THIS IS A TRACK WHERE YOU HAVE HAD IMMENSE SUCCESS WITH SEVEN WINS AND YOU WILL BE GOING FOR NUMBER EIGHT THIS WEEKEND:
“Definitely looking forward to competing for number eight. We had a great race here in the fall and I’m expecting good things to happen once again. Regardless of car, rules package, aero implications, there is something about this track that. It might change a small percentage of what goes on in the car, but the majority of why you are successful here sticks with you. That is a nice thing to have in your back pocket each time you come here once you figure out the track.”
GIVEN SOME OF THE FEUDS THAT ARE BEING TALKED ABOUT AS WE ENTER THIS WEEKEND HOW MUCH DO YOU THINK WE MIGHT SEE A LITTLE BIT MORE OF THAT ACTIVITY THIS WEEKEND? HOW CONCERNED ARE YOU THAT A BEEF BETWEEN OTHER DRIVERS MIGHT IMPACT YOU?
“Honestly, it’s an element of our sport that we deal with often. I can’t recall all the beefs that are out there. There is obviously one or two that have been in the spotlight. One of those situations can’t take place because Denny’s (Hamlin) is not in the car. Tony (Stewart) and Joey (Logano) something could happen. I think we will all be aware just as somebody watching on television if you are in the car and you see those two near one another just watch for a lap or two and see what is going on. And make evasive moves if you need to at that point. Short tracks are where things kind of settle out and find a home. There might be some other issues kind of lingering that aren’t so notable might flare up. It’s just something you deal with. Inside the car we have the best seat in the house you can see when someone is impatient. You can see when someone isn’t willing to work with another guy and start understanding things early in the race where there might be an issue.”
YOU OWN A ’68 CAMARO AND A ’49 CHEVY I BELIEVE?
“I can never get the year of the Camaro correct. It’s either a ’67 or ’68, but yes.”
WERE THEY GIFTS OR DID YOU BUY THEM? DO YOU HAVE AN INTEREST IN THOSE TYPES OF CARS?
“Yes, bought them both. The Camaro I built around the Randy Dorton engine that was sold in Randy’s memory following the plane crash that happened here in ’04. I built that car around that engine. For those that might think it would be fun to have a Sprint Cup engine in your everyday driver, it’s not fun, the car did not drive very well. Had to pull the engine out and put a different engine in it. Then the truck Mr. Hendrick helped me find the truck. It’s a ’49 still original cab. It has the five windows, step-side pickup truck that I drive most days. I love that truck.”
“Work on it, come on, are you crazy? I put gas in it (laughs), put air in the tires. No, Mr. Hendrick helped me find it and then from there I just drive it.”
SEVEN GRANDFATHER CLOCKS. HOW MANY DO YOU STILL HAVE AND WHERE ARE THEY?
“I have them all. My friends and even family keep threatening to take one or the next one I win in theirs. Six of them are in my warehouse, my man space that I have. One is at the office. They don’t work. They don’t all cling and clang at the same time.”
ARE THERE OTHER WAYS THAT ONE DRIVER CAN MAKE ANOTHER DRIVER’S LIFE DIFFICULT HERE THAN JUST SIMPLY SPINNING THEM OUT? IS IT NOT JUST YOU SPIN A GUY IN RETALIATION YOU CAN ALSO DO OTHER THINGS ON THE RACE TRACK OUT THERE TO MAKE THEIR LIVES MISERABLE?
“Yeah, the give and take thing that takes place on the race track goes out the window. Especially on a 1.5-mile you can really hold somebody tight and prevent them from passing you lap after lap after lap and create a lot of anxiety and send a message through something like that. Even how you pass someone if you drive in there and just get position and turn under someone sometimes you might get a guy loose or you could attack and sit off their bumper by an inch or so and really give them a fun ride through the corner. There are other things besides just dumping someone that you can do.
“The flip side to it as well is, pick up the phone and call a guy. Go find them. You don’t have to do it in front of the cameras, go find a guy and tell him how you feel. I think at the end of the day that is the route that I have chosen. I think you can be far more effective by engaging with someone. A phone call is barely personal enough, texting is not personal enough. Tweeting is definitely not personal enough, but engage. If you are that mad at someone go do something about it. Instead of having a microphone and just saying you are mad. Go engage. I think there certainly has been engagement in the limelight in front of the cameras which the fans love. But there are other ways. Like right now I guess the two transporters are parked next to one another. It would be real easy to slide next door and be like ‘hey look we’ve got to bury the hatchet on this deal.’ Or drive to somebody’s house. We all live within 30 miles of one another. Or go sit at the bar and wait for him at the bar and punch him in the face there are a lot of options.”
“For me and I’ve watched Jeff Burton handle things this way and I’ve watched other drivers comment about how I have handled situations right or wrong. I always believe you have to talk to the person. It’s a hard phone call to make or a hard face-to-face conversation when you have taken somebody out of the race. But, Jeff Burton handled things that way with me here in ‘04/’05. I had so much respect for him that he walked through my transporter, past my guys, didn’t lie to me he said ‘man I just used you up. I did.’ I was like man I don’t know how to really react at this point, but I appreciate you coming in here and telling me this. It kind of explained to me or showed me how I would like to handle things and then I have kind of taken that route.”
REGARDING BLOCKING, WHEN IS IT APPROPRIATE, WHEN IS IT NOT APPROPRIATE AND WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON BLOCKING?
