CASEY MEARS, NO. 13 GEICO CHEVROLET SS
met with media and discussed the racing community of Bakersfield, the change to the Chase format, his thoughts on social media, and more. FULL TRANSCRIPT
TALK ABOUT YOUR SEASON
“Everybody is always excited about a season, but we are especially excited at Germain Racing, for sure. We’ve got a lot of things going on with the partnership with RCR. So far all the testing has gone really well. We tested with a lot of speed here in Daytona and went to Nashville, and that worked out really well, too. It’s a big step for our organization. Last year was our first full season and now having a full relationship with RCR from the technical side to being able to review data, cars parts and pieces, it’s a real big step in the right direction for our program.”
BAKERSFIELD SEEMS LIKE A REALLY TIGHT-KNIT COMMUNITY. DID YOU FEEL CONNECTED TO THAT RACING COMMUNITY AS YOU WERE GROWING UP?
‘I did, for sure. In Bakersfield, there’s farming and oil and racing. Really, there is. I don’t know if it’s just because I grew up in it that I knew about it so much, but there is. There’s a fairly large tight-knit racing community there. On the local level, my brother did a lot of racing back at Bakersfield and Mesa Smyrna and I grew up racing at Bakersfield Speedway. As I got older, I started racing open-wheel fairly quickly in off-road, so it kind of took me out of Bakersfield. I came back and ran some open-wheel races actually at Mesa Marin before I had ever run a stock car there. So, it’s a close, tight-knit racing community and at the same time, I know we still have a huge following there. It’s fun.”
WHEN GUYS COME OUT HERE FROM THERE, DO YOU KEEP AN EYE-OUT FOR THEM AND REACH OUT TO THEM BECAUSE YOU KNOW BAKERSFIELD?
“You know what’s funny, is although I heard about some of the younger guys going up, I’ve only seen them around. I haven’t really met them. There is such an age disparity. I think now being back in North Carolina and having a family of my own, it probably took away a little bit from the time that I might have spent back in Bakersfield. So, to be quite honest, when these guys came up, I’d heard of them but really didn’t know them a whole lot. I did have some friends back in Bakersfield I knew that were crew chiefing some of those guys in Late Models and I heard about them coming out in this direction. I know Kevin (Harvick) had a little bit tighter line of sight in bringing a couple of guys out to let them run the trucks and stuff back a couple of years ago. But yeah, you keep tabs. But I don’t know them well.”
DID YOU AND KEVIN HARVICK RUN AGAINST EACH OTHER IN THE EARLY DAYS IN BAKERSFIELD?
“No. Like when we raced go-karts and stuff, he was always a couple of years ahead of me, which was a couple of classes ahead of me. I was there and watched. He raced with my cousin quite a bit. He raced against my brother a lot at Mesa Marin in the stock cars. But as I started getting involved in that stuff, he was already progressing back this way.”
YOU COME FROM A RACING FAMILY. DO YOU THINK YOU WOULD HAVE FOUND YOUR WAY RACING, REGARDLESS OF BAKERSFIELD?
“It’s always hard to say that. I think I have so many ties to my family that a lot of the reasons why I’m racing is because of that. But there is a big racing crowd there and if you wanted to go racing, it wouldn’t be hard to get involved directly. It’s hard to think about that what-if’s. But for sure, I could have definitely gone down that road.
“It’s always hard to say what kind of experience some of these guys have. When you look at a guy like me, I ended up in a very good ride with Ganassi right out of the gate. And I had zero stock car experience. So I was a true, true rookie. I ran the year before in what was the Busch Series at the time, and even then it was a small team. So, I came in very inexperienced. But you look at a lot of these guys coming in now, like Kyle Larson and some of these guys, they’ve got a lot of stock car experience under their belt; and a lot of just racing experience in general before they ever come here. Some of those guys I think will do just fine. But maybe if you haven’t been in stock cars much before it would probably be good to start with a smaller team and then get that opportunity so you can really capitalize on it when you get there.”
THERE IS A LARGE ROOKIE CLASS THIS YEAR. DO YOU THINK IT’S POSSIBLE TO TAKE THAT LOWER TIER RIDE OR ARE YOU SELLING YOURSELF SHORT RIGHT OUT OF THE GATE?
“You know what’s hard in our sport is it’s hard to prove yourselves in some of those smaller teams. It really is. So, what you risk as a young guy coming into a team that maybe can’t quite get it done, there might always be that question in your mind to other bigger team owners. You know, is it them or is it the team the reason why they’re not performing. And quite honestly if you’re not with one of the bigger teams that has the funding to really take advantage of it and do it right, it’s very hard to compete at this level. Obviously if they can do something and really standout, it’s not a bad road to take. But it can work for you in either direction, really, depending on how it shakes out.”
WHERE DID YOU GET YOUR GOOD WORK ETHIC?
“For sure from my dad, and my mom. Really. Just growing up with those guys. My mom worked countless hours trying to do everything behind the scenes to help my dad’s race program stay where it is. She did the books, she did all the travel, she did everything. And my dad was into it 24/7. My dad didn’t grow up in a wealthy family. They loved to go racing. They worked on backhoes throughout the week to pay for their racing habit on the weekends and that’s just what they did. They raced Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays; and a lot of times on Sundays. I learned it from my parents.”
DO YOU REMEMBER YOUR FIRST SET OF WHEELS AS A KID?
“The very first thing that I got really excited about was my dad ended-up with a Diamond Back sponsor at one point and I was racing BMX at the time and I got a brand new Diamond Back BMX bike. And that was the first thing that I got really, really excited about.”
ON THE MENTAL AND PHYSICAL ENTITIES OF RACING
“It varies from track to track. At Daytona and Talladega, more than the physical demanding side, it’s just very tense. You’re running so close and so tight, and you find yourself gripping the wheel a lot tighter than you should. You are thinking about a lot of things and you mentally just get drained. On top of that, it gets hot. And that’s when the physical aspect comes in. But then when you get to a place like Bristol or Martinsville or Watkins Glen or Sonoma, you physically can get tired. Your arms, your shoulders, your legs, how hard your pressing on the brakes, there’s a lot more physical aspects to what we do than I think a lot of people have thought in the past.”
NASCAR.COM JUST ANNOUNCED THEY ARE DOING FANTASY RACING. DO YOU HAVE A FANTASY RACING TEAM? DO YOU THINK IT’S A WAY TO BRING MORE FANS INTO THE SPORT LIKE THE NFL HAS?
“I don’t personally have a fantasy team. I think I focus so much on actually doing it, that it’s hard. I do think it’s impressive how far it’s come. I think it’s a great way to get fans involved and keep them engaged. I know from the fantasy football side of things, just listening to the people that are involved in that, it becomes passionate.
“It’s just like anything else. If you throw a bet down but you don’t really care about it, you’re not going to follow it. But when you watch these guys who invest some in their football teams or their racing teams and it really gives you something to pull for and something to root for, and I think it’s a great thing.”
WHY DO YOU THINK NASCAR MADE SUCH A DRAMATIC CHANGE TO THE CHASE FORMAT?
“I think the biggest thing is to create more excitement and I think making it easier for a lot of the fans to follow it. Quite honestly, if you start getting into the nuts and bolts of how it’s always been, it can get somewhat confusing to the casual fan. So It think that one, it’s going to make it a lot more exciting; and two, I think it makes it a lot easier to kind of understand. When you look at other sports, it’s very simple. Somebody wins and somebody loses. And that’s how it goes on down the line until somebody wins the championship. And in our sport, it was always very convoluted. There were do many bonus points and extra things. Somebody can finish fifth and still win the championship and it’s kind of hard to understand that sometimes.”
DOES SUCH A DRASTIC CHANGE HURT THE INTEGRITY OF THE SPORT?
“I really don’t think so. Our world has changed so much. You’ve got to be careful to understand the history of our sport and honor that. But at the end of the day, the world has changed so much. The sponsors have changed so much. The amount of dollars that are flowed into these programs has changed a lot. So, I think they’ve done a good job of clarifying those things.
“We’ll all be able to look back at the end of this year and go man, if it was last year’s rules, we would have finished much better. But at the end of the day, it’s the same points for everybody. Everybody has the same opportunity and it’s going to be who takes advantage of it the best.”
ANY CONCERNS THAT WINNING A CHAMPIONSHIP OVER TIME WON’T MEAN THE SAME?
“No way. No, not at all. If you’re in that top four going into Homestead, you’ve earned it. I think they way they have it stacked out right now, you can’t be a fluke and win and make it in that final four. If you won a race, you’re going to have to back it up from the time the Chase starts until the time it ends to have an opportunity to win the championship. The guy or gal that wins this year, it’s going to be earned.”
WHO IS THE PERSON YOU MOST ENJOY FOLLOWING ON TWITTER?
“You know what’s funny is that I follow more people that are outside of our sport than I do inside our sport. I follow a handful of the drivers. I enjoy following Jimmie (Johnson) just because he’s a friend of mine. Anything personal that he posts about his family and his kids and stuff is always fun for me to just take a look at.”
HOW MUCH TIME TO YOU SPEND ON TWITTER DURING AN AVERAGE WEEK OR AVERAGE DAY?
“When it started out, I was trying to be very active in it. And I still do, from time to time. I post something anywhere to maybe three times a week to maybe 15 times a week depending on what’s doing on during that weekend or if it’s exciting or if there is something worth posting. At first I was like you know, hey, good morning. Or, what are you guys doing for breakfast? (laughs) And you find yourself quite honestly, finding that balance between real life and what you do and actually keeping the fans engaged and posting things that have good content. There’s a good balance there.”
WHAT’S THE BIGGEST BENEFIT OF SOCIAL MEDIA IN GENERAL?
“Just the fans interaction. It’s such a direct way to connect with the people that love our sport. And, I think at first I was very hesitant to do it because the Internet was so unpredictable. People could just post whatever they want and some of it was positive and some of it was negative. But I find that it’s a good outlet for us to post what we want on the Internet. Post the good pictures and the good things that are going on in our lives. So really, it has turned out to be a good outlet to make it a positive platform to post what you want.”
DO YOU EVER HAVE THOSE TIMES WHEN YOU JUST GET FED UP WITH IT?
“Not necessarily. I think one time when Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. ran into me on pit road and I got the tail-end of it, you know what I mean? It was like I was coming into my pit stall and he ran into me and I got all this flack for getting in his way, you know (laughter). It was crazy. You have those fans but it’s more than something that upsets you; it’s just something kind of funny.”
DO YOU KEEP TRACK OF HOW MANY FOLLOWERS YOU HAVE VERSUS OTHER DRIVERS?
“Not necessarily because I really think there could be a lot of things that could boost my following. But it requires some intense interaction followed by mailing things out or sending things out and doing those types of things. And just being a smaller team, a smaller organization, I really don’t have the staff that a lot of these guys to do follow-through with doing those types of things. So, I post as I see fit and if people want to follow, great. And if they don’t, no problem.”
KYLE LARSON, NO. 42 TARGET CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at 2014 NASCAR Media Day and discussed: entering his rookie season in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series; racing for Chip Ganassi; his relationship with his crew chief; racing outside of NASCAR and other topics. FULL TRANSCRIPT.
INAUDIBLE: “I don’t’ think there has been a rookie of the year battle in quite a while like this one with so many rookies in the rookie class for this year. I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a lot of fun this whole season. Austin Dillon’s got to be the favorite for that with everything he has accomplished. If I could beat him I think that would say a lot about myself and our team and kind of how it all came about. I’m really excited and hopefully just be consistent, competitive and run up front and try to get that thing.”
