WATKINS GLEN IS ONE OF THE FEW TRACKS WHERE YOU HAVEN’T WON. THAT COULD CHANGE VERY QUICKLY. TALK ABOUT YOUR PROGRESSION AS A ROAD COURSE DRIVER:
“The road course tracks, this one came a little easier to me than Sonoma. We ran the Nationwide cars here, which certainly helped. But I seemed to be up to speed right away when we got here with the Nationwide program. In the Cup car, I’ve been competitive. I think I’ve been a Top 3 or Top 5 car. If you run long enough in the Top 3 or Top 5, you’ll have your chances to win. But I just haven’t been that race-winning car or maybe the car’s been there, I just haven’t been the race-winning driver yet here. I look forward to another opportunity this year. It’s a very fun race track to drive around. I had the pleasure of racing the GRAND-AM car here and went through the boot and really enjoyed that experience. So, all in all, I love the area and I love the track. We’re generally pretty competitive and hope to be more competitive this weekend.”
AFTER LAST WEEK, DID IT EVER STRIKE YOU AS HOW CRAZY IT SEEMED TO LOSE A TIRE, HIT THE WALL, HAVE ISSUES ON PIT ROAD, AND GAIN GROUND IN THE POINTS?
“The last restart, I saw where the No. 15 (Clint Bowyer) was and I thought, okay, I’m not going to lose many points to him. And it wasn’t a lap later when he and I were close to one another and then I got to the outside of him I think off of (Turn) 1 and then we raced side-by-side through (Turn) 3 to the Finish Line. I knew it was close, but either way I knew I wasn’t going to lose a lot of the points lead. I lost some to the field, but not many to second place. So that was pretty cool to come back and I was shocked that it took over a day for Clint to send me a text, a very colorful text. I expected one much sooner from him but it took a day and then I got it.”
HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO WRAP YOUR MIND AROUND WHAT HAPPENED TO TONY STEWART ON MONDAY AND ALSO THE PROSPECTS OF A CHAMPIONSHIP BATTLE WITHOUT HIM BEING A PART OF IT?
“Yeah, it’s a big loss for our sport and certainly I know that Tony is feeling bad about being injured and the affect that it has on his Cup team. It’s crazy to think that he won’t be a player in the Chase. It’s not something that I would have ever thought, as the year got started. But, you know, I look at the coverage and opinions that are flying around and it’s troubled me some to see people giving him a hard time about his decisions to race other vehicles. We always praise him for his contributions to the motorsports world and his ability to drive and race anything and to own all these different types of vehicles. And then you look at the race tracks that he owns and his involvement with. The guy has done so much for our sport and of course we don’t want to see him injured, but I’ve been disappointed that people have given him a hard time over it.
“I personally praise him for all that he does for our sport, including driving sprint cars Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, andFriday. It’s unfortunate he got hurt but at the end of the day, the opinions that matter the most are Gene Haas’s and his sponsors. And they all knew what was going on and the risks that come with racing a sprint car. And there are some. There are some in any form of auto racing. But, again, I hate he is injured but I would be bummed if he didn’t continue to race all during the week as he has, once he is healed up from his injury because that’s the Smoke we know and love and they guy we all praise. Again, it’s just kind of a bummer to see some people giving him a hard time over it.”
HAVE ANY SPONSORS OR OWNERS EVER TOLD YOU NOT TO RACE IN OTHER SERIES? ALSO, JOEY LOGANO IS DRIVING A NO. 48 CAR IN THE NATIONWIDE RACE. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT?
“I didn’t know (laughs). I didn’t know about that. You know, every driver has an approval process that he has to go to, to compete in any other form of racing. First you go to your sponsor. In some cases, you need to go to your manufacturer to get approval. And you always go to the sponsor to get their approval. So, any and every driver has approval before they can climb into another vehicle. Our Cup contract supersedes anything else that’s out there. And you need to have approval and everybody sign off before you enter another event.”
