TALK ABOUT HOW YOUR CAR IS SO FAR. HOW HAVE THE PRACTICES GONE AND HOW THE NO. 24 CHEVROLET IS OPERATING:
“It was good to get out there and get some laps. I think we all recognize how important it was to do that before the race tomorrow because of this new package and the things we are trying and the unknowns. This is a tricky racetrack. Certainly that is no secret. It is a very challenging racetrack. You take 1000 pounds of downforce off the cars, as well as the reduction in horsepower that we have had all year, but have not run here yet. We need track time. I was glad we were able to get on there today. We would have liked to have had it with the data acquisition on the cars like we planned on having on Wednesday, but we will take whatever we can get.
“The No. 24 was pretty good. We made a mock qualifying run in that first practice knowing there was a good chance it could get rained out for qualifying. That paid off we will be starting third, so a great place to start. I’m glad we were able to get the next practice in. To me the car drives kind of like what you would expect. It doesn’t have as much grip; you can’t be quite as aggressive with it. But the balance is pretty good front to rear. I think we are fighting a little bit of the front downforce more than the rear downforce, but I think we are going to battle with a little bit of both. I haven’t been in a lot of traffic yet, but a little bit. It just seemed like whatever we had going on with the car just accentuate that. It is still early on to be able to really give a clear evaluation. All-in-all I thought it was a pretty good day, certainly for us so far."
HAVE YOU REALLY THOUGHT MUCH ABOUT YOUR RECORD HERE ABOUT NOT WINNING? IS IT ONE OF THE MUST WIN RACES THAT YOU THOUGHT ABOUT OVER THE YEARS?
“I mean no different than any other track the difference is that it is the only one left on the list. So it would mean a lot to accomplish that. That is something hard to do. I love doing things that are hard to do and set those kinds of stats. It wouldn’t mean so much to me if I hadn’t won on all the other ones. It’s all been good. We have come close here once before I believe. It’s the newest track that has been added on the schedule, so we haven’t been able to come here for a long time. It would just mean a lot to win it. It’s not if we don’t that I’m going to be super disappointed. I’m going to be disappointed if we finish second to come that close, yeah, that would be a little disappointing as far as the stats go. But I would like to have a good strong finish here and just have a shot at it. It would be pretty cool if we pulled it off."
ALL OF YOUR FINISHES HERE HAVE BEEN INSIDE THE TOP 10, BUT YOU HAVE YET TO LEAD A LAP HERE. WHAT IS IT ABOUT THIS TRACK THAT IS DIFFICULT FOR YOU TO LEAD?
“That is a good question. I’m not really sure. I remember a couple of years ago we raced here during the day. That was our best shot that we had at winning and we had a restart where we started like third or fourth or second or something like that. And had some crazy stuff happen where some cars spun out and we just – I felt like in that scenario got the opportunity to get ourselves in that number one position. That was for the win, but in the other ones, this is just a tough racetrack. I’m not really sure. I feel like we have always run well towards the end of the race, but maybe didn’t always start off as strong. Maybe it’s a qualifying thing too. We just haven’t qualified up front. Hopefully, that changes this weekend."
HOW MUCH DO YOU NOW KNOW ABOUT WHAT WE WILL SEE IN THE RACE WITH THIS NEW PACKAGE AND HOW MUCH DO YOU THINK WE WON’T REALLY FIND OUT UNTIL THE RACE GETS GOING?
“I think there is a part of me that thought it would have been really cool had we not had any practice and just went cold turkey and did it and see what it was like. There is no doubt there is less grip. There is less grip and when there is less grip you are going a little bit slower through the corners, which is kind of the theory behind this package. We believe that you need to slow the cars down a little bit through the corners so that we are not so dependent on the aerodynamics. That when you are behind somebody you are losing that so much needed air. Hopefully that will create the ability to pass a little bit more. But if you think you are going to go out there and run side-by-side that is a whole other story. You are going to go dive inside somebody and you are probably going to get loose and slide into them. So, there might be a little more contact, a few more cautions. I like what we are doing how we are trying this package out. We are going to I guess try it at Darlington too and then we will go try the exact opposite package and see what that is like at Indy or Michigan if that all comes together. I’m trying to hold my opinions to myself until I really go through a race to really know what we have."
THIS IS THE LAST 1.5-MILE BEFORE THE CHASE HOW IMPORTANT IS THIS WHEN IT COMES TO LOOKING AT WHAT YOU WILL HAVE FOR THE PLAYOFF?
“This is, like I mentioned, a unique and very challenging race track as a 1.5-mile compared to others. I think that there are somethings you have to do different here to get over the bumps and deal with the surface versus some of the other tracks. So, it’s not really apples to apples of what we are going to have at 1.5-miles and especially the package. But, I still think even if you take the downforce off the cars the person that does the best job getting the most out of it, the most downforce and the most grip out of the car is probably going to be one of the cars to beat here. I would think they will be one of the cars and teams to beat in the Chase at the next 1.5-mile. So, I think teams are looking at this and saying ‘okay we have lost this and lost this, but we still have everything else that we have at other tracks. Let’s see what we can do with it and if we can learn something and improve on our cars then we head down that path and direction for those final 10 races in the year when we get back to the 1.5-miles.’ It will still pay off there even though this is a lot different."
