TALK ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED IN OKLAHOMA:
“I was certainly shocked and floored by what I saw. Everyone says that television doesn’t do it justice and we were able to go in person and see the damage and what a tornado can do. Man, it really got my attention. To meet people who were in their homes; I met a child that was in one of those schools and I could still see on his face and in his eyes the fear that he had and he still looked like that today. It really hits you deep to meet the people, see the damage and some ways kind of imagine in your mind what they went through.
“I grew up where the ground shook in Southern California (earthquakes) and was always petrified of tornados. And then where we live on the east coast there might be one close by. But marrying Chani and being in the beltway for tornados, I’m scared every time we go home to visit. We had to leave yesterday and get out of there as fast as we could because one was coming, or storms were coming and there ended up being a couple. And it was odd because I got on the plane to fly out and I’m leaving my family behind. They’re staying there with Chani’s parents this weekend. So I’m like oh my gosh, I’m so torn because there’s something bad coming but I’m leaving my girls behind.
“So, tornados really frighten me. A storm shelter is a top priority for me next time I go back, wherever I stay or whatever I do. I saw a lady who was doing an interview across the street from the school that collapsed and she had an in-ground storm shelter and was talking about her story of what went on. It was the only in-ground storm shelter I saw in the area. Without a doubt, it saved her life because her house wasn’t even there. The only thing that was left was the doors to go down into the shelter.”
HAVE YOU DECIDED HOW YOU WANT TO HELP?
“Yeah, we’ve definitely earmarked funds from the 600 to go to Oklahoma. I have some great friends in the area that have a very good pulse on where the demands are and where the immediate demands are. Bob Stoops from the University of Oklahoma has been great for me (plus) Lowe’s and their representatives in the area; and with our foundation being typically kid-focused, that’s really the opportunity we are looking for and the direction we’d like to direct the money. But I really feel like something will come to us. Really, when we were there, everyone we met was so thankful for the support, and talked about how many supplies have been brought in and how many people have come from other states and just showed-up and put food and drink on the street corners in different areas. Like Lowe’s was a base-camp essentially, for people to come to and charge cell phones and get phones and food and drink. Obviously inside the store there is cleaning supplies and that stuff. So, I think as the next month develops there will be a cause that really stands out to us.”
WHAT WERE YOUR EMOTIONS LIKE? IT’S ONE THING TO SEE IT ON TV, AND OTHER THING TO SEE IT IN PERSON
“It’s multiple levels because you see a debris field and you go wow, that’s a car. And then there’s a big beam from a building and there’s a refrigerator. You see the big items. And then you look and there’s a stuffed animal; and you’re like oh, man. That really goes from like wow, look at that, to oh, that’s a stuffed animal. There’s a kid involved. Kids lived here and families and people, and it kind of brings a human element in and you start jockeying back and forth in your mind just the amazement of these big items. You can’t imagine them blowing around like they’re scraps, to the human element of a stuffed animal. I even saw a man’s Chicago Bears jersey just sitting there in a big pile. Just different things kind of hit home with me that these are things just hanging in your closet or in your child’s room that are just thrown about. That’s kind of the odd positioning that I went through, emotionally.”
LAST YEAR, YOU AND BRAD KESELOWSKI BATTLED IT OUT FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP. YOU ARE HAVING A GREAT STREAK NOW AND HE’S NOT HAVING SUCH A GREAT STREAK. NOBODY EVER COUNTS YOU OUT. DO YOU COUNT HIM OUT?
“No, it’s early in the year. The Chase allows teams to have a tough start. You just need to transfer in and it’s just its own championship battle at that point and those ten races are really what it’s about. So, they are a strong team. I do know from my own experience that after winning a championship, it is so hard to come back the next year and to be at that level year after year. And whatever they are going through right now, it’s only going to make them stronger. So, if they’re down a little bit right now, they’re going to come back and be stronger as the year develops.”
WHEN DID YOU REALIZE IT WAS A TV CABLE ROPE THAT FELL DURING THE CHARLOTTE 600?
“It did take me about two laps. I don’t scan NASCAR, so I’m not sure what is going on. On top of that, they have their public channels but they also have private channels. I’m not sure what communication is taking place as to what was going on during the course of those laps. In NASCAR’s defense, I couldn’t see what it was and I went by it twice. It was thin, black, cable or rope or whatever; I think it was cable essentially. But you can’t see it, especially when it is dark out there’s a black surface and it’s hanging in the sky. When I first saw it piled-up in Turn 1, I thought maybe someone’s tire came apart and a small band of it unraveled or something. There certainly was confusion. It was tough to see. And it’s not uncommon for drivers to be lost.”
A COUPLE OF DRIVERS HAVE SAID THEY THOUGHT THEY WERE IMAGINING THINGS:
“Yeah, I saw the stuff on the ground and I dodged it, fortunately. When it really hit me, I was going down the front straightaway and I flipped my visor open to clean it and I just happened to see the cable hanging about 10 feet off the ground around the start/finish area or maybe just after it. I thought oh man, that’s from the camera above. And I think I said something on the radio and at that point (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) knew and he said yeah, they were having some trouble with the camera.”
