“It’s really wherever I feel the safest place is. At times in the race that could be the front; at times the back. I think the middle is the area that you don’t want to be in. So we’ll see how qualifying goes and if we start towards the front, it makes sense to go race up front and try to be ahead of everything. It’s just going to be a play-it-by-ear deal. If pit stops or pit strategy goes our way to be up front, we’ll be there. And if it doesn’t, we’ll probably be smart and try to minimize our risk until the end of the race.”
HOW WAS YOUR QUALIFYING LAP? ARE YOU HAPPY WITH IT?
“We went out so early it’s hard for me to tell how that’s going to stack up. I know (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) hoped that we’d run a little quicker, but like a lot of the big teams, and especially the ones racing for the championship, you don’t take a lot of risk in qualifying. You want to make sure your car is going to have the right cooling and the right handling come race time. We had a conservative qualifying set-up in the car and judging by Chad’s tone on the radio, I think we’ll be kind of in the middle.”
WAS IT A STRATEGY TO TRY TO GO OUT EARLY?
“No; yesterday we just did single car drafting and that kept us from running the fast time. So that’s really where that came from.”
IF RACING IN GENERAL IS CONTROLLED CHAOS, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY RACING IN TALLADEGA IS?
“Less controlled chaos (laughs). Yes we all have the pedals and know how to stop the car and all that kind of thing, but the margin for error is so small on a plate track. You’re running three and four wide, many deep, and a few inches makes a huge difference. On a normal track, you can sense somebody is out of shape and give them a couple car widths and give them room. But here, the parameters are so tight. The smallest mistake, or not even a mistake, just a little movement, can create things and set chaos off.”
DOES IT MATTER THAT YOU HAVEN’T FINISHED ANOTHER RESTRICTOR PLATE RACE THIS YEAR? DO YOU CARE? DID YOU REALIZE THAT?
“Oh, I’m aware of it, for sure. Chad was throwing a statistic at me that we’ve finished 25 percent of our plate races. There are four (per year). We’ve crashed out of three (this year). So we’re bound to finish one (laughs). So, I want to believe in my end of that and it’s a good time of the year to finish a plate race. The thing that I have a lot of confidence in is how fast we’ve been on plate tracks. And we’ve been very competitive. We’ve just crashed; or we had an engine failure I guess at Daytona maybe it was; or maybe it was here. Wherever it was, I know we were leading and I had an engine failure.”
LAST YEAR, WHEN YOU AND DALE EARNHARDT JR. WAITED TOO LONG IN THE BACK, IS THAT STILL FRESH IN YOUR MIND THAT MAYBE YOU NEED TO GO EARLIER?
“Yeah, you do. And then again these things have green-white-checkered finishes. So when you go, there is just no way to plan it out right. With cautions being so late, it’s driven by the fact that everybody knows it’s time to go, including the guys that have been riding. Are you putting yourself in a big risk at that point then? Or do you need to go before that? Or, just be real patient and wait it all the way out.
“That’s where the decisions will come from once the race gets going. But the game has changed from where we were last year at this time. We could push a lot longer. So we felt like we had speed in our back pocket and if we worked together as a team, we could get there. But with how hard it is to push because of the overheating issues, you’re opportunity to do that is a lot smaller. So I think it’s a little different race than the one we had last fall.”
IS THERE A SIGH OF RELIEF AFTER THIS RACE?
“It depends on how you finish (laughs).”
IF THIS IS A WILD CARD RACE, WHERE YOU CAN DROP BACK OR MOVE AHEAD, HOW DOES THAT MAKE YOU FEEL?
“Nervous. That’s the thing. We’re all just nervous coming in here. We don’t really know what to expect. But the one thing is that it’s the same for everything. Everybody is coming in here with a lot to lose if things go the wrong way, or a lot to gain if things turn out. So it’s hard to give a clear championship picture at this point.
“Once we leave this race, the control is back in the drivers’ hands a lot more and we can work on a strategy of who is where and what we have to do to beat them.”
REGARDLESS OF THE OUTCOME HERE ON SUNDAY, YOU’VE GOT TO FEEL LIKE WITH CHARLOTTE ON DECK YOU CAN REALLY GO INTO FULL ATTACK MODE NEXT WEEKEND
“Yeah, I love the races in the Chase. They are very good tracks for us. When I look down the line-up, I get very fired up for all of them. Martinsville isn’t too far away. At Texas, we were really strong in the spring there. Phoenix is good; Homestead has been good to us. So I feel like we’ve got a lot of great race tracks coming up.”
WERE YOU IN THE DRIVER/CREW CHIEF MEETING THIS MORNING?
DO YOU HAVE A REACTION TO THE RANDOM QUALIFYING DRAW AND/OR THE NEW TESTING? HOW DOES THAT AFFECT YOU?
“I thought the random draw for qualifying was, and so did a few other drivers, thought that what we have today is a little better and you actually go out and earn that spot. The discussion opened and we talked about things and NASCAR wants to make the change.
“And it is tough to utilize your tire allotment as we try to go out and earn our starting spot and I think that’s what NASCAR is trying to get away from. We only get so many sets of tires and we need to use the full opportunity to use those tires up. Right now we are ending practice with two sets of stickers and we only have one qualifying run on them. It will help us use our tires more and let the teams not worry about exceeding themselves and go out there and use your tires.”
BUT THEN AGAIN THERE ARE PLACES WHERE QUALIFYING IS AT NIGHT OR TRACK-SENSITIVE AND YOU GET A BAD DRAW, WHICH ENDS UP TO BE A BAD SPOT IN THE START OF THE RACE
“It can. It might alter five or six spots on the grid but I don’t think it will completely turn things upside down. But I guess in the end in the spirit of making it exciting, maybe that’s the angle NASCAR has and we’ve got to keep an open mind to that as well.”
DO YOU AGREE WITH THE NEW TESTING POLICY?
“I feel good with it. I don’t know how to manage it all. There’s a lot of opinions. When you talk to the big teams there is a far different opinion than that of the smaller teams. So, I think it’s a decent compromise. It’s going to be interesting with one team at a track with four drivers and how you go about testing who drives, who tests, and who goes where; put a couple of guys in on a weekend on a test date and how that works out. It’s something different for us to play with. Being at the track is good. We need to test at the race tracks we’re racing on and on the right tire. We’re going to test, regardless.. And a test at the wrong track on the wrong tire makes no sense. So this is a great step in the right direction.”