WHAT ARE YOU LEARNING IN STOCK CARS? THIS IS YOUR THIRD YEAR. THE LEARNING CURVE’S GOT TO BE A CONSTANT: “Yeah, it’s only my third year. I learn a lot every time I get in the car. We got to do quite a bit of testing this off season in the Cup car so that helped me learn some things especially with fuel mileage stuff. A lot of the Cup races come down to fuel mileage and I’ve never really had to deal with that. It was good at the test. We would work on the car a little bit, but we would also work on myself a lot. I think that’s going to help prepare me for this season and certain situations that come upon us and hopefully I will be able to tackle them.”
THIS IS A DEEP ROOKIE CLASS. YOU SEE GUYS LIKE MARK MARTIN, BOBBY LABONTE, JEFF BURTON PROBABLY WON’T DRIVE MUCH THIS YEAR. IS THIS REALLY A CHANGING OF THE GUARD IN NASCAR? “Yeah, little bit and I think that’s a good thing for the sport. New fresh faces come in, I think will attract younger fans and bring a new energy or whatever to NASCAR racing. I think it’s good for the sport. I really look forward to seeing how it all plays out throughout the year because I think it’s going to be good .”
ARE THERE ANY OLDER GUYS THAT YOU TALK TO (INAUDIBLE)? “My teammate Jamie McMurray has a ton of experience in stock cars. He’s won just about every big race there is. He’s definitely a guy I can go to to talk about things. He’s really easy to talk to and I think he really likes giving me advice, so he’s a good one to go to. Tony Stewart. I’m sure I can talk to Jeff Gordon. Those are three good guys that I can probably talk to.
IT’S EASIER TO TALK TO A GUY WHO HAS THE SAME BACKGROUND AS YOU? “I think Tony will be easy to talk to because we kind of know the same language and can describe things to where I will know what he’s talking about. The lingo is a little bit different between different types of racing and stuff. Tony will be easy to talk to about that stuff. I’m sure he will be willing to help me, I hope. Throughout the year, I will probably be able to talk to more people after I become friends with them and stuff. It will be fine for me. ”
YOU ARE ONE OF THE SMALLER GUYS ON THE CIRCUIT? DO YOU SEE THAT AS AN ADVANTAGE, DISADVANTAGE OR INSIGNIFICNT IN TERMS OF YOUR ABILITY TO DRIVE OR HELPING THE CAR IN ANY WAY? “I think it’s pretty insignificant. We’re just a small part of the whole picture – and that’s the race car and the team. As far as physically, I don’t get tired or anything like that. I could usually run longer or a lot more at the end of the race. I don’t think size is an issue. You see Jimmie Johnson who is super in shape. He’s winning championships. And then Tony Stewart, who also wins a lot of championships. So it doesn’t make a difference, I think. ”
ARE YOU INTO FITNESS YOURSELF? “I haven’t been, but I’m starting to work out a little bit at the shop with our guys.”
KYLE, THERE’S A LOT OF CHANGES IN NASCAR CUP THIS YEAR, BUT THERE’S ALSO A LOT AT CHIP GANASSI RACING AND YOU’RE A PART OF THAT. I WAS TALKING TO JAMIE MCMURRAY EARLIER. DO YOU GET A SENSE THAT THERE’S A LOT OF EXCITEMENT AROUND nkm sure. Over the past couple of years, I’ve gone to a few of their Tuesday lunch meetings where they get everybody in the shop in there and go over the weekend and stuff. A few years ago, they weren’t very excited in there. And each year, it seems like everybody in the shop gets more and more excited. And that’s coming from the cars running better. We had a meeting two days ago and you could just see the looks on everybody’s faces. We’re super pumped up about Speedweeks, getting the season started. I think everybody in there feels like we are really prepared. Even listening to Jamie, who’s been with the team a long time, he feels like this is the best the team’s been since he’s been there. I think that says a lot about the changes they’ve made and making the cars and the team better.”
DO YOU THINK THERE WILL BE A GOOD POSITIVE COME OUT OF THE FACT THAT YOUR CREW CHIEF AND HIS HAVE PRIOR WORKING EXPERIECE TOGETHER AND COME FROM THE SAME ORGANIZATION? “I think so. Keith (Rodden) – you can tell Keith is extremely smart. People even from outside of our team talk about how smart Keith is. And also Shine (Chris Heroy), my crew chief, you can tell he’s a really, really great team leader. He’s extremely focused. All the engineers and everybody in the shop make the cars go fast. I think we’ve got a really good combination between both the 1 team and the 42 team.”
CHRIS HEROY’S ALSO AN OPEN WHEEL GUY, TOO, SO THAT’S GOT TO BE NICE? “Yeah, California, too. I got to work with Shine a lot at the end of last year. We did, I think, like five or six tests so I got to get used to him and really my whole team before I even got to run for this year. They’re all easy to get along with. We’ve had some fun at the tests while it’s raining and stuff. It’s been a good off season getting to know all the guys and hang out with them a little bit .”
BECAUSE OF YOUR BACKGROUD, WOULD YOU LIKE TO TAKE A SPIN IN (SCOTT) DIXON’S CAR? “Yeah, for sure. I think that would be awesome, and hopefully someday I will get that shot. I think Jamie said he got to run IndyCar, also. Being with Chip, you have those opportunities to run other different types of vehicles. I got to run the Rolex 24 Hour race, which is probably something that I never thought I was going to be able to do and got to do it when I was this young. And hopefully, I can compete in the Indy 500 someday. That would be awesome.”
HAVE YOU ALREADY TALKED TO CHIP AND STARTED LOBBYING EARLY FOR THAT? “Not lately. I went to the 500 this year. I jokingly said that I would like to, and I’m sure jokingly back (Chip) said ‘Sure, let’s do it.’ Who knows, though. It’s so tough to do with the schedules of the month of May and all the stuff we have going on in the Sprint Cup Series. Nobody’s really done it in quite a while, so if I could do it someday, I would be up for it.”
KYLE, YOU’VE RECEIVED A LOT OF PRAISE FROM OTHER DRIVERS – BEING THE NEXT BIG THING. HOW DOES THAT WEIGH ON YOU? “It means a lot to me. I think it’s definitely helped to help me get me to where I’m at right now. Having guys that everybody looks up to talk about me. I definitely pay attention to it, or have. I try not to pay too much attention to it because I don’t want to add any much pressure to myself or even let me get cocky or anything like that. Like I said, I try to put it in the back of my head as much as I can and just go out there and have fun and not pay attention to that stuff.”
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR 2013 SEASON AND WHAT YOU WERE ABLE TO ACCOMPLISH? “2013 throughout all my racing was up and down. It definitely wasn’t my strongest year as far as wins go. I won 16 races throughout my whole 2013 season in all different types of cars. I finished second 18 times, which is way too many. In Nationwide though, I came up close four times to winning a race. I’d say it was a good season overall. There was times when we were heading in the wrong direction but we were able to get back up and do good. I would say it was a good season.”
A YEAR AGO, WOULD YOU HAVE SAID YOU WOULD BE IN SPRINT CUP RIGHT NOW “I’d like to have hoped so. It happened. So yeah, I guess. Everybody dreams to be here. I did.”
YOU HAD AN EVENTFUL SPEEDWEEKS LAST YEAR. “Last year, I got a lot of exposure. Some for good reasons, and a lot for bad. This year, I’m just hoping to have it all be good exposure and be in the headlines for good things. I’m really excited to get Daytona Speedweeks started and get on track. Try not to think about last year.”
KURT BUSCH IS STILL TRYING TO PUT AN INDY DEAL TOGETHER. HOW MUCH OF A DYNAMIC DO YOU THINK THAT WOULD ADD. “He’s ‘The Outlaw,’ so I think it would be really cool if he could do that. Kurt’s got a ton of talent. I hope he gets something together. Although I would like to be the next one to do it, it would be cool if he could do it, too. I think it would help make it easier for NASCAR guys to go do the double so yeah, I hope he can do it.”
WILL YOU MISS BEING ABLE TO RUN DIRT TRACK RACES SO OFTEN? “Yeah, I’ll miss it a little bit. Normally, where ever we’re racing NASCAR races, there’s a race somewhere close you can go watch. So, I have just as much fun watching. I’ll be doing plenty of that this week at Volusia.” YOU WON’T BE RACING THOUGH? “No.”
HOW MUCH DID YOU HAVE TO SCALE IT BACK? ARE YOU COMPLETELY NOT RACING? “I don’t think I’m completely not going to race. I think with running Sprint Cup and Nationwide, you’re busy from Wednesdays to the next Monday almost. So, you don’t have a whole lot of time to do things outside of racing the NASCAR stuff. If I can hit a handful of them throughout the year, I think that would be pretty good. I got to run Chili Bowl, which was fun. I’m not planning on running any the first few months, just trying to get used all this stuff. Hopefully, if I’m doing good, I can go race that stuff. ”
HOW DOES YOUR CRASH IN THE NATIONWIDE RACE LAST YEAR AFFECT YOU COMING BACK HERE? DOES IT PHASE YOU AT ALL MENTALLY AND HOW DOES THAT CRASH COMPARE TO OTHERS YOU HAVE HAD? “It doesn’t phase me at all. I’ve crashed racing Sprint Cars and stuff before that have hurt a lot worse than that. That one was just a little different because of how crazy it looked and all the stuff going into the stands. Physically and mentally, I was fine. I still am. I didn’t think about it at all really after the first quarter of the season last year all the way on. And now the only reason why I think about it is because I get asked about it every time. I can’t wait for the questions to be done about it, but I understand.”
DRIVERS HAVE TO HAVE A GOOD WORK ETHIC. WHERE DID YOU GET YOURS? “My work ethic? I think just being busy all the time racing as much as I do over 100 and something times a year you’re always racing and try to stay in shape. Long weeks and stuff, racing, which is fun. Lately, I’ve been going to the shop to work out and hang out with the guys and stuff. I guess my work ethic is getting better than it used to be.”
WHEN YOU WERE A YOUNG GUY INAUDIBLE? “I definitely remember racing or running my little go-kart at my dad’s friends house and racing competitively at Red Bluff in outlaw kart stuff. Those days were a lot of fun, and I will never forget them.” HOW OLD WERE YOU? “I was seven when I started racing the outlaw karts, but I was four I think, when my dad built me a little kart to play around in.”
WHEN YOU WERE YOUNGER, I KNOW YOU HAD A DIFFERENT PATH THAN A LOT OF THESE GUYS, DID YOU RACE AGAINST SOME OF THE GUYS MOVING UP IN THE NASCAR RANKS AT AN EARLIER AGE? “Tyler Reddick, who is running for Brad Keselowski, I grew up racing with him. I knew him when he was probably four years old when he was racing. I’ve had a lot of time racing with him and traveling to the Midwest and stuff to race go-karts. He went and raced dirt Late Models and stuff so I haven’t really been around him a lot the last few years but he’s probably one guy I’ve got the most experience or background with. Other than that, I’ve raced Tony (Stewart) a little bit and Kasey (Kahne) whenever they do it.”
OBVIOUSLY THERE’S A LOT OF TALK ABOUT THE 3 CAR RETURNING WITH AUSTIN DILLON. AS A YOUNG GUY WHAT DOES THE 3 MEAN TO YOU? “You definitely relate the 3 to Dale Earnhardt and how special that was. He did a ton of great things. You watch NASCAR throwback kind of shows where they show great moments from years past and a lot of them feature Dale Earnhardt and the No. 3. I think it’s a good thing that Austin’s in the 3. It’s been a while since (Earnhardt’s) accident. You know, RCR owns the number. I think it’s their choice and I think Austin is that type of, sort of throw-back driver a little bit, with his cowboy hat and everything. I think he’ll suit the black No. 3 pretty well.”
DO YOU REMEMBER WHEN DALE HAD HIS ACCIDENT? WERE YOU WATCHING THE RACE? DO YOU RECALL MUCH ABOU THAT? “I remember watching it. Every time you see an accident, you’re hoping it’s not as big of an accident as you think it is. NASCAR’s pretty safe, so you don’t really ever think that anything bads going to happen. Then they made the announcement. I just remember it being a really sad day for the whole world, really. It was such a major scene. That’s a day that probably everyone won’t forget.”
