TALK ABOUT YOUR OUTLOOK THIS WEEKEND AS WE EMBARK ON THE SECOND RACE OF THE CHASE
“We had a nice run at Chicago. I felt like, at times in the race, we had a chance to win. We still came out of there with a very good top-10 finish. We certainly had challenges to overcome throughout the night. So, to take a challenging and eventful night and turn it into a top-5, I think says a lot about the team and the speed we have. The August stretch is now hopefully long and far behind us in our rear view mirror. We’re excited and optimistic for this week. This is a track the (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) really likes and we’ve had good success here.Of course you want to win, but knocking down those top-5’s and top-10’s if you don’t have the best today, and just not get too far behind this early in the Chase is important.”
WHEN YOU COME OUT OF THE PITS ARE YOU ARE BACK IN THE 20’S, AND KNOW YOU HAVE A LOT TO DO, DO YOU SEE RED? DO YOU GET MAD? HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT? ARE WE GOING TO HAVE A LOT OF FUN NOW?
“No, no fun. Traffic is so tough to get through. Definitely seeing red. A lot of complaining on the radio. Just before we took the green on that run before we got to third, a lot of complaining. I’m like man, I need track position, you’re killing me, I need track position. And once I got to I think fourth, or something, (spotter) Earl (Barban) came on the radio and said, ‘Hey buddy. There’s that track position you wanted.’ So, I was complaining a lot; especially the second time because it’s so hard to get back through the field. And that second to last run, man we were flying. And I was still fast the last run, but we had perfectly matched set of tires and everything rolling right on that second to the last run.”
SOME OF THE GUYS IN THE CHASE HAD TOUGH RUNS AT CHICAGO. YOU SHOWED IN ’06 THAT YOU FINISHED IN THE HIGH 30’S HERE BUT STILL WON THE CHAMPIONSHIP. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT NOT GIVING UP HOPE AND THAT THERE IS STILL A CHANCE TO WIN THE TITLE?
“Yeah, you can’t give up hope. That’s not the way you want to start the Chase. Last year I had two bad races and really one in Phoenix where we crashed, and still had a chance going to Homestead. So I think there still is a chance for them. Unfortunately, they’re losing control. And that’s what no one wants to have happen. As you have poor finishes or bad finishes or whatever the cause, you lose control. And that’s the worst part. But we’ll see. In 10 races, anything can happen. Talladega is still out there in front of us and I think once you get through Talladega, the championship picture becomes much more clear. And again, not the way they want to start, but it’s not time to panic yet.”
WERE YOU SURPRISED WHEN YOU HEARD THE NEWS THAT NAPA WAS LEAVING MICHAEL WALTRIP RACING? WHAT TYPE OF IMPACT DO YOU THINK IT HAS ON TEAMS TO ACTUALLY SEE A SPONSOR LEAVE OVER SOMETHING LIKE THAT?
“Yes, definitely shocked. The long-standing relationship that Michael has had with Napa; definitely shocked. I don’t know what message it sends. Clearly there’s been a lot of things flushed out and discussed over the last couple of weeks. And the sponsor stood up and said hey, this it where we stand.
“And I saw something where Michael had spoken to his other sponsors and they’re all behind him. In this tough economy and tough world right now, we hate to see sponsors leave. And It’s going to be very challenging for MWR with the loss of such a major sponsor.”
ON RESTARTS, WHAT WAS YOUR VIEWPOINT LAST WEEKEND? WHAT KIND OF IMPACT MIGHT IT HAVE HERE BECAUSE OF THE DIFFERENT TRACK CONFIGURATION?
“I think it’s good. I think it’s taken a little bit away from the leader, which is okay. The leader, with knowing that you couldn’t, in most cases, couldn’t be beat back to the start/finish line, you could set things up to get the person next to you to lift. I think Jeff (Gordon) was kind of talking about it earlier.
“When second is on the inside, and you’re on a 1.5-mile and you have that big apron down below, if you can get second to lift, now he’s three-wide and someone next to him is slowing him down, you’ve got a big advantage. So, it’s taken away some advantage from the leader, which is fine. I think it will promote a better start; less controversy clearly, but a chance for better racing through (Turns) 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and maybe more lead changes. That’s good for our sport, directionally. I still think we need to focus on how guys lay back. And when you have a huge apron down below like we did last weekend (at Chicago), it’s easy to lay back three-quarters of a car length to a car length, and roll up on the driver in front of you and be inside.
“So, that’s the part that I think we need to focus on next; but definitely a good change.”
