TALK ABOUT MARTINSVILLE AND COMING HERE WITH THE POINTS LEAD:
“It’s real early in the year so it’s hard to get too excited about the long term picture of what Martinsville means. Very excited to win another race, the team works so hard to bring quality equipment week in and week out that is a big thing for the race team and great for everybody it builds a lot of confidence. The thing I look at the most is that it’s a track within the Chase. Coming back there in the fall we have a great place to start and hopefully can have the same type of performance. All in all good, my mind is clearly on big picture and championship, but we won a great battle there. My mind is really focused on the war and trying to win a sixth championship.”
TOO EARLY TO WORRY ABOUT BEING FIRST IN THE POINTS?
“I like it. I love being up top. I think it sends a message to the garage area that we are buttoned up and we are ready and we are able to lead. Leading in the Chase has a bit more impact than leading now, but I will take it. I have always said that. I want to lead every weekend if I can.”
THERE WAS AN OPINION ABOUT LAST YEAR’S RACE HERE AT TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY THAT THERE WAS A LACK OF EXCITEMENT. DOES THAT RACE SORT OF STAND ALONE OR IS THAT THE KIND OF STYLE OF RACING THAT YOU WILL SEE AT TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY?
“It just depends on circumstances. This track and the age of the surface, the bumps that are on the race track really promote great side-by-side racing. I think the fall race speaks to that the battle that (Brad) Keselowski and I had racing for the win and for the point’s title essentially. There are different circumstances that control it. Some of it just the teams and a couple of guys every now and then hit on it and stretch away from the field and you don’t have that side-by-side competition, but there is no doubt that last fall, especially the final stages of the race was awfully exciting.”
YOU HAD BIG NEWS THIS WEEK (ANNOUNCED HE AND WIFE CHANDRA ARE EXPECTING THEIR SECOND CHILD IN SEPTEMBER) CONGRATULATIONS. IS IT TOO EARLY ALREADY TO START THINKING ABOUT HOW YOU WILL HANDLE IT SINCE THE BABY IS DUE AS THE CHASE BEGINS? DO YOU HAVE A BACK-UP DRIVER? HAVE YOU GONE THROUGH ALL THOSE PARTICULARS YET?
“We haven’t yet. We know that we need to, but we still have some time. We are not sure who will be available come that time. I was joking with Aric Almirola last weekend that if he wanted to be my back-up driver again he clearly has a full-time gig and can’t do it. We will just have to see, but we will definitely have a plan like always we will be buttoned up. Our doctor has told me that a father has never missed a birth. That gives me a lot of confidence that I will be able to do my weekend job and then be around during the week to meet number two.”
HOW IMPORTANT WAS THE TEST YESTERDAY?
“It’s important, but I think the teams have all changed their mind set some. The second practice today, really all of our practice sessions are during the day so they don’t give us the accurate track conditions of what we are going to qualify on or race on. So, this morning practice will be helpful and useful. Yesterday the temperatures were cool enough that I think a lot of teams focused on race practice and will use that practice to set them up for the event. The afternoon practice today, I don’t know how productive it’s going to be. I know for us, yesterday was very important and we treated it as if it was a practice session. This morning we will be in qualifying trim. If we are way off, which I don’t think we will be the way yesterday went, we will work harder in the second practice today. If not it will be a pretty casual afternoon for us.”
WHY IS IT GOOD FOR THE SPORT THAT NASCAR HAS TAKEN A HANDS OFF APPROACH?
“I think rivalries are good. That is the fine line that sports walk. Unfortunately, regardless of sport if it’s someone charging the mound like what happened yesterday to drivers charging other drivers that draws a lot more attention to whatever sport it is. There are a small percentage of people that like that and they want to see punches thrown, but I think in general sports fans like rivalries. We all thrive for that moment. That is kind of a line we walk and where the wave crashes. We want the rivalries, we want heated emotions and we want door banging. I don’t think the fans want a sterile environment they want some trash talking. That is the part we want, but we don’t want broken backs. We don’t want drivers injured issues like that. It’s a fine line that our sport walks and all sports walk.”
YOU ENGAGED YOUR FANS LAST WEEK SOME OF THE PEOPLE WHO DON’T LIKE YOU WAS THERE A REASON WHY YOU PICKED LAST WEEK TO ENGAGE THEM? WAS THERE SOMETHING THAT THEY SAID THAT MAYBE PUSHED YOU OVER THE EDGE?
“It wasn’t just last week. You have seen them before where I will call someone out in kind of a polite way and thank them for their dislike or whatever it may be. I just honestly wanted to have fun with it. I saw a theme developing and I just felt like having a little fun with it and kind of stirring the pot. It’s funny after that tweet I haven’t had much negative coming in. Again, I even said this in interviews earlier in the week there is a small, but loud fan base. I think all of us that work in the sport can sense that through the social channels. The majority, I think there is a large chunk that are pro No. 48 then the majority are respectful of No. 48 then there is a small portion that aren’t. I will take those numbers that is fine by me.”