DO YOU LIKE THE IDEA OF STAGING A RACE FOR CHAMPIONS LIKE THEY USED TO HAVE WHERE YOU BRING THE TOP DRIVERS TOGETHER? “Heck, yeah. I remember watching that when I was really young – the Race of Champions. I always dreamed of running in it. I don’t know if they still do it or not, or at least it’s not televised anymore where we can’t watch it. I think it would be fun for a type of guy like me. I have driven so many types of car. You go there and you run in buggies and weird race cars. If I ever got the opportunity to do that, I would definitely jump on it.”
WHAT WOULD BE FOUR GOOD VENUES OR TYPES OF RACES IN YOUR OPINION? “I don’t know if you could pick four. You could take one of each style of racing and see who’s good. Go to a mile-and-a-half somewhere, a short track in a stock car. Take one of the best drivers in every series to the Chili Bowl and see how they stack up against a few hundred other drivers. Go race a Trophy Truck somewhere. Go race F1. You could – it’s hard – you could pick one type of series or vehicle for each thing, a lot more than four.”
YOU’VE RACED THIS TRACK NUMEROUS TIMES? TO BE HERE FOR CUP IS THERE ANY EXCITEMENT? HOW DO YOU VIEW THIS WEEKED? IT’S FINALLY HERE OR IT’S JUST PART OF YOUR DAY JOB, IT’S WHAT’S YOU DO? “I’d say it’s more part of my day job and what I do. But It’s definitely exciting, too, to know that this is going to be my first of hopefully many Daytona 500s. It’s the biggest race of the year. It’s a really cool feeling knowing that a lot of little kids and myself growing up dreamed of being in NASCAR racing the Daytona 500 is one race you all know . It will be a lot of fun taking the green next Sunday for the race.”
OBVIOUSLY YOU HAVE HAD A LOT OF SUCCESS THROUGH THE RANKS AND THAT’S WHY YOU ARE HERE AT THIS LEVEL. ANY PARTICULAR TRIALS OR TRIBULATIONS? “I always kind of thought that I would make it. There was probably a few times when I was like having hard times, but never really thought I wouldn’t make it. There was times when I would get down racing a couple of years ago in Pennsylvania and stuff where you’re like ‘Man, this is a lot tougher than I ever thought.’” INAUDIBLE. “Yeah, the PA Possey. They are tough. Really, probably the one time that when I really thought I wasn’t ready or what was my first Sprint Car race. I was 14, a lot smaller than I even am now, racing against guys that are in their 40s and 50s that my parents had been watching since they were teenagers. I tore up my car. Was in the back of the B-Main. I just really was like ‘Wow, this is a lot different than go-karts’ where I could dominate in. That was probably the one time where I was like ‘Man, I don’t know if I’m ready.’ Then came out a couple of weeks later and ran sixth, and kind of knew I could kind compete with those guys. It seemed like each step you go, you realize you’re just as good as those guys.
WHERE WAS THAT FIRST SPRINT CUP RACE? “That was at Plasterville Speedway in Northern California.”
AND YOU TORE THE CAR UP? “Yeah, I destroyed it. I was just in the way, and wrecked in the heat. In the B-Main, and was getting lapped and was in the way and got drilled and destroyed the car.”
DID ANY OF THOSE GUYS YELL AT YOU OR TALK TO YOU? “I remember my crew chief at the time was Larry Shelton, and he’s a pretty intense guy. I’m 14 years old, and he’s screaming at me saying how bad I was. He made me cry and everything.” YOU CRIED? “I was also 14 years old, and I had just destroyed the car. But then probably six months later after I had raced and won a couple of races, he called me back and said ‘Man, I’m sorry. You’re making me eat crow.’ So, that was pretty cool.”
ARE YOU GOING TO CURTAIL ANY OF YOUR SHORT TRACK STUFF THIS YEAR? “Yeah, I won’t get to do a whole lot of it this year because I will be racing fulltime in the Sprint Cup Series, as well as the Nationwide Series. It takes up a lot of time throughout the year. I’ll try to get a handful of them in, maybe towards the end of the season. I enjoy watching races, so I will go there, to as many Sprint Car races as I can and be a spectator. I like that.”
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at the 2014 NASCAR Daytona Media Day and discussed: changes in qualifying procedures; outlook for the season; changes in the Chase; racing at Daytona and other topics. FULL TRANSCRIPT:
Q. REGARDING RICHARD PETTY COMMENT
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I just caught wind of that, so I'm not so prepared.
Q. HOW CLOSE DO YOU FEEL LIKE DANICA IS TO WINNING A RACE AND HER CAPABILITIES?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think her most immediate opportunity to win would be plate-wise. What she's shown down here, especially in the 500, look at what she did in Indy, she had a really good chance of winning there at the 500 once or twice, and last year was in a great position through the course of the race.
I'd say plate racing is probably the first opportunity for her. It's just going to take time to sort out of the other areas. We have the ability to see open-wheel drivers coming to NASCAR. Outside of Tony, we haven't seen
I'm still interested in watching, if whatever happened, a (indiscernible) car guy going that direction. You need at least five years over here to figure out what's going on, understand these cars, be competitive.
Regardless if it's Danica, a male driver, whoever it is, you really need five years to kind of get yourself where you need to be in this sport and find those last few 10ths. It's one thing to get within a couple seconds, but the last few 10ths are the hardest thing to find.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's experience. When you come off the truck, you have to know the line you're going to run, where your braking points are, your turn-in, on throttle, the fuel you're looking for. You need all those things because if you don't and you need an hour of the two-hour practice session to find your way, you just lost an hour to the fuel, you lost an hour to the 48, to Tony, to the 24, guys that unload that way. That is the hardest part.
I can remember my Nationwide days, at the end of the Nationwide race, I was like, Man, if I came back now, I would be so much better. I just didn't have the repetition and the time. That's a big part of succeeding in NASCAR.
I think for most open-wheel drivers, they don't get a five-year window to figure it out. I was telling this to Travis Pastrana, to Ricky Carmichael, guys from other disciplines that come in, you need five years.
Go run ARCA for two or three years, go run Trucks, but you get to Nationwide and on, you get one year. If you're lucky, you get two or three. Most people get a year and then move on. It's a tough industry to come into.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I had no clue what they saw. My fifth year ever in a stock car was in the 48 at Hendrick Motorsports. Man, I was still busy knocking down a lot of walls, trying to figure out where to be, what to do. I didn't even know where the gas pumps were at all the racetracks. It was a running joke among the 48 team whether we were coming in, Jimmie, turn in here on pit road, the gas pumps are over here. I didn't even know where to put gas in the car.
Q. DOES THE (INAUDIBLE) FEEL DIFFERENT TO YOU THIS YEAR?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, not yet. It's been out of mind for sure. That could be due to the addition to the household. It's very busy at home with two. So many parents with more than one kid tell me how much busier it was going to be. I'm like, Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. It's far busier than having one.
There's some of that, and the other part is I haven't been in that mental space yet racing or competing. I think as the year goes on and if we are to make the Chase and get down to the race at Homestead, that's when it will be top of mind. Right now it's so far away, such a process to get there, I haven't put much thought into it.
Q. ANY TROUBLE GETTING DOWN HERE?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, we got out this morning. We were smart, repositioned our plane to Charlotte-Douglas. The trip from the hangar to the runway was exciting. They hadn't plowed any of that. I thought I was in an off-road truck for a while trying to get out to the runway.
Q. DO YOU GAME PLAN DIFFERENTLY THIS YEAR KNOWING YOU'RE PROBABLY GOING TO GET INTO THE CHASE?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I mean, it certainly will. People will. We haven't talked about it amongst the 48 team. We've always felt, especially when the wild card program came in, if you were to win one or two races you could play for a while. As you get close to September, we always believed you had to fine tune and be done with major concept changes and really pick your package and refine it.
2005 we thought we were real cute and smart and locked in early, had a big points lead, did all this experimenting, kind of lost our way and got confused when the Chase started and it backfired on us.
We prefer to have a package and move forward at that point. But the start of the year, you just got to be open to it. If you're off, you've got to go test, you have to go work. If you're on and competitive, you can probably be a little patient and preserve your test sessions. It's going to be an ever-changing and evolving process.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I still think the way you win a championship is the same: you've got to win races. I think it builds more excitement with the fact that you've got to win the transfer, there's that elimination process that works its way down.
I still feel very good about it. When we look around at sports, everything's changing. The Olympics look far different than they used to. NFL is considering change. All sports. The world is changing. Our viewership is changing, so the sport has to change.
I'm not sure if this is the exact thing, the right thing. Only time will tell. But I do support NASCAR and I do commend them on making a bold change and think that it's -- I know it's going to bring excitement, especially those final 10 races.
I still think there's some more change out there that can be done. You can argue the first 26, what's going on there. I think you can argue the overall premise that maybe there's a little too much NASCAR at times. Maybe we race too many times, our races are a little long. I think there can be some format changes and procedure changes during the course of an event to kind of compact that.
We know it's a major time commitment to come to the racetrack. You got a two-hour commute with traffic in and out, you have a five-hour event. That is just a daunting task for a lot of families.
In my opinion, there's some other areas where we can work in as well. Kind of where the conversations were before this announcement cam out.
When change was to come, I felt like it would change in other directions and our process to crown a champion was going to stay intact, but it ended up being the opposite.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I mean, granted, I don't own these tracks. It's very easy for me to sit as a driver over here and say it. We race at a lot of tracks twice. I know from the Auto Club Speedway side of things, I had friends when there was one race, they went religiously every year because it was the only opportunity to see me race and other drivers race. When there was two, it gave them an out. I'm not in the position in the spring, I'll go in the fall. The fall comes around, I'm busy, I'll go in the spring. That's my one example of it. I think there is some of that that goes on. I think when there's venues that can't sell out both events, maybe one race would be better for them.
So I think that's the way to limit the amount of races we run and shorten the program. We have started that. We have shortened some of the distances at races. I think that's been helpful.
I thought there was going to be a big shake-up there. I felt like we were looking at maybe heat races and a feature, some type of format change like that for our Sunday show. I was shocked to hear the changes that were coming.
Q. REGARDING CONSISTENCY
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it's great for a work environment. That's where I thrive and do my best work. If you look at my personal life, always being in relationships, there's always consistent things going on.
The world we created at Team 48 is perfect for that. It helps us hold things down because we've got a strong nucleus of people. As things change, and there's a lot of change this year, when you look at qualifying procedure, the way the champion is crowned, rules package, officiating, they're parking the transporters different. Every time I hear something, something is different. It's going to be nice to have a familiar foundation to work from.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I really don't believe it in the bottom of my heart. When you look at you got to win, win in the Chase, that all suits the 48. That's what we've done. The only catch is making sure we're buttoned up in Homestead. The couple times we've needed to be, we've had the speed and been able to go down there and be competitive.
I don't see it as an attempt to stump the 48. I really think it's to build excitement. I felt like there would be change. We were talking about it earlier. I didn't know this would be the change. But we need to evolve. We need to change. Hopefully this is the right thing.
Q. IN SOME WAYS WE'VE NEVER SEEN HOW GOOD YOU CAN BE AT HOMESTEAD BECAUSE YOU'VE NEVER HAD TO BE.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah. We respond well to pressure. That's one thing that the 48 has done a nice job with. First things first. We got to transfer through the different segments, make sure we're not eliminated and have a shot at it.
