TALK ABOUT BEING AT TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY A TRACK WHERE YOU’VE HAD SUCCESS AND THE SEASON COMING DOWN TO THE WIRE.
“It’s definitely a tense period of time. Actually it’s a lot of fun once I can really slow things down and pay attention to it. Having another shot at a championship this year is something I’m very proud of, and I know our race team is. Having to race so hard for it and fight for each and every point as we have is, in most situations, a lot of fun. It’s not over yet. There is still a lot to go. It’s going to be this way to the end. I’m excited and looking forward to it. We tested here before and I feel good about our car. We should have a good weekend. We just wrapped up a few days in Homestead, so I feel good about our stuff. When we pulled in to test here and at Homestead, we noticed Joe Gibbs Racing was there too, so it’s not like we’ve been getting a leg up on Matt (Kenseth). Jeff Gordon for that matter has been at test sessions too. It’s hard to feel like we found something over them, but we had two really good test sessions.”
FOR YOU AND MATT, 1.5-MILE TRACKS HAVE BEEN STRONG POINTS FOR YOU. IT SEEMS LIKE AT THIS PLACE IN THE GEN-6 CAR, YOU’VE RUN SOMEWHAT BETTER THAN HE HAS. AT NEW HAMPSHIRE AND MARTINSVILLE, HIS TEAM MADE GOOD STRIDES THAT HE DIDN’T EXPECT. ARE YOU CONCERNED THEY COULD PULL ANOTHER GREAT SETUP OUT OF THE HAT?
“I think Martinsville is the best example of that. Matt and his team, the direction their cars are going, you can’t look at past history and say that you can count on a 15th-place average at Martinsville for Matt. I think the championship battle brings the very best out of people, and he and his people are bringing their best each and every weekend. I feel in order to win the championship you have to be up front racing for the win. I expect to see the No. 20 there each and every week.”
NOT EVERY RACE AT THIS TRACK IS MEMORABLE, BUT IT SEEMS LIKE THE ONES THAT ARE INVOLVE DUELS LIKE YOU AND KESELOWSKI LAST YEAR, OR YOU AND MATT IN 2007. IS THERE SOMETHING ABOUT THIS TRACK THAT PRODUCES MORE OF THE SIDE-BY-SIDE BATTLES FOR THE WIN IN THE CLOSING 10-15 LAPS?
“I think it has to do with the lanes and options we have to run around here. At the 1.5-miles especially the freshly paved ones, the bottom lane is the preferred groove. Once you get the position on someone, you usually end up going by. Here and if you look at Atlanta and how many good side-by-side finishes we’ve had there, you can’t complete a pass as easily as you think because there is a second lane. You don’t storm on by at the bottom.”
WOULD YOU SAY YOU AND MATT HAVE SIMILAR PERSONALITIES, AND DOES THAT HELP YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT HE IS THINKING ON THE RACE TRACK?
“I think we do have a lot of similarities in the way we race. Being around him, off the track as well and with his family, we have a lot in common. I wouldn’t say we are identical. But we do have something very deep down that is very common between the both of us the way we approach things a little more laid back.”
WHEN YOU SEE BOXING MATCHES, THE GUYS GET TOGETHER AND THEY ARE FIERCE IN FRONT OF THE MEDIA, AND THEN THEY GO THEIR SEPARATE WAYS UNTIL THEY DO BATTLE. HERE, YOU AND MATT PASS EACH OTHER IN THE MEDIA CENTER AND LIVE NEAR EACH OTHER AT THE TRACK. HOW WILD IS IT FIGHTING AN INTENSE BATTLE AND BE SO CLOSE TO THEM? AND DO YOU THINK THERE IS AN ELEMENT OF WHEN IT’S YOUR YEAR, IT’S YOUR YEAR?
“I think when it’s your year, it’s your year. You can look back on it once the season is over and where things could have turned badly for you, but fortune came your way. It’s just too tough now, especially with it tied up in the points like it is. Coming into our sport, ever since I got on four wheels and had teammates and the dynamic of competing hard. We were joking at the test at Homestead and I was saying that you know these people and have friendships outside of the car or they are teammates. Then you get in the car and you think badly about that guy and want bad things to happen to him. That dynamic started when I got on four wheels.
“When I raced dirt bikes, I raced for myself. You really don’t have teammates or have to worry about from a team standpoint. Since I’ve been on four wheels, it’s there and that’s a tough thing to get used to. I think kids coming along in today’s world are far more open-minded to it. I feel like the way I was raised and always had a teammate that I came in under prepped for this. I was very thankful, and it was something both Rick (Hendrick) and Jeff (Gordon) liked when I came on board. Some of the other guys ahead of me like (Jerry) Nadeau and some of the other folks at Hendrick didn’t grow up under that system. It was more difficult for them to open up and share like they needed to do. At the end of the day it’s a different dynamic than a lot of other sports. But people question sometimes how we can put our helmets on and go to work and race as hard as we do. All of us in here know it. You see it each and every week. But there really is two worlds outside-the-car and in-the-car world.”
LAST YEAR (BRAD) KESELOWSKI WENT AROUND AND REPAIRED ALL THE DAMAGED RELATIONSHIPS HE HAD WHEN HE WAS RUNNING FOR A CHASE. YOU HAVE GREG BIFFLE THAT YOU HAD THE RUN IN LAST WEEK. DID HE FINALLY CALL YOU? IF SO DO YOU FEEL LIKE IT’S IN THE PAST?
“I do feel like it’s in the past. We unfortunately haven’t had a chance to talk. We have been in communication through texts trying to get together. He has had a busy week. I was in Homestead testing for a couple of days. I do feel like things are under control there and I feel like if he was that angry in the car he probably would have turned me around in Martinsville. I just don’t see how it would linger on and over. I certainly hate that things turned out as they did. I don’t think it’s going to go any further.”
ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN IN RACING, BUT LOOKING BACK AT MARTINSVILLE WHERE YOU WERE A HEAVY FAVORITE COMING IN AND GOT AN OKAY RESULT. DO YOU THINK WE MAY LOOK AT MARTINSVILLE RESULT AS A TURNING POINT IN THE CHASE?
“I don’t know. The biggest difference in our finishing order I guess would be Talladega so far. It depends on which way it goes. If it goes the No. 48 direction then you might look at a different race. If it goes the No. 20 way you would definitely look at Martinsville. There still are three races left there is no telling what is going to happen.”
WHEN MATT (KENSETH) WAS IN HERE HE WAS DISCUSSING 2006 IN LAS VEGAS YOU GOT HIM IN THE LAST CORNER. 2007 HERE YOU ENDED UP BEATING HIM. THAT STILL STINGS HIM. HOW HARD IS IT TO LET THOSE GO AND HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THAT GENERAL DYNAMIC OF RACING AGAINST HIM THAT HARD THROUGHOUT THE YEARS?
“Those moments do sting and I have one with Carl Edwards in Atlanta. I see the video occasionally and it still hits me deep. ‘Man I can’t believe I came that close to winning and it slipped away 50 yards from the finish line’. Those do stick around. It doesn’t make me want to crash Carl or dislike him or race him any harder, you just hate that it got away. Matt and I have always had a very good respect for one another on the track especially in the Cup Series at this level. We have been able to get to that line and respect each other on the track. Accidents do happen and stuff can happen. We are out there racing hard for our team for a championship and we will see how things turn out. I expect really good racing as we get through these next three races.”