YOU TALKED A LOT ABOUT THIS RACE AND WHAT IT WOULD MEAN TO WIN AND COMPLETE THE FULL CYCLE. ARE THERE THINGS YOUR TEAM HAS BEEN ABLE TO DO TO MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A GOOD CAR HERE AND HAVE A CHANCE TO PULL THIS OFF?
“It’s no different than any other weekend. I’ve been so fortunate to have been part of a team throughout my whole career that goes to every track that’s capable of winning; and if not, with putting as much effort out as possible to prepare for each race. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve been able to win at so many race tracks. I do feel like Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) and our team of engineers have recognized that we have not maybe brought as good of race cars on a consistent basis this year, as we did last year; and they’ve been working really hard. I think today we saw some of that hard work paying off. The car has good speed. So, there’s no reason why we can’t do it this weekend."
AT ALMOST ALL OF YOUR FIRST-TIME WINS AT ALL THESE TRACKS, YOU’VE BEEN KEYED WITH RAY EVERNHAM. DID HE STEP-UP PRIOR TO THIS RACE AND TALK TO YOU ABOUT WHAT IT MIGHT TAKE FOR YOU TO WIN HERE?
“No. I talk to Ray all the time, but we didn’t talk about that (laughs). We don’t get real sentimental or philosophical and stuff like that. We just see how one another is doing; what kind of cool cars we’re messing around with and stuff like that."
EVEN THOUGH YOU DON’T HAVE HISTORY HERE AND THE CIRCUIT DOESN’T HAVE HISTORY HERE, IN THIS FINAL YEAR DO YOU FIND YOURSELF BECOMING MORE SENTIMENTAL WITH SOME OF THESE TRACKS, AND THIS ONE IN PARTICULAR, IN TRYING TO APPRECIATE SOME OF THE QUIRKS AND APPRECIATE THE SUCCESS YOU’VE HAD?
“Yeah, I think it has to do with my history and my memories I have of that (a particular) track. I think Sonoma was one of the first ones this year that was a final race that really was a track that I not only had great success on the track, but just has a lot of connections that mean a lot to me. When I heard the crowd applaud on race day for driver introductions, it really hit me and stuck with me, and it was cool. I kind of anticipate that at Indianapolis, as well. The cheers and the support have been overwhelming everywhere we’ve gone. But when you talk about the significant tracks in my career (like) Sonoma and Indy certainly come to mind. And other than that, the only place that I think it’s really going to hit me like wow, this is really happening, is in Homestead."
“When I think of this track, I just think of how challenging it is and how rough it is, how much my back hurts and how much I’d like to win here because we never have. I love that fact that when we came here, especially the first time, the way that racing is supported in this part of the country. It reminded me of Indiana. I used to race in Evansville; not to far from here, I raced sprint cars, and it just didn’t surprise me how when we come here, there’s a lot of huge race fans, not just NASCAR fans, but just huge race fans, that want to see a great race and came out to support us here."
YOUR PARADE GOT RAINED-OUT YESTERDAY. WHAT’S IT GOING TO MEAN TO YOU TO GO BACK TO PITTSBORO, INDIANA AND RECALL THAT PHASE OF YOUR LIFE?
“I was really bummed. I had a lot of friends that were texting me and people that I hadn’t seen in a long time that I was looking forward to seeing. And it sounded like Indianapolis Motor Speedway really had put a lot of planning into that. So, I was pretty disappointed not to go there. And then, not ever get on the track yesterday, here. But I did hear that the weather was pretty bad up there, as well; so, we’re all hoping that July 23rd works well for everybody and I look forward to going there. It’s been a while since I’ve been out to Pittsboro. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a lot of those folks. That town meant so much to me when I was in my early years of racing just because I got the chance to race at so many places and had so much support there. So, that’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to it. That whole Brickyard weekend is going to be a great one."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT POSSIBLE RULES PACKAGE CHANGES FOR UPCOMING CHASE RACES? DO YOU HAVE A FEELING EITHER WAY, WHETHER THERE IS A CHANGE OR NOT? DO YOU THINK WHATEVER THEY DECIDE IS THE BEST FOR THE SPORT AND WE’LL PUT THE BEST PRODUCT ON THE RACE TRACK
“Yeah, that’s what I think. If there is something that we leave there and everybody just says wow, that was spectacular and that was amazing and we need more of that, then I’d certainly be open to it. But, if we’re mixed feelings and opinions on it, and they implement that, I’d be a little disappointed in that. I don’t think that any of us really felt like the things that we’re doing right now are necessarily to put into the Chase, but if they are because it’s going to make the sport even better than it is, then great. I’ll support it."