TALK ABOUT YOU AND THE TEAM’S MOMENTUM COMING INTO RICHMOND: “Things have been going really well. We didn’t feel quite right today. There were times when we felt pretty good. Race trim got to where I was pretty happy; a couple of small adjustments for tomorrow’s race, and I think we’ll be in a good spot compared to other cars. That’s good. We made one mock run right at the end, and just didn’t go very fast. So, we’re trying to figure out how to do a better job qualifying this afternoon. It should be interesting. The bottom seems really good here, which it has the last couple of times we have raced here. I remember there was a day that you would just keep moving higher and higher. That seemed like the spot to be two or three years ago, and now it is just how low can you go. The track has changed a lot over the last couple of years, but I feel pretty good with our Quaker State Chevrolet.”
DO YOU THINK YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN AWARDED THE WIN LAST WEEK CONSIDERING MATT’S (KENSETH) PENALTY? “I don’t know. I thought about that this week. In sprint car racing, you know you win the Knoxville Nationals and then something is illegal, then the guy in second would win. But, I just think the way NASCAR…to me – it has always been a lot different than that. There have been plenty of penalties after the fact, you know, when the car goes through tech and things. In Matt’s case I would say that as far as what happened with them is to me, from what I’ve read, it seems like a mistake, and it also seems like something that would make zero factor in speed. I think there are a lot of things you can do to gain speed, and go faster, and be more competitive. But, as far as what happened to them and to Matt, because I don’t think that gave them anything at all, maybe less. Who knows? It’s hard to see all that. Matt’s a good guy, and that was a pretty big deal for those guys.”
WAS KYLE LARSON ON YOUR RADAR AT ALL BEFORE HE GOT INTO NASCAR? WHAT DO YOU THINK OF HIM AND HIS ABILITY? “He actually has been because he did some stuff…we get a lot of our sprint car parts through Kaeding Performance out in California. He had a deal with them. He drove one of their sprint cars. So with our relationship out there, we knew a lot about him. My cousin Willie knew a lot about him. I would always hear really good things about him. Then I started paying attention before he got to the Nationwide Series or the Truck Series, or maybe even a year prior to that. He has been pretty impressive since he started. Always has since he’s been on four wheels. I think he is going to stay that way. He is talented. He enjoys racing. That is all he wants to do. He has a lot of drive and passion for it, so I think he’ll be a guy that is going to win NASCAR races for sure.”
YOU ARE OFF TO A GREAT START, WHAT IS IT? IS IT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS? IS THERE SOMETHING DIFFERENT IN YOUR CAREER? WHAT IS IT? “I would say it definitely starts with Hendrick Motorsports. From the car; the preparation at the shop; building the car; building the chassis; the body; the aero side of things. Then the engines run great. Everything from Chevrolet and our engine shop. And then just the relationship – myself, Kenny (Francis, crew chief) and Keith (Rodden, engineer), and our whole team. We have built some of it with the guys from last year, and other parts of it have been going for a long time. So for me, just putting all that stuff together, and being really relaxed and confident. I just feel like we have a shot every week. I really think that we have. We’ve been kind of in the hunt whether it was practice or the race – especially in the race; every race this year.”
DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU ARE GENUINELY A CONTENDER FOR THE CHASE? “I hope to be. I hope as this season goes on we keep getting stronger. There are so many things that go into that in those final 10 races. I think I’ve felt pretty good the last two or three years in those final 10 races – two years – whether we were in the Chase or not, I ran pretty well. So, if we can keep building our team, hopefully we can be one of those guys when that time of the season comes. But, hard to say right now, there is still a lot of racing to go.”
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE IN THE FEELING WHEN YOU COME TO THE TRACK WHEN THINGS ARE GOING SO WELL? “I really feel like Monday, whether when we won at Bristol, or Monday after last weekend, or after Phoenix, or whenever it may have been; Monday or Tuesday I am already ready for the following race, and I am excited for it. Can’t wait to get there. I get to look forward to it all week long. It is nice to have that. I’ve had that before, and I think a lot of people do with what we get to do as far as racing each weekend; something that we love to do. You are always looking forward to three or four days from now. I’ve had that all season and I’ve had it a lot. I think it goes to…just a lot of it’s just to show that I feel that we can win, and I want to win. It’s exciting for me each week. Other than that, I would say a lot of things are the same…similar to last year. Just trying to find where my trailer is parked, where the car is parked…all that stuff. It’s always different. It’s places I’ve never been. To be second in points…I don’t know if I’ve been second before. I don’t recall being second. It feels good.”
