TALK ABOUT YOUR EXCITING SPONSORSHIP NEWS ANNOUNCEMENT THIS WEEK
"We are very excited about that. This is a good track for us, especially the last time we were here I thought that things were going really well for us in qualifying and in the race. I think we learned a lot about pit strategy and trying to maintain that track position, so hopefully that helps us get a better result here this weekend. This team's just been on an amazing roll. We're having a lot of fun out there and this has always been one of my favorite tracks. It's been challenging today. I don't know what's going on with the tire. The conditions have really thrown us all for a bit of a loop with the grip level in the front.
"But, yeah; I'm very excited about adding 3M to the No. 24 team and Hendrick Motorsports. We went and visited their facility. It's amazing what they're capable of doing and the things that they're involved with. And we already use many, many of their products at Hendrick Motorsports in building our Sprint Cup cars. As somebody who has built a couple of homes over the past couple of years, I know how useful they are in the building process as well and so many other applications. We can't wait to take that relationship to a whole other level. And their involvement with motorsports for so long in the Cup series, they really know what this sport is all about. So, we're excited to have them on board."
REGARDING TESTING AT MICHIGAN ON MONDAY, YOU MIGHT BE ABLE TO ADJUST THE TRACK BAR FROM INSIDE THE RACE CAR
"I had heard that they were talking about it, so it's all kind of new to me that they're actually going to go forward with that. But I think it's sort of a reaction to the change we have. We have so much of a change in traffic behind other cars. The balance changes so much that we're trying to figure out how we can adjust that balance when we get behind cars and then to help passing and make the races more exciting and more competitive than they already are. And that's a step toward that. So, that would be great. I'd love to know how much adjustment you're going to get. I always go back to adjustments that I used to have in Open Wheel cars and I used to dial myself right out of being competitive (laughs). So, I want to make sure they don't allow me to have too much adjustment or if they do, I'm going to make sure the team tells me how far I can go with it."
NO MATTER HOW YOU LOOK AT SATURDAY'S TRAGEDY, THERE WAS SOME DRIVER EMOTION INVOLVED. HAVE YOU EVER HAD TIME WHEN YOU'VE FELT LIKE YOU'VE DONE SOMETHING AND LOOKED BACK AND THOUGHT IT WAS UNSAFE OR THE WRONG THING TO DO?
"Outside of the car, I can't recall an incident like that, but obviously what happened between me and (Clint) Bowyer at Phoenix a couple of years ago, that was me allowing my emotions to get the best of me in making a poor choice. I certainly wish I could take that back, but I couldn't. It happened. I don't feel like I was putting anybody in danger, but it certainly could have happened.
"I don't think people recognize the intensity that goes on within a race, your heart rate, the Adrenalin that's flowing. The cars, from the outside, just look like they're kind of rolling around there, and there's so much more going on in our bodies and in our minds, which is why I believe that we are athletes. We get questioned about it. And until you're in that situation, there aren't words to describe what it's like. And yet, when you're in that kind of environment, sometimes your emotions can get the best of you and put you in a position to not make the best choices and decisions."
YOU MENTIONED PIT STRATEGY AND HOW IMPORTANT IT IS HERE. TODAY THE CREWS ARE BASICALLY ATHLETES. WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER WHEN THOSE CHANGES FIRST CAME ABOUT? CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE VALUE OF HAVING ATHLETES IN YOUR GROUP?
"I think Ray Evernham is a much better person for that question because that was an area that he put effort into and put some other people in charge. I think he had a friend of his, Andy Papa that was a real athlete. Between Andy and Ray and maybe some others, they started thinking about the process and how to make it more consistent and faster and realized that the physical attributes played a bit role as well. It's been evolving throughout all the years. It's always been evolving. But that maybe was a time when it was taking a fairly big step. And I look at it today, the way our pit crews train and the type of physical shape that they're in. Rocco, on my team, I've never seen a human being in the kind of shape this guy is in. It's insane. And that's what it takes these days to be fast and be consistent and that split second is sometimes the difference between winning and losing and that's big."
YOU SAID THE BALANCE IN YOUR CAR HAS CHANGED A LOT. IS THERE ANY FREEDOM IN NASCAR RULES TO WORK WITH AERO PACKAGES LIKE YOU DO WITH OPEN WHEEL RACING?
