HOW BIG IS IT NOW TO BE IN THE TOP 10? IS THERE A MENTAL ASPECT TO BEING IN THE TOP 10 FOR YOU AND THE TEAM?
“Yes and No. It’s been business as usual for us to go to the track each week and accumulate points. To be in the top 10 is great. It’s a nice feather in the cap, but there is still a long way to go. You can lose points real easily, but it’s tough to gain the points. So basically from eighth to 18th everybody fits in one shoe box right now.”
ARE YOU SURPRISED ABOUT HOW MUCH MOVEMENT THERE HAS BEEN IN THE POINTS OVER THE LAST THREE WEEKS?
“A weird race for us was Kentucky. We didn’t have a great car but we finished sixth. When I looked at the podium afterwards and saw Tony Stewart finished 20th. I was running with Stewart at the beginning of the race and we were both slip sliding around trying to get all we could. After 267 laps we’re sixth and he’s 20th. It just shows you the sixth through the 20th finishing order is just that tight and it can change that quick. One pit stop or strategy can put you ahead or get you behind. Right now the top five guys each week at the track, when they finish top five it’s because they had a fast car. Actually that’s what your top five are in the points. So, the top five they separate themselves, everybody else is in this big wad because the competition is so even across the board. It doesn’t matter what manufacturer you have. It doesn’t matter what team you have.”
HOW DOES THAT CHANGE THE MINDSET WITH HOW AGGRESSIVE YOU CAN BE WITH SET UP, AND THE RISK YOU TAKE IN PIT STOPS AND ON THE TRACK?
“For us we’ve seen what we can do the wrong way with being too aggressive. Michigan was a perfect example of that. So, we don’t need to get back to the basics, we just need to work on the fundamentals and we’ve been able to do that over the last five or six weeks. When you do that and it starts to erase those bad races we had earlier in the year. When you have the mistakes and you’re going up and down in the points, you don’t have the consistency. I think we’ve turned a nice corner now to put those races together and now we are in the top 10 in points. I think it’s the same thing for a guy like (Jamie) McMurray. They are going through a lot of struggles with just finishing the race and now that he is starting to do that he’s starting to climb up in the points as well.”
DO YOU FEEL LIKE THE GUYS THAT ARE GOING TO MAKE THE CHASE ARE GOING TO WIN IT RATHER THAN LOSE IT? DO YOU THINK IT’S GOING TO BE A MATTER OF PERFORMANCE OR MISTAKES?
“I think it’s going to come down to a situation where you want to control your own destiny. That is you want to go into Richmond and have a target, 20th or better. If we can do that and go the next seven weeks and have good runs, you don’t have to win but you have to stay away from those bad finishes. If you do just nice, consistent runs then you control your own destiny going to Richmond.”
I’M SURE YOU WOULD AGREE THAT THE CHASE WOULD BE MUCH MORE INTERESTING WITH YOU IN IT, CAN YOU KIND OF SPEAK TO THAT? MAYBE IT’S PART OF THE UNDERDOG MENTALITY OF YOUR TEAM.
“It’s going to mean quite a few things for quite a few different reasons. For us to be in the Chase is a huge accomplishment for a single car organization. For me, secondly it’s great to be back in the Chase and the fraternity of guys I’m accustomed to hanging out with over the years. The Chase is still seven, eight weeks away. The best part that Todd Berrier tries to tell everybody is that once we make the Chase, we’re championship eligible. Making the Chase is just the top 12 guys. When you go into Chicago you have a shot at the championship. During that week will be that transition week, but we have to get to that point first. We have to be patient and we have to do our homework. We have to show up and study hard for these next eight weeks.”
TALK ABOUT HOW YOU HANDLED YOURSELF IN THAT ADVERSITY AT SONOMA AND KENTUCKY, HOW EASY OR HARD WAS THAT TO DO AT THE TIME?
