TALK ABOUT YOUR MINDSET BEFORE WE SET THE FIELD FOR THE CHASE:
“We know that this is an important race for us and every one from here on out is going to be crucial for us to get ourselves into the Chase as well as be a threat for the championship. You always know if you’re in it, then you have a shot at winning. Anything is possible when you accomplish that. We know that we’ve got to work hard and keep our heads up and build some momentum off the great run last week and here at Kentucky, this is crucial for us to run well here on a 1.5-mile and follow-up what we did at Sonoma, with a great run on an oval. Today went really well. It’s been a good day. It’s been a good week and I’m very happy with the car and hopefully we can follow that up in qualifying.”
CAN YOU RECALL ANY OTHER POINT IN YOUR CAREER WHEN YOU HAD THIS KIND OF URGENCY AND WERE WONDERING WHAT’S GOING ON AND WHEN ARE THINGS GOING TO FALL INTO PLACE?
“Last year. It’s pretty familiar to us. Maybe not quite at this level; I think we were further back than 10th at this point last year than we are now. So, obviously last year things didn’t go so well. I would point out this year and then 2000. Those are some years that stand out to me. There was one when we didn’t win a race. But I thought that year when we didn’t win a race that we actually had several shots at winning races and we finished second quite a few times. So it wasn’t quite like dealing with some of the things we’ve had this year. Yeah, you know, it’s certainly been frustrating.
“I think that this team, the way I look at our team, is that we have high expectations put on us. We know the pressure that comes along with that to perform. And when we don’t, the criticism comes with that. But I also know that nobody is more capable of pulling ourselves out of a hole and getting back on track than this team. It’s Hendrick Motorsports. It’s the No. 24 team and we have the capability of being very, very strong and getting on a roll.
“So, you just never give up. You never lose faith in one another. We lost a little confidence in ourselves with some of the things happened. Qualifying, primarily; I think in the race we seem to be able to perform pretty well if we’re there, if we have a car in one piece. But when you get caught up in some wrecks and some different things, it can definitely be a little frustrating. But the qualifying is what has broken our confidence down a little bit. And so hopefully we can qualify a little bit better today.”
TALK ABOUT YOUR DAY WITH (SON) LEO AT YANKEE STADIUM:
“It was unbelievable. I took my daughter when she was around the same age and it was a really special experience for me and her and it was a special one for Leo and myself, as well. I’m so blown away with the experience of going to a Yankees game with the new stadium. It’s just unbelievable. We got on the train and rode the train all the way there. There were all the Yankees fans and a few Texas fans, too, that were on the train. It was Thursdayafternoon; 1:05 p.m. game and I couldn’t believe how many people were at this game. It was incredible. I think for Leo, baseball might not be quite as exciting for him as Monster Trucks because I did take him to Monster Trucks this year, too; and he seemed to be in that and not pulling on me going, okay I’ve seen this. This is cool, but I’m ready to go home (laughs). But yeah, it was a great father/son experience and I had a lot of fun doing that.”
PEOPLE TALK ABOUT HIS TRACK AS HAVING A LOT OF CHARACTER. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THIS KENTUCKY TRACK?
“If you are trying to be kind to the bumps, then you’d call it ‘character’. I don’t even see how we make it through a race here from a mechanical standpoint. This place is so hard on the driveline and the suspension components, shocks, and springs. The loads are just unbelievable. But if you just look at the pure grip level of the race track, that part of it I really like. The transitions make this a very tricky track. It’s pretty flat from the back straightaway to Turn 3; plus there’s a huge bump going in there.
“So, it really makes you work hard and it’s hard to get the car working right in every aspect of the track. And the bumps are definitely one of the things that do challenge the cars and the set-ups. So, I like the fact that those challenges allow you, as a driver, to have to search around the race track. The car is never going to be perfect and you’re going to slide around. And that seems to suit me a little bit better than some of these new super-fast, high-grip race tracks that we go to.”
CAN YOU GO ON THE TRAIN AND TAKE LEO AND MERGE WITH THE FANS AND NOT BE JEFF GORDON? OR, DO YOU GET RECOGNIZED?
“I saw one couple looking at me, but they didn’t say anything. Nobody said anything to me. I would say 99% of the people on that train had no idea who I was. At the game, once I got inside, there were several people that came up to me and were really kind, and everything. But it wasn’t a distraction from me and Leo being able to have a special moment.
“But we got back on the train and not one single person said anything to me. And that’s one of the things I love about New York. I go through that on a day-to-day basis up there. When you do get recognized, it’s actually a moment where you’re like wow, I can’t believe somebody recognized me in New York City! I did have one kid the other day. I had picked up my daughter. She was at this little camp and we were going back to the apartment and what’s real popular is these kids that ride these bikes that can take maybe two or three people in the back. I can’t remember what they call them. But, the guy had my hat on. And so I came up to a stop and he was next to me and I looked at him and I thought it was a No. 24 hat and I said, ‘Nice hat’. And he looked at me and said, ‘Thanks’. We went up to the next hat and I said, ‘Do you know why I said, ‘Nice hat’? He kind of looked at me and I said, ‘That’s me’. And he said, ‘Oh, yeah, it is’! (laughter). So I walked right by him and he didn’t know. And even if there are fans there, which there are plenty of fans in New York City, but a lot of times they just don’t expect you to come walking by.”
