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Q and A with Gordon, Allmendinger and McMurray

NASCAR at Sonoma
Saturday, June 21, 2014

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Jeff Gordon met with members of the media at Sonoma Raceway and discussed road course racing, how he works with his spotter, aggressive driving at Sonoma, and more. AJ Allmendinger discussed racing Sonoma, progress team is making and other topics.  Jamie McMurray discussed the new qualifying format, opportunities for making the Chase, how he likes road course racing.

Jeff Gordon

TALK ABOUT WHAT IT TAKES TO REALLY BE SUCCESSFUL HERE AT SONOMA: “It’s been a little while since we won out here, so I feel like you constantly always have to challenge yourself, and just push the limited of your car. Yet, here at Sonoma, you have to be very careful not to overdrive it of course as well.  Same ingredients apply; a great race car always helps. Teamwork and communication – like for instance this weekend. We’ve got a really good car; very happy, but, I know that we have to make it better. In order to do that, I have to recognize the areas that we need to improve the car and try to articulate that to the team to find….I know they can help me in those areas, but I’ve got to be able to describe it in a way that they can understand it. Then, put those pieces together around the track.

“Once you get the green flag here on Sunday, there are very few adjustments you can make. So, it is really up to you to maintain the durability of the tires; they are really soft and fast in the beginning, but they are falling off quite a bit on the longer runs. So, wheel spin and trying not to lock-up front tires – managing that. As I mentioned, staying on course and being there for the finish when it counts.  I am pretty comfortable this weekend, and I’m really happy with the way things are going. I’m excited to have Panasonic on board.”

HOW IS YOUR BACK NOW? HAVE YOU HAD TO DO ANYTHING SINCE CHARLOTTE THAT YOU DON’T NORMALLY DO TO MAINTAIN IT? “Since that incident in Charlotte, of course I had the cortisone shots – that was the biggest difference in things that I hadn’t had to do before.  Then there was waiting for that to wear off to see what happens.  In between that, I’m just doing a lot of ice, some TENS, the stimulation – the electric stimulation, and then my normal stretching and exercise routine that I always do. Just trying not to push it too hard. I’ve really gotten into bike riding this year, and was in great shape right before that happened in Charlotte. I’ve had to stay off the bike, but I’m looking forward to getting back on it. It feels pretty good out here. I’m happy as hard as you are braking, and all the shifting you are doing out here, I was a little concerned, but it has gone really well. The plane ride out was harder than anything, sitting there for five, six hours.”

WOULD YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR RECEPTION AT SONOMA AS COMPARED TO OTHER TRACKS? “I got asked earlier this morning if this was my home track, and I had to think about it because it’s the closest track to my home, and a lot of my family is still here. But, I never saw this race track until 1993 when I drove my first Cup race. I mean, I drove by it; I knew of it.  It is hard to say it is my home track, but this is home for me. I love coming out here, and yet had I not moved to Indiana, I don’t know if I would be here today, and get the reception we get out here, which is a fantastic one. It is awesome. Even my truck driver was saying that the truck parade that was last night in Sacramento, he saw 24 hats everywhere. That is not necessarily the case in Johnson City, Tennessee. It is unique, and it is different. Of course the success we’ve had out here helps to contribute to that.  People like to pull for the hometown boy, or the old guy these days.”

TALK ABOUT THE AGGRESSIVE NATURE OF THE ROAD COURSE RACES NOW, AND SECONDLY, YOUR COUSIN IS RACING IN THE K & N RACE; HAVE YOU SPENT ANY TIME WITH HIM? “As far as the first part of the question, definitely road course races we’ve always seen aggressiveness, and sometimes mistakes by people trying to be overly aggressive and making mistakes. That has always been the nature of this track and road course racing because there are two opportunities to really pass, and you try and take advantage of those opportunities. Then when they did the double-file restarts - that is what really changes things. It changed things on the ovals too, but it really changed things on the road courses because it gives you that extra opportunity to be aggressive, to get the position and take some extra chances to try to get that position. Or maintain a position and causes a lot of incidents. We see a lot of people running into one another. But it has also made the road course some of the most exciting races that we have now on the circuit.