BUT THERE IS STILL A LOT OF GAMESMANSHIP THAT CAN TAKE PLACE
“A lot. There’s some. The ace everyone had in their pocket was knowing the leader couldn’t be beat. Now, when the green is out, it doesn’t matter. That does change it. There’s change on both sides, for the leader and for second. I think it makes life easier for second.
“If the leader spins, you’re not put in the position; you know, did he spin is questionable enough, am I only six inches ahead? Is that going to be viewed all right by the tower? It takes away a little from both sides. But, I think in the end it’s a better product and easier to officiate.”
YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT JUST TRYING NOT TO GET TOO FAR BEHIND THIS EARLY IN THE CHASE. BUT HOW BADLY DO YOU NEED A BREAKOUT WIN SINCE YOU HAVEN’T WON SINCE JULY? CAN YOU KEEP THAT STEADY APPROACH OR DO YOU NEED TO WIN ONE HERE PRETTY QUICKLY?
“When you get to the Chase, at least my focal point, you can’t look back on the regular season. It doesn’t matter if you dominated it or if you’ve been behind. It’s a 10-race stretch of it’s own. With that in mind, I haven’t won in a week. I finished fifth and had a shot to win last week. So, that’s how you have to look at it honestly. I know that Dover, Martinsville, our performance on the plate tracks this year, and on 1.5-miles in general, I know there are very good opportunities for us ahead. So, blinders on. Focus on the No. 48. Focus on what we need to do and not let the outside opinions or what goes on to be a distraction for us. We need to run our best 10. I honestly feel if we put together our 10 best races, we’ll be in contention for the championship.”
WITH THE RULES THAT CAME DOWN LAST WEEK, DO YOU THINK IT’S GOING TO HAVE ANY KIND OF CHILLING EFFECT ON WHETHER OR NOT YOU ARE ABLE TO FUNCTION ON THE RACE TRACK AS TEAMMATES WITHOUT CALLING INTO QUESTION WHETHER OR NOT YOU’RE WALKING THAT FINE LINE THAT NASCAR HAS SET? CAN TEAMMATES STILL HELP EACH OTHER IN SOME WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM?
“Yeah, you can let a guy by to lead a lap; and the flow of the race and what goes on is still the same. I guess the ruling might have a different meaning for one team versus another. For us, and it’s the way we’ve raced; and the only team orders we have ever had at Hendrick Motorsports is don’t crash your teammate. That’s it. One very simple rule.
“And we still break that rule, at times. So, for us, it hasn’t been a big change. There is obviously a spotlight on things and I feel it was a rare situation. I’m sure it’s happened more than once in our sport, but it was pretty rare. And I think NASCAR has the language they need in the rule book. We certainly have the eyeballs paying attention now for stuff like that and to jump on top of it next time if it happens.
“It doesn’t change the Hendrick mindset. So, we’ll still function and do what we can. And right now, I’ve got three teammates. All four of us are in the Chase. Anybody who saw the closing laps with (Jeff) Gordon and I at Chicago knows that we were both very hungry for that one point. I mean he almost had me passed two or three times and I was able to rally back on the outside.”
AS YOU KNOW, JUAN PABLO MONTOYA IS MOVING TO INDYCAR AT THE END OF THE YEAR. HOW DO YOU LOOK AT HIM AS A RACE CAR DRIVER? HOW HAS HE IMPRESSED YOU ? WHAT CAN YOU SAY ABOUT THE CHALLENGES HE’S FACED WITH A SMALLER TEAM THAN YOUR TEAM?
“It’s only been a couple of times, but I’ve had a chance to see him in a high downforce car and on a road course, which would be in the GRAND-AM Series. My opinions and ability to race with him and his car knowledge of a stock car is one thing. When you go to a lighter downforce car, road course in general, and watch Juan do his thing, he blisters everybody. So, I feel very confident that he’s going to be successful going back to IndyCar. I certainly want him to be safe. He’s had a rollcage around him for a long time now and I’m sure he’s grown used to that comfort level and safety factor that’s there.
“But his ability to get through a road course on brakes and turn-in speed and all that stuff, he’s gifted. That’s why he won the CART championship and went to F-1 and had the success that he did. And stock cars are a different animal. So, I have high hopes for him. The one thing that I’ve heard through (A.J.) Allmendinger is that the IndyCar world has changed quite a bit and it’s ultra-ultra competitive over there. And he has come back with his eyes wide open saying you have no idea how hard those guys run week-in and week-out. So I am assuming there will be some type of acclimation process for him to get up to speed and get going, but he’s going to do just fine.”