TALK ABOUT YOUR ANNUAL BOWLING TOURNAMENT:
“Very successful event, I know we raised over $300,000 Riley Hospital for Children here locally is one of the top children’s hospitals in the country. We are proud to have partnered with them many years ago and have been funding a research lab there for the last couple of years. We are really proud. I mean I think back over the 12 years we have been doing this bowling tournament and it’s hard to believe that you can turn an event into what this has turned into. We had a lot of fun and raised a lot of money and awareness. It was fantastic.”
YOU HAVE WON HERE FOUR TIMES; TALK ABOUT HOW YOU THINK THIS NEW GEN-6 CAR WILL DO HERE AT INDY:
“We had the opportunity to tire test here with Goodyear and get a chance to feel what this car is like. It feels good. It’s obviously going to be really fast. I thought we had a good test. We certainly gathered some good information and data to come back with. We are back with the same tire we have had the last couple of years. This surface is tough. It’s abrasive and it’s really hard to find any different tire than what we’ve had here for our cars so durability is the key and most important thing. We certainly have that. I’m excited what we learned since that tire test. The last couple of years have been good for us here and we’ve been in contention to win races. I’m always excited to get to Indianapolis and certainly this weekend our team is ready to step it up to get us another win here. We understand how important the next seven races are for us to get ourselves into the Chase.”
IN TERMS OF PRESTIGE, WHERE DOES INDIANAPOLIS RANK FOR YOU AND THE GENERAL DRIVING GROUP?
“You have the Daytona 500 and then the Brickyard 400, in my opinion. Some people may rank it different than that, but that’s how I look at it. There was a time – maybe back in 1994 – where I would have ranked this No. 1. Looking at the history of our sport, the prestige and all the ingredients that go into making the most prestigious race, you have to rank Daytona first. But for someone who always dreamed about coming to Indianapolis as a kid and raced all around here, this one ranks very, very high. It’s definitely one of the biggest. I think it’s the history of the race track, everyone wants to win here and it’s about the trophy – who has won here, how hard it is to win here and the history of the track and race itself. I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since we won here in 1994. That certainly says a lot about how fast things can go by. To me, that inaugural race really set the precedent for how impressive this facility is and how prestigious the race was the first year and always will be.”
GIVEN THE POINTS POSITION YOU’RE IN, HOW HARD IS IT TO DIAL BACK WHEN YOU HAVE TO BE THINKING FOR POINTS INSTEAD OF GOING FOR A RACE WIN?
“That’s the beauty of where I’m at in points. I don’t have to dial back anything. We are in full-on aggressive mode. Do we have to win? No. But do we have to put seven really good races together? Yes. In order to put good races together, I’m talking top-fives. You look at the guys we’re racing against and they can easily do that. We have to push and not pull back. I don’t know of a time where I went into a race – maybe I go back to the 1997 championship – where we were really the whole time thinking about points. Every time I’ve thought about points, it’s cost us more positions than we’ve gained. We go out there and race as hard as we can to put the best plan together, best race car together. I try to drive every restart and lap that I would if I were trying to win the race. That’s what we’re doing to do this weekend and that’s what we’re going to do every weekend.”
YOU SPOKE TO THE HISTORY OF THIS PLACE. THERE HAVE BEEN A LOT OF GREAT NAMES TO WIN HERE BUT NO ONE HAS WON FIVE TIMES ON FOUR WHEELS. WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO BE THE FIRST TO WIN FIVE TIMES AT INDIANAPOLIS?
“I’ll always be one of those purists that looks at the Indianapolis 500 differently than any other race that happens here. When we’re talking about the Brickyard 400 going on for 100 years, then I’ll stack up four-time winners against four-time Indy 500 winners. It doesn’t make it any easier. It’s a very challenging race track. It can be your best friend or your worst enemy. I’m blown away that we have four. When you look at the list of names who have multiple wins here, it’s impressive. I’d like to separate myself and be a five-time winner in our series. But I’ll never compare that to my biggest heroes – Rick Mears, A.J. Foyt and those guys. I guess my experience of coming here as a kid and seeing the Indy 500. It’s a different race and should always be held to a different standard as any other race – not just NASCAR but Moto GP, Formula One or anything else.”
WHERE WOULD YOU RANK THIS RACE BETWEEN THE DAYTONA 500, COCA-COLA 600 AND BRICKYARD 500?
“If you grew up with NASCAR, then the 600 or Southern 500 might have a little more prestige. But if you grew up watching IndyCar racing like I did and racing sprint cars and midgets, the Brickyard 400 leapfrogs those.”
SHOULD THE RACE BE MOVED TO THE START OF THE CHASE TO ADD SOME MORE PIZZAZZ?
“Let’s throw Eldora in there while we’re at it. Should have a road course in the Chase? The Brickyard? Should Bristol be in the Chase? There are so many tracks that deserve to be in it. I’ll say what I’ve always said. I think at the beginning of the year there should be a lottery or some type of event that picks the 10 races that are in the chase. Maybe there are some that are always part of it. Maybe it always ends in Homestead. I don’t know. But I’d like to see it change all the time so we don’t have the same 10 in every single year.”
