TALK ABOUT RACING AT MICHIGAN THIS WEEKEND AND THE APPROACHING CHASE:
“Yes, time is going by pretty quick. The Chase is right around the corner. We’re excited to be here. The way the No. 48 ran and all of Hendrick Motorsports ran here in the Spring, we’ve all been excited to come back and hopefully have that pace and lead the race and hopefully get one of the cars in Victory Lane. I certainly want to get the No. 48 to Victory Lane. We’ve tried a lot of years now and have been very close here, but haven’t been able to pull that off. And we had issues that kept all four cars out of great finishes in the Spring race and if we can avoid the varying issues that took place, I think we stand a really good chance of getting into Victory Lane.”
BECAUSE YOU’VE NOT HAD TO FOCUS ON TRYING TO GET IN THE CHASE THIS YEAR, AND IN OTHER YEARS, HAVE YOU LEARNED ANYTHING?
“We’ve worked really hard to maintain the same mindset. There was a year where we started some radical testing and concepts with the car and got off base and entered the Chase pretty weak and not up to par where we wanted to be. So, I think we learned that lesson. I wanted to say that was in 2007 or somewhere in there. But, since then, we really want to obviously perform as good as we can week in and week out. I think there’s a lot in that. And the way things are anymore, especially with the new car, you have to bring something new to the track each week and keep evolving. So, the mindset that we started the year with is really where we’re at now. We’re not making a stronger effort to try different things with the race car and the set-up. We are fortunate to have a lot of test sessions left. We just tested in New Hampshire and we’re going to test at Richmond next week. We have a few more out there that we’ll try to use to try to be prepared for the Chase. But, honestly, there hasn’t been a different mindset this year. We’ve had pace. We’re proud of that. We need to execute. We’ve left some wins on the table and we need to not do that. But, we’ve got to keep inching forward. We can’t sit still. And we’ll try to carry that momentum right into the start of the Chase.”
THIS TRACK (MIS) HAS BEEN NAMED ‘TRACK OF THE YEAR’ IN TERMS OF FAN EXPERIENCES. WHAT DO THE DRIVERS THINK OF IT?
“This track has always been high on the drivers’ list. The repave brought us back down to a pretty narrow racing groove. And in time, we know that will change and we can start racing around the top of the race track once again. The asphalt is too good these days. They just put down such good stuff that it doesn’t wear out or age anytime quick and pins us down to a narrower lane. But I love coming here. This track has worked very well with myself and the young fans; we have a package that we do here with them and I go out and spend some time with the kids. So, I’m very proud of what this race track does with the fans.”
TALK ABOUT THE WINDWARD DREAM CRUISE YESTERDAY. WHAT WERE YOU DRIVING AND HOW WAS THAT? ALSO TALK ABOUT GOING TO BRISTOL NEXT WEEK AND THE CHALLENGES OF GETTING AROUND THAT TRACK:
“At Bristol, we run well. We are probably a Top 3 or Top 5 car there in most circumstances. We were able to get a win once and we definitely want to be better. Not that I’m content with running in the Top 3 or Top 5, but from where I started off, in being a lap down 50 laps in and running 20th all the time there (laughs), I now enjoy going to Bristol. I’m excited to go there. For the longest time, I dreaded going there. I loved watching the races there and being a fan, but in the car was pretty tough on me. So, we certainly hope to be better and we want to go to Victory Lane again.
“At the Windward Dream Cruise, I drove my ’67 Camaro that I built in ’05. It’s been through a few modifications since then. But it has the LS9 engine in it right now and the C5 suspension under it with the ’67 body on it. So it’s a good driving car. It has lots and lots of power and it also turns and stops. So, it’s a fun car to drive. I was able to lay down a little rubber yesterday and drift the car around a little bit and not get pulled over and get arrested, so that was fun.”
THIS IS ABOUT THE ONLY TRACK WHERE YOU’VE BEEN TO MORE THAN A DOZEN TIMES AND HAVEN’T WON. DO YOU KEEP THAT CHECK LIST OF PLACES WHERE YOU HAVE AND HAVEN’T WON? WHAT IS IT ABOUT THIS PLACE THAT HAS KEPT YOU FROM WINNING?
“Yeah, I do pay attention to the tracks I haven’t won at. It’s more on the front side going to the event and building excitement about racing at the track and wanting to win. When the race starts, it doesn’t go through my mind at that point. It has when opportunity slips by, especially here. We’ve been so close that it certainly enters my mind at that point.
“But we’ve had varying issues here and those only consistent one, I would say, has been fuel mileage. We’ve worked hard to improve the car. And then I’ve worked real hard on my driving style to get better fuel mileage here. It seems like we’ve covered that gap, but we’ve had a mechanical or two. We blew a tire this last Spring when we were here. So, there have been a lot of reasons why. But I really look forward to the day I’m able to pull into Victory Lane over here.”
DO YOU THINK YOU ARE AN ANOMALY BECAUSE YOU’VE HAD SO MUCH MORE SUCCESS AT THE HIGHER CUP LEVEL (MORE THAN AT NATIONWIDE LEVEL). DO YOU REMEMBER WHAT CLICKED FOR YOU WHEN YOU MOVED UP?