“As far as James (Bickford), yes I am excited for him. This is his first season in K & N, he’s young, he’s 16 years old and he’s doing really, really well. I know he was nervous about running his first road course. He’s never had to shift, or downshift on a road course before. We were here for a tire test earlier in the year, and I spent a lot of time talking to him. It looks like him doing fairly well, before I left the truck, looks like he was ninth on the board so that is pretty good.  I haven’t had a chance to talk to him because when I am off the track, he is on the track and when I’m on the track, they are off the track. We’ll see if I can catch up with him before his race.”

REGARDING THE PANASONIC SPONSORSHIP, WILL YOU BE DRIVING THE CAR FOR THE ENTIRE TIME OF THE SPONSORSHIP?
“I love it. I love it.  We have a lot of sponsors signed for long periods of time. And I know I’ve said in the past that’s how we kind of dictate when I’ll be in the car or I won’t be in the car. But Panasonic has been with Hendrick for a number of years. They’ve just never been on the car and this is a great extension of that for Hendrick Motorsports and the No. 24 car. It doesn’t necessarily say or mean anything of how long I’ll be in the car driving. But I don’t plan on quitting any time soon. Don’t push me; don’t talk me into something I’m not ready to do (laughs). I was smiling when I said that. Just wanted you to know in case I came across too sarcastic. (laughter).

TALK ABOUT YOUR SPOTTER
“We depend on our spotters so much at the ovals; sometimes too much, in my opinion. We blame it on the spotter when we’re still in control of the car. And so I think on a road course, when you know there are blind areas out there and that they have bad angles as well and they can’t see everything, you take that into account. Obviously in the closing laps you’re going to take more risk and you expect them to take more risk, but what I normally do here is I talk with my spotter before race day. And I ask where he’s having trouble or where he can see really good and where he can’t. So, in those areas, when somebody is in that blind spot in that area, I’ll probably give a little bit more, or just know it’s at risk in those areas.”

HAVE YOU DEVELOPED ANY SUPERSTITIONS OVER THE YEARS? DO YOU PUT A LOT OF STOCK IN THAT?
“Yeah, I can’t say I put a lot of stock into things like that. I think if my routine were to be broken up, and my routine is the schedule comes prior to getting to the race track that weekend. I look at it. I glance at it. And I have an idea of what the expectations are going into each day, especially on race day. If that changes at the last second, it does get me off; and so, we try to make sure that doesn’t happen. Other than that, I like to get dressed at a certain time. I like to have our team meeting at a certain time and get to the car at a certain time and all those things. But, that’s just routine. I don’t feel like it’s any superstitious thing. It’s just preparation for what you have in store for that day.”

CAN YOU PUT THE FANS BEHIND THE WHEEL TO DESCRIBE DRIVING A ROAD COURSE?
“It’s always hard to describe whether you’re at Daytona or Bristol or at a road course. I love it when I get to talk to people within our sport, or our fans, or anybody out there who gets a chance to get behind the wheel because they’re always blown away at what it takes, and the focus, and how hot it is, and their heart rate and all those things. But on a road course, especially this track in particular, you want to really charge into those corners and brake as deep as you can, but you have to be extremely careful of braking too hard and shifting the weight balance to the front. It really creates a light feeling in the back of the car where the tires start to skip and hop.

“And then probably the toughest thing is that braking and matching the rpms and the downshifts. We don’t have paddle shifting and some of the technology that’s out there in cars on the street. So, all that happens through a rhythm and timing of how you go about it. The fuel injection has really helped that quite a bit. It’s just more precise and crisp, so that’s nice. And then the next challenging part is handling the wheel spin. We’re 860 horsepower with a tremendous amount of torque in these engines and not a lot of grip once the tires start to fall off. I could spin the tires in probably every gear if I wanted to.

“So it’s just trying to maximize the rear grip and just feed that throttle like there’s an egg underneath it and try to maintain that grip and then go up through the gears. You’re bouncing off curbs. It’s sort of like controlling something that’s completely out of control is how I like to describe it on a road course because it’s pretty amazing that we throw these big heavy cars with so much power around at a track like this, and yet keep it on the course.”

