TALK ABOUT YOUR NEW PAINT SCHEME THIS WEEKEND AND BEING HERE IN DOVER:
“We have always had great ties to Wilmington through DuPont over the years. In recent years now we have a great partnership with Chase with AARP and Drive To End Hunger. They have really contributed a lot of support, awareness and funding towards this program through Chase credit card services with AARP reward card. It’s pretty cool. Not very often I get to drive a white car so people are going to have a hard time seeing me out there. It certainly looks good and it’s a great program. We were up in Wilmington and went to the Food Bank of Delaware and packaged some boxes of food. This program is so rewarding to be able to go to places like that and get people volunteering and packaging these foods that get delivered to those older Americans especially that are in need.”
TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR SEASON THUS FAR AND BEING HERE IN DOVER THIS WEEKEND:
“Our season has been terrible. We have run not very good at the beginning of the season and then we have run good at certain places. Every time we are running good other than Darlington here recently. I feel like Martinsville and Darlington have been two where we put together solid races other than that I can’t say we have done much. Just hasn’t been our year. We are going to fight like we did last year as hard as we can to make up for it. A lot of racing left to go. I think our cars certainly continue to improve which always helps put a string of good finishes together to get ourselves further up in the points.”
WHAT IS IT THAT MAKES JIMMIE JOHNSON SO GOOD AT THIS TRACK?
“He’s good at a lot of tracks (laughs). Jimmie is just one of those guys that continues to raise the bar everywhere. As good as Jimmie is, Chad (Knaus, crew chief) is that good, the team is that good, the organization, the engines and the chassis. They have got a great combination with a lot of confidence in one another when Jimmie comes here he has a lot of confidence. It’s a track where you certainly have to push the car hard, but finding that balance and it’s tricky because there is a little bit of a compromise. It’s not like Darlington where the ends of the track are shaped different it’s just the concrete is… the surface is slightly different it’s more abrasive at one side than the other. The balance of the car does change from one end to the other. Jimmie just has a great way of getting the balance right at this track. It usually means you have got to be a little bit free and he’s good at driving a free race car.”
WHEN A TEAMMATE IS REALLY GOOD AT A TRACK CAN YOU PICK UP THINGS FROM THEM THAT WOULD HELP YOU?
“Well, you certainly try. I think this is the part that is so important as a driver, as a crew chief, engineers, you try to know what your driver needs. What has worked well for you as a team and then look at the information from your teammates and see what they are doing that seems to be working well for them seems to be pretty constant that you think can work with your combination. Sometimes we are getting the same grip level and balance in the car, but we are doing it in a different way. That is just because we all have a slightly different feel. Kasey Kahne is a perfect example right now. They are very fast. They are doing it a completely different way than the rest of us are. You can’t sit there and chase that. You’ve got to find out what in that package they have will work with how you like to drive the car and what will make you go fast.”
WHEN A GUY LIKE TRAVIS PASTRANA COMES INTO A SPORT LIKE THIS DO GUYS LOOK AT THAT AND SAY WHAT IS HE DOING HERE OR IS HE WELCOMED AS A COMPETITOR?
“I think in any sport you have to earn your respect whether you are a young talent that has come up through the field that you have watched and said ‘okay that guy is really talented.’ But when he gets here you know he is going to still have to earn those stripes in that respect. I think in Travis’ case it’s very similar which we look at him and say ‘okay he doesn’t have a lot of oval experience and driving race cars on ovals. But he certainly has plenty of bravery and guts and not afraid to learn and try new things. So you watch to see how he is going to do. He earns his respect through his actions. I think there have been times where he has impressed me. He has done better than I thought that he would do. Other times he has gone through lessons that you kind of expect young guys to go through especially those that don’t have a lot of oval experience. Luckily he is with a good team and that certainly helps the learning curve go much faster.”
IS AGE A FACTOR IN THIS IN TERMS OF GUYS THAT HAVE BEEN DOING THIS AND SORT OF MAKE THE NATURAL PROGRESSION FOR YEARS AS OPPOSED TO JUMPING IN THIS?
“I think that to me I look more at experience level. I think that if you are driving one particular type of vehicle for a long period of time and then you try to make the jump over to the Nationwide, Truck or Cup series you are going to have a hard time because you have learned habits. Not necessarily bad habits, but they are going to be hard to change. As you get older that gets tougher we all know that. In Travis’ case he is not really driven a lot of things that are very… I mean he has driven Rally cars, motorcycles, late models; he has driven a lot of different things. He hasn’t really had any habits that he has to break himself with. I don’t think age is working against him too much in that case.”
ON POCONO, DENNY HAMLIN SAID ONCE THEY REPAVED POCONO, IT WAS A WHOLE NEW TRACK, A DIFFERENT ANIMAL. HAVE YOU FOUND THAT TO BE THE CASE? HOW HAS YOUR APPROACH TO POCONO CHANGED SINCE THEN?