“Yeah, probably. I look at (Tony) Stewart’s Nationwide career and I think our paths were kind of similar where we didn’t have great success in Nationwide. For me, when I started in Cup, that was my fifth year ever in a stock car. So I think I was really green in my Nationwide days; not only as a rookie in the sport and the cars and the tracks, but in stock cars in general. I had two years in ASA prior to my first year of Nationwide. So, I think I was just behind. And the right circumstances came together being with Hendrick and all of that and my maturity level in the car and understanding everything came along and I kind of peaked at the right time. But when I look at the Nationwide Series today, and I haven’t driven one of those cars in a while, there is great benefit in being in the series and to learn the tracks and kind of learn the basics and fundamentals of adjustments on the car. But I think you can get trapped in those cars too long and develop habits that don’t work in the Cup Series. The Cup cars have so much more power. And you have to drive them so differently that I think it can do some damage if you stayed too long in the Nationwide Series.
“I agree. And you don’t know until you get in there. And when you look at Kyle’s background (reference Kyle Larson) and he’s driving cars with far more power than grip, I think the Cup car will suit his style far better than a Nationwide car. But you do need that foundation of knowing these tracks because when we show up, our fastest lap we run all weekend will probably be our first lap right now. And if Kyle Larson wants to go to Cup next year, that’s tough to do. He’s going to need the whole session to get where he needs to and then you’re five or six adjustments behind the fast guys. And that’s when the Nationwide Series is so good. You can learn the tracks and understand some things there. But you’ve just got to be careful to not stay there too long.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE GEN 6 CAR AND WHY YOU HAVE BEEN SO SUCCESSFUL THIS YEAR? WHAT WOULD A WIN AT MICHIGAN MEAN TO YOU?
“The Gen 6 car, I think Hendrick does a very good job in responding to rules changes or rules that are put out or new cars or whatever it may be. And not always, but most times, we get on top of stuff faster than others. I think that’s been a big benefit to us and plays into the Gen 6 car and the success that we’ve had. A win here would be awesome. It would be a huge victory to win here; especially with how close I’ve been. We’ve had at least five or six that could have happened.”
WHAT DO YOU FIND TO BE SO TOUGH AT THIS MICHIGAN TRACK?
“The track is so different than it’s been in the past that you’ve got to maintain track position. That’s really the key. In the Spring race, we didn’t qualify well but we were able to get to the front. And then through pit strategy, we lost track position a few times and were able to recover. But in the end, I ran the right front (tire) off the car and blew a tire and hit the wall (laughs). So, I think the secret to winning here really falls into the hands of the engineer and the crew chief in what decisions they make late in the race to maintain track position. I think that’s where the key is. For the driver, when you’re out there practicing, you’re going so fast around here and you’re usually running by yourself, that it’s easy to set the car up to run in clean air. And you don’t always get that luxury. So being aware, through practice sessions and even trying to run a little bit in traffic to understand the balance shift, is going to be key today and tomorrow.”
WERE YOU SURPRISED WHEN YOU HEARD THE JUAN PABLO MONTOYA NEWS THIS WEEK?
“A little bit. Juan has been with Ganassi for so long that it did catch me off guard. I’m used to seeing Ganassi winning races and running up front through the open wheel world and I would imagine there would be a shake-up at Ganassi through the off-season. But that did catch me off-guard. They’ve been through some crew chiefs. If I look at the evolution of things, you usually go through a couple of crew chiefs and a driver change and that’s kind of what’s going on. So, yes; shocked, but the more I think about it I feel like there was some change coming there.”
WHAT IS IT THAT IS SO DIFFICULT TO MAKE THE TRANSITION FROM OTHER RACING DISCIPLINES TO THE NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES?
“For me, I feel like you need five years to really know the tracks and the cars and that was really my evolution through the ASA racing through Nationwide and then Cup. So, Juan (Montoya) is at that seven or eight year mark. You kind of get to a spot where you’ve got the experience and there are many reasons why things might not work and I firmly believe in the relationship between the driver and the crew chief is where the magic lies; especially once you’re past that five year mark. One thing that I don’t have first-hand experience with is driving a high downforce car. But in talking with Juan and in talking with Dario (Franchitti) and even Danica (Patrick), it is such a different world in a high-downforce car than in what our vehicles do.
“So, there are challenges there that I don’t understand and sensations that I don’t get and understand. And through all that, I’ve been kind of curious to watch the driver go from stock cars into open wheel. Would it be as difficult or would it be easier for a driver to go to a low downforce situation to a high downforce situation and where that would be. But either way I guess my situation isn’t exactly true, but when you race against people that started off thinking sedan-style vehicles at a young age, that’s all they’ve known their whole life, I think there is something in that.
“And I say that, and that’s not my situation. But I want to believe there’s something in that too, where running in open wheel vehicles his whole life, and the same for Dario or Danica, there are just thing that are engrained in their habits and the way they drive that may not apply to what a stock car needs.”
HOW CAN TESTING THE GEN 6 CAR HELP YOU GET AN ADVANTAGE OVER THE OTHER TEAMS?
“We spend so much time trying to get the cars in an ideal aero situation. The faster the car goes, the more importance aero plays. We are breaking track records everywhere we go. The speeds are up and the aero balance is more and more important. And we’re going to great lengths to get the right attitude in the car and the proper downforce and maximize the downforce that’s available. That’s really where we’re at right now. So as long as we can keep working in those areas, and I think that leads to the troubles that we have on some tracks with passing because you’re so aero-dependant that when you lose the aero assistance and you’re just sitting on the mechanical set-up of the car that’s underneath it, the car isn’t ideal at that point. But that’s the world we live in. Aero is everything.”