Q. YOU HAVE TALKED ABOUT THE CHANGES THAT HAVE TAKEN PLACE. WHEN YOU LOOK AT ALL OF THAT, THE CHAMPIONSHIP, QUALIFYING, THE APPEALS PROCESS, THAT'S A LOT IN ONE YEAR. AS A RACING FAN, IS THAT A GREAT DEAL OF CHANGE FOR THIS SEASON?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, fan or participant, it is a lot of change. In certain aspects of it, NASCAR has worked hard. I think it was a third party that came in and evaluated the business in a variety of aspects. They've come up with these changes that they're making. I really think they're for the betterment of the sport. I think the infractions, there's a category that it falls into, the appeals process, the rule book changing, having CAD drawings really shows what's approved and what's not, the approval process.
There's a lot of areas there that needed to be updated, perfected, be black and white, crystal clear the way things happen and work. I'm happy to see all that coming.
I think from an approval process they asked from all our parts sometime in January. I don't know how they're going to go through all the stuff. They have our stuff, Penske's, Childress'. I think it's going to take a year or so to get everything ironed out as it needs to be.
Brian's made it clear: the success of this sport is on his shoulders. He's going to make change and not be afraid to make change. Then we get into the way we crown the champion, that aspect. Definitely a bold move made. I'm supportive of the move and hope that it's the right move.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We got the five in a row. I felt like we could maybe get up there to Richard or to Dale. Man, it's so tough. It is so tough to do. I'm not taking it lightly or for granted. I wanted to see six come and then worry about seven. Now we're here. Hopefully we'll have another opportunity at it.
Q. IS IT MY IMAGINATION OR DOES THE BODY TYPE OF DRIVERS SEEM TO BE SHRINKING NOWADAYS?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Under the circumstances because we're not athletes (laughter).
If you drove the car at your capability for the entire race, you'd break it. You've heard these stories of guys, David Pearson, even Junior Johnson stories, laying back, being smart, not worrying about your equipment, going when you need to.
It's changed. It's changed so much in the 12 or 13 years I've been in the sport. The weakest link is the driver. That's why the fitness is so important.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We've had a few things, I can't remember which exact rule it was, but Junior was new to Hendrick. It took us a while to sort it out.
I've watched the 88 and watched Junior grasp things, really kind of help the company pull in and find the direction where to go. So there have been moments where we've been slow to figure it out.
But in general, when the rules stay the same, the top finds all the magic, then they run out of places to go, which allows the bottom to catch up. The whole world of equality being the desired thing, I don't understand why there's always so much change. Because just when the top reaches and finds all they can get, the bottom catches up, we open it up, the top gets away. There's an opportunity there, and one that we typically find and exploit.
Q. REGARDING WINNING CHAMPIONSHIPS WITH A DIFFERENT FORMAT
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It does. I mean, I feel regardless of car or points system, we'll be a threat. It would be nice to win one, two, whatever, with the new format.
Q. WHEN YOU'RE AT THE RACETRACK YOU'RE KNOWN FOR BEING CAREFUL. WHEN YOU'RE AWAY FROM THE RACETRACK, ARE YOU A LITTLE CRAZY AT TIMES? WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CRAZY THINGS YOU DO?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, definitely the work hard, play hard mindset. I felt like the guys I grew up with, the area I grew up in, 'Jackass' style stuff was very common. We would camp all the time, crash stuff, break stuff. It's the way we grew up in the local deserts and at the river. We'd find ways to stay entertained doing things we shouldn't. The golf cart surfing being in that category. That's for sure.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: From a technical standpoint, we definitely do. Even now just from venting, having an issue with another driver, it isn't worth the mess that follows if you say something bad about someone. No offense, but all of you come asking questions, then you have to deal with that instead of working on your racecar.
You attempt to regulate yourself, but there are moments when you can't help yourself.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We all learn along the way. I said things in different championship years, especially my first year. If you think about it, Brad has always been very vocal, has always had a strong position on things. What's changed is the effect of the microphone. When you're not a champion, people hear it, they may not write it, print it, whatever it is. When you get the trophy, boom, it's everywhere.
I learned from my broken wrist. I couldn't believe that anybody cared that I broke my wrist at a golf course not during racing season. It was beyond me that this was news. It was on the ticker at SportsCenter. Why does this matter?
We all learn in a variety of ways. Brad and I made comments last year that he's going to find a way as a champion, learn how to insert himself, understand how his voice will be magnified. He is learning that. And he does have a very good point at times.
The thing I respect about him the most is his passion for the sport. I may not share the same view, but he loves the sport and wants the sport to succeed and I respect that.
Q. WHEN IS IT OKAY TO BE OUTSPOKEN AND WHEN IS IT NOT?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It just depends on who you're trying to make happy. If you want to get something done within NASCAR, saying it through the microphone is not going to help you any. Make some fans happy. Fans appreciate hearing those outspoken words.
There's politics in everything. Turning to the microphone and bashing anyone or someone or anything or a procedure or a car, I mean, it's going to make some of the fans happy, but it's going to hurt the overall cause of advancing the sport.
JAMIE MCMURRAY, NO. 1 MCDONALD’S CHEVROLET SS met with media and discussed the new rules changes, Chase format, changes at Chip Ganassi Racing, his relationship with his father, and more. FULL TRANSCRIPT:
YOU ARE IN THE UNLIMITED. WHAT IS THAT RACE LIKE? DOES IT HELP YOU FOR THE 500?
“Well, I think you can always learn when you get on the track. I don’t think the cars are going to draft any differently with the small spoiler changes they’ve made. But it always takes a while to get used to drafting again; especially in a large pack. So, I think you’re just way more comfortable by the time the Duels get here because in practice you maybe get one draft and it lasts for ten laps, but you don’t have that draft that it’s five laps to go when it gets really chaotic and you’re trying to put yourself in a good position.
“So, I think yeah, there are some pluses to being in the Unlimited race. I watched it last year and if you’re a driver in this series, you want to race anytime there is some fun on the track. The one thing about the Duels being at night that came to my mind, is that it used to be we would run this Unlimited race and it would be nighttime and everyone’s cars handled really well. And then when we got to Thursday, everyone said if you could make my car handle like it did at night, we’d have a chance to win. Well, now we’re going to run two races at night and then the 500 is going to be in the daytime. So I think there are going to be some surprises for guys that thought their cars handled really well Saturday night and on Thursday and then maybe on Sunday it will change there. So, that will be interesting to see how that works out.”
DO YOU LOOK AT HOW WELL YOU’VE RUN IN THE PLATE RACES AND THINK THAT’S A REALLY GOOD SHOT FOR US TO EITHER STAY WITHIN THE CHASE FIELD OR GETTING IN THE CHASE FIELD WITH WINS THERE?
“I don’t look at it any different this year. I’ve always enjoyed plate racing. It’s been in streaks. So I’ve been able to win a couple in a row. And then you go where you can’t even finish one. So I don’t know. I look at it probably the same way everyone else does. Everyone has a chance to win, but you also have a chance of finishing last if you get wrecked early on. So, I look forward to them. They’re challenging, for sure.”
CAN YOU SHARE WITH THE FANS A FEW OF THE INTENSE PHYSICAL AND MENTAL MOMENTS YOU HAVE IN THE CAR?
“I think it’s different at every track. Certainly at Daytona and Talladega there’s not a lot of physical demands. For the most part, if you’re leading, you race out of your rear view mirror the whole time. Or, if you’re in the back of the pack, you’re just trying to figure out which lane to get in. So, it’s mentally challenging I think at those places. When you go somewhere like a road course, for me, and I assume it’s the same for most of these guys, Sonoma is not that bad because there’s not a lot of load and there’s a lot of left-hand turns. At Watkins Glen, the carousel and the esses, you’re not used to turning right and it seems like your back and your neck get a lot more tired. So that’s a little bit unique to those two. But that’s really hard to explain if you’ve never sat in a car.”
WITH ALL THE PERSONNEL CHANGES THAT HAVE GONE ON, DO YOU NEED A ‘CHEAT SHEET’ TO KEEP TRACK OF WHO YOU ARE RACING WITH?
“Yeah, I don’t think you’re going to have to be concerned with who you’re racing with. I don’t view that the guys are going to race any differently than they have. It didn’t matter if it was the playoff format or the Daytona 500, you race to win; and I don’t think anyone is going to change their mindset of how they are racing with the rules changes. But qualifying will be a lot different. And there are lot of different rules of what the adjustments will be. But man, I think when we get to the third race it’ll just be normal and you’ll know what’s going on and it will just be like we’ve always done it that way.”
WELL, LIKE THE NO. 20 USED TO BE TONY STEWART AND NOW IT’S MATT KENSETH
“Oh yeah, that does take a while. I saw Chase Elliott walking in here (Media Day) in a Napa suit and I thought that Martin (Truex Jr.) had grown his hair out (laughter). So, that does take a while. I wasn’t even trying to be funny (laughs). So, that does take a while but it’s kind of like what I was saying earlier. I think by the second or third race you just get acclimated to who is in what car and you just know. It’s difficult in the Daytona 500 because you spend a lot of the race looking in the rear view mirror and you base it on seeing the Dollar General car or the Lowe’s car and you just know who is in those cars. And when they change, that does take a little while to get used to.”
WHY DO YOU THINK NASCAR MADE SO MANY CHANGES?
“Well, I don’t know why they made the changes. My gut tells me they did it to make it more exciting for fans watching on TV and I think it’s good. It’s really hard when Brian (France) came along and said they were going to do this Chase format; no one likes that. And for the most part I think that’s made a lot of the championships more exciting when it got down to the last ten races. If this can make it more exciting again and make the fans that are watching on TV more excited about it, I think it’s great. At the same time, when you’ve been in the same pattern for years, it’s hard to accept that. But I think most of the changes they’ve done, I think it’s all going to work out really well.”
IS ONE OF THE MOST EXCITING CHANGES THAT A WIN VIRTUALLY GETS YOU IN THE CHASE?
“Yeah, for me it is, for sure. I think that I like that. I think it’s great that if you’re able to win, you get to be in the playoff. I think it’s great.”
HOW IMPORTANT DO YOU THINK THESE CHANGES ARE TO KEEPING THIS SPORT FRESH AND GETTING THE FAN BASE UP? IT’S NO SECRET THAT NASCAR HAS STRUGGLED WITH THAT.
“It seems like a lot of sports are changing the way they’ve done things for years to bring more interest and make it more exciting, so I think NASCAR has done a really good job of not just standing still and trying to make sure they are ahead of the game.”
HOW DO YOU ASSESS THE HEALTH OF THIS SPORT NOW COMPARED TO WHEN YOU CAME IN?
“Well, I think some things are better and some maybe aren’t. But I don’t know that has to do with just the sport. When you look at where the economy was in 2007 and ’08 compared to where the economy is now, we’re still not back to the same level we were at. So, I don’t know if that’s completely fair to base in on just our sport, compared to where the world is.”
DO YOU REMEMBER YOUR FIRST WHEELS AS A KID?
“My first wheels? I think it was a Hot Wheel with lots of duct tape on the front tire for grip.”
DO YOU LIKE THE IDEA OF THE LAST RACE OF THE SEASON BEING IN THE TOP FOUR? OR IS THAT A LITTLE BIT OF A REACH FOR YOU?
“Well, that’s a lot different than what we’ve ever had. My only comment when we had our NASCAR meeting was that I didn’t know that it was completely fair to have the last race at the exact same race track every single weekend. I think it’s different in football and baseball because even though there are some differences in indoor/outdoor or the baseball field. Race tracks are completely different. And you have tracks that some guys are really good at and then you have tracks that guys struggle at. And I didn’t know that it was completely fair for the championship to be decided at a track that one guy is dominant at or track that another guy struggles at every year. But it’s the same for everybody. So I don’t know. I think until we live a year of it, it’s hard to give an opinion of it because you just don’t know everything that’s going to play out.”