“Yeah, I’m really anxious to get some information from Stewart Haas that was up there this week. I feel like of all the repaves, Pocono is the one that stands out in my opinion because they didn’t go down this traditional route of what’s happening right now in repaves. It seems like every other track is using the same company, the same type of material, and you pretty much know what you’re going to have. Pocono went a little bit different route and tried to stick with something that’s a little bit more of what we’re looking for, which is a little bit more abrasive, which is going to wear and age a little bit faster. So, I’m anxious to get there this year to see how that process is working. I thought last year in the race, the pace did seem to drop a little bit as the runs when on, which to me was a very positive thing, and what Goodyear is looking for in tire wear and what the competitors are looking for, for better racing.”
ON YOUR TWEET COMMENT AFTER THE CHARLOTTE RACE ABOUT HITTING THE WALL, NOT BEING A SAFER BARRIER THERE. HAVE YOU TALKED TO ANYBODY IN RELATION TO THAT?
“I found the one off of (Turn) 2 here (Dover) and they haven’t fixed that one. I saw somebody in the Truck Series found it, too, and they haven’t done that. So, I’m not anticipating any change. I understand their theory is they go through their testing and see where multiple impacts have happened and highest impacts and those things. But, I’ve got to tell you, that was one of the hardest hits I’ve had in a race car. And the type of impact it was, I got hit from the left so it shifted everything to the left, and then I hit the wall on the right so I went from left to right.
“I had a rough week. I didn’t quite understand the pain that I was feeling that night until I went back and watched the video and realized the angle that I hit as well as the fact that there was no Safer barrier. I had no idea there was no Safer barrier at that dogleg on the front stretch. That blew my mind that there wasn’t one. I mean, there’s one at the start/finish line and it stops and then there’s one at Turn 1. It goes around to Turn 2. That kind of shocked me. So, I certainly said something and when I get the opportunity, I’ll talk to others as well about it. As I’ve learned in the past, they’re going to look at those circumstances and make their calls based on that. Me sitting down and having a conversation with them isn’t necessarily going to change that, but it doesn’t mean it’s going to stop me from doing it.”
HOW DO YOU THINK THE GEN-6 CAR WILL RUN AT POCONO? HOW TOUGH IS IT TO GO FROM A PLACE LIKE DOVER THIS WEEK TO A PLACE LIKE POCONO, TWO TOTALLY DIFFERENT TRACKS?
“The first couple of laps on the track are challenging and kind of eye-opening of just how fast it is and how deep in the corners you drive and how fast you’ve got to drive through the tunnel turn. That tunnel turn, to me, has always been one of the most hair-raising experiences, if you want to call it, on the circuit. I mean it just takes full commitment and when you hit it right, it’s a beautiful thing. When you don’t hit it right, it gets your attention. So to me, the first few laps will sort of be that building up, and then once you get through the first two or three laps, it’s business as usual. And that happens almost every weekend at every track we go to. But Pocono is a very unique track and you can go out there thinking you’re pushing hard and be a second off the pace. So it’s a track where a lot of speed can be lost or gained based on how hard you push it, and finding the edge and the limits is a little bit tougher on such a big race track with three very unique corners.
“So, I’m looking forward to getting there and seeing what the grip level is with the Gen-6 car. I think it’s going to be very good. Anytime you go faster and you have a car that has more grip and downforce, like we have now with this car, you start to find what things you’re going to be battling with fairly quickly; whether it be balance of the car, brakes, rpms on the engine, and all those types of things that will start to come into play that we can sort of anticipate, but not fully. That’s why I look forward to downloading with Stewart-Haas on their test.”
WHAT DID YOU THINK ABOUT THE CARS BEING ALLOWED TO BE WORKED ON DURING THE RED FLAG AT CHARLOTTE? HOW DOES IT COMPARE TO YOUR SITUATION IN MARTINSVILLE? DOES THERE NEED TO BE A SET POLICY ON THAT?
“Well, I think they just set the new precedent in my opinion; which I think is the correct thing to do. I think when something like that happens, like what happened last week, and the same thing at Martinsville like that where the track comes apart, I think that they should throw a red flag and fix the problem and then allow the teams to make repairs. Unfortunately that didn’t happen back in the day when we had that issue at Martinsville, but I agree with that. Those are things outside your control as a driver and as a team. It’s not fair to those competitors that could have really ended their race or really taken them out of competition. And I was pretty proud of the way that they handled it. But, nothing is going to take back what happened at Martinsville. I think even if they gave us 15 minutes to fix something, I’m not so sure we could have fixed it back then. That was a big chunk of concrete. There was more damage than just body damage. But we would have liked to have at least tried.”
DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHY THERE AREN’T JUST SAFER BARRIERS EVERYWHERE NOW?
“No. Cost. There’s only one reason. Cost. That’s it.”