REGARDING THE HENDRICK ENGINES, DOES THE TALK ABOUT THAT ACTUALLY DISCREDITS THE EFFORTS & SKILLS OF THE DRIVERS?
“We’re driving great cars. So, I think that Rick (Hendrick) does an excellent job of hiring quality people and I think that’s behind the wheel as well as the people that work on the cars, all the way from crew chiefs to the people that build the engines and chassis. Yeah, I think you’d be discrediting all those efforts and across the board. To go down the straightaways, you’ve got to get through the corners pretty good, too. And right now, I think we’re doing both. So I’m pretty proud of that. And a lot of effort has gone into that. I definitely saw some cars at Michigan last week that were not Hendrick, that didn’t need to be complaining about their engines. They were getting down the straightaway plenty good. We were beating them in the corner, though.

“All I know is that over the years when other teams are complaining about us, that’s usually when things are going really well for us. It’s like getting booed. When you’re getting boos, that’s usually a good sign. So, we’re just going to focus on what we’re doing and continue to try to maintain that high level of competition on the track.”

EVERYONE HAS BEEN TALKING ABOUT THE HENDRICK ENGINES AND THERE IS NO QUESTION THAT THE TEAM IS REALLY ON A ROLL RIGHT NOW.  WHEN YOU HEAR SOME OF THE OTHER DRIVERS SAYING ABOUT HOW HARD IT IS TO BEAT THE HENDRICK ENGINE DEPARTMENT RIGHT NOW DO YOU FEEL LIKE THEY ARE ALMOST DOWNPLAYING THE SKILLS OF THE DRIVERS?
“We are driving great cars.  I think that Rick does an excellent job of hiring quality people and I think that is behind the wheel as well as the people that work on the cars.  All the way from crew chiefs to the people that build the engines and chassis.  Yeah, I think you would be discrediting all of those efforts and across the board.  To go down the straightaways you’ve got to get through the corners pretty good too.  Right now I think we are doing both.  I’m pretty proud of that.  A lot of effort has gone into that. 

“I definitely saw some cars at Michigan last week that were not Hendrick cars that didn’t need to be complaining about their engines.  They were getting down the straightaway plenty good.  We were really beating them in the corner though.  All I know if over the years when other teams are complaining about us that is usually when things are going really well for us.  It’s like getting booed.  When you are getting boos that is usually a good sign.  We are just going to focus on what we are doing and continue to try to maintain that kind of high level of competition on the track.”

CHEVROLET HAS BEEN IMMENSELY SUCCESSFUL AT INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY.  CAN YOU SPEAK ON WHY THAT IS?
“It must be all that horsepower.  I just think that Chevrolet has great teams.  We are certainly seeing that this year and a lot of others are going to focus on the Chevrolet’s.  That is fine, that is great.  Certainly they deserve that.  But I think and I’ve seen this throughout my career, you also have to look at the depth of the teams.  I think that Hendrick has a lot of depth, Stewart-Haas has a lot of depth and Richard Childress Racing has a lot of depth.  All of the Chevrolet teams that are out there are just doing a really good job and have some great components to work with.  When you get to Indianapolis you need all of those ingredients.  You’ve got to get down the straightaways, you’ve got to get through the corners, you have got to have good pit stops and Chevrolet teams right now are leading the way in all those departments and have a lot of momentum and I am looking forward to hopefully another Chevrolet being in Victory Lane there.”

YOU ARE THE ONLY DRIVER WHO HAS COMPETED IN EVERY SINGLE BRICKYARD 400 WHAT DOES THAT RACE MEAN TO YOU?
“To me as a kid even when I lived her in California and I was racing here it was sprint car racing and the Indy 500 beside the quarter midget racing that I was doing that was what I dreamed about.  It’s what I followed and when we traveled back to Indiana when I was racing quarter midgets visiting the Stanley family we would go over to Indy.  I was just in awe of the museum, the track, the race and so to get that chance to race there is unbelievable.  To know I have won it four times and look at those trophies sitting on my shelf at home is something I am very proud of.”

