TALK ABOUT YOUR MINDSET WITH 10 RACES LEFT BEFORE THE CHASE AND THIS WEEKEND HERE AT KENTUCKY.
“It definitely is an important time of the year for everybody. I looked around 10th (place) and how tight that is. If you’re on that eighth to 14th bubble right there, it’s getting really tense right now and it will over these next 10 weeks. Life is pretty comfortable up where we are. We can still squander away the position we are in and have trouble. But fortunately, now that I think it through a little more, with those three wins we should be in great shape. With all that in mind, we just need to focus on being strong, finishing up these next 10 races, entering the Chase, as competitive as we can. Certainly race tracks that we run on such as Loudon (New Hampshire) here next weekend or in a couple of weeks, whatever it is, we want to leave there knowing we’ve had a good race because obviously we come back and race there in the Chase. It’s an important 10 weeks for everybody. There is more pressure on some than others, but the real pressure will come in Chicago and hopefully we’ll be in contention at that point.”
YOU ARE GOING TO HIT SOME OF THE TRACKS THAT YOU’VE ALREADY RACED AT THIS YEAR, NORMALLY THERE IS NOT A GREAT DEAL OF DIFFERENCE WHEN YOU GO FROM ONE TIME TO ANOTHER AS FAR AS CHANGE IN THE COMPETITION, BUT WITH THE NEW CAR WILL THERE BE MORE OPPORTUNITIES FOR GUYS TO BE BETTER THE SECOND TIME AROUND?
“Daytona I don’t think so because the rules are so strict and there is very little area to grow and learn. Pocono for sure. I’m trying to think of another track we repeat too. We certainly do later in the year. Loudon is a good example, and Dover. Tracks like that. Absolutely, every time we go to the track the whole field is smarter. Like for us going to Pocono, we just hope whatever they gain on us we’re able to extend for unselfish reasons. Yeah, this garage area is smart. In two to three weeks’ time technology changes and what you had a month ago doesn’t work.”
EVEN THOUGH THIS IS ONLY THE THIRD RACE HERE FOR THE SPRINT CUP, WHEN YOU GO TO A TRACK THAT YOU HAVEN’T WON AT DOES THAT GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO REALLY SHOOT AT BECAUSE OBVIOUSLY YOU WANT TO WIN EVERY WEEK?
“It gets me excited. There’s five tracks left that I haven’t won at. I think (Tony) Stewart is down to two or three. We don’t talk about it amongst Stewart, (Jeff) Gordon or myself, but I think we all secretly would love to be the first to win at every track that we compete at. I think Stewart is the closest right now. I want to get closer. I’ve been very close here. I’ve been very close at Michigan. I’ve been very close at Chicago. So, I hope we can get one or two of them this year. I would love to start here.”
IT’S SUCH A LONG SEASON, HOW DO YOU STAY MENTALLY FOCUSED DURING THIS STRETCH IN THE SUMMER THAT SEEMS LIKE ITS NEVER GOING TO END?
“It still feels like it’s not going to end. There’s no doubt about it. There’s still a lot of racing left. Our last off weekend is in a few weeks then we have to grind it out after that. It goes in phases and the situation we are in with the strong start to the season, we are in a comfortable position because of the win and the points, but at the same time as we get closer to the start of the Chase we need to make sure we are peaking at the right time and that we didn’t peak too early. So we have that pressure and motivation on our side. When the final 10 (races) starts it’s just brutal. You live week to week, and honestly in some situations you live day to day at the track and what kind of speed your car has. That takes it to a whole new level. Then we have our short off season to recover, load up and do it again.”
THIS YEAR YOU ARE DRIVING A CAR THAT LOOKS MORE LIKE THE MANUFACTURER CAR, THE ONE THAT RUNS ON THE STREET, HOW’S THAT RESONATING WITH FANS, SPONSORS WHO WANT A CAR THAT LOOKS LIKE THEIR CAR?
“Yeah, it’s been very well accepted by the race teams, drivers, fans, manufacturers. When you look at the first quarter of the year, especially starting at Daytona with the buzz around the new car and everybody seeing it in competition for the first time, it’s been a great launch of the Gen-6 car. I know that all the manufacturers are pleased the style of the car, the connection between the showroom and the race track. Hopefully it’s a good sign of things to come in the future. The manufacturers are very important to our sport. They always have been. Due to officiating things changed to the Gen-5 car, but now the focus has gone back to the manufacturers and their own brand identity.”
LAST YEAR YOU TALKED ABOUT BEFORE THE RACE THAT YOU DIDN’T LIKE THIS PLACE VERY MUCH AND THEN YOU WENT OUT AND WON THE POLE, ONE YEAR LATER HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT IT NOW?
“Since I’ve been here to compete in the Cup car, I’ve really liked the track. I think I qualified in the top five for the first one and ran well. Last year we qualified on the pole and were very competitive in the race. Where the dislike came from was through my Nationwide days. I tore up a few cars here. Then prior to my Cup start at Hendrick, we were able to test here. There were teams here every week working away. I piled a bunch of them over there in between (turns) three and four. So coming back I was a little concerned about that, but things have been very good since I’ve been in competition in the Cup car.”