THIS RACE HAS ALWAYS BEEN A TALE OF THE ENTIRE SEASON AND A MICROCOSM OF YOUR CAREER, AS WELL. FOR THE FIRST DECADE, THIS WAS YOUR RACE. NOW IT’S BECOME JIMMIE JOHNSON’S RACE. HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR YOU NOW TO BEAT JIMMY AT WHAT HAS BECOME HIS OWN GAME HERE?
“This is a tough race track. It’s also a track where everyone brings out their best whether it be pit crew, driver, race car or whole combination. They bring their best because this is such a prestigious race. That’s why I think you see champions or championship contenders compete so well at this race and win this race. Those are the teams that are able to step up when it matters most and not only win this race but go on to be a champion. And who has done that better in the last 10 years than the 48 team? They will be very tough this weekend. This race means a lot to them like it does to so many others. They certainly are in championship form and I’d have to put them at the top of the list of teams to beat. For the rest of us, we’re going to put all that aside and run our race to see if we can finish ahead of the 48. If you can do that, you’re probably going to win this race and be proud of that accomplishment. I hope there were teams that felt that way when we were winning here. But I think they might be taking it to another level.”
YOU’VE TALKED ABOUT YOUR LOVE FOR THE INDY 500. IT LOOKED LIKE YOU WOULD NEVER GET A CHANCE TO RUN HERE, BUT WHAT WERE YOUR FEELINGS WHEN THE TIRE TESTS WERE GOING ON, THE FIRST RACE AND NOW LOOKING BACK?
“So many great memories of all that… a little bit of history, if I can. When you’re racing locally nearby here, it doesn’t matter your name or what kind of car you drive. Your goal is to race here in May. Everybody that I raced with every weekend would talk about, ‘Oh, I have a chance at a ride with this team or that team.’ Whatever it was, it was always the buzz. Your goal that weekend was to win enough races to get the opportunity to go race in the Indianapolis 500. And what was pretty eye-opening was that none of those guys were very successful here. When I started pursuing that a little more and having some success, I realized very early and quickly that the chances of me doing it were very slim and getting a top ride was very slim. So it was pretty easy for me to look at other places and go down south after some people encouraged me to do it. Immediately I started getting opportunities – good opportunities – and that’s what changed it all for me. I did sort of move away from those dreams and thoughts in the late 80s and early 90s because of how that all went down.
“When I saw there were going to test here, I was excited because it was cool but I was disappointed because I wasn’t there. It looked like so much fun that day, the way they were swapping positions. It was an exhibition but looked like a fun exhibition that I wanted to be a part of. I was thrilled to be a part of it in 1994 when it actually happened. It was a dream come true to win that race.”
DO YOU FEEL THIS TRACK NEEDS LIGHTS? WOULD YOU LIKE TO RACE HERE UNDER LIGHTS?
“It doesn’t need lights. I think it would be awesome to race here at night. But this goes back again to the history of the Indy 500 and the racing here. Yes, there is tradition with the Brickyard 400 but it’s not the tradition the Indy 500. I would never want to see the Indy 500 run under the lights. But the Brickyard 400 breaks traditions. It always has – by being the first stock car race to happen here. Someone could tell me more about the history of the track but I always heard that was the only other race to happen here. I think they had a bicycle race here one time. So why not change it up? Why not have the race have some different scenarios in the days that it’s run? Let’s have a night race. I think that would be awesome.”
HOW DO YOU THINK A RACE WOULD DO FROM A FAN’S STANDPOINT?
“ night would be key. From what I’ve seen from other night races we go to, fans seem to enjoy it. races can get a little tricky with travel and all those things. It seems like when it’s a night, it’s an exciting thing for fans and competitors. I’ve not seen a night race not be a win-win for everyone.”
“Just naïve, inexperienced and probably not understanding and appreciating the full scope of what’s going on – which can be a good thing and a bad thing. Sometimes you only get that over time, and then over time you may overthink it. The thing I’m most proud of today is having those experiences of winning – especially races like this – with my family. We went to Victory Lane at Homestead last year and it was one of my favorite victories that I’ve ever had. Yeah, it was cool to win at Homestead but the feeling of having them there as they get older is greater. I didn’t have that when I was younger. I just didn’t think about it… just went in to it and did what I was supposed to do and moved on from it very quickly. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I do today. Today I savor the moment, I appreciate it more than I ever have and soak it up to make it last as long as I possibly can. To share it with them is the ultimate.”
WOULD YOU REALLY LIKE TO SEE A CUP RACE AT ELDORA?
“I would love to see a Cup race at Eldora. Yes, I think that would be awesome. You know what I would love to see a Cup race at Eldora. I don’t know you know you don’t know until you get out there and try. Those guys look like they were having a lot of fun. I think I would rather have Kyle Larson drive my car because I thought he was awesome. He was unbelievable. I love Eldora, love the dirt and I enjoyed racing the dirt late model there. I would love to see what a Cup car could do. I think Tony (Stewart) did a great job preparing. At first I was a little disappointed the track was so hard and slick, but then when you see the race you understand that it actually makes for a much better race and that it’s necessary. I think they had windshields in to so that might have been a little tricky with mud. I thought it was way cool. Everywhere I’ve gone this week I’ve had people that are huge NASCAR fans and people that aren’t big NASCAR fans at all that watched it and they were blown away they did not expect it to go the way that it did. I thought why not have more races on a dirt track. I don’t think you will ever see a Cup race there at least not while I’m driving, but I would certainly vote for it. I think it would be very cool to do.”