“I feel like with plate racing, that is how you maintain your position. It’s how you race there and you spend 90% of your time in the mirror and 10% of it looking out the windshield. In road course racing, blocking is the most frustrating and most visible. In those situations even in open-wheel, they give you one move to defend and then you have to sit still. I guess with the open-wheels, their cars they are more dangerous and you only get that one move and we don’t have that situation. That gets really frustrating at Sonoma and Watkins Glen because you will have a run on somebody and they will just pull down to the inside of the corner in front. And as a result of them blocking you, they slow you up quite a bit over the course of a lap and before you know it you have company behind and it gets real frustrating. But blocking is part of what we do and sometimes it works in your favor and other times it doesn’t. Sometimes a driver will understand it and other times they don’t.
“Those are decisions we all make on the track and when you are in the sport long enough, you realize what those decisions could lead to and honestly who you throw a block on. They could come back and haunt you. So as we are trying to win a race, win for our team, win for our sponsors, there are these other elements that you may not consciously think of; but there is this quick snapshot that flashes through your mind when you throw a block. And I assume when you see the 14, you probably expect something is going to happen. He has made that known over the years, so there are guys that you probably don’t want to do that to. But then again, at the end of the race I feel like things go to the next level and they change and to defend for a win, you have to take some extreme measures at times. There is the simple block down low, and there is taking away someone’s line that doesn’t get talked about as much. But you run the line that the guy was catching you in and technically that is blocking because you are taking the line away from where he was making time up on you. So it’s just part of our sport, and I know it’s a hot topic right now but it’s been in our sport for a long time and it will still be here for a long time.”
CONSIDERING WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU IN THIS RACE LAST YEAR, CAN YOU DRIVE DEFENSIVELY AND LOOK IN THE MIRROR TO PREPARE FOR SOME OF THE STUFF THAT MIGHT BE COMING?
“Ideally you are driving away and not defending. Because the defensive line here is slower and if you are worried about someone making a late-breaking move to the inside of you into a corner, then the way to defend that is to drive in straighter. Your angle isn’t as good in the corner and you have a slower turn. When you have a clean race track and the lead, you want to run that huge arc but if someone is slowly chipping away at you and catching you, and then you have to defend more. That is really your only defensive move at that point, and being aware of what is going on.
“On a restart, I can only recall one three-wide restart into turn one before and it didn’t turn out well. With that one, I had no clue what was going on and so much transpired in a short period of time and as the contact started I heard ‘three-wide’, and then I was already turned around.
“Those are tough, but you know something crazy is happening especially when you have new tires close by. Tires are a big help here and there is usually going to be some hurt feelings when that is all done.”
WHAT IS IT LIKE TO SEE ONE OF YOUR MAIN COMPETITORS NOT HERE? DENNY HAS WON SEVERAL TIMES AND YOU GUYS HAVE HAD BATTLES AND HE IS NOT HERE. ALSO, ANY IDEA ON HOW YOU THINK MARK MARTIN WILL DO RACING THAT CAR?
“I haven’t thought about it from the perspective of Denny being here and for racing for the win, I have thought of it more of how tough it must be to sit out. That is every driver’s worst fear, and every driver’s nightmare, is to watch your car on the track. Especially being injured and sitting there watching. So I have thought about that and what it might be like. The things that he is facing and the things he is thinking about. So that part I have put a lot of thought into and certainly hope to never go through it.
“On the Mark side, as Mark pointed out to you guys when I was walking in, it’s not his favorite track but he had a couple runs here in the 5 (car) when we were teammates. He climbed out of there with a huge smile on his face and felt like he could win. And that car will be fast, so I would expect Mark to be right there in the thick of things.”
WHAT WERE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE RACING AT THE END OF CALIFORNIA, THE WRECKING AND THE STYLE AND WHAT IS IT LIKE FOR DALE JUNIOR. DOES HE LIKE THE POINTS LEAD BECAUSE NOBODY IS PAYING ATTENTION BECAUSE OF ALL THE OTHER STUFF GOING ON?
“I think there are plenty paying attention. Especially his fans and we all know how big of a fan base he has. So I feel like he is enjoying things and he has earned the points lead and we saw this moment coming and him leading the points. We have all seen it and I think it feels good to him and to his team to be there in the thick of it and to back it up and be there once again. So I am proud of him and happy for him as well.
“As far as the racing, it was aggressive. I was having a bad day across the board and I didn’t see a lot of racing because I was being passed by a lot of guys. And with the tire strategy taking place and the draft that this car has, I couldn’t believe how tough it was to maintain your position and how easy someone could draft, how easy I could draft, and the four and five wide. It was total chaos.
“Up front, that was where the spotlight was with the injury and the race win. Definitely aggressive there too, but I don’t know how we didn’t have a 20-car pileup in the middle of the pack. It was out of control.”
HAVE YOU SEEN DALE’S (EARNHARDT JR) MOOD AND DEMEANOR CHANGE FROM LAST YEAR TO THIS IN THAT SIX MONTH STRETCH?
“Just a little more relaxed, confident and enjoying the moment. I guess two or three years ago there were some points throughout him being at HMS where it wasn’t as much fun and he wasn’t as competitive and that is tough on anyone. So to see him and really the relationship that he and Steve (Letarte) have and what they have built together has brought a lot more confidence and certainly more fun. Lot more smiles and a lot more relaxed Dale Jr. than I have seen in the past.”