THE INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY IS TALKING ABOUT 40 MILLION DOLLARS WORTH OF IMPROVEMENTS TO A TRADITIONAL HISTORIC TRACK. WHAT WOULD BE BEST TO SPEND THAT MONEY ON FOR DRIVER’S AND FAN? WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT LIGHTS AT THE INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY?
“Well, you have to understand from a fans stand point I’ve never, not since I went to an Indy 500 when I was a kid, have I sat in the grand stands. I think the fans are much more in tune with what’s going on from a fan stand point where that money would suit their needs. From our stand point that track is very difficult to get a tire. It’s a very abrasive race track and Goodyear is very challenged with the race track. I’m not saying repave, but just wondering how we could make it a little less abrasive.
“Lights… I mean lights would be cool. Lights are cool everywhere, I love racing under the lights. I don’t know what it costs for lights around Indianapolis, but Indianapolis is already to me one of the top facilities that we go to. The garage area is immaculate. They just do everything first class there. Where they located the tunnels you don’t even feel a bump when you go over them like every other track we go to. You can ride around there and tell them exactly where the tunnel is because there is a huge dip there. You don’t get that at Indianapolis. Once you get outside the race track and outside the garage area I really couldn’t tell you accurately where it would be good to spend some of that money.
“We know that our race has had its challenges as far as the crowd. When I first started going to Indianapolis in 1994 with the Cup cars I mean the people lined up 10 deep around the garage area and filled the grand stands. It was standing room only. It sure would be nice to know why that hasn’t continued and how we get back to that. That would be awesome. I love racing there. Just the history of that place is second to none for me who went to an Indianapolis 500 as a kid and went to high school around Indiana and always wanted to race at Indy.”
IF YOU WIN HERE AT KENTUCKY SPEEDWAY YOU HAVE A WIN AT EVERY ACTIVE TRACK CURRENTLY IN THE SPRINT CUP SERIES. WOULD THAT BE MEANINGFUL TO YOU?
“Oh my God that would be huge. Number one because this is a very challenging race track, not an easy race track to win on. Number two is I don’t know what the plan is for adding race tracks in the future, but in the past every time we knock one off and get close to accomplishing that goal. Which I think that would be a pretty awesome thing to accomplish, they add another race track. So, getting a win at Homestead and Phoenix and getting closer to accomplishing that and knowing that there is one left and we are running good this weekend. That would be huge. That would be something that I would be very proud of.”
IT’S A LONG YEAR. OVER THE COURSE OF YOUR CAREER HAVE YOU EVER HAD A HARD TIME KEEPING FOCUSED THROUGH THIS SUMMER STRETCH? HOW MUCH OF A CHALLENGE IS THAT?
“It’s tough. I don’t know I feel like I’m kind of like a fine wine, I get better with age. I feel like that is the same way my season goes. I feel like we get better as the season goes on. Sometimes, especially with a new car things change over the off season and I feel like as I get older, a little more set in my ways, it takes me a little bit longer to adapt to changes. So throughout the season I feel like I get more and more comfortable and understand what I need and the team can help me accomplish that. That is why I think the old point system worked so well for me because I think that we were able to look at 36 weeks as a total instead of 26 and 10. I don’t know.
“I feel like one thing I’m very good at is pace of being able to adjust my schedule. To look out throughout the whole year on whether it be sponsor commitments, fan commitments, team commitments, family commitments and balancing out that very well to maintain a focus to be strong the second half of the season and not wear myself out. This year I think a little bit more of a challenge with the testing schedule for the teams. Like this week for instance teams got back Monday morning basically and they are coming here Wednesday afternoon. That to me is tougher on the teams. I feel like it’s always been tougher on the teams. As a driver I feel like I’m able to maintain pretty well.”
WHAT IS IT THAT MARK MARTIN HAS BEEN ABLE TO DO WHERE HE CAN ADAPT TO ALL THESE DIFFERENT ERAS?
“Mark (Martin) is a very unique race car driver. One is I think he has always been one of the most talented race car drivers that there is. He has driven every kind of race car on different types of race tracks and been successful. Started at a young age, so I think he is just tremendously talented, but I think if you look at the way he has treated his body it tells you that this guy likes a challenge. He likes to push himself and that he is disciplined. I think that is what gives you longevity in a sport when you have the talent. He is able to align himself with good quality teams and equipment and people. Then he is able to give results. I think that is just a reflection on who he is and what kind of race car driver he is.”