THEY ARE PROJECTING ONE OF THE LARGEST CROWDS EVER AT THE GLEN THIS WEEKEND. WHY DO YOU THINK THIS TRACK HASN’T SEEN THE DROP-OFF IN ATTENDANCE THAT OTHER TRACKS HAVE?
“I think there’s great racing history here and people really love coming out here. If you go back to the Formula 1 days and IndyCar and GRAND-AM and NASCAR’s presence here, the fans here know and understand road course racing. And they appreciate it and love it. I think that’s really the reason why. They are familiar with road course racing and enjoy watching the Cup cars go around here.”
WHAT DO YOU EXPECT AT A TRACK LIKE THIS, AGGRESSION-WISE, FROM OTHER DRIVERS?
“It seems that we’ll start the race playing the ‘give and take’ game. And then as someone has something taken from the, they’re angry and then that take and take. And before you know it, the whole field is busy taking and no one is giving. The speeds are a lot higher here (than Sonoma). There’s really one area to be extremely greedy, which is Turn 1. Into the Bus Stop, you can try to be brave, but there are big penalties if you don’t make it. And I think out of (Turn) 10 into (Turn) 11, some guys can be greedy there; but again, the speeds are high and there is so much to lose if it goes wrong. Whereas when you go to Sonoma, the top speed is much lower and the majority of the braking zones are a lot slower, you can be brave. You can run into people; knock people out of the way and not lose as much. I don’t think we’ll see as much action as we did in Sonoma. But road course racing, especially any type of green-white-checkered at the end, you’d rather use someone up than be used up. I think that’s everybody’s philosophy when you get to a green-white-checkered.”
“The position we’re in, we can be aggressive; maybe not from running people over. That’s not in my wheelhouse to start with, but we can be aggressive from fuel strategy or tire strategy because of where we are in the points. When you get to the end of the race and it’s those short runs, if there is a caution, being aggressive usually pays off, it seems like to some degree. You do have to go race these guys next week. At least I think about that. I know some don’t, but I do.”
YOU ARE POSSIBLY ABLE TO CLINCH A SPOT IN THE CHASE. CAN YOU COMMENT ON THAT AND ALSO DISCUSS WHERE YOU NEED TO FINISH AND WHERE OTHER DRIVERS NEED TO FINISH FOR YOU TO CLINCH?
“Yeah, from the way I understand it leaving Pocono, Tony (Stewart) is in that position for us to clinch. It’s not the way I want to clinch, by any means with him not being here at the race track, but in my mind I’ve felt like our four wins have had us locked-in anyway. I’ve had great comfort and ease feeling like I’m locked in. So, if we do lock in mathematically, that’s great; but certainly not under the circumstances that I’d want it to happen.”
YOU’VE KNOWN MAX PAPIS FOR 100 YEARS. WHAT DO YOU EXPECT OUT OF HIM THIS WEEKEND IN THAT KIND OF EQUIPMENT (SUB FOR TONY STEWART IN NO. 14 CHEVY SS)? AND, WHAT IS A SUCCESSFUL WEEKEND FOR HIM?
“First of all I’m excited because his mom is here and she can cook one heck of a meal (laughter)! So, I’m going to sneak over to the Papis bus. And Max and (wife) Tatiana can cook anything as well. So there’s good food floating around. I think Max has shown us all (his) love of our sport and we all enjoy being around him and experiencing his passion for the sport. I think the ovals have been a challenge for him to understand and learn, which it has been for a lot of open-wheel guys that come into our sport. But I wish he was still out there in that situation. But in a road course environment, he does an amazing job. And his has history with Hendrick. I think he tested the No. 14 car prior to Tony’s injury. His personality and enthusiasm is contagious. People want him around. I know he’ll do a great job on the race track. He’s been in position to run well, if not win, in the Nationwide Series; and guys have just used him up late. So hopefully with the No.14 on the door and the respect people have for that No. 14 car and the team, they won’t use him up when he’s having a good day on Sunday.”