"Well, there are times I wish I had the DRS (Drag Reduction System) there for the straightaways (laughs). I've challenged my engineers to try to figure out a way to incorporate that in a failsafe system and present it to NASCAR. Yeah, we're in a very similar situation. It's all motorsports, not just NASCAR, where we continue to improve the airflow over and under the car, making more downforce; and that means you're more dependent on how that air flows around the car. And when you take it away, that means that you're going to see a big shift in grip and balance. I can remember in the mid 90's it was all about aero push behind the cars and how we were really losing the front grip. And now, the teams have done such a good job utilizing the splitter and keeping it down on the race track, that now it just seems like we're losing more in the rear or total downforce when we're behind other cars."
THE PUBLIC REACTION TO THE SITUATION LAST SATURDAY HAS BEEN ENORMOUS. IT SEEMS LIKE EVERYBODY HAS AN OPINION ABOUT IT. WE'VE HAD A RULES CHANGE LESS THAN A WEEK LATER. GIVING HOW LONG YOU'VE BEEN DOING THIS, DID THAT REACTION SURPRISE YOU AT ALL?
"Well it's unfortunate. This is a terrible tragedy. There's no doubt about that. Through the years that I've been in racing in general, not just NASCAR, it's unfortunate that the times when we get the most attention and most controversial opinions or people really engaging, is when it seems like there's a tragic accident or incident that causes that. I've been unfortunately involved where I've been in races where I've seen lives lost and sometimes it's a failure, a judgment, or just a complete accident. And yet, that does seem to draw the attention of others outside the sport and in getting a lot within the sport. You wish that there were things that we could do that were like a five-wide finish on the final lap of a Daytona 500 that could draw that kind of attention in a positive way, and that it doesn't take something like this to garner that kind of attention. At the same time, I don't necessarily agree with that happening like that, but at the same time I guess I understand it. I watched the video many, many times myself trying to understand it."
ON THE TIRES IN PRACTICE, YOU AND DALE JR. AND KASEY KAHNE WERE IN THE TOP 11, BUT JIMMIE JOHNSON WAS BACK IN THE 39TH SPOT. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE ISSUE THAT HE MIGHT HAVE BEEN FACING? WERE YOU EXPERIENCING ANY OF THAT AS WELL?
"Similar things; I did talk to Jimmie and his seemed to be a little more extreme. I don't know if the sets of tires are inconsistent or, I don't know what's going on. He went to go talk to Goodyear. I wanted to know what he heard from them. I'd like to talk to them as well. Something drastically has changed. We didn't have any of these issues the last time we were here. It wasn't like we were here that long ago. And something has changed. Everybody is being challenged, or at least 95 percent of the people I've talked to have dealt with it. It's strange. I feel like I'm at a different track with a different car with a different tire. And I'm not sure what's going on there. But we made improvements. I felt like we made improvements and worked around it and had some pretty good runs. I'm hoping that the rest of our teammates can do the same. Junior, it didn't seem to be happening with him. Kasey, I think he was dealing with it a little bit at the beginning. I'm not sure about at the end. But yeah, Jimmie's is extreme; and I've heard several others commenting the same way. I don't know what it is. I can't tell you. This tire was built in July. So, it's a new tire. It's not like these are old tires. We're trying to get to the bottom of it in a hurry."
AS TO THE NEW RULE ANNOUNCED BY NASCAR TODAY, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON TEMPERS FLARING MORE IN THE GARAGE AREA AFTER THE RACE, AS OPPOSED TO DRIVERS SHOWING THEIR DISPLEASURE BY GETTING OUT OF THE CAR AFTER A WRECK ON THE RACE TRACK?
"I understand because of this situation. It forces everybody to sort of look at things a little bit more under a microscope and maybe make an adjustment here or there. For me, personally, it doesn't change anything of how I'm going to go about things. I'm going to always try to keep my emotions in check and I'm going to use common sense. It doesn't matter if it's on the track or off the track. To me, that's what we all have to do. It doesn't mean that things aren't going to escalate and things aren't going to happen. Something could get heated in the garage area. Things get heated all the time. We'll just kind of see what happens. But, I don't think that what they announced today is going to change anything as to what's going to go on in the garage area."