ARE YOU READY TO CHECK-OFF MICHIGAN ON YOU WIN LIST?
“I’ve been ready for a long time. We’ve been so close here. But, when it happens, it will make it all that sweeter for us. The exciting thing is we’ve been plenty fast here over the years. But getting to the final lap and seeing that checkered flag has been a little more difficult than I could imagine.”
THE WAY YOU’RE RUNNING THIS YEAR, CAN YOU COMPARE THAT TO THE FEELING YOU MIGHT HAVE HAD OVER THE FIVE-YEAR STRETCH OF CHAMPIONSHIPS? ARE THERE PARALLELS? ARE THERE SIMILAR THINGS YOU ARE FEELING IN TERMS OF HOW GOOD YOU ARE RIGHT NOW?
“There are points in time. But it’s still so early to think ‘championship’. And I know it might sound crazy, but I still just thinking ‘Chase’. A lot can go wrong. You can hit a streak of bad races. I feel like our wins right now will lock us in there; but my mind is still on running well now and getting ready for the Chase, honestly.
“And in the Chase, there definitely is a feeling that takes place. You have to have speed. You have to have Lady Luck shine on you at times. You’ve got to make things happen. You’ve got to overcome adversity. But right now, things are pretty calm for us and we’re off to a great start and that pressure isn’t there. And that pressure is so intense in the Chase and that’s really where those feelings come into play. It will be here before long and I’m going to enjoy these last few months.”
WHAT’S THE LUXURY OF BEING PRETTY-MUCH LOCKED-INTO THE CHASE WITH 11 OR 12 RACES TO GO?
“Just that. The luxury of being locked-in and feeling like three wins will guarantee us a spot in the Chase. At the same time, the big points lead we have can also come back to be a problem. I don’t think it will take place for our team and we’ll focus very hard on not being complacent, but getting off to a quick start is wonderful and great, but you want to peak come September. And I don’t feel like we’re peaking too early. Some may want to say we are and some may want to hope we are, but time will tell and we’ll keep working hard to make sure that we don’t and head into Richmond and the Chase with as much momentum as possible.”
DID YOU THINK IT WOULD BE POSSIBLE FOR YOU TO HAVE SUCH A BIG POINTS LEAD AT THIS POINT IN THE SEASON?
“I really didn’t. And I look at Charlotte and Dover as misses to even have 20 or 30 more points. I really am shocked that we are so far out ahead of everybody. And I know that the No. 20 (Matt Kenseth) has had some bad luck and a couple of other guys have, too. But we’ve had a little bad luck as well. So, I just wish we were in the Chase. I just wish this was the end of the Chase right now (laughs) and we had this big points lead. But, we’ll have to wait until a little later in the year to get started on that.”
ON THE DEATH OF JASON LEFFLER:
“Oh, that was some tragic news. I lost a friend and our sport lost somebody that really was involved and loved this sport and made it his life. And we’re all going to miss him terribly. I certainly think of his family. I think of his little boy, Charlie. It’s just a sad, sad time. I remember meeting Jason in the early nineties; maybe 1992 or 1993. I was at an off-road race in Parker, Arizona and PJ Jones, Paige Jones, and Jason Leffler were all returning from a Sprint Car race to Parker, Arizona to watch the desert race and had a summer home there. And I met Jason then and formed a friendship with him that I’ve had for a lot of years. So, it’s sad, sad news to say the least.”
WHEN YOU WIN A POLE OR ARE FASTEST IN PRACTICE ON A FRIDAY, DO YOU THINK IT SENDS A MESSAGE TO OTHER TEAMS, OR IT’S DEMORALIZING FOR OTHER TEAMS, BECAUSE THEY KNOW ON FRIDAY THAT YOU GUYS ARE FAST?
“Yeah, I think our Friday speed shows what we’ll have for the weekend maybe more than other cars. So there’s that chance; but at least from my standpoint, every time just before it (the track goes hot), it’s a new opportunity for somebody to be better. And I don’t rule others out based on Friday, knowing that we have two practices on Saturday. Even then, if someone’s close on Saturday in second practice, they can dial themselves in for Sunday. I’m not sure what others think of us, but I really don’t want to count anyone out.”
THERE WERE A COUPLE OF ARTICLES EARLIER THIS YEAR COMPARING YOU TO THE CELTICS OR THE YANKEES OR THE CANADIANS IN THEIR HEYDAY. WHAT DO COMPARISONS LIKE THAT MEAN TO YOU?
“I’m very thankful to be recognized like other dominant sports figures and teams. To be honest, that’s what we’re all here to do. I’m just very happy that my hard work and my team’s hard work is all grouped together and we’ve been able to experience that. Not everyone gets to experience it and I’m enjoying it and working hard to maintain it.”
ON BRAD KESELOWSKI’S COMMENTS TO THE MEDIA REGARDING RECRUITING MOVES BY HENDRICK AND GIBBS. ARE YOU FAMILIAR WITH ANY GUYS THAT YOU HIRED FROM PENSKE OVER THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS?
“He raised up a valid point as far as the Roush aspect of sharing information there. That’s something I hadn’t thought of amongst the Ford umbrella. We are friendly with Childress but it’s not like we open up our database and show them all that we have. So, I get that and understand that, for sure. From a crew member standpoint, we do have a mechanic that came over from Roush last year. The real speed in any race car is within the engineers and the crew chiefs. So, I don’t find a lot of merit in that. I think we picked a guy up from Dodge who is on our engineering staff, but he wasn’t all that close within the race team. I’m not saying that he (Keselowski) doesn’t have a point, but I’m not sure that we benefitted greatly from those situations. I think the real truth in what he’s saying is relative to the Penske-Roush relationship. I fully understand that. I’m sure both sides are protecting something. We’re all racing each other for Chase slots and championships and race wins. So, I get that.”
IS THAT JUST A PART OF NASCAR WHERE TEAMS WANT TO HIRE THE BEST EMPLOYEES AND OUTBID EACH OTHER?
“Well, the best employees are under long-term contracts. So, I can’t go get the best Penske guys or Roush guys. They can’t come get the best pit crew guys. That’s just the way it goes. But in every off-season, there’s a lot of people changing guys going to different race shops. Maybe within their own shops they can’t go up the ladder so they have to go elsewhere to go up the ladder. I think of Chad (Knaus, crew chief), Chad started at Hendrick. Went to a few other teams and ended up at DEI (Dale Earnhardt, Inc.) then came back. That is pretty common amongst guys really trying to cut their teeth in the sport.”
BEYOND YOURSELF AND CHAD (KNAUS, CREW CHIEF) DO YOU ALREADY HAVE A CONTRACTS WITH YOUR GUYS LIKE RON MALEC (CAR CHIEF)?
“Oh yeah, it’s common in the industry. Everybody contracts their important people and locks them down as far as they possibly can.”
ON GOING TO SONOMA NEXT WEEK
“I’m excited to get out there. It’s a beautiful time of year to be there. I’ve understood the track and have had some good runs there over the past few years and I look forward to going back out and hopefully getting another road course win.”