WHAT COMES TO YOUR MIND FIRST WHEN YOU COME OUT TO LAS VEGAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY?
“I think of a fast high banked 1.5-mile race track with some real challenges. That is what competitors love. They love a good challenge. The competition brings that in itself and that seems to always come out here. There are some pretty significant bumps going into turn one at this track. You are always battling with getting the grip, getting the balance, but also trying to figure out how to get over these bumps. That was what we struggled with the most yesterday during testing. We anticipated that coming in. It was evident yesterday and so it’s something that we definitely worked on overnight to try to improve for today.”
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON SPEAKING UP? YOU HAVE ALWAYS BEEN ABLE TO SAY WHAT YOU WANT TO SAY IN THE RIGHT WAY. IT’S KIND OF A DOUBLE EDGED SWORD FOR DRIVERS. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT?
“My first initial thoughts are that I think we brought more light to the situation by the fine. I question that, but at the same time we are all in this together to grow this sport. You learn from your failures as well as the things that you did well. I think that when I look back on… I guess we are calling it Gen-5, when did Gen-5 come? Somebody is going to have to explain to me Gen-5 exactly because I don’t remember one through four. Anyway, I think that we all learn through that experience that while that car didn’t drive great, it didn’t look great, but it actually didn’t race bad. Yet, we were very critical of that car. Now we have a car that looks great, drives good, and we have done two races. I think it is a little early to be really gauging where we are at from how it races. I think that we have to understand that we all play a role in growing this sport. When we say and do things that negatively could affect the sport, while sometimes it doesn’t need to be said because other people are paying attention to what is happening and making their own opinions you don’t need to say that. I think that it was obviously pretty evident to me that NASCAR decided that was taking it too far.”
FROM WHAT YOU KNOW OF DENNY (HAMLIN) ARE YOU SURPRISED THAT HE IS CHOOSING TO STAND HIS GROUND AT ALL? WHAT DO YOU THINK HIS CHANCES OF SUCCESS ARE GOING HEAD-TO-HEAD WITH NASCAR?
“We are in (Las) Vegas so we can try to count the odds of when the apology is going to be coming and when the ‘we are all in this together to grow this sport’ tweet is going to be coming. You guess is as good as mine. Listen, I think it’s been an interesting story for somebody to challenge that authority. That is fine, but at the end of the day I know whose sand box I’m playing in. I like the sandbox. I like to play in it and I want to have the best opportunity to have the most fun in that sandbox. Sometimes while you don’t always like it you have to bite your tongue and just go out there and race. I have been there before where I have wanted to challenge that and say those things. If he chooses to do that, that is his prerogative. I think in his mind he is just being honest with himself and didn’t see anything wrong with it. Again, look bigger picture. That is the way I look at it. There are times when I feel like ‘hey, this is my place to speak my mind and say what is there.’ But, as Claire (B. Lang) said sometimes I just choose to do it a little bit less harsh.”
WHEN YOU DO CHOOSE TO SPEAK YOUR MIND DO YOU THINK YOU WILL THINK ABOUT THE WAY THAT YOU ARE GOING TO SPEAK YOUR MIND, THE COMMENTS THAT YOU ARE GOING TO MAKE BASED ON THIS MOST RECENT PENALTY AND THE WAY THAT (DENNY) HAMLIN APPROACHED IT?
“No, I’m going to go about it the same way that I always do. I feel like I try to think before I say anything. I try to think if this is going to be something that is going to negatively affect the sport, negatively affect my sponsors or myself, my team and is it worth it. I try to do that when I am doing interviews and when I’m talking about things that are going on. It’s hard to kind of do that in the heat of the moment over the radio during a race, but when I get out of the car I’m usually pretty good at being able to do that and think about that. I won’t be doing anything any different than I ever have before.”
HOW DO DRIVERS PREPARE DIFFERENTLY IF YOU HAVE CURVED PIT ROADS VERSUS STRAIGHT ONES?
“The thought process is usually more as you talk to your crew chief depending on where you qualifying there are certain… I think of Richmond as one that has a pretty good curve to it. Like Phoenix last week down in (turns) one and two you make those decisions based on where you qualify and where you would like to pit and the advantages and disadvantages of those types of pit roads. The curves are usually less of a concern as the grip level of a pit road or an opening on pit road. Usually, you are trying to qualify better to get either that number one stall so you just have to roll across the line to beat other cars out under caution. Or you are looking for an opening to where it is just clean in, clean out. This particular pit road has the concrete pads that we see a lot. But, they are all different textures in how they finish them. This one is extremely slick. So you have to be very careful coming in. You don’t get much grip leaving as well, so you spin the tires a lot so you are trying to minimize that. You really can over shoot this pit road, the pit boxes very easily. Now, the transition from the track onto pit road is extremely I don’t know extreme I guess is the only way I can say the transition is a significant one. You have to definitely manage that risk versus reward entering the pit road as well.”
