going to have success. And I think even young, well it depends on what kind of young personality they have. If they are super aggressive, there are a lot of times where if you don’t manage the patience along with that, then you are going to find yourself going really fast, but hitting a lot of things and tearing-up equipment and taking some time to learn what it’s like to run a 500-lap or 500-mile race. But I’ve always said you’re better off having someone you’ve got to pull the reins than you are cracking the whip.
“And so, when you see a guy that has speed and talent and pushes, you hope that over time that patience and using their head in situations can come along with it. So, I feel like I was pretty aggressive when I first came into the sport and made a lot of mistakes, but was able to take that and progress with it and gain experience and patience to be more consistent and to make a championship contender.”
YOU DROVE IN A TIME BEFORE THE COT AND SOFT WALLS AND THE HANS DEVICE. WERE DRIVERS MORE COGNOSCENTE OF THE DANGERS THEN WHEN YOU WEREN’T AS PROTECTED? HAS IT CHANGED NOW WHERE DRIVERS FEEL A BIT OF INVULNERABILITY AND ARE MAYBE MORE AGGRESSIVE?
“No, I don’t notice anything different. The way you drive and the aggressiveness that you have has always been there. I feel like the emotions have always been there. When somebody gets you upset and your emotions get the best of you, you make decisions.
“Those things happen today no differently than they did when I first got in the sport. We’re running more 1.5-mile tracks and bigger tracks now than we did when I first got in the sport. And the cars are more equal now than they used to be. So, I personally just think you’re seeing a lot tighter racing in the closing laps when there’s a caution and people are aggressive and people are going for it. I think it’s what makes those moments exciting, but I think it also is what makes for some of those instances to happen. Bristol, gosh; people have been getting spun-out at Bristol forever. That certainly hasn’t changed. The bigger tracks, I don’t think any of us are sitting there making a decision based on whether this is going to hurt or injure me or the other guy. You’re making decisions based on trying to win the race. And then you’re also making decisions based on the heat of the moment if something really gets a hold of you and puts you in that position to make an irrational bad decision. But those are the things that are going through your mind, not the dangers. We all get complacent on how fast we’re going and how tight we’re racing until those moments injure somebody.”
THE MEDIA HAS BEEN TALKING A LOT ABOUT JOEY LOGANO TODAY. THAT’S A GUY WHO CAME INTO THE SPORT WITH A LOT OF HYPE, EVEN BEFORE HE GOT TO THE CUP SERIES. YOU HAD A LOT OF THE SPOTLIGHT THROWN ON YOU VERY EARLY IN YOUR CAREER. HOW MUCH MORE DIFFICULT OR EASY IS IT TO HAVE NOT JUST THE PRESSURE TO PERFORM, BUT ALSO THAT ADDITIONAL SPOTLIGHT ON EVERYTHING YOU DO?
“I feel like my rookie year was the toughest just because there was hype on all the rookies that year (like) Bobby Labonte, Kenny Wallace, and myself coming from the Nationwide Series. And I think that there were a lot of people looking for those younger guys coming up to make a dent in the sport. I was fortunate that (by) my third year in the sport, we were battling for a championship. So, when you go to that, the pressure changes from whether you’ve got what it takes or whether you belong there or working on job security to the pressure of winning every race you go to and trying to win the championship.
“I think in Joey’s case, he has had a lot of hype and he’s had a lot of success. But in the Cup Series, he has struggled. And I think there is a lot of question behind that and I think it’s been pretty tough on him to have all that success and hype along the way, and come into the Cup Series and not be able to live up to it; whether it’s the team or him or whatever it is. Just the combination hasn’t been there. I think that now with this move to Penske, that there’s certainly a lot of pressure on him to live up to those expectations.”
WITH ALL THESE FEUDS GOING ON, ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT GETTING ON THE TRACK THIS WEEKEND AND GETTING IN THE MIDDLE OF ALL THAT?