YOU WERE SAYING IT’S BEEN AWHILE SINCE YOU WON HERE, BUT IT’S ALSO BEEN AWHILE SINCE YOU WERE THE POINTS LEADER.  CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHERE YOU ARE RIGHT NOW IN YOUR CONFIDENCE IN WHERE YOU ARE IN THE STANDING AND HOW THAT WILL DICTATE WHAT YOU WILL WANT TO DO AND HOW YOU RACE?
“I mean we are very strong team right now with great cars.  I think we have had one of the best starts to the season that I can remember possibly ever having.  When you are in the position that we are in we are happy with that, but at the same time we know we have to keep pushing hard and hard because we have Jimmie Johnson right there next to us with two more wins than us.  We know that we need to get to Victory Lane a few more times and I think we are capable of doing that.  I think that we are a team that can be very consistent and yet also be a real threat to win.  This year the way my cars are running everywhere we go I’m excited to get in it, push the limits of it and I’m having a blast. Every time they drop the green flag I feel like we have a car that can compete for a win. That is very exciting and I’m proud of the effort that has been put in to make that happen.”

AJ ALLMENDINGER, NO. 47 KINGSFORD/CLOROX CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Sonoma Raceway and discussed racing Sonoma, progress team is making and other topics.  Full transcript:

YOU ARE A NATIVE OF LOS GATOS, CALIFORNIA. SONOMA COULD BE A PERFECT OPPORTUNITY FOR YOU TO PICK-UP A WIN THIS WEEKEND. TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT BEING HOME IN CALIFORNIA AND BEING AT SONOMA:
“It is always good to come back to Sonoma. I missed it last year for a good reason, I was winning at Road America (Wisconsin – NASCAR Nationwide Series), so we will just put that out there (laughs).  I missed being here. Being a home race for me, it is nice to see my family, and some friends and all that. But it is one of those things that you have to split up between doing your job, and then seeing all your friends and kind of hanging out and catching up.  A good opportunity to try and get a win. But, you can’t put too much pressure on yourself getting here saying this is the only race we have a shot to win at. Just kind of taking the weekend as it comes, and really going from there – step-by-step. Really proud of this team so far where we have gotten. Excited to announce that Clorox signed up for three more years, so that is good to have that on our race car and to get that solidified. By the end of their contract, I think it will be 20 years that they have been with this race team. Just a great brand to have on this car. Good things going into this weekend and hopefully we can build on that and have a good weekend all together.”

DO YOU REALLY LOOK AT THIS AS AN OPPORTUNITY WITH ALL OF YOUR ROAD COURSE EXPERIENCE TO MAKE IT INTO THE CHASE WITH A WIN HERE?
“I would be lying if I said I didn’t come in here with the mindset that we have a shot to win this thing. But at the same point, the Sprint Cup Series every weekend, it is so tough now. It is a lot different than 10-15 years ago when I thought you looked at the series and said maybe there are five, or eight or ten guys at most that can win on a road course race. Now it is so deep and everybody has gotten so good at road course racing in general. We tested here for two days, which was big because I felt like what we started here with at the test, we would have been way off if we had come back and hadn’t tested. It was a good two-day test. I don’t want to walk into this weekend saying ‘If we don’t win this race, then it is a disappointment’.  We just need to have a solid weekend, and if we can run inside the top-10, good.  And, if we can be inside the top-five and have a shot to win it, then it’s a great weekend. That is how I look at it.”

THE LAST COUPLE OF WEEKS, YOU HAVEN’T HAD GREAT RUNS, ARE YOU IMPROVING?
“You have to look at the nature of our team, it just doesn’t happen overnight. Last year this team was 30th or 31st in points. I feel like the Series itself has gotten deeper with everybody stepping up their level of competition. We are going to have those weeks, up and down.  We’re not a Hendrick team.  It is what it is.  We are a one car team that is slowly building. I think if you look at RCR as a whole, just the general from the alliance to RCR itself, we’re all a little bit behind. It’s not like the RCR cars are dominating, and we’re hanging on to the back. We’re all pretty close together. I think it has opened the question, are we good? We have the potential of being good. Are we there yet? No. On our best weekends like this, can we go win a race? I think we can, but are we going to have weekends to where the last couple of weeks we just struggled to run 20th. That is the nature of it. I was kind of….you look at it last week, and I was frustrated after we got done with the race and thinking ‘man, we are struggling’. Then you look at the guys I was racing around during the race – Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle – those type of guys.  It is tough in this series right now. We just have to keep getting better each weekend. We’re going to have our ups and downs. We’ve had some great runs this year. We’ve had some runs that you would expect from a single-car team that is trying to build. So, the good thing is our team owner, Tad Geschickter, he is the most patient person, and I’m not. So, I get done and I’m like “we’ve got to fix this’. As he told me when we started this, ‘this isn’t a one-weekend, a one-race, a one-year thing.  I’m in this team for a long-term period’. We just have to keep getting stronger together.”