DO YOU HAVE ANY CONCERNS THAT THE CHAMPIONSHIP MIGHT NOT MEAN AS MUCH AS IT ONCE DID?
“Again, like most things, once you do it two or three times, I think it will be normal. We said the same thing when the Chase came into play. I don’t know how many years ago that was; it seems like forever now, ten, that that would have less meaning and I don’t think it’s been that way at all. I should have just said, ‘No’”.
“I never got to race with Dale (Earnhardt) Sr. or Richard Petty. But my opinion is that our sport is tougher than it’s ever been because of the level of good teams. Even from when I came in in 2001, 2002, the amount of quality teams is more now than it’s ever been. Not just because I’m living it right now, but to me what Jimmie (Johnson) has been able to do has been completely fascinating.
“It just seems like they don’t ever have a bad race. They’re bad race is tenth. Where, everyone else at some point has a 25th place, just missed it today. They don’t ever seem to have that. It’s incredible how on their worst day, with the back of the car knocked off after he’s crashed, he can still finish ninth or 10th.”
THERE HAVE BEEN A LOT OF CHANGES IN NASCAR, BUT THERE HAS ALSO BEEN A LOT OF CHANGE AT CHIP GANASSI RACING. COMPARATIVELY SPEAKING, HOW WOULD YOU RATE THE CHANGE?
“Well, there’s a lot of difference with the drivers and crew chiefs. And what I would say is that with all of the new people, Keith (Rodden) on my car, and with Kyle (Larson) being in the No. 42, that the number one goal was to make sure that everyone worked well together and you didn’t have people trying to pull the rope in two different directions. And our testing has been just amazing during the off-season. We’ve been to the Charlotte test, Nashville; we did a short track test with a lot of cars added and at speedways, our cars have been significantly faster than what they were last year. I don’t know exactly why, but speed-wise it’s been better. The mentality in the shop and everyone’s attitude in the shop is better than it’s ever been. We had our team luncheon yesterday and since I’ve been racing, I haven’t been involved with a group of people that are as positive and everyone fighting for the same goal as what we have right now. I would say that yeah, the change is better than expected.”
YOU HAVEN’T HAD MUCH TIME TO WORK WITH KYLE LARSON, BUT WHAT’S YOUR EARLY INDICATION OF HOW THAT DYNAMIC WILL WORK WITH YOU BEING THE OLDER, MORE EXPERIENCED DRIVER?
“Well I think it’s going to be fine. Kyle is really quiet. So you have to work to get an answer out of him or a question out of him. He’s very quiet and very calm. He’s very much the opposite of Juan (Pablo Montoya). It’s different. But when we have our meetings now, it’s more diplomatic. Everyone asks a question and then listens to the answer. It wasn’t necessarily always that way. So, I think to me, that side of it is all positive.”
“I don’t think so because I’m the same way. I listen as well as I speak. Kyle hasn’t lived all the experiences that I have; or the crew chiefs or some of the other team guys. And he’s a good listener. And at the same time, he’s really talented and we are listening to Kyle, as well. But I don’t know. It’s a lot different environment this year than what it’s been in the past few (years). And to me, all for the better.”
YOU SEEM TO HAVE A GROWING KIND OF HENDRICK CONNECTION. HAVE YOU SEEN THAT MATERIALIZE OR SOMETHING TO MAYBE TAP INTO?
“Well, part of the reason that we’ve ended up with so many Hendrick guys is once you hire a couple, their friends work at Hendrick, right, and Hendrick has a lot of employees, too. Some of it’s been coincidental, but some of it’s come because when a guy over there is looking for a job and he’s friends with somebody that works at your place, they interview around and we’ve ended up with a lot of those guys. And then switching to their engine program has helped us when you’re trying to hire someone. The teams have, I think now, a better agreement between all of them of not going and picking from other teams. And our affiliation with Hendrick’s engine program helps us to be able to hire some of their employees.”
DO YOU THINK THAT COMBINATION IS SOMETHING THAT MAY PAY DIVIDENDS DOWN THE ROAD?
“Our affiliation with them is different than what Stewart-Haas has because we don’t buy chassis from them. We still build our own cars and put our own bodies on them. So it’s a little bit different, but certainly being affiliated with them and their engine program I think has helped and just being with a General Motors team and the sharing of what information goes around between all the teams I think is beneficial.”
ON FATHERS AND SONS IN RACING COMPARED TO BASEBALL, FOOTBALL, AND BASKETBALL
“I don’t know if it’s more true. I know a lot of kids that play soccer and their dads played soccer or baseball growing up that have a really good connection. I think what a little bit of what sets racing apart is when you grow up racing, it’s not a one-hour event that you drive to on Saturday morning and then you drive back and then you go your separate ways. Racing is leaving on Friday and racing all day Saturday and all day Sunday, riding in a car together for ten hours back home to get up and go to school; and to me the bonding experience that you have whether it’s riding in a car and staying in a hotel with him all weekend, to me that is what brings you closer than other sports.”
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE MEMORY OF GROWING UP RACING WITH YOUR DAD?
“My favorite memory of my dad isn’t one specific thing. And I try to do this with my little boy. My dad, no matter how well I did in the race; whether I won or finished last or crashed, I just remember him always getting in the car, shutting his door, and like reaching over and patting me on the leg and being like, you did a great job today, I’m proud of you. And I’ll never forget that. And so, the memory is great because he always gave me confidence and always built me up and always made me feel special. And I think that is what made me the guy that I am and maybe why I’m so nice to everybody else is because I had that upbringing.”
HE GOT YOU INTO RACING, RIGHT?
“Yes. I think like most kids I would have liked dirt bikes or anything with an engine on it. But, I grew up watching him do some racing, and then we started doing that when I was eight. I like soccer and I like baseball, but I love racing. And there was really nothing that was going to take the place of that.”
“When I was a kid, you had to be eight before you could even race a kart. So, I remember being five, or six, or seven and I didn’t get a go-kart until my eighth birthday. And then we just started racing all the time. And I wanted a kart. I wanted to go. But you had to be that old before you could race. It’s different now than what it was back then.”
IF YOU PLAYED A STICK AND BALL SPORT, YOU COULD RUN TO THE PARK AND PLAY WITH YOUR FRIENDS
“We have a track in Mooresville now, so you could kind of do that where you would drive out and ride your kart for a few hours and then come back home, but most kids don’t have that luxury. It is about driving somewhere and you spend a weekend together with your family. But my upbringing was so much different than my wife’s. She talks about the vacations they on and she’s like man you missed out on all that. But I didn’t feel like I was because we were vacationing every weekend, and racing. I loved it. So some of what she thinks I sacrificed, I think were some of the greatest memories of my life.”
DO YOU HAVE BROTHERS AND SISTERS?
“I have an older sister. She didn’t go a lot with us. She went a little bit, but she’s six years older than I am, so when I started racing she was 14 or 15. She wanted to hang out with her friends, and I guess live a little more normal life than just doing the circuits each weekend.”
“I eat lunch with my dad twice or three times a week now. We’re still incredibly close and we still play with go-karts together. But we fish together as much now as we go ride go-karts together. So it’s changed a little bit, but I have an incredible friendship with my dad, still.
“My dad thinks he a professional fisherman (laughs), and he fishes every single day. And I love fishing and we still have the affiliation with Bass Pro. But when Bass Pro was like on my car, we got to go do some cool fishing trips together. So that was really fun. Man, the fishing is a great way to bond as well because when you get in a boat together, you talk. Like when you go play soccer, you take him to the game and they go play. When you fish together or hunt, your committed. You’re talking. You’re becoming friends. And it’s a great, great bonding experience as well.”
IS THERE A RACE THAT SLIPPED THROUGH YOUR FINGERS THAT COST YOU MORE THAN ANY OTHER?
“Talladega with Kevin Harvick in 2010, I think. He beat me by four inches or something. So that’s one that I’d like to have back. He just timed it out better than I did (laughs).”
AJ ALLMENDINGER, NO. 47 SCOTTS/KINGSFORD/BUSCHS BAKED BEANS/CLOROX CHEVROLET SS, met with member of the media at NASCAR Daytona Media Day and discussed: having a full-time ride in the Sprint Cup Series; difference between open wheel cars and stock cars and level of difficulty for drivers; being a fan of other forms of racing and other topics. Full transcript:
TELL US HOW YOUR OFFSEASON WAS:
“It was good. I did some karting and tried to be out there and be in a race car as much as possible. Between the switchover with the team and being back full-time, it’s been a good offseason. I’ve been happy and excited for this opportunity. I’m ready to go.”
DO YOU THINK ALL THE KICKBACK THAT DANICA GETS STEMS MORE FROM THE FACT THAT SHE COMES FROM OPEN-WHEEL? I DON’T KNOW IF IT’S THAT STOCK CAR PEOPLE LOOK DOWN THEIR NOSES AT OPEN-WHEEL PEOPLE OR WHAT THE DEAL IS. BUT DID YOU EVER GET SOME OF THAT KICKBACK SHE GETS?
“A couple of years ago when I first started, yeah for sure. But I don’t see it being a big thing now. The Danica thing… I don’t pay much attention to it, either. Everyone has an opinion – everyone’s got an opinion about me, everyone body has an opinion about Jimmie (Johnson), Danica and so on. I don’t really pay a lot of attention to it. Its more focusing on what I need to do to be better. That’s no disrespect to a certain degree. You have to let everything go from what reporters say – good or bad. Everybody has fans and everyone has haters. So I don’t pay attention to it.”
DO YOU THINK THAT COMING FROM OPEN-WHEEL THAT SOME OF THE STOCK CAR TRADITIONALISTS LOOKED AT YOU A LITTLE DIFFERENT AT YOU GUYS AS OPPOSED TO PEOPLE THAT HAVE COME THROUGH STOCK CAR RACING?
“I think eight, seven, six years ago they did because it wasn’t happening a lot. But all of a sudden there is that influx of open-wheel guys with myself, Juan (Pablo Montoya) and Sam (Hornish) coming over. The traditional not-Sprint Car drivers. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal now.”
HOW DO YOU THINK JUAN WILL DO WITH ROGER?
“I think it will be fun to watch. I was always a huge fan of Juan. Watching him back in the CART days, I was in awe of the car control he had. That series is tough. I got to experience it first-hand last year and how tough it actually is. But I think he’ll do a great job.”
DO YOU FOLLOW ANY OTHER SERIES?
“I follow all of them. I’m a bigger race fan than a race car driver.”
CAN YOU DESCRIBE TO THE FANS THE INTENSE, PHYSICAL AND MENTAL CHALLENGE OF WHAT HAPPENS DURING A RACE?
“Every race track is a little different. This place isn’t physically that hard of you. You’re not physically worn out. Mentally you are spent by the end of the race – trying to work the draft, figure out where to go, being tense for 500 miles because you know the big wreck could happen at any time. Every track has a little different nuance to it. But by the time you get out of a race car – either physically or mentally – you’re spent. It’s a rough three to four hours just because you are working so hard. It’s not to the point where you in the middle of a race can sit back and run 80 percent. You can’t do that. It’s almost qualifying every lap to a certain extent. Donovan McNabb may not think it’s tough but it definitely is.”
ARE THERE ANY DRIVERS IN FORMULA ONE OR INDYCAR THAT YOU THINK MIGHT BE ABLE TO CRACK INTO NASCAR AND DO A DECENT JOB?
“There definitely are some who could crack into it. It’s tough, though. That was the biggest thing for me when I was watching it while I was in open-wheel racing. The Tony Stewarts, the Jeff Gordons, the Jimmie Johnsons… you know they are badass race car drivers. To get in these cars and the way they drive is so different than an open-wheel race car and anything anyone like myself has ever experienced. So that’s the biggest transition – the cars are way different than would ever believe.”
ARE THERE ANY DRIVERS – PAST OR PRESENT – WOULD HAVE HAD GOOD CHANCE AT FORMULA ONE?