“All those feuds have now taken it all off of me. So that’s a good thing. No, it’s going to be business as usual this weekend. I always evaluate every situation as it comes. So, you’re out there in the race, and two guys are racing hard. If they have history and start rubbing up on one another, then yeah, you’re going to be cautious of it and probably give them a little extra room. If you’re racing along and two guys are just racing hard, and they get into one another, then you’re going to react similarly or at least pay attention to is. And those are just normal things you go through most weekends, but especially here at Martinsville.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR SPONSOR FOR SUNDAY’S RACE?
“Yeah. AARP Drive to End Hunger has been a tremendous sponsor for us. We have a lot of fun getting a chance to interact with the fans and the people that want to volunteer to be a part of helping the more than nine million older Americans that are dealing with hunger issues. So, to know that you’re supporting a great cause and making a difference in people’s lives is very exciting for me to represent that on Sunday’s.”
JIMMIE JOHNSON, LIKE YOU, IS A SEVEN-TIME MARTINSVILLE WINNER. HE SAYS ALL OF HIS GRANDFATHER CLOCKS (TROPHIES) ARE ACCOUNTED FOR AND HE KNOWS EXACTLY WHERE THEY ALL ARE. CAN YOU SAY THE SAME ABOUT YOURS?
“I couldn’t go through and tell you which rooms they’re in. I know that they’re accounted for, but I have a pretty bad memory. I think there’s one still in a box. And I think that there are several spread out between Rick Hendrick and Ray Evernham and maybe even Brian Whitesell and myself. But they’re out there. Our decorating at home doesn’t really lend itself to Grandfather clocks (laughter), so it’s just not one of those trophies you’d typically display at home, but usually at the race shop or waiting for that place to put it one day. If you have all of them lined-up, that’s pretty cool also. I don’t have as big a house as he has.”
BUT HE KNOWS WHAT TIME IT IS, RIGHT?
“The thing is, I tried that! I put it up there and I found out I had to wind that thing like once a week. That’s a lot of maintenance!”
DID WHAT HAPPENED HERE LAST YEAR WITH CLINT BOWYER SET THE STAGE FOR YOU GUYS THE REST OF THE YEAR AND THE LITTLE FEUD YOU HAD GOING ON?
“Well, yeah you know, he wrecked us. So, whether it was intentional or not, it’s still something that was in the back of my mind. You could say it set the stage. But for me, it’s an accumulation of things; sort of like a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ deal. And we just made contact too many times last year. But listen, he was racing hard. The thing that bothered me so much about it last year is that I really don’t know if we were going to win that race because we were sitting ducks on old tires. He had it won, really, I think, pretty easily. But to try and make that move going into Turn 1 was very impatient and it really cost him as much as it cost me.
All he had to do was wait until we got off of Turn 2 and he probably would have driven by all of us down the back straightaway. So, certainly that’s not forgotten. But it’s nice to know that some of that attention is off of us. We’ll just go race hard like we have every other weekend.”
HAVE YOU LOOKED BACK AT WHAT HAPPENED AT CALIFORNIA AT THE BLOCK THAT JOEY LOGANO PUT ON TONY STEWART AND THEN THE RACE BETWEEN DENNY HAMLIN AND LOGANO? WHAT IS YOUR OPINION? WAS IT ACCEPTABLE OR NOT ACCEPTABLE; HARD OR NOT TOO HARD?
“There’s a mirror and a spotter in these cars for a reason. To me, blocking has always been sort of wide-open and accepted. But you’ve got to make the block soon enough. If the guy is there and you start turning down on him, you’re basically giving the guy behind you an excuse to turn you. We see it a lot more at Daytona and Talladega.
“To me, that was two guys racing hard; and I can understand why Tony was mad because he had I guess a hole in front and faded. Had he gone down in Turn 1 and raced side-by-side with him and finished in the top five, he probably would have shaken it off as ‘I wasn’t happy about it, but we’ll deal with that later’; and not reacted quite as aggressively as he did. But to me, everywhere we go, you’ve got to use that mirror and you’ve got to figure out, especially in a green-white-checkered situation, you’ve got to go for it and you’ve got to do everything you can to win on both sides.”