HAVE YOU USED THE STRONG RUN AT TALLADEGA IN MAY TO PROPEL THE TEAM FORWARD AT DAYTONA IN JULY?
“The good thing is our ECR engine has a ton of power when it comes to the superspeedway races.  A lot of that is based on luck too. I thought we had a fast car, but I had to miss all the wrecks, too.  I was around about three of them, and that is just part of it. I look where we are strong and we are weak…our superspeedway program. At Daytona, we had a fast car, and we had a mechanical failure. At Talladega, obviously as you said, finished fifth. Our short-track program has been pretty good.  I think the places we struggle are really the mile-and-a-half race tracks.  I feel like those are the tracks where you really see the bigger budgets really come out because aerodynamics are so critical there. Just having those extra resources, and that extra testing that those teams do, really help them on the mile-and-a-half race tracks.  So I feel like that is where our weakness is. We got to Daytona in a couple weeks. Hopefully it is off of a couple of really great runs here and at Kentucky next week. We’ll just play it out and see how it goes. The way I look at those races is you just have to put yourself in the right place. If it goes wrong when you are in that spot, then it goes wrong. As you are not the cause of the big one. That’s all you can do.”

HOW MUCH OF AN UNKNOWN IS QUALIFYING HERE?
“It will be interesting. I think out of all the places we have been to, this will be…I won’t say crazy, but I think it is hard to determine. The spotters and the teams I feel like throughout the course of the qualifying, they’ve done a good job.  You don’t want to get in anybody’s way. You don’t want anybody to get in your way. I’m sure there are people who have gotten blocked for a lap or two, but for the most part I feel like qualifying has worked out where teams are nice to each other, and spotters work with each other to get their driver a clean lap.  Here it is hard to do. You can sit here on pit road and say ‘okay, there is nobody coming into (turn) 11 for 10 seconds, roll out there and have a clean lap. Well, by the time you get back to 11 to start your lap, how many more cars could have rolled out. And that is something you don’t want to use your tires on your out-lap. You kind of want to get them up to temp, but you don’t want to over abuse them. I think those are what is really going to be critical, especially the first group. As you start getting less cars, it’s not as big of a deal. But the first group you are going to have a lot of cars that are maybe on a cool down lap, or are trying to get their tires in when somebody is on a hot lap. It’s hard to hide around here. You can’t really hide and get out of the way.  I think that is what will be the most critical. Hopefully we have good speed out in practice, and we see that and can go out in the first group and can nail a lap, and then just sit and wait and let your tires cool down. It will definitely be interesting.”

HAVE YOU NOTICED THE RACING HERE GETTING MORE AGGRESSIVE HERE IN THE LAST FEW YEARS?
“I think just the competition level has stepped up. It’s not like if you are fast, you kind of blister through the pack and you have a few guys you are racing.  You look at how deep the field is now at the road course races, that’s why it is aggressive, because it is hard to pass. Everybody is so close. If you get kind of stuck in the back of the pack, it is hard to go anywhere. You look at Marcos (Ambrose) last year at Watkins Glen – he was leading the race, and pit strategy worked out where he restarted 20th, and it was hard for him to go anywhere, and he dominated that race. It just shows how deep the field is especially around this place. It is so tight. The double-file restarts are some of that. Before when it was single, everybody was kind of in line and then if you made a pass, you made a pass.  You go through these first how-many corners side-by-side and that is when you can really make your most time. So it’s definitely gotten more aggressive and I think the competition level has just gotten higher, and that is what it relates to everybody being so aggressive. Also around this place, your fenders don’t matter as much as Watkins Glen, so people seem to use them up a little bit more.”