HAS IT EVOLVED INTO A ONE ON ONE COMPETITION BETWEEN YOU AND BRAD KESELOWSKI?
“It’s not really fair to say that it’s just a No. 2 and No. 48 thing. It wouldn’t surprise me if it does. I expect a lot out of that No. 2 car. They proved it last year. They are only getting smarter and the more time they spend together the more experience they have. They are only getting stronger. It’s evident that the relationship Paul (Wolfe) and Brad (Keselowski) have is something like Chad (Knaus) and I have had. Ray Evernham and Jeff Gordon had. You can go down through the list of the great pairings of driver/crew chiefs. I absolutely expect him to be there in it, but the garage area is full of a lot of very competitive drivers and crew chiefs. It wouldn’t necessarily be fair to say it’s a No. 48, No. 2 thing, but again it wouldn’t surprise me if that is what it came down to.”
HOW WOULD YOU CHARACTERIZE YOUR ON TRACK RELATIONSHIP WITH BRAD (KESELOWSKI)? YOU GUYS AREN’T EXACTLY RIVALS?
“No, and I have this relationship with a lot of guys where we are going to race hard. I think Brad (Keselowski) and I what we showed here in the fall showed that. We are going to race hard and get right to that line, but there is nothing malicious involved in it. Absolutely, I want to crush him, I want to lap him every race and I know he wants to do the same to me. I feel that way about others, but I will get out and I will have a beer with him. I will get out and shake his hand and congratulate him for a win, but in the heat of the moment I want to crush him. I don’t want bad things to happen to him, but I absolutely have that competitive spirit and want to crush him.”
HAVE YOU WATCHED THE END OF LAST YEARS RACE AND CAN YOU APPRECIATE WHAT IT MEANT AS A MOMENT? ALMOST REMOVED FROM THE CHAMPIONSHIP RACE?
“Yeah, it was awesome. I enjoyed it in the car. Thought I was going to get turned around in (turns) one and two one of the restarts we had, but we didn’t. We raced right to that ragged edge and pulled it off. Of course I had a good perspective of it after the race when I watched the video and I smiled. That is just good hard racing.”
DID YOU GAIN MORE RESPECT FOR THEM?
“For sure, for sure. I have that great relationship with quite a few guys. There’s others that you get around that maybe don’t have a lot of experience racing for a win so you’re not sure how they are going to handle it or maybe they’re in a position where they are very hungry and aggressive and you have to weigh those things out. With Brad (Keselowski), I put Brad in that category of racing — Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and guys that I really trust and don’t even think about it — just racing for the win.”
DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE A BETTER HANDLE ON THE NEW CAR?
“Just depends on the week. In California we were ready to throw away all of our cars and notebooks and setups and ideas. Go to Martinsville and we had a dominant weekend. I think it’s a work in progress. We’re still evolving with the car.”
ON FAN RESPONSE TO YOU NOT BEING A GOOD TEAMMATE WHEN DALE EARNHARDT JR. SPUN AT MARTINSVILLE:
“It was all kind of equal, from being a bad teammate to being lucky and having a cheated up car. They all sting in a relatively similar manner, but to be honest the sting isn’t all that bad. I’ve been in the sport long enough to know that people are going to say whatever they want, especially hiding behind their laptop or their phone. You just have to take it with a grain of salt. Honestly, I was just having fun with him and just kind of stirring the pot. If they are going to say those types of things then I’m going to play into it and get a good laugh out of it.”
WHY DIDN’T YOU STOP TO LET DALE EARNHARDT JR. GET HIS LAP BACK?
“When the caution came out down the back, the amount of time I had to get the car stopped, my spotter is telling me whatever the car is now blocking the road and I show up. The car is stopped in the middle of the road and now it backs up and I know that I am the head of 42 cars. I assume he’s (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) backing up to let me by and I’ve been in that position where I’ve got to get turned around in front of the field and can’t and my goal is to get the hell out of the way. I just assumed he was backing up to let me go through. After talking to him and Stevie (Letarte, 88 crew chief), really the situation, I was just trying to get going and would liked to have not put him down a lap, but there is no fault held there by what I did. Again, I thought he was backing up to get out of the way.”
ON THE TITLE SPONSORSHIP OF THE RACE
“It’s clearly a sensitive subject and I think that’s a question to be answered by Eddie Gossage or the staff here at the track. It’s a very sensitive subject; and as drivers, we’re here to do our job and put on a great race this weekend. The title sponsorship of an event is well outside of the driver’s focus or anything we have to do with. I do recognize that it is a very touchy topic right now.”
HOW IMPORTANT IS RUNNING WELL AT KANSAS?
“Winning there or running well to try to keep her (Kristine Curley, PR director) happy, she is from that area so as long as I keep Kristine happy then we are in good shape.”