WE’RE BACK AT A ROAD COURSE; YOU GUYS DID WELL AT SONOMA. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS COMING BACK TO THE GLEN?
“The Glen has been a little tougher for me over the years and when we came and tested a couple weeks back it really opened up my eyes as to why this road course is so much different than most road courses. It’s the fact that there’s such high speed braking zones and a good quantity of them, that it burns up the front brakes. And so over the years, not to get into too much detail, but I ended up glazing over my brakes a lot. The Nationwide race is a lot shorter here and I’ve won it two times and the Cup race I’ve only gotten one top-five because the brakes are such a big concern the second half of the race. So, I feel like this is the best that I’ve ever been prepared coming into Watkins Glen.”
BECAUSE OF SOME OF THE STUFF YOU JUST MENTIONED, DO YOU HAVE TO SIGNIFICANTLY CHANGE YOUR SETUP FOR THIS RACE AS OPPOSED TO WHAT YOU NEED THE CAR TO DO AT SAY SONOMA?
“The setup I’ve always understood was a little bit different. And now it’s gone into much more detail. The team and me testing here, we just opened up a lot of new things for each other to look at. The years I ran for Roush here were so-so, Penske we had that really good year in 2010 and finished second to Montoya, and since then the 2 car has done really well. So I feel like we’ve got the baseline close now I hope I’m opening a new chapter of finding the exact combination that it takes to win at a track. There’s times when you have good runs like at Bristol for years in a row but you have to change from that program in advance. It’s a good chance for us to again go to a track, test and then find good results from that. We’ve been on a good *** of testing lately. Kind of funny, I was just talking to the guys that they’re all excited to stay home next week in Colorado and mow their lawns, sit on their couches, and just kind of take it easy because we’ve done all our work to prepare our car to be the best that we can be for these next few weeks.”
HERE AT ROAD COURSE RACES THE SETUP IS LESS OF A FACTOR IN THE SUCCESS OF A TEAM THAN JUST THE DRIVER’S ABILITY. THE DRIVER REALLY HAS THE ABILITY TO SHINE WHEN HE HAS THE SKILLS AT A ROAD COURSE RACE VERSUS AN OVAL. DO YOU FEEL THAT EXTRA PRESSURE OR OPPORTUNITY FOR YOU AS A DRIVER TO RISE ABOVE THE PACK HERE AT A ROAD COURSE RACE?
“Yeah, I think short tracks demand different things than intermediate tracks, intermediates are different from superspeedways, just as road courses are different. We can say the percentage that a driver has on the equation is larger at a road course. And so, there’s more that’s in the driver’s hands. Maybe it’s 60% of the equation. Whereas at restrictor plate racing 95% of it is luck and 5% is the driver or crew or preparation. At a short track you got to have all the combinations. At intermediate tracks you got to have pit stops that are going to get you out in front of guys but you have to have the down force. So, road courses yeah you could say the driver has more of the equation than anything else. And for us, we lost Sonoma this year because of the driver. I was speeding on pit road and it’s just a stupid mistake that’ll take you out of the running.”
WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT BRAKES, HOW MUCH OF IT IS THE PACKAGE FOR YOU TO BE ABLE TO USE THEM AND HOW MUCH OF IT IS UP TO YOU TO KIND OF FINESSE YOUR WAY THROUGH?
“I’m going to try to explain this the right way. At all the testing we’ve done this year and me compared to the RCR cars, I’m the easiest guy on brakes. We came here to Watkins Glen and I’m the hardest on brakes. And we were confused on why that was. I mean we saw the spikes in the data, we saw the temperature in the rotors and it’s really odd. And I had no explanation for them. So, we had to go to work. We had to find out why my style of driving was so different here than at other tracks. I think we’ve done our homework. We’ve got a different combination on the car. And we’ll see if it gives us the results that we need. It just showed that I was aggressive on the pedal. I’ve won Nationwide races here but I haven’t crossed over the threshold to win a Cup race. Hopefully this is that last ingredient.”
SO DID THEY SET IT UP SO YOU CAN KEEP BREAKING THE WAY YOU WERE?
“Yes. Yeah, they tailored it to me. I’m like, “I’m confused guys I want to change but when I do change my lap times really suffer.” So, we tried to keep going with my lap times but tried to find the durability in the brakes.”
WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO GET A WIN HERE NOW WITH TONY OUT WHICH OPENS UP ANOTHER WILD CARD POSITION?
“The Tony thing is a different subject but since he’s got a win he’s in that win column group. If we do win then we’re ahead of him and we’re ahead of other guys that have won as well. But if we don’t win we still jump up a spot. And there’s less guys running for those top-10 spots. It’s an interesting dynamic. With Tony’s injury, I won’t get into that. But the way that we just need to keep running consistent, even if we won we still need to stay ahead of guys that have that one win.”
HOW SIGNIFICANT IS IT AT THIS POINT IN THE SEASON TO LOSE A CHASE COMPETITOR? “That’s where we just need to focus on our 78 car. We just need to worry about what we have to do to get our points and to not have bad things happen in the race. It would be the same as Tony spinning and wrecking on Lap 1 in a sense on Sunday. He’s just not going to get any good points. We now have that forecast to know that that’s going to happen before the race even starts. We just need to stick to our game plan now and just stay focused on the 78 car.”
YOU PROVED AGAIN LAST WEEK THE POTENTIAL THIS TEAM HAS. HOW DO YOU STAND NOW AS COMPARED TO WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE EXPECTED BACK IN FEBRUARY WHEN ALL THIS CRANKED UP?