“Just working with these guys and knowing we have a lot at stake but yet we don’t, there’s some different ways to look at pressure. For me when you are with a program like Penske where you have to perform, everything is an A+, everything is top-notch and top standards, and you finish 11th in points two years in a row that’s not where you want to be. This has a lot more of potential, the blue sky factor of building and getting this team up. This is much more gratifying.”
CAN IT HAVE ENOUGH OF AN AFFECT TO MAKE YOU WANT TO STAY HERE PAST THE SEASON?
“Yeah, it has that chance but if I accomplish something and check that off the box, what’s next?”
ARE YOU ANY CLOSER TO WHAT YOU ARE GOING TO BE DOING NEXT YEAR? DOES IT MATTER THAT YOU ARE KIND OF IN LIMBO ABOUT NEXT YEAR THROUGHOUT THIS RACE FOR THE CHASE?
“It’s been one thing I’ve been trying to answer in my own mind. We have these eight weeks to focus on, get into the Chase but then it’s not going to change anything if we’re in the Chase because I want to run for the championship. But also contract negotiations and things are in discussion, but you try not to let that weigh any of what’s going on right now. Right now is the most important thing. Living in the present. That’s some of the things going on behind the scenes too. There are a lot of irons in the fire. It’s good to run well. Being in the top 10 in points is an accomplishment. Now we’ve just got to close the door behind us and make sure we are part of the group that is in it.”
TALK ABOUT WHAT IT’S LIKE TO DRIVE FOR JAMES FINCH:
“It was a fun run. We had a lot of fun together doing promotional things, running cars for the Armed Forces Foundation. I know that he wanted to have that flamboyant, that excitement factor on his team. It has that. It’s just hard in this day and age to land that big fish. That big fish sponsor to come in and advertise with you while you are doing those types of things. So, I know he had the fun. He had the excitement, the thrill of being an owner, and the thrill of winning. (Brad) Keselowski helped him do that and feel that. We ran together as trying to build consistency and doing something as a small team. Some weeks we did and some weeks we didn’t. Overall I think he experienced what he wanted to in the Cup series. It’s just that it’s hard to grab that fourth gear and take it to a new level when you don’t have that advertising partner.”
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE HIM?
“He’s a guy that is full of quotes. He’s full of wanting to have the fun side of it. He relaxes at the same time. When he comes to the track, he wants it to be his show. He wants it to be James Finch. He wants it to be Phoenix Racing. He felt like he could rub elbows with the big dogs and just hangs out and have those friendships, but he knew all along that his team didn’t have the same infrastructure and the same funding that all the big dogs had but he could play with the big dogs in the same yard.”
IF YOU WERE COVERING NASCAR HIGHLIGHTS FOR SPORTS CENTER THIS YEAR, WHAT WOULD BE YOUR BEST MOMENT OF 2013, YOUR WORST, AND YOUR CRAZIEST?
“Best moment was probably winning the pole at Darlington. Worst moment was probably speeding on pit road at Sonoma. Then the craziest moment was probably catching on fire at Martinsville.”
IF IT’S LATE IN THE RACE AND A WIN IS ON THE LINE, CAN YOU STILL TAKE A RISK AND GO OVER THE EDGE?
“We’re just going nice and smooth. We’re just trying not to stretch ourselves thin in any area. We know that we have a car capable of winning. We just can’t force it to happen. Just fundamentals. Making sure we go out there to do our job at a level where we’re not going to trip over our own shoe laces.”
DOES NEXT WEEK’S OFF WEEK COME AT A GOOD TIME FOR YOU AND YOUR TEAM?
“We’ll use it to our benefit and that is to get recharged. We’ll actually do a test session. It gives us a chance to analyze our wind tunnel data because I know that we just got our car back from the wind tunnel for Indianapolis. So it’s good that we have that off week. You need those off weeks before a big race like Indy.”
WHAT ABOUT FOR YOU? WILL YOU JUST GET AWAY THEN?