WHAT IS THE MOST CHALLENGING PART OF THIS COURSE FOR YOU, AND WHY?
“The biggest thing to me is just saving your rear tires. That is something that this place – especially with how much horsepower these cars have now – just being able to save your rear tires. You’ve seen in these races the person that is able to have better forward drive as the run goes on; the first few laps the tires have a lot of grip and everybody is kind of getting after it. But after about five, six, seven laps the rear tires really start to off and you see the cars that have better forward and lateral bite off of the esses and off of 11 here; those are the good cars. In practice it is really forcing on getting good forward drive and saving the rear tires. Then in the race, when you are behind someone, that is really the critical thing is to not fall into their tempo and their mistakes, and using your car more trying to get around them.  It is real easy to see a guy make a mistake or just try to be aggressive, and you quickly burn your rear tires off, and then you are done the rest of the stint. I think that is what everybody works on here, and that is what they focus on is trying to get the forward drive. If you don’t have that, you aren’t going to win the race, so it is the most critical part of this race track to me.”

WHEN YOU GO TO WHERE YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY ARE NEAR HERE, DO YOU CRUISE AROUND, OR WHAT DO YOU DO? 
“I hated high school, so I definitely don’t go back to high school. My goal of high school was just getting through it.  I had to have a 3.0 to make sure I got through it so I could race every weekend. That was it. I made the mistake one time, it was during the winter. I always found my grades going into the winter were better because I wasn’t racing go karts all winter.  I made the mistake one time and thought I would see how good I could get my grades, and I got a 4.0, and my Mom was like ‘hmmm, okay I see now’.  I don’t go back to high school. I wouldn’t even say I roll through my old town. Nobody really knows me, and that is the way I like it. I sneak under the radar, and nobody really knows me, that is my happiest moment. I actually don’t get back much. I am fortunate enough that my parents come to a lot of races; they come to all the west coast races. They still live in Hollister, and they come to at least 10 or 12 races. I only come back really for Christmas.”

TALK ABOUT KENTUCKY – THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THAT RACE TRACK AND THE CHALLENGES:
“It is definitely the most unique mile-and-a-half race track that they had. It is definitely bumpy. It is kind of wavy. It’s not like harsh bumps, but there are a lot of waves in the race track. I think one and two is way different than three and four the way you drive them. It is unique. It makes it a lot of fun. There is not a top of grip on the race track; I think that is why we see such good racing there. The line kind of moves out and the tires go off, but it is a tough place to set your car up for. It is one of those weekends if the weather is right where you practice during the day, and then you go into the night, and it makes it critical to try to guess what the setup is going to do as you go into the nighttime. It is a fun race track. I never got to run a lot of trucks or Nationwide there. I didn’t do any races. Only tested there a little big, so it’s been a lot of fun when we race there.”

JAMIE MCMURRAY, NO. 1 CESSNA CHEVROLET SS met with media and discussed the new qualifying format, opportunities for making the Chase, how he likes road course racing, and more. Full Transcript:

TALK ABOUT YOUR THOUGHTS OF THE WEEKEND HERE AT SONOMA RACEWAY
“I always look forward to coming out here. First off, it’s a really pretty environment to be at and it’s also maybe one of the more comfortable tracks for me on the circuit. I came here and tested in 2003 and it’s just been a great place for me. I’ve qualified exceptionally well here. I think I finished second here once. But it seems like every year something has happened to us in the race. We had a flat tire last year with 40 laps to go or something and lost a bunch of track position and could never regain it. But it’s just a fun race track. I really enjoy road course racing. It’s a little different than Watkins Glen because the speed is so much slower and it’s so hard to get drive off the corners. But, it’s a fun track and a fun environment and I always look forward to it.”