“I think when Jeff came into the sport, he could have gotten into it and been really quick. Tony (Stewart) I would have to say, when it comes to driving any race car, is the best there is out there. I feel like he can get in anything and be fast right away. These are some of the best drivers in the world. They can cross over and be quick. But it’s different with every challenge you have.”
THERE WERE TIMES WHEN YOU WERE IN AND OUT OF A CAR LAST YEAR. I KNOW IT’S NOT LIKE WHAT TONY HAS HAD TO DO BEING OUT FOR SUCH A LONG PERIOD. BUT CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW MUCH CHANGES AND HOW MUCH YOU FELT CHANGES FROM NOT BEING IN A CAR EVERY WEEK?
“It was tough, especially because of the new car. I was in a decent amount of races early on. I took the break for Indy and when I came back for Pocono and realized, ‘Wow these cars are different.’ The spring packages everyone was starting run was a little different. It was tough jumping back and forth. It was a fun challenge; I really enjoyed the opportunity to jump in a different car every week. But I’m happy to be back full-time. Tony is Tony. He’s not going to have any rust. He will jump right back in and we know he will have a shot at winning the Daytona 500. I hope he’s right behind me. I hope he’s pushing me to the win. He won’t have any trouble. He’s Smoke.”
DID YOU HAVE A FAVORITE SET OF WHEELS GROWING UP?
“Steering wheels or tires? I’ll put it this way – anything that had a steering wheel and tires, I was happy. I had a Big Wheel that I wore through tires on, and on up. I just loved having steering wheel and tires under me.”
DID YOU GET A WORK ETHIC EARLY ON THAT HELPED YOU LATER ON?
“My parents were the biggest supporters of mine. Before I was ever racing something, I was watching my dad race full time. Nothing big. It was local dirt track stuff. Just his work ethic. He didn’t have a lot of money. My parents weren’t rich my any means. But watching his work ethic and how hard he worked at it, that’s what I grew up around and where I got it from.”
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE HERE AND KNOW WHAT’S HAPPENED THE LAST 18 MONTHS?
“It’s been a crazy ride to a certain extreme. To be where I’m at – not just full-time but mentally and physically… I’m as happy as I’ve ever been. I feel like Tad and Jodi (Geschickter) and Brad (Daugherty)… their moral beliefs make this team like a family. Throughout this whole process, I’ve felt like part of their family and not just a driver. I really enjoy walking into the shop and the hauler. It’s such a fun time to be there. I’m really looking forward to it. It will be a great year. It will be a lot of hard work but I think we can go out there and live up to our work ethic and live up to the things we know we can do, we can win some races.”
“It’s just life in general. There is pressure on and off the race track. You know how it is. You get into a bad place sometimes. It’s not just one little thing in a way, this is like starting over. But I feel like I’ve found a home. It’s a small team but I really enjoy that. It’s more like a family and not a driver-team owner relationship.”
YES IT’S A SMALL TEAM AND THERE WILL BE CHALLENGES. BUT REALISTICALLY THERE WILL BE SOME UPHILL CLIMBS. HOW DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU ARE BETTER PREPARED TO HANDLE THOSE TYPES OF CHALLENGES:
“It’s about setting our realistic expectations. My expectation is to go out and win every race. That isn’t going to happen. But realistically, we can go out there and contend. We need to make our bad days are 22nds or 24ths. There are going to be days like this. Are we going to roll into Phoenix – the first true race when it comes to outright speed – and be a top-five team? I’d love to be, but maybe not. We have to take each day one at a time and see where that puts us. I don’t have a limit on ‘we need to be 15th in points or 13th is a bad year.’ Just take it one day at a time. With the RCR alliance and everything we have, we can go out there and have a chance to win. It’s about taking it one day at a time to get there.”
“I think it was a start. To go out there and have that time with Brian Burns - the crew chef – who is relatively new… I really enjoy working with him and finding the weaknesses and strengths of the team. It’s led very well by Tad to start with but also by Bobby Hutchins. The RCR alliance will help us, so there are a lot of positives. Everybody sits here and say, ‘Oh we’re excited and we can win the championship’. But we have to take it one step at a time. I thought last year was a good stepping stone to see where we were at the time and where we need to go. It was fun last year but this year to be back full time and have everything that has come into play – we have a lot of good sponsors – as I said, my theme is one day at a time. We can’t go out and think we are going to set the world on fire. But we have the confidence in ourselves that if we get everything right, we can compete with the best of the best. I truly believe that.”
BEING IN INDYCAR, YOU’VE BEEN THROUGH KNOCKOUT QUALIFYING. CAN YOU GIVE A SENSE AS TO WHAT IT WILL BE LIKE AND HOW IT WILL CARRY OVER HERE
“It’s a little different. At most of the race tracks – especially the mile-and-a-halfs – it’s still going to be that one lap that you’ll have to nail it. If you don’t, then you’re probably done. But the fun fact about qualifying is if you don’t nail it the first time but just slide in, you have another shot at it. It will be interesting to see. There will be a lot of pissed off race car drivers and spotters fighting on the spotting stand! When you pull out in front of someone when you’re trying to get your lap or you mistime it or everyone waits to the last minute… you look at a track like Phoenix and no one is going to be the first guy on the track; everyone is going to be waiting. But eventually someone is going to have to go out there and everyone is going to pile on. It’ll be fun for the fans and drivers. I think there need to be tweaks a little a little bit.”
“That’s what’s fun about the strategy. Like I said, at Phoenix you don’t want to be the first guy on the track. It’s bad to be that first guy. So everyone is going to be sitting in the garage saying, ‘OK, who is going to go? Oh crap, there’s
10 minutes to go. Someone has to go.’ You take a track like Vegas and maybe you want to be the first one to go. It’s about having that clean lap and banking it to sit there and wait. That’s what makes knockout qualifying so fun. There are so many different strategies you can play into it. At some point, you’re going to be on your lap and someone is going to pull out in front of you and it’s going to kill you. There is going to be a lot of fun.”
WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE CHAMPIONSHIP CHANGES, DO YOU THINK IT MAKES A TEAM LIKE YOURS MORE PRONE TO MAKING MORE GAMBLES?
“When I look at the change to the Chase, it doesn’t change how I drive. My goal is to try to win. If you can’t win, take the best finish you can. I don’t think it changes our risk-to-reward value. But at the same point, and I think it goes for any team, if you struggle the first 12 races usually your year would be over and you’re trying to get going and build momentum for next year. Now if you struggle for the first 18 races but win the 19th, you’re right there and have a shot at the championship. I think that’s what makes the new format fun. It’s cool to see what NASCAR is doing whether it’s the Chase or qualifying format. It leads to so many more variety of things that can happen. For us, I think it gives us a good chance.”
ARE YOU MORE WILLING TO TAKE THAT BAD FINISH KNOWING YOU HAD NOTHING TO LOSE?
“I’m not willing to take a bad finish ever. Points still matter too. If 16 cars aren’t in the Chase, it’s still the next guy up in points. So they are always important. I never want to take a shot at having a bad day over a good day because I changed my decision-making on having a chance to win. If I have a chance to win, I’m going to do everything it takes to go out there and win.”
WHO DO YOU PREDICT WILL BE IN THE FINAL FOUR?
“Me and three others guys! I don’t care! It’s no secret that Jimmie Johnson has a pretty good shot at it. If you take off from last year’s stats, I think Matt (Kenseth) has a pretty good shot at it, too. But it’s a brand new year. We don’t know. We will see what happens.”
WHAT FOR YOU IS THE MOST EXCITING CHANGE THAT HAS TAKEN PLACE?
“Me being back full-time. That’s the most exciting thing! I love the qualifying format. Single-car qualifying to me is the most boring thing on the planet – not just in NASCAR but they tried it in F1 and IndyCar. The new format leads to so many different things that can happen on Friday. If Jimmie Johnson has the fastest car in practice and we’re in a place where it’s one lap on the tires and someone gets in his way, and he doesn’t make the next round, that makes it exciting. For the fans and on TV, you don’t know who is going to be on the pole until the last second of that final qualifying session. That is one of the most exciting things you can do.”
HOW IMPORTANT DO YOU THINK SOME OF THESE CHANGES ARE TO BRING MORE LIFE BACK INTO THE SPORT:
“We have to continue doing the things that attract a younger fan base and new fans. We have a great fan base. NASCAR has some problems that other sports would like to have. Their bad day when it comes to a crowd is 75,000 people. You don’t get that at most sporting events. But we know we have to do things to get that new base in. Whether its qualifying or the Chase changes or just as drivers trying to get a younger fan base to come in… the tracks have to work together as a whole as a whole asset of the Sprint Cup Series. There is a great product here. We have to keep getting out there and doing the right things to make it better.”
AUSTIN DILLON, NO. 3 DOW/CHEERIOS CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at the 2014 NASCAR Daytona Media Day and discussed: starting his rookie year in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series; driving the No. 3 Chevrolet SS; legacy of Dale Earnhardt, Sr.; expectations for Daytona and for season and other topics. Full transcript:
Q. WHEN YOU LOOK AROUND, SEE THE DALE EARNHARDT T-SHIRTS, ET CETERA, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?
AUSTIN DILLON: The legend of Dale has lived on for a long time and is going to continue to live on forever. Dale Earnhardt is not just famous because of the number. He is Dale Earnhardt.
He was a hero in everybody's mind, including myself.
As far as Dale, Dale is going to fly here forever. That's the coolest thing about everything that's going on.
Q. GET YOU MORE FIRED UP OR DIFFERENCE IN FEEL NOW THAT YOU'RE ACTUALLY HERE, OR HAS IT BEEN A STEADY PROGRESSION?
AUSTIN DILLON: Been a pretty steady progression. Media Day gets us tuned in. The first thing is when we get over here in the garage, get to walk around, I saw the haulers pulling in a few minutes ago, so that was pretty cool, pretty special.
Q. REGARDING THE LOOK OF THE CAR
AUSTIN DILLON: I haven't really gotten to take a real good look at it.
I think we respect everything that the Earnhardt family has to say. Dale Jr. and everybody has been very supportive of it. It's been a good thing so far. Everything's been great. Just continue to move on with what we're going with.
You know, I think there was something about the number and the color. That is one thing my grandfather said from the beginning, that we weren't going to have it black. So luckily the Cheerios car and Dow, everybody, our sponsors, have some black in the color with their sponsor, exactly not a percentage that's more than 50%. I think the most we've got on a paint scheme is 60%. That is one thing. But we're definitely respectful and going to keep it color sensitive.
Q. ABOUT DALE EARNHARDT, JR. DRIVING IN THAT CAR
AUSTIN DILLON: Yeah, I've always appreciated that. Junior is an awesome guy. I've got to spend time and sit down and talk with him and learn so much from him also.
I feel like for me experience is going to be big leaning on the people around me. I've got a really strong family. Leaning on those guys is very important.
Q. TO THOSE THAT HAVE RESERVATIONS, WHAT DO YOU SAY TO THEM?
AUSTIN DILLON: Everybody's got their own opinion. I feel like hopefully we can win them over as time goes on. That's all you can do.
Hopefully they're open enough to take a look at everything that we're doing. I think as far as performance and moving forward, hopefully we can win them over.
Q. HOW MEANINGFUL IS IT FOR YOU TO BE ABLE TO DRIVE FOR YOUR GRANDFATHER AT THIS LEVEL?
AUSTIN DILLON: It's great. To be able to work for a company, every time I cross the railroad tracks in Welcome, North Carolina, it's special. I've enjoyed being a part of RCR.
The other day it was really awesome to be able to be part of the kickoff luncheon. The guys were fired up. I think it's a new life at RCR.