JUSTIN ALLGAIER SAID ABOUT A WEEK AND A HALF AGO THAT HE BELIEVES THAT TURN THREE HERE IS ONE OF THE MORE CRITICAL TURNS TO GET DOWN; YOU JUST MENTIONED THAT WHEN YOU WERE TESTING YOU PILED SOME CARS IN THAT CORNER, WHAT IS IT ABOUT THAT TURN? DO YOU FEEL LIKE THAT IS A KEY PART OF THIS RACE TRACK?
“Yeah, I do for me. When we were testing here the entry is so flat and you really don’t pick up the banking until almost the physical center of the corner that I would lose the back of my car on the corner entry and spin out and smack the fence. Now it’s changed quite a bit. The track is so rough starting with the very end of the straightaway before you turn off the corner, it’s almost like you hit a curve. Inside the car it’s big. It’s a forceful impact. It just limits your speed into the corner then shortly after that you get into a series of bumps. I think that is where my fondness for the track has come around. When it was smooth and easy to get through there I would just bust my butt over there and make a mistake. Now you’ve got to slow down, deal with the bumps. Your car set up is very important. Your line selection is very important. You can move around two to three feet through the entry to the center of the corner over there and find like little valleys and miss the bumps to improve your lap time dramatically. That aspect of it makes it really fun for the drivers because you have some option and you just don’t chase the white line around the track.”
YOU ARE IN A DOMINANT POSITION AND DON’T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT THINGS. BUT, AT WHAT POINT IN THE RACE TO THE CHASE DO DRIVERS BEGIN TO WORRY ABOUT WHAT THEY NEED TO DO TO LOCK THEMSELVES IN COME SEPTEMBER?
“Honestly, we are all worrying. Even in the dominant position we’re in, we look back at the last three or four races and see missed opportunity; and we know that we left some bonus points on the table, plus points in general, if we were in the Chase. You can’t win a championship that way with Dover and Michigan. Sonoma turned out okay, but you can’t make those mistakes. So, although it looks like we’re just cruising along and smiling, we have a lot of pressure on ourselves to perform at the level we need to. But, the other teams in that ‘bubble’ area, you’ll see a lot of testing or hear about a lot of testing. Teams have been very smart about reserving test sessions and as we get closer to the Chase, I think you’ll see a lot of teams in that 8th to 14th or 8th to 12th range using those test sessions to make sure they have good finishes and collect a lot of points.”
DO YOU HAVE A TESTING SCHEDULE AT THIS POINT?
“No, fortunately, the last I heard was that we’re still sitting on them and hopefully will use them on all Chase tracks. We’ll see how that goes. Jeff (Gordon) is obviously in a tough position and we need to make sure we get him in the Chase. But right now, we haven’t really picked any tracks yet.”
IT’S BEEN A TOUGH TRANSITION FOR DANICA PATRICK, AND YOU LOOK AT SAM HORNISH AND DARIO FRANCHITTI. WHY IS THAT TRANSITION SO DIFFICULT? IF YOU TRIED IT IN REVERSE AND TRIED TO GO TO INDYCAR AT THIS POINT IN YOUR CAREER, WOULD IT BE DIFFERENT?
“When I look at the vehicles, the way you make them handle, the downforce numbers, the mechanical grip, if you look and compare downforce versus vehicle, mechanical grip, the Cup car has a lot of mechanical grip and very little downforce. It’s just the opposite for an IndyCar race car. I know when I raced a GRAND-AM car, the way you use the brakes in a braking zone it totally different than if you do the same thing in a Cup car on the same track at Watkins Glen. Granted they all have four wheels, but they are very, very different.
“One other element that’s involved in all of this, and I think it’s something that’s always worked in my favor, because I’m used to running side-by-side with people in racing. And I’m a far better racer than I am somebody who qualifies or posts practice speeds. And IndyCar guys and girls don’t have a lot of side-by-side racing. They do, kind of now on the 1.5-mile ovals they run on, but it’s like a plate track running wide-open. It’s not the competitive passing and racing and fighting for position like you see in NASCAR. And it takes a while to figure it out.
“Even with my background, I can remember my first three races in ASA that I ran, I would catch a car and be stuck behind it and couldn’t pass it. I remember being on the radio and being upset that I didn’t know how to pass the car. It took time to figure out how to do that. So, when I summarize it all, it’s really that they are different cars. And then the racing that takes place on the track, the door-to-door racing and where you position your car to keep the air on it so you don’t make a mistake and how you can affect others around you to get the position, that’s just something that takes laps. I have a lot of friends that race in other series that want to come NASCAR racing and I tell them all they need a five-year plan before you have high expectations. You need to go out there and hit walls. You need to make mistakes. You need to make people mad. That’s what you do. You have to go out there and learn and learn through experience.
“In time, you see Sam is really off to a great year in Nationwide winning races and leading the championship at times. I think he’s proof that you just need time. He’s a great driver. He just needs to figure it all out in this style of car. Just to finish up my long story, I’d be very interested to watch a closed-bodied driver go to an open-wheel vehicle. Guys that I’ve talked to that have come our direction like Dario, and maybe even Juan (Montoya), when you take the downforce off the car your eyes are calibrated for a certain speed and it’s tough for them to come our direction. I’m very curious too, to what it’s like to go from a car that doesn’t stick in the corner all that well to something that has a lot of grip.
“Would the transition be easier going from our car to theirs? I have the same question. I don’t know the answer. But I do know, you’re going to race for a win. You’re not just going to show up in your first year and race for a win, but theoretically there’s an argument that going from low downforce to high downforce is an easier transition than the other way.”