CAUTIONS ARE UP SIGNIFICANTLY COMPARED TO THIS TIME LAST YEAR. THERE HAVE BEEN ALMOST DOUBLE THE NUMBER OF ACCIDENTS. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT?
“I want to believe that it’s the stability in the (new) race car that is giving us comfort to take risk and to try to pass; clearly crossing the line and some point and spinning out and causing accidents. But, I want to believe that’s what it is and I hope that’s what it is. The aero deficit cars have in traffic is always going to be there. I’m not sure we’ve really improved that from being behind another car. But you now have an option and you maybe try the outside. There’s more grip in the car. The car is more stable. I think you see guys searching around in higher lanes sooner than before and maybe that’s where it lies.”
KEVIN HARVICK MENTIONED LAST WEEK THAT IT’S BEEN A HELP FOR HIM AND RCR TO GO TO KURT BUSCH AND TALK TO HIM ABOUT THE CAR AND SET-UPS. DID YOU EXPERIENCE THAT LAST YEAR WHEN YOU WERE WORKING WITH PHOENIX RACING AND KURT? HOW IMPRESSED ARE YOU WITH WHAT THEY’VE DONE SO FAR?
“Yeah, a little bit. I mean what’s tough is that we knew Kurt wasn’t going to be in the No. 51 for long and he is a very smart driver and a very good driver. I think we’re all pretty careful with what we discussed and talked about. I even sensed it from his side as well in being careful and cautious.
“But regardless of who it is, when you can really count on someone to tell you the truth, and what they’re feeling in the car, and you get a few months of that interaction, you can build on it. You can do some good things with it. So, I think Kurt is in a more stable environment with the No. 78 team and he and Kevin certainly have a good relationship going and they can count on one another to tell the truth.”
ARE THEY GENERALLY THAT GOOD RIGHT NOW? THEY’VE RUN UP-FRONT AT DARLINGTON AND THE ALL-STAR AND THE 600 AND EVEN RICHMOND
“From my standpoint, absolutely. They are crushing it. They’ve been, on raw speed, the fastest car, if not one of the three fastest cars for weeks now. And then in the race they’re still holding on and performing very, very well.”
WE HAVEN’T PRACTICED YET TODAY, BUT WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT WHAT SORT OF RACE WE WILL SEE ON SUNDAY WITH THE NEW CAR? DO YOU THINK THERE WILL BE A PARTICULAR CHALLENGE WITH IT?
“I don’t know. When I think of this track I just have happy thoughts and everything it great for me. I love this place. It’s so fun to drive and the sensation of speed is so high; you kind of get to jump in to each corner every lap, so that’s right up my alley. I’m hopeful that we see the top lane come in like we did maybe five years ago or so. I’m not sure why it hasn’t really developed and hasn’t been there. I’m hopeful that the downforce in this car will allow us to move a little higher and make time be efficient running in a higher lane with more downforce in this new car.”
WHEN YOU WERE TOURING OKLAHOMA, DID YOU SEE ANY RACE MEMORABILIA?
“When we were touring, no. But at the Lowe’s store, and it was publicized that we were coming, but there was a huge gathering of people with No. 48 shirts on and even guys asking for autographs and things like that, but people that were coming through the line picking up supplies had their No. 48 gear on. We definitely have race fans. I can say with the time I’ve spend in Muskogee and Tulsa and visiting family and friends, I’m honestly more recognized in Oklahoma than any state that I go to. We were in Tulsa a month an a half ago and it didn’t matter if I went to the gym or the Y to swim or on some running trails where some guys were fishing that recognized me. I walked in and there was some hippy dude with dreads and the Whole Foods that I walked into was like hey man, glad to see you here, five-time. So there is a very strong NASCAR family in Oklahoma, for sure.”
“I was initially talking with Bob Stoops and trying to understand where we could help. He let me know that Toby Keith was trying to put together a concert. Toby and I spoke and Toby mentioned that Garth and Blake were both working on something. Through all that, Mike Helton got me connected with Blake and I ended up doing a PSA and I noticed that Garth did a PSA and Toby as well. So I think everybody consolidated and followed Blake’s lead there. I watched the show. It was great. I’m excited to hear some figures. I don’t know if anyone has, but hopefully they raised a lot of money.”
WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO SEE THE DESTRUCTION?
“You go through random emotions. First, you’re just shocked and in awe. What it (tornado) throws around like paper. Cars and buildings and big stuff like that. If you look deeper and deeper, you see personal goods and items. I was looking at a truck that was flipped over and there was a teddy bear sitting next to it. That really threw it home to me and my child. There were kids in these houses and families. So it was really an interesting mental deal that went on because you’re looking at it going wow, look at the power and look at what this did. And then the human element would come in and take you to your knees.”
DID YOU MEET ANYBODY THERE THAT HAS STUCK IN YOUR MIND THAT HAD A STORY?
“Oh, yeah. I met a boy that was not in the school that collapsed; I forget the names of the schools now, but he was taken to the best room on the campus and the room was hit and damage was done. And he was trying to explain to me what he went through and what went on and I could just tell from his posture and his face and his eyes that it’s still in his mind, vividly in his mind. And that really hit me.”