DO YOU THINK TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP, YOU CAN CONTINUE AS YOU ARE NOW? OR DO YOU HAVE TO BE A DIFFERENT, MORE AGGRESSIVE KIND OF DRIVER? “I think one of my biggest downfalls since I have been in this Series is being consistent. That is something I’ve worked on. I have really wanted to get better for awhile. Last year I thought we did after the first seven or eight races and carried that through to this year. To me the reason we are where we are at is because we are way more consistent because I have been, and the team has. In order to win the championship, I think you need to win a little bit more. We’ve won one so far. But, consistency is the only way to do it. You can’t fall out of races, and get in wrecks and things like that. I feel like that we are making gains in the right areas. You just have to peak at the right time. You never know which team is going to do that. There are going to be 12 teams that definitely have a shot to do that when that time of the season comes. But right now, it is just about being consistent, figuring out each track and these cars; the tires and the things that they throw at us.”
‘YOU CHASED MATT KENSETH TO THE FINISH LINE AT LAS VEGAS AND AGAIN LAST WEEK AT KANSAS. JGR HAS WON FOUR OF THE FIRST EIGHT RACES. WHEN YOU SEE AN INFRACTION WITH PENALTIES LIKE THIS AS A COMPETITOR, DOES THAT PUT A QUESTION MARK OVER THE TEAM.
“It does not, to me. Not at all. I feel like we’ve always known you don’t mess with engines at any type of racing. It’s a big deal and not a good thing at all. But as far as them and their team and their speed and how they get it each week, I feel like their going to be there all season long. Especially Matt (Kenseth) and Kyle (Busch), and when Denny (Hamlin) comes back and those are three great drivers and three great teams and a great owner. So I don’t see them going anywhere. To me, I don’t feel like they’re cheating in any way. I don’t think that’s what you can even call it. To me it’s more like it was a mistake. You get in trouble for it because it’s a big deal and they’re taking the consequences for it. But to me, they didn’t cheat as far as I look at it in my head.”
YOU TALK ABOUT WORKING TO BE MORE CONSISTENT. AT TIMES YOU CAN’T CONTROL CERTAIN THINGS THAT HAPPEN TO THE CAR. WHEN YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT BEING MORE CONSISTENT, HOW HAVE YOU CHANGED OR WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO AT LEAST CONTROL THE THINGS THAT YOU CAN?
“Over my career there have been plenty of times when things happen that I can’t control or that even the team can’t control. It’s just situations. There have also been plenty of times when I’ve done a bad job in practice with communication or something to where we get the car to where say it’s too loose and we can’t get it back throughout the whole race. So, I take that on myself. I just didn’t get the car right. So for me, a big part is our final two practices of the weekend to be much better there and get the car more consistent to where I feel comfortable and I’m kind of looking ahead into the race and how those races change the feeling of the car and how that changes in the races. That’s where I feel like I need to be more consistent and I think we’ve done a really good job of that for the last year and a half. And there have been other times in my career where I wear myself out and (crew chief) Kenny (Francis) out too. I’ve tried to step-up my side of it and I know that Kenny is always up on his. I think it’s just little things that I’ve seen over the years that I could do a better job of and I feel like I have.”
YOUR EQUIPMENT IS PROBABLY MUCH BETTER THAN WHAT YOU’VE HAD IN YOUR CAREER. IS EQUIPMENT HELPING YOU OR HAVE YOU RISEN TO THE EQUIPMENT, IN THAT SENSE?
“I’d say a little bit of both. Definitely the equipment is great every week. And I agree, and I feel like the equipment is great every week that gives me confidence and we have teammates that you can look at and go ahhh; and see what they did and that helps so we can try some of that stuff. Personally, I’ve had cars that are as good in the past. Some of those race cars were some of the nicest cars I’ve driven.
“Early on, with Ray Evernham, those were some of the nicest cars on the track and had some of the most speed. Back in my rookie year, if I had known what I was doing like I do now, I probably would have won 10 races that year. Not the first year with Evernham. The cars were better than anything out there, or at least as good as probably the Hendrick cars or the Roush cars at the time. Personally, I think I’ve come a long ways and then it’s great to have some of the best equipment and engines every single weekend.”