Q. WHAT KIND OF ADDITIONAL RESPONSIBILITY DO YOU HAVE BECAUSE YOU'RE PART OF THIS NASCAR FAMILY?
AUSTIN DILLON: I feel like for me it's really more the employees at RCR that I know. I've grown up with those guys, know how much heart and soul they put into the racecars.
I said it at our kickoff lunch. We have a great house at RCR. When I cross that bridge, that's our house.
When we come here, my job and our teams' jobs are to represent our house. Hopefully we bring our house and represent it well at the track. That's what we try and do every time we bring our stuff to the racetrack.
Q. REGARDING FANS AND THE NO. 3, BEING DELIBERATELY WRECKED
AUSTIN DILLON: It's racing. I think I've been doing it forever. People get into it, have battles, go hard each and every weekend. You have those times when you're racing hard out there and stuff happens.
I think we do a good job of handling it ourselves on the track hopefully.
Q. WHAT DID YOU AND YOUR GRANDFATHER TALK ABOUT TO CONVINCE HIM YOU WERE READY?
AUSTIN DILLON: I think both of us for years now, running the 3 in the last four years, it kind of prepared us for any kind of question or opportunity that arises.
The biggest thing is being respectful to all the family that is involved and also just, you know, taking this opportunity and hoping that fans are embracing it the right way. We're trying to continue the legacy of the No. 3. I think we've done a good job of that so far.
Q. ON LEGACY OF THE NO. 3
AUSTIN DILLON: I think Dale was so important in driving that number. He was the guy that made that number what it is today.
But like I said earlier, Dale Earnhardt is Dale Earnhardt not only because of the number, but because he was a hero and created so many things for this sport. The number for me, hopefully I can continue the legacy that it has and keep on moving on with it.
Q. DO YOU THINK PEOPLE WILL SEE IT COMING UP IN THE REARVIEW MIRROR AND WILL HAVE AN AUTOMATIC REACTION, FEEL INTIMIDATED AND PULL OVER FOR YOU?
AUSTIN DILLON: No, not at all (laughter). I still have a long way to go in this sport. This is my rookie year. One day, if we're winning championships, competing for wins, maybe it will happen.
Q. TALK ABOUT THE ROOKIE CLASS YOU'RE GOING UP AGAINST.
AUSTIN DILLON: I got to stay focused on what my goals are this year. Rookie of the Year in the other two series. I definitely want to accomplish that in the Cup Series. I feel like the competition is stout. I feel like every year I've been in Nationwide or Truck, there's been some really good classes. Then also last year battling for a championship. Hopefully what I learned going through that with the stout competition we had last year in Nationwide will help me this year going forward.
Q. ON BATTLES FOR NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES AND NATIONWIDE SERIES CHAMPIONSHIPS
AUSTIN DILLON: I can't remember the Truck and Nationwide. I was more focused on last year's Nationwide championship battle. Having Elliott Sadler, Brian Vickers, Regan Smith, guys that have full-time Cup experience, battling them in Nationwide was very tough. My battle in the Truck Series, I think Kligerman was there, a few other guys that year, too. I can't remember, though.
Q. HOW DO YOU THINK THE SUM OF YOUR EXPERIENCES, CHAMPIONSHIP RUNS, SERVES YOU GOING FORWARD IN THE SERIES?
AUSTIN DILLON: Hopefully it means something. You know, I feel like the mental stability that you gain going through a championship battle, I think you can never lose that. It's a championship. I feel like that will help going forward.
There's definitely the new Chase presenting a definitely new outcome. I won the championship last year without winning a race. It's a different mentality. I can change the way I go about things, for sure. I'll have to go through that this year obviously.
I'm looking forward to that opportunity. I think it gives a lot of chance and more going after it, more intensity to the races.
It seems the best way I can relate to that is when I go back and run a Truck race with no points, you can really get after the car and really challenge yourself to get everything out of it. Not that you're not getting everything out of the car when it's a points race, but you're definitely grounded in thinking what it means where you're running and the positioning. I think that's where the Chase, the new format, presents a lot of action and pushing yourself.
Q. ON THE NUMBER OF RACES HE WILL BE RUNNING
AUSTIN DILLON: Actually the same amount as far as running my modified, all the races that are available. I might take the last night off depending on where we are in points. The last night doesn't count in points. Hopefully we can win it off. That ends Monday.
For me, as far as the year, I'm going to run some Nationals races during the Summer Nationals, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, then get to the racetrack. I'm still focused on that. I think it really helps me as far as being able to get in those cars and just have some fun.
Q. ANY THOUGHT TO CUTTING THAT BACK GOING FULL-TIME CUP?
AUSTIN DILLON: My grandfather was a little on the edge of us running a little bit. But I talked him into, so...
He knows how important it is to me and Ty to run our dirt cars. He definitely knows the stress that I'm going to be going under this year. So I think I relayed it to him in a way that it's kind of a stress reliever if anything. I can go out to the dirt track, focus on what I have to do.
Q. REGARDING SAFETY OF DIRT CARS
AUSTIN DILLON: Yeah, there's that for sure (laughter).
Tony is in a Sprint car. That's a difference from where I'm running a modified or full-bodied late model. Not that I'm questioning a Sprint car's safety, but you're definitely carrying a lot of speed in those things. I've never been able to drive one.
We take a lot of safety precautions with our cars that a lot of other people don't. In the dirt world, we plate the interiors and do different things to make sure that we're getting a lot of safety out of those cars.
Q. WHAT DO YOU EXPECT FROM THE VETERANS?
AUSTIN DILLON: You know, I've been through the Truck Series where there were some wily veterans, I guess you could say, and the Nationwide Series. More in the Truck Series I think is where you learn about racing veterans.
For me it's going to be tough because a lot of those guys I grew up racing against, not racing against, but watching on TV. Seeing Jeff Gordon out there, you're still in awe when you're racing against him on the track. And Dale Jr. I'll have to learn that throughout the year.
I think that's the good thing about having those rookie stripes, I learned the first year what it takes to go to the second level the second year. Hopefully I can evaluate after the first year and have a better answer for you.
Q. DO YOU KEEP AN EYE ON KYLE AND OTHER ROOKIES?
AUSTIN DILLON: I think you do. If you don't focus on yourself in the competition, you can't gain points. I think the biggest thing is trying to figure out what makes your team better and how throughout the year that you can develop for the following year.
This year for us, it's such a learning year where we can really go out and attack and figure out where the edge is. I think we need to figure that out at most of the tracks we go to.
AUSTIN DILLON: Somebody asked me that a minute ago. I said, I really don't. I mean, the Truck Series, the Nationwide Series... The Cup Series might be different.
I think racing for the win, anybody should wreck each other personally. Last lap, that's just how it is. This year there's going to be more of that because of what it means to win.
AUSTIN DILLON: I don't know. We'll see if it happens, you know. I'm fiery as it is. We're all passionate. Everyone out here, we're very competitive. It will be wild for sure. If we get that opportunity, hopefully we can take advantage of it and be on the winning end.
Q. WHAT KIND OF STRESS DO YOU EXPECT? HOW TOUGH COULD THIS BE? YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU DON'T KNOW, BUT HOW TOUGH DO YOU THINK THIS WILL BE?
AUSTIN DILLON: I mean, it can get really tough. You have so many ups and downs throughout the year in the Cup Series where you go through transitions. I think you lean on family and your friends. My family is RCR. My guys are so experienced, I feel like I have a really experienced team. Any one of the guys on my team could go car chief, most of the teams out there.
I'm very fortunate in the fact that I've got a great team. We're going to go out there and definitely work and use them and stay a tight-knit group work within each other.
Q. YOU'VE HAD THE 3 COMING OUT. THAT'S YOUR NUMBER. WAS THERE EVER ANY CONSIDERATION TO CHANGE BECAUSE OF THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE 3 AT THIS LEVEL?
AUSTIN DILLON: There's always thoughts of it. I feel like you go through times, and you don't know what to go through. My family, RCR, all the people there around us, hearing it from Dale Jr. and people like that, is very influential I feel like to where we're at today.
Yeah, I mean, I've looked at other numbers and stuff, too. It wasn't like, That's the number I want to run. Bam, bam, that's how I was going to do it or nothing.
We were very respectful in the fact it was up to my grandfather and the people that were around that number the longest.
So I'm not a kid that says, Hey, this is what I want, this is what I'm going to get. I've never been that way. Hopefully I'm never portrayed that way.
I'm a very respectful person and look to the history of the sport. I feel fortunate I'm getting this opportunity, though.
Q. WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN THE ALTERNATE NUMBER?
AUSTIN DILLON: That's a good question. My dad had run 21 a few times. Ty ran 2 a lot running up through the races. 41 was another one that got taken this year from Kurt that we would have probably looked at. We also had 33 and different numbers. But those aren't really my favorites.
Q. WHAT ABOUT GIVING PAYBACK?
AUSTIN DILLON: Giving payback? That's what payback is, right? I can't think of the polite word to say it (laughter).
I guess if you have to do it, you got to let it be known. Not let it be known, just do it the right way. You get smart and get under their skin somehow. Hopefully we don't have to deal with it too often. But there's a chance of that with the way the new Chase lays out. I guess you just have to look back and see how other people did it throughout the years.
Q. WOULD YOU WRECK SOMEBODY FOR A WIN?
AUSTIN DILLON: When I first started racing, I remember two opportunities where I wish I would have done things differently to win races. I look back on those. Now looking back, the memory of those, no one looks back and would have cared probably because I finished second. If I would have won that race, it might have meant something. I can remember those opportunities. I wish I had them back.
If the opportunity arises, you're there on the last lap in three and four, not necessarily taking them out, but laying your bumper to the end, I think that opportunity's there, you got to take it. You watch some of the Supercrosses this year, what's going on, there's some wild finishes at the end of those.
When you look back it creates a little history and some craziness.
I don't know. It's all about morals in the end, I guess, how you believe you should race somebody, or you be at the end of the race.
AUSTIN DILLON: In those races I didn't take advantage. Actually one of them I feel like I jumped the start and I took the lead through one and two. I kind of gave it back a little bit, and I never got the lead back. I remember that one. That was the big one.
Yeah, the other one I didn't wreck somebody. Tri-County in the east race and South Boston in the east race.
Q. WHERE WERE YOU THE DAY DALE EARNHARDT DIED?
AUSTIN DILLON: I was at home. For me, we watched the race. Then I was sent up to our barn where we were hanging out with my brother and some of our friends. My mom came over and got us. We went over to the shop. Everybody came to our house, I'm sorry, the whole shop, and we had a Bible study.
DANICA PATRICK, NO. 10 GODADDY CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at NASCAR Daytona Media Day and discussed: staring 2014 season in Sprint Unlimited; Richard Petty comments; expectations for Speed Weeks and the season and other topics. Full transcript:
Q. ON STARTING THE NEW SEASON BEING IN THE SPRINT UNLIMITED
DANICA PATRICK: You know, Ricky and I got in late last night because there was a little delay with flying in due to airspace. We got in pretty late. Laid down. It's like, You know what, it's good to be back on the bus. It always feels good to be back on the bus for some reason. It's a little home away from home or seems like more of a home than anywhere else.
So we both feel really good. We were both talking about it last night. I'm happy I'm in the Sprint Unlimited. I'm happy he is, too, because it's the both [of us on] the same schedule.
That's something I definitely didn't overlook when I qualified on the pole (indiscernible) the 500. Hey, I'm in the Sprint Unlimited race. It's pretty cool.
Q. ON REALIZING SHE WAS IN THE UNLIMITED WHEN SHE WON DAYTONA 500 POLE IN 2013
DANICA PATRICK: I don't know if I thought about it the same time, but I thought about it the same day. I had just watched it, watched the incredible drivers that are in that race. To think I was going to be able to get to be in it, too, I was happy right off the bat.