“Yeah, I’m actually taking Patricia down to Argentina for a getaway. We’re going to explore the countryside down there. Just get away from it all for about five days. “
YOU HAVEN’T BEEN DOWN THERE BEFORE HAVE YOU?
“No, I haven’t been down there before.”
YOU TALKED EARLIER BEFORE ABOUT CONSISTENCY WITH THIS TEAM. OBVIOUSLY THIS TEAM HAS GUYS ON IT THAT HAVE CHASE EXPERIENCE AND HAVE HAD SUCCESS WITH GUYS THAT DON’T HAVE AS MUCH OF THAT EXPERIENCE. HOW IS IT MOLDING TOGETHER? IT SEEMS LIKE IT’S A LOT OF PUZZLE PIECES STARTING TO COME TOGETHER FOR YOU
“It’s coming together because we’ve been able to experience enough hardship or mistakes. We’ve made enough mistakes to learn from. When you do it early enough in the year it helps so that when you get things rolling, you need to feel that experience of what it is like. Because if you try to over think it or try to make sure you hit your marks exactly instead of letting it happen second nature, then it doesn’t flow as smoothly. So it’s good that we’ve gotten a lot of tough situation out of the way. Now we need to enjoy these good moments and just keep it rolling.
IS THIS LIKE ANY OTHER YEAR AND GOING FOR THE CHASE OR HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FROM YOUR VANTAGE POINT?
“I think the biggest thing to look at is that the points from eighth to 18th, I might be off a little bit by a position at the top or the bottom, but there is that many more cars that are eligible. It hasn’t been like this in years past. Usually it’s three guys shooting for one spot or it’s five guys shooting for two spots. We know have 10 guys it seems like that have a shot at either a Wild Card or getting in the top 10 out right.”
WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THE INDYCAR RACE AT POCONO?
“It was fun to sit on the couch and watch that on Sunday. Previewed it to watch and then to understand from in-car telemetry and to see the pit strategy side of it. Just it was fun too I sat there with my dad and watched the race. We were routing for Marco Andretti and it was just crazy how the Ganassi guys came out on top. It was cool to see the speeds.
“The speeds are incredible at Pocono and that track now that it’s smoothed out that is why the Indy cars went back there is the track was smooth enough for them to race on and I thought it produced a decent race.”
DOES THE FLAT TRACK HERE AT NEW HAMPSHIRE MAKE IT EASIER OR MORE DIFFICULT TO GET THROUGH TRAFFIC?
“This track if your car is running well you can go to the low side and make up a lot of time. You are not stuck in traffic if you have a good car.”
KEVIN HARVICK EIGHT STRAIGHT TOP-10’S YOU GUYS WORK WITH RCR WHAT HAVE YOU SEEN OUT OF THAT GROUP?
“The way that the relationship has worked with (Kevin) Harvick, the No. 29 and the No. 78 let’s just go that way is that you have a crew chief like Gil Martin with his experience level. Todd (Berrier) is very experienced as well for me, but the two of them Gill and Harvick have been together longer. So they are able to sometimes just end up in the right position because they are on that page together more often. So Todd and I will sit there and scratch our heads sometimes on ‘how did Harvick do that?’ But at the same time we are happy for them to do well because we are sharing information. Anytime they do well we understand exactly what they had. It’s been a matter of us, Todd and myself, filtering through their success to simulate that and to be able to copy that to the best of our abilities. We are routing for them they are routing for us. If we can get two of us in the Chase that is going to make it better I think.”
IT’S NOT LIKE THEY HAVE OVERWHELMED PEOPLE IT’S JUST THAT THEY HAVE JUST ENDED UP AT THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME AT THE END OF THE DAY?
“They have been able to take those top five cars that we have had and win with them. They have been able to take a 12th to 15th place car and put them in the top 10. I think we are starting to crossover such as that Kentucky race for us where we might not of had a sixth place car, but that is where we finished and that was our best running position of the day.”