“I was hoping I’d get to answer some of that today. I feel like the team is at its peak right now. We’re going back to tracks for our second time. We know all of the mistakes we made at some of the tracks the first time around. We’ve been able to get stronger as the season has progressed but now we have exact notes together on what I did, what the team did, was the pit crew a little slow this race, was it the shock setup that we ran this race. Yeah, it’s Watkins Glen this weekend but we’ve already been to a road course and we know exactly what we did wrong. The team, like last week, first time going back to a track, second time at Pocono we delivered a top-three finish, ran top-five all day and it was one of our most genuine runs. So, I feel like we’re way beyond where we were in February. We’re way beyond where we were in May. And this is the best the team has been. And right now we’re in this Chase mix, which is a great feeling. I thought we could get to this point. I didn’t know when it would happen but I think all of the science has shown that we have matured and we’ve progressed and we’re now at a point to capitalize on being together the second half of the year.”
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON TONY’S INJURY? YOU’RE A TOP DRIVER THAT RUNS IN OTHER SERIES. WHAT GOES THROUGH YOUR MIND ABOUT RUNNING IN A DIFFERENT SERIES AND GETTING AN INJURY WHERE YOU CAN’T COMPETE?
“There’s always that risk. We’re always on that edge when you’re racing. No matter if it’s a Cup car or a Sprint car. And when you’re out there, like Tony is, leading your crusade for short track racing, he was out there continuing to do what he has been doing all along. He does it for many reasons. One is to keep himself busy and it’s his outlet to enjoy life at a level that’s fun for him. And I’ve been through the ups and the downs of finding fun in racing versus doing the daily/weekly grind. And for him, he’s been leading a crusade for short track racing. We all commend him for doing such. You look at it, he brought the truck series to El Dora and that was the feel-good story a few weeks ago. So for Tony, that’s just the next step of what he wants to do for short track racing. This won’t set him back from doing that anymore. He’ll get back in the car, he’ll keep running those Sprint Car races and he’ll be back in the Cup car. It’s just a bigger speed bump than we all expected. But as drivers they know that there’s a danger and there’s a fear of when things can happen. I mean I’ve run Grand-AM Rolex races, jumped in an Indy car at Indianapolis to drive around in an open cock-pit at 218 miles an hour. It’s a whole different experience and I’m hoping I’m making the right steps in transitioning to run an Indy race that if I do, to do it the right way. But tony, he is the most experienced racer there is, especially in Sprint cars, in jumping in them and jumping out of them. A freak deal happened. I mean I saw video of it and it was freak deal. It wasn’t anything he induced to put himself in a bad position. That’s the code I’ve always lived by. Don’t put yourself in a bad position to wreck.”
HAVE YOU EVER HAD A SPONSOR OR AN OWNER SAY, ‘WE DON’T WANT YOU RUN ANY KIND OF RACES BESIDES CUP’?
“I’ve never had a sponsor restrict me from doing any extracurricular racing or an owner. They’ve just always said, “You’re 100% responsible if something does go wrong.” Now Tony doesn’t have many people to answer to, being that he’s the owner of the Sprint Cup car. It’s a risk that you take. It’s the fulfillment of life that you’re trying to enjoy. At the end of the day who are we to judge what Tony is enjoying for life versus what he should be doing? It’s the battle I’ve been going through the last two or three years as well.”
WHAT DOES THAT MEAN FOR THE AVERAGE DRIVER OR THE AVERAGE TEAM, ‘YOU’RE 100% RESPONSIBLE’? WHAT WOULD THE REPERCUSSIONS BE IF A DRIVER GOES OUT AND GETS HURT?
“You said the key word if. I don’t like to play what-if. Each and everybody is responsible for their own situation. And for Tony, none of us are going to look at him any different. He’s out there doing what Tony does best. And a freak deal happened. It’s unfortunate and there’s side effects that come with it.”
HAS IT IN ANY WAY CHANGED YOUR IDEAS ABOUT THE INDYCAR DEAL AND STILL TRYING TO MAYBE RACE SOME NEXT YEAR?
“It’s making me think about how I can pattern and channel more things to look at and more things to put my mind at ease and to be better prepared for when I go and if I go.”
“I don’t want to get into a battle of what the media writes versus my actual feelings. It’s as if you guys were saying, “Well he didn’t find the success on track therefore he’s not happy.” I’m very happy at what I was doing and to win races with Kyle’s team last year and to get Phoenix Racing to victory lane, albeit in a Nationwide car, it was something happy. It was something fun and exciting and different. But then you read that, “He’s just not happy because he’s not getting the same results.” And those are the types of things. How can we judge Tony for what’s going to be the side effects versus what happiness he gets out of running Sprint Car races?”
WHAT IS A PARTICULAR AREA ON THE TRACK YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE TO BE YOUR BEST AT?
“The year I did really well here to finish second I was good in the braking zones. There’s three big heavy braking zones. Getting into the bus stop, I call it Turn 10 and in Turn 1. But the most important part of the track, to your question, is Turn 2. I think Turn 2 leads into the longer straight-away and that’s where you can make big time passes if you get a run on somebody going into the bus stop. It starts at Turn 2.
HOW DO YOU SET SOMEBODY UP IN THAT AREA?
“Turn 2 is a focal point to make sure you’re not too tight or too loose and you get the car as best you can there I think. You take some other side effects from the rest of the track to not be as good there.”
CERTAINLY STRATEGY CAN PLAY A BIG ROLE AT THIS TRACK. HOW MUCH ARE YOU INVOLVED IN THAT? HOW MUCH ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT THAT OR DO YOU PREFER JUST TO TAKE THE WHEEL AND LET TODD (BERRIER, CREW CHIEF) FIGURE THAT STUFF OUT?
“It’s Todd and the guys understanding the pace of the race, I can’t see that. It’s also them understanding fuel mileage, I can’t see that. And so when they tell me, “We’re two laps shy.” Hopefully they tell me early enough in the run and I can make a difference and add to the strategy.”