Q. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF RICHARD PETTY'S COMMENTS?
DANICA PATRICK: He asked it for you. You were hesitating. I saw it (laughter). Oh, Bob.
You know, people have said things in the past, and they're going to say things in the future. I still say the same thing: that everyone's entitled to their own opinion. People are going to judge what he said, whether they judge it well or not, and I'm just not going to.
Q. DO THOSE THINGS MOTIVATE YOU AT ALL?
DANICA PATRICK: You can't try any harder in the car. I think that's something that probably every driver would tell you when someone questions our effort level. You can't try any harder. You're doing everything you can. And maybe subconsciously there's some motivation, but I can't tell. I'm giving it my all every single time I'm getting in the car, whether I'm making a simple qualifying run or I'm in the race.
It is what it is and, again, people are entitled to their opinions, and that's fine.
Q. REGARDING RICHARD PETTY
DANICA PATRICK: I mean, really it's more about my belief that everyone can have their own opinion. It has nothing to do with where it comes from.
The people that matter the most to me are my team, my sponsors, you know, those little three-year-old kids that run up to you and want a great big hug and say they want to grow up to be like you. That's the stuff that I really focus on.
Q. NOBODY SAID THAT IN YOUR PREVIOUS SERIES. IT WAS MORE LIKE WHEN YOU WERE GOING TO WIN. THAT'S KIND OF A LITTLE BIT OF A DIFFERENCE.
DANICA PATRICK: You know, I mean, two things. In IndyCar I had probably a faster start. I mean, I started on the front row of Motegi and finished fourth, then just about qualified on pole and just about won the race at the Indy 500 my first year, so that was race number four in IndyCar. So I had a fast start.
I think that it also shows just the competition level in NASCAR. Not only are the drivers very good, but also the teams are extremely competitive, too. I don't think that any one of them sit still. There's no like normal ranking of teams. It goes up and down amongst many. There are 43 cars, not 23 cars. It's just extremely competitive.
Also stock cars are not my background. You know, I've done two full years, one in Nationwide, one in Cup. I still feel like I'm figuring stock cars out and will for a long time. I will never stop learning.
But figuring out the basics of how it work, there's still stuff when I look under the hood, I don't really know what I'm looking at.
Q. WOULD YOU AGREE THAT OF THOSE 43 CARS, THE FIELD IS MUCH MORE STRONGER OUT OF THOSE 43 THAN THEY WERE WITH THE 28 IN INDYCAR?
DANICA PATRICK: The competition, it's difficult to get to the top of both of them. But you're just adding so many more cars into it.
I think one thing that I learned last year in Cup is that we struggled to start the year off and we worked our butts off and tested a ton, tried to work on getting faster, working in the wind tunnel, doing everything we could to get better.
We did make up some ground. And as soon as you sit on that for a second and think, Okay, now let's calm down for a second, let's everybody can have a week off. You know, I don't think you're doing it on purpose, but all of a sudden at the end of the year you realize you're not making any more progress, in fact you're falling behind again.
So the effort level it takes when you are full bore, doing all you can do to go faster is the only mode that you can be in. That is a competition level that I don't think I have ever experienced. So that's how hard everyone's working.
That's why I think there's so many teams that come and go, but that come as well, because everybody's working that hard.
Q. THERE WERE A LOT OF PLACES WHERE A LOT OF LEARNING WENT ON LAST YEAR. YOUR SPEEDWEEKS WENT REALLY WELL FOR YOU. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WINNING POLE, THE WAY YOU RAN IN THE 500.
DANICA PATRICK: Well, I've been fortunate, whether it's been in a Nationwide car or whether it's been in a Cup car here. I've been lucky enough to run really well here. I have a pole in the Nationwide car and the Cup car. So I've been lucky with Tony Eury, Jr. in Nationwide and with Gibson now. They both build great speedway cars.
That's so nice because when you get here, you kind of got what you got. You're not going to really move mountains once you get here with the car. It is the speed that it is based on the work that they did before we all arrived.
And also the fact that speedway racing is familiar for me. It's very much like mile-and-a-half racing in IndyCar. So I think between those two things, it's a comfort zone for me.
Q. REGARDING OPINIONS NOT SHAKING HER
DANICA PATRICK: I really don't. I like that people have opinions. That is fine with me. I think that it creates such conversation. As I said the last time that somebody said something that was not so positive for me, it spawned so many positive articles.
So, you know, there's a positive side to it, too. But more than anything, I love the conversation that it creates in sport. Across the board it makes sports interesting. It makes life interesting when people have different perspectives, and that's fine with me.
Q. HAVE YOU EVER TALKED TO THE KING, TO RICHARD PETTY?
DANICA PATRICK: I know I met him. I have this great shot of I think it was before last year's race, maybe it was the Nationwide race, of him standing in front of my car on the pole and giving me two thumbs up. It's a back shot of his butt sticking out. Apparently I didn't notice him there for a while. I must have been getting strapped in.
But, yeah, I mean, that's about it. I probably could dig up that photo for you guys if you want it.
Q. IS IT A GENERATIONAL THING? HE IS IN HIS 70S.
DANICA PATRICK: I can't speak to that. I was born in the '80s.
Q. DO YOU PLAN TO FOLLOW THROUGH AT ALL?
DANICA PATRICK: I don't know why I would.
Q. DID YOU TALK TO KYLE AFTER KYLE MADE THE REMARKS LAST SUMMER?
DANICA PATRICK: I didn't talk to him but he eventually wanted to come talk to me.
Q. HOW DID THAT GO?
DANICA PATRICK: I spoke to him eventually, but it wasn't me seeking him out is what I'm saying. I wouldn't seek Richard out either.
Q. HOW DID THAT CONVERSATION GO?
DANICA PATRICK: My conversation with Kyle, it was all right. It was fine. It was lengthy.
You know, I think what I came to the conclusion was that really everybody does have their opinion, and that is totally fine. Even if some of the things that came across weren't completely accurate, there were things that I didn't quite understand from the comments either that I learned.
So, I mean, it really just doesn't matter. It's interesting conversation and I'm fortunate I'm in it.
Q. ON WINNING DAYTONA 500
DANICA PATRICK: Yeah, and I would agree, for two reasons: that my team builds great speedway cars and I feel much more comfortable, and this is much more familiar to me than the rest of the racing in a stockcar because you're taking the elements of learning how the car reacts to like how the bump-stops work, how the bar rack works, how different spring packages work.
That's not a concern on the speedways. It's just about navigating, the cars around you, and drafting, your mindset throughout the whole thing, your discipline.
So I feel like it could definitely happen. Shoot, I'm going to go try to win the Unlimited race so I can be in it forever. Isn't that what you get to do if you win it? That's what I've been thinking about the last week. I want to win the Sprint Unlimited race so I can be in it forever.
Q. LAST YEAR THE FIRST RACE WITH THE GEN-6, PEOPLE DIDN'T KNOW HOW TO REACT. DO YOU THINK IT WILL BE DIFFERENT THIS YEAR?
DANICA PATRICK: No, I think that it will be really similar to last year. I think we saw leading up to the race that there was some unexpected spins and some exciting moments out there in practice. I think that's there's just going to be less of that with the new rules. I think it's going to be great.
I think what's going to be really interesting, though, is the Nationwide race. They've banned bump-drafting, right? That will be interesting. I don't know how that's going to turn out. That will be interesting.
Q. YOU TALKED ABOUT THIS BEING A PROCESS FOR YOU, COMING TO STOCK CARS, GETTING YOUR FEET WET. WHERE DO YOU FEEL YOU ARE NOW IN THE PROCESS? DO YOU FEEL YOU HAVE GAINED ENOUGH WORKING KNOWLEDGE OF THE CAR, THE WAY IT HANDLES, BUMP-DRAFTING, DRAFTING?
DANICA PATRICK: No more bump-drafting (laughter).
Q. BUT TO GIVE YOURSELF A SENSE OF CONFIDENCE NOW GOING FORWARD IN THE SEASON.
DANICA PATRICK: More than last year. I mean, that's the process that I'm in. I think before I got into Cup, I would have said, Man, I feel like it takes a few years to really get up to speed and have a good grasp as to what you're doing out there.
You know, I'm in the middle of that, or starting the middle of that. There's a lot I have to learn, and I know that. But I feel better than I did last year. I feel like, more than anything, I understand the effort level that it takes from a team and driver perspective.
But I also feel like throughout the year we were able to develop much more rhythm to the weekend than we did at the beginning of the year. The beginning of the year we would sort of throw the kitchen sink at the car and just try and find anything that made it go faster.
I think what we realized at the end of the year, it was a much better approach ultimately to be more methodical. It's crazy how you can take these cars and take a 16th of packer out or take a 16th packer in and completely change the car. It's unbelievable.
So kind of like Daytona, you kind of got what you got when you get there. That's what you test for to develop a good setup that feels good. After that it's really about fine tuning I think. That's what we sort of started doing later in the year last year, which helped our qualifying.
Sometimes we hit it in the race; sometimes we missed it by a little bit. I know at Homestead, I know I'm going long-winded right now, in Homestead we made one change in the middle of the race and it made it like it did in the beginning. We were not great in the beginning, made it better, started making up ground. Got the Lucky Dog. Came from the back. I had to come back down from pit road. I started from the very back. Passed like 15 cars. The yellow came out just as I passed the car for Lucky Dog. All of a sudden we made a change and I wasn't any good again. It was like, Holy crap, what did you do? It was like one little change. We went back on it, it was good again.
Crazy how you can make one little change. Being methodical was something I learned last year.
DANICA PATRICK: No, let's talk about Ricky. That was much more fun. I smiled so much more.
Q. DO YOU KNOW WHAT I'M SAYING? WOULD IT BE NICE TO COME IN HERE AND TALK ABOUT RACING AND WHAT HAPPENS ON THE RACETRACK FIRST THING?
DANICA PATRICK: No, because we haven't done anything on the racetrack. I feel like what would you ask me if there are no fun things like there are today to ask, right? How do you feel about Daytona, that kind of thing.
Q. ON NEGATIVE COMMENTS
DANICA PATRICK: That kind of thing gets in for sure. Honestly, it doesn't really bother me. It just makes Media Day more interesting.
Q. IF YOU WIN A RACE, GET INTO THE CHASE, I'M SURE THAT'S SOMETHING YOU'RE REALLY LOOKING AT.
DANICA PATRICK: That's something that obviously we all thought about right off the bat, how strong we are on the speedways, how comfortable I feel on the speedways, the fact that a win gets you in the Chase.
I think NASCAR is going to create a platform to make for some interesting strategies, interesting races, something to talk about every week, because one win gets you there.
I can only imagine when there's a dark cloud rolling in, potential rain, what we might see out there, who can get the win before it rains.
Anyway, a lot of people are going to be running out of fuel this year. I feel like we're going to see a lot of that.
Q. DO YOU FEEL IT CHANGED THE TEAM'S PREPARATION AT ALL? SOME TEAMS ARE SPENDING A LOT OF TIME ON TRACKS THEY FEEL THEY ARE BEST AT.
DANICA PATRICK: I think there probably will be more emphasis on that, for sure. I know last year when we went to Richmond for one of our team tests, we went there because Ryan felt that was a track he could win on, and they wanted to make more sure of that, given the Race to the Chase.
There was some of that already going on. But I can imagine there will be even more of that. It will be interesting to see how it all turns out.
Q. WHAT ARE YOUR VALENTINE'S PLANS?
DANICA PATRICK: I'm the girl. Don't ask me. Ask Ricky when he comes through.
I did say to him yesterday, I said, Hey, babe, I feel like I shouldn't be thinking about this because it should be your job, but would you like me to ask someone to make reservations as a restaurant?
He said, No, I'll get it. I'll figure it out. I'll ask somebody here.
I'm like, Okay, I'll let you just do it.