WHAT IS THE KEY TO THE PERFECT QUALIFYING LAP AT CHARLOTTE? IN THE 600, WHAT CAN YOU DO INSIDE THE CAR TO ADJUST TO THE CHANGING TRACK CONDITIONS THROUGHOUT THE RACE?
“Well, qualifying there is so fast (with) so much grip and it’s at night and the track just picks up so much speed that you’re just super aggressive; I mean it’s just basically hold your breath and drive-in as deep as you can and get back on the gas hard and as quickly as you can and hope it sticks. (You) hope it turns and hope the back sticks. It’s a pretty white-knuckling experience because it (the track) just picks-up so much from practice. I couldn’t tell you what the key is to having a perfect lap there because I haven’t had one recently. I love qualifying there but we just haven’t had all the things go right for us.
“In the race, there’s not many tools other than just moving your line around at that race track. You can make a wider arc into the corner, turn in later, try to get down to the white line to get the car turning if you’re tight, and drive up to the top if you’re freer and that usually tightens the car up. That’s about all you can do inside the car.”
AT LAS VEGAS YOU STRUGGLED A LOT. AT FONTANA, IT LOOKED LIKE JIMMIE JOHNSON WAS STRUGGLING A LOT. KNOWING THIS IS A TRACK WHERE YOU GUYS DO SO WELL, WHY DOES IT SEEM THAT YOU ARE STILL GETTING THINGS FIGURED OUT AT THE BIGGER SPEEDWAYS? IS IT IMPORTANT THAT YOU GUYS DO WELL HERE BECAUSE THIS IS MAYBE MORE A CONSTANT THAN THE INTERMEDIATES AND 2-MILE OVALS? DO YOU HAVE ANY THOUGHTS AS TO WHY YOU AND JIMMIE ARE STRUGGLING?
“It’s hard to say. Those guys are all good at Vegas and we struggled. We went into California with some concerns. I felt like we actually ran better at California than we did at Vegas, but we still have some things that we’re working on for Texas to make improvements. You’re always learning from your experiences as well as from your competitor’s. I think there are some things that we learned in California that will make us better. I can’t tell you why Jimmie struggled at California. That’s not a track where he typically struggles. I think when you take the rear bar away from us, and the bushing, some teams are going to figure that out sooner, and the big spoiler and downforce this car has, than others. And speaking for the No. 24 team, we have not figured it out yet, but I’m very confident that we will catch-up.
“Coming here, we don’t have to think about those things. I feel confident this weekend, being on a short track and being Martinsville, that we’ll be competitive. Urgency? Yeah, we want to win. We want to move up in the points. We did not anticipate being this far behind again at this point of the year like we were last year. Urgency never does you any favors. So I think it’s really more of just staying focused on each race and working on our intermediate program.”
IN REFERENCE TO DENNY HAMLIN, WHAT IS IT LIKE TO NOT HAVE ONE OF THE TOP COMPETITORS AT THIS TRACK NOT RACING THIS WEEKEND? DOES THAT CHANGE YOUR MINDSET OR DOES THAT GIVE YOU AN OPPORTUNITY WITH ONE LESS GUY TO CONTEND FOR THE WIN WHO HAS HISTORICALLY DONE WELL HERE?
“I don’t think there’s one less guy when you put Mark Martin behind the wheel of that car. I mean I think it’s a strong team and a strong car. The key is going to be adapting to his (Hamlin’s) set-up because he likes his car to have a certain balance that’s worked very well for his driving style and this track. Is that going to suit Mark Martin’s driving style? How long does it take them to get it figured out? But I think Mark Martin is equally as competitive as Denny when you put him in quality equipment. So, I don’t think we’ve taken one out of the mix. But, Denny is certainly always a guy that you focus on here, as being one of the guys you have to beat. We’ll see what happens on Sunday with the No. 11 team.”