IS THAT WHY A LOT OF THE PIT CREW GUYS PUT DOWN COCA-COLA FOR GRIP?
“Pepsi in my pit box, but yes. We do whatever NASCAR will allow us to do. Because of the, like I mentioned, the slippery… that stuff really doesn’t help me until I lay rubber down on it and slide the tires across it. Then when that rubber gets laid into that syrup or whatever it is that they are putting on there. Then it gives me more grip, but for them it is instantly more grip. It’s more for them. You don’t want those guys slipping and sliding around, especially the ones carrying tires and the jack. Then there are some safety issues as well, but most of the time we do it for speed.”
AS A GUY WHO SPENT ALL OF LAST SEASON BATTLING BACK FROM A POOR START. WHAT DOES THAT TAKE OUT OF A TEAM? DID YOU FEEL LIKE YOU GUYS WERE SPENT BY THE TIME YOU FINISHED THAT CLIMB AND GOT INTO THE CHASE?
“We were, it can either tear you completely a part or make you stronger. I think in our case it made us stronger. I think that is just a sign of how strong knit of a team that we are, how we communicate because we were challenged every weekend with good race cars and bad results. We just kept fighting through it. In this sport, in this day and age, it’s so competitive, so far back that it is hard to find your way out of that type of a hole if you get into one early in the season. You’ve got to perform extremely well, really go on a streak in order to get out of it. I think it is the best thing that happened to us even though I don’t like the way we ended up the season. I think that coming into this season and the way we ended the final race of last year going through all those tougher times certainly made my communication and relationship with Alan Gustafson (crew chief) and our engineers much stronger. Even just yesterday we struggled. We weren’t very good during the test. Yet, at the end of the day we weren’t pointing fingers at one another, we were just working to get through it and to make sure that today we made improvements or at least by Sunday.”
IS THERE TOO MUCH TRANSPARENCY IN THE SPORT TODAY?
“I think that is some of NASCAR’s response to this is that they like to be given the opportunity to discuss it and work on it more privately. I have mentioned this many times in here the schedule, the competitiveness, now all these debriefs that we do with our teams and how we don’t practice after the Nationwide race like we used to. We find ourselves doing more for sponsors as well. There is just not that opportunity that there used to be to see three, four, five, six guys up in the NASCAR hauler discussing the sport and discussing the rules and discussing the racing. Whether or not that… and I’ve always told NASCAR, that wasn’t because we thought we were actually being heard or we actually thought we were making a difference it was just we felt like we were getting it off our chests and that they might be listening. I think that we lose some of that now. I’m a big fan or true drivers meetings. I’m not talking about on Sunday morning. I’m talking about get the group of drivers together with NASCAR and just have some open discussions about what is happening. We got to a test to develop this car and we are working on developing the car and what is happening with the car. We are not really openly discussing things as much as I think we would all like to. You go down certain paths based on what you see on the track and a little bit of conversation. I think that sometimes it would be good to get back to some of that and see a little bit more of that. It’s going to have to be scheduled. It’s not something that is just going to happen the way it used to happen.
“To elaborate on that, I know for me when I came in Ray Evernham would say ‘I just saw Dale (Earnhardt) Sr. going to the NASCAR hauler you better go over there and see what is going on.’ It was one of those things where you knew that Dale had their ear. If you weren’t up there giving your side of it there could be a result that came out of it that might affect you. Half of the reason I was even up there was just to see what was going on to make sure I could get my 10 cents. There were usually others that followed as well because everybody kind of saw when Dale moved in there.”
GOING BACK TO YOUR INITIAL COMMENT ABOUT DENNY HAMLIN’S SITUATION HERE THIS WEEKEND. THE GENERAL CONSENSUS ABOUT THE GEN-6 CAR WITH THE TEAMS AND THE FANS HAS BEEN VERY POSITIVE TO START THE YEAR. DO YOU THINK THIS SHOULD HAVE BEEN HANDLED INTERNALLY SO AS NOT TO SPOTLIGHT ANY DISAGREEMENT WITH THE CAR?
“I’m not saying how it should have been handled. I’m just saying that I didn’t even know about his comments until yesterday. I don’t know how much it was written about, maybe it was just because I was completely out of touch. I was out in the sand dunes Monday and Tuesday just having a blast. I didn’t know any media that was going on. Maybe it’s just me, but certainly this thing has blown up after yesterday and has drawn a lot more attention to it than I think had there not been a fine. I don’t know if that really justified a fine in my opinion. I don’t think it was right the things that Denny (Hamlin) said and how he went about it. It probably needed to be handled in some way. I just feel like I wouldn’t be getting asked these questions had they went and just talked to him about it.”