TELL US ABOUT HOW PRACTICE WENT TODAY:
“We did qualifying runs in the second one where a lot of guys did qualifying runs in the first practice. I felt like we’ve had a good day, good week here so far. I think we have made some improvements from previous mile and a half’s and the team has worked really hard so I’m proud of them for that. Our race run stuff I thought was really close. Qualifying trim we have a little work to do, but even so you are practicing during the day and you are qualifying late afternoon, you are racing at night. It’s a real guessing game right now.”
HOW TO LAS VEGAS AND TEXAS COMPARE AND HOW ARE THEY DIFFERENT?
“I mean I kind of throw California in there just that type of race track, high speed, aerodynamic, downforce race track. They are definitely a lot different. This track is abrasive, this track you can really search around the race track to find a groove that works for you. Tire management is important, but they are still high speed fast places that the attitude of the car has got to be right, grip level has got to be there and you have to be comfortable to be able to carry good speed through the center of the corner. Those were things we were missing in (Las) Vegas that I feel like we’ve made gains on.”
NEXT WEEK YOU WILL TAKE A NEW CAR TO A FRESHLY PAVED 1.5-MILE. HOW DIFFICULT IS THAT GOING TO BE TO ONLY BE ON THAT TRACK ONCE AND NOW HAVING THE NEW CAR TO GO ON IT?
“It’s going to be tough. Those are not my favorite kinds of tracks the newly repaved tracks. The tires are extremely durable so that makes it very edgy not a lot of grip. So we are going to really have to be on our game. We are going to be challenged at that one. I think we have made gains so I’m confident that we can make improvements for when we get there, but it’s going to be tough.”
AS A KID WHAT MUSCLE CAR, HOT ROD CAUGHT YOUR FANCY? WHAT WAS THE ONE YOU REVERED GROWING UP AS A KID?
“Probably ‘68/’69 Camaro, I remember a friend of mine who was older had one. I remember riding in it. It was a beautiful car and I thought ‘wow if I grow up if I could ever have a cool car this is the one.’ I never have had one of my own, but I always thought that was a very cool car.”
WHAT GOES THROUGH YOUR MIND WHEN YOU GET THE SENSATION THAT THERE IS THE POSSIBILITY OF A RIGHT-FRONT (TIRE) GOING DOWN AT A HIGH SPEED TRACK LIKE HERE AT TEXAS?
“Well, one going down I don’t mind so much because usually when one is going down you can feel it going down. It’s when it just blows and you don’t have any warning that is the toughest thing. We are keeping a real close eye on our shoulder temperature and our bead temperature. We had a tire come apart here the last time we were here. We were running strong up towards the front, I think we had a shot at winning that race had that not happened. We are certainly keeping a real close eye on it.”
FROM A DRIVER STANDPOINT IS THERE ANYTHING YOU CAN DO TO PREVENT THE AFTERMATH? JUST TRY TO KEEP IT OFF THE WALL AS BEST AS YOU CAN?
“There is not much you can do. If you can kind of feel that something is happening they are all different. Sometimes it’s delamination and you can have a little bit of a warning. Sometimes it’s stuff in the tread so when those cords break then you can usually feel that, but other times you don’t feel it at all and you just ride the fence. Basically if it happens you just slow down and hit pit road. You don’t want to do it too quick because then you will damage the tire more. Just about trying to find that right pace to get back to pit road and hope the caution comes out soon.”
DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE A GOOD HANDLE ON WHO THE CONTENDERS ARE AT THIS POINT OR IS IT STILL TOO EARLY?
“I will be honest with you I don’t even think that is where our focus is right now. Our focus is on making our car go faster each time we get to the track. I think our short track program is good but the mile and a half stuff is really where you have got to be good if you are going to be a threat for the championship. We have not really been a threat at those tracks. Our focus is just improving our own cars and set ups so for us being 12th in points that was a good gain from last week. We were 18th prior to that. You don’t think about who you are beating for the championship when you are that far back in points. You think about how do we get in the top 10 and we get ourselves solidly in the top 10 and start competing for wins then we will start thinking that way.”
HOW FAR AWAY DO YOU THINK YOU ARE BEFORE YOU FEEL YOU ARE READY TO BE A TOP 10 GUY?
“This sport is too competitive it doesn’t happen overnight in one race. We are gathering as much information as we can. That test yesterday was valuable for us. The weekend off was crucial for us to work on some things, gather information from our teammates who have been good at (Las) Vegas, but not so good at California. Just trying to see all that information looking at our competitors things that they are doing what they’ve got and trying to apply that to our set ups. I think we made gains. This is a good track for me. We have run good here the last couple of times we have been here. It is a bit of a unique mile and a half compared to come of the others that are out there right now. I think this one suits my style a little bit better like an Atlanta. I think we have a shot at being more competitive here regardless even if our program is off a little bit. I do think we have made some gains.”
DOES THE PAINT SCHEME SEEM WEIRD TO YOU AT ALL?
“It is not weird to me, it just brings back a lot of memories. This is kind of that paint scheme that we’ve had for years. Really, all the people I am working with; the same paint brands like Cromax Pro; they are the same as what I have been dealing with. It is just a new company. My biggest thing right now is trying not to say DuPont. They haven’t finalized their logo yet, so that’s why it’s not on the car. It a big company. This is a big paint company; a lot of big paint brands underneath them. It takes a long time to structure all of that. I look forward to when we can have that logo on the car – that will be fun. The flame paint scheme on the black car – that’s the one common thing that we do have that really is tying…in trying to explain how this company is really the same, just a different name.”
DID YOU SAY IF YOU COULD BE ANY OTHER ATHLETE, YOU’D BE SHAUN WHITE?
“Yes, man, I would say so. I mean, flying through the air on a skateboard or a snowboard is something I think would be pretty awesome to do. He’s won gold medals, X-Games and I’ve met Shaun, and he is a great kid too, doing some Pepsi commercials with him years ago. Growing up as a kid, I used to ride a skateboard, so that always something…Tony Hawk is a guy that I always idolized, but I was never really on a half-pipe and things. Shaun is kind of the ultimate when you think of it now. I had just gone snowboarding on our time off for Easter, so that was kind of fresh in my mind. Looking at that half-pipe thinking about what Shaun does on that, it’s pretty amazing.”
BY CONTRACT, ARE YOU NOT ALLOWED TO DO THINGS LIKE SKATEBOARDING?
“I might, but it doesn’t stop me. LAUGHS I mean, I try to be smart in everything I do and not go do something that is going to get myself injured – you know, push the limits. I was snowboarding, and I wasn’t going down black diamond runs or anything, I was just cruising. I like to scuba dive too. Usually they are more in the insurance policy than they are in the driver’s contract.”
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE PLACE TO EAT ON THE CIRCUIT?
“I don’t go out to eat any more. I used to. When we are in Sonoma, I get to go out and eat. There’s a place called Auberge du Soleil that I love. I just love the atmosphere. The food is awesome. Other than that, I’m cooking on the bus. We have chefs that cook for the drivers. Between that, if my wife is with me like she is going to be tonight, sometimes she’ll cook a great Belgian meal. I’ll be honest, I stay put in the infield these days. I don’t really get out that much.”
NO KANSAS CITY BARBEQUE NEXT WEEK?
“We went to Oklahoma Joe’s. That place is awesome. We stopped on our way home, and that place was really good. I would definitely go there again.”