REGARDLESS OF WHAT PEOPLE THINK ABOUT EXTRACURRICULAR RACING, FROM A SPONSOR’S POINT OF VIEW DO YOU THINK WHAT HAPPENED TO TONY STEWART MAY CAUSE A MORE RESTRICTED CLIMATE IN TERMS OF WHAT SPONSORS IN GENERAL REQUIRE FROM CUP DRIVERS?
“It might. You have an opportunity to evaluate after you go through a situation like this and I’ll be interested, like all, to see what Tony’s sponsors say and then clearly, Gene Haas’s opinion on it all. But again, they knew the risks going into it on the front side. So, I wouldn’t expect a huge change and I really hope there wouldn’t be. On my side, my sponsor has been very supportive of other series that I’ve wanted to race and it’s really been my decision to not race other events. Just (due to) family time and to be around and to experience that stuff and not be racing all the time.
“But, we’ll have to see as time goes. I don’t think it’s going to change the environment for other drivers and sponsors because we have an approval process that we’ve always had to go through. I mean this doesn’t open up something new that hasn’t been discussed or thought about amongst driver/owner contracts or driver/sponsor contracts. Any time we want to run another vehicle, we have to go through the process and get approval. So, I don’t think it’s going to change that. Tony’s role might change a little bit. I hope it doesn’t, again. But that would be really just their team looking at it.”
YOU MENTIONED ‘THE BOOT’ HERE AT THE GLEN AND YOU’VE RACED IT IN GRAND-AM. DO YOU EVER SEE NASCAR DOING THE BOOT (INCLUDING IN CONFIGURATION)?
“I would love them to run us down through there. I don’t know the Turn number, but the first corner would be exciting in one of our race cars. You can crest the hill and have a blind entry into that left-hander. I could see us having some big problems there would be my only concern (laughs); but we’re professionals. We understand the risks and I think it would be worth the risk to run us through there. It is a very, very fun experience down through ‘the boot’.”
DO SEE ROOM, EVER, FOR A ROAD COURSE IN THE CHASE FORMAT?
“It wouldn’t hurt my feelings, but there are others much higher up the food chain than myself, that make those decisions. You’d probably have a mixed opinion from drivers as to who would want it and who would not. I think a factor to consider would be attendance and viewership; and for whatever reason, we seem to slip a little in viewership and attendance when we get to a road course event.
“The ovals seem to be stronger in what our core fans like to see and experience. So, I think the decision is more inside of that than anything. But if it was on personal opinion, I wouldn’t have a problem with it at all.”
YOU HAVE BEEN SAVING YOUR TESTS AS YOU RAMP-UP FOR THE CHASE. IN YOUR POSITION, EVERY RACE TO SOME DEGREE IS RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT FOR THE CHASE. BUT WITH THIS WEEKEND PLUS MICHIGAN AND BRISTOL, THOSE TRACKS DON’T REALLY COMPARE, SO WHAT DO YOU TAKE AWAY FROM THESE TRACKS WHERE THERE’S REALLY NOT A DIRECT COMPARISON THAT YOU ARE GOING TO VISIT THAT HELPS YOU GET READY FOR THAT CHAMPIONSHIP RUN?
“We can learn a little at Michigan, I think, to carry over. But you’re right with Bristol and here. It doesn’t apply to anywhere. But they are great race tracks and trophies to go get. Both would be very meaningful to me; all three would. I have not won here before and I would love to scratch this track off the list. Michigan, I’ve been close six, eight, or 10 times and haven’t been able to close the deal there and would love that opportunity. And then the Bristol night race is just awesome, and I again, would like to win that race. So, there may not be Chase set-up implications through these three races, but they certainly are on (my) personal agenda and would do great things for the team (in) boosting morale, and bonus points to go get. So, there’s still a lot on the line and we’ll be aggressive to try to go out there and win.”
HAVE YOU SPOKEN WITH TONY STEWART SINCE HIS ACCIDENT?
“I have not. He was never good at answering his phone to start with (laughter) and now it’s an even more difficult time to touch base. I’ve certainly tried. I’ve been in touch with Eddie (Jarvis) quite a bit and I’m going to try to go see him next week. We’ll go see him and track him down because he’s terrible at answering his phone (laughs).”