IN RECENT YEARS, WE’VE SEEN A LOT MORE AGGRESSION HERE, ESPECIALLY IN THE LATE RACE RE-STARTS. WHY IS THAT? DO YOU EXPECT IT TO BE THE SAME ON SUNDAY?
“To me, when I look back, when we used to have a lot of the road course ringers come in, I wouldn’t say it was aggressive as much as just poor decision-making. Turn 4 and Turn 7 on a re-start here are horrible. And when you have a guy that’s in 12th or 15th and just makes a complete dive-bomb; at least when I would watch a replay there’s like no way they're going to make the corner. They would wipeout somebody that was having a good day. Those are really frustrating. But now, I feel like it’s really aggressive, but its guys making moves that seem realistic. And sometimes it doesn’t always work out. But I feel like everyone has gotten smarter about road course racing and making sure they make it to the end. Maybe it’s because there are more regulars now. We just don’t have as many of those guys coming in that don’t race with us every week. Yeah, to me, the road course races are some of the best we have all year long. I wish that we had more of these on the schedule. It just always turns out interesting with fuel mileage, and then the restarts are just crazy.”

HEADING TO DAYTONA HERE AND KNOWING YOUR SUCCESS ON RESTRICTOR PLATE TRACKS, WHAT ARE YOU AND YOUR TEAM DOING TO PREPARE FOR THAT RACE?
“Well, there’s a lot of effort that’s put into the Daytona 500 because we do the testing and then we’re in Daytona for two weeks preparing for that race. But I would say honestly, from my side, I don’t really think about speedway races until we get there that week. There’s really not a lot you can to the car once you get to the track, so the team prepares the car. I think our speedway car is already done, sitting there, maybe waiting on an engine or getting an engine put in it. To me, when I look at Daytona and the races, it kind of is what it is and you know what to expect. Qualifying was so much different at Talladega than what we had had before. And we didn’t even make it to the second round, which was deflating. With this new qualifying process, if you don’t advance. At Daytona and Talladega now, it’s kind of about getting in that right pack to run that qualifying lap. So, to me, I’m more thinking about qualifying and not really thinking about the race right now. I’m just trying to get a good qualifying effort in and make sure we get with the right group there.”

DO YOU HAVE ANY PARTICULAR SUPERSTITIONS OR THINGS THAT YOU DO ROUTINELY BEFORE A RACE?
“Well, I’ve been superstitious sometimes. I maybe still am a little bit. But I’ve also had really good days when a $50 bill appeared or the green sharpie. And then I’ve had really bad days when I think I did everything correctly. So, I’m maybe not as superstitious as I used to be. But I am really structured in everything that happens before the races. But I think that’s just kind of my life in general. I tend to do the same thing every day. I wake up around the same time and have the same routine, whether it’s working out or going to the shop. I don’t know. I’m just not big into changing things. So, I’m maybe a little superstitious in just kind of wanting to do the same thing each week.”

WITH THE NEW RULES ABOUT A WIN AND GETTING INTO THE CHASE, HAVE YOU ENVISIONED WHAT A LATE-RACE RE-START WOULD BE LIKE HERE?
“Yeah, first-off, you hope you’re in that position that you can be one of those guys (to contend for a win), but you never know here if you’re going to have a late-race restart. So, I really haven’t put much thought into that. And when we get to the races, you don’t get to decide if you have a good short-run car or a good long-run car. So, that changes your mentality on the restarts because sometimes you have a car that’s great on restarts and you’re like oh, I hope we have that because maybe I can advance my position. And then there are other instances when your car is not good on restarts and so you’re dreading that to come out. Until you get out and you kind of get into the race, it’s hard to worry about those things.”

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON QUALIFYING HERE? WHAT ARE YOU EXPECTING?
“Well, I think that it the talk in the garage right now. There are some unknowns. I guess we have 30 minutes and then a break and then 10 minutes maybe. Initially they talked about that this would be three segments but now it’s only two. And this is one of those tracks where somebody could get in your way and really kill your lap. And for the first run, the sticker tires are going to worth a lot versus going out on the scuffs. I don’t think you’ll see anybody go out on scuffs and knock anyone out because the tires are so important here. But really, we’ve talked about it for a week now. Do you want to go right out? Or, do you want to wait and let some of the guys run and then the track be cleaner? I don’t know. I don’t think anyone really has the answer right now. I think the ideal situation would be to go right out on the track. That being said, it’s a big race track. I think they blow it off; I don’t know if they do. But you don’t know if there’s a corner that’s going to be covered in dust from wind or from a car that has run off late in practice. So, it will be interesting tomorrow to see how that works out and what guys’ strategies are.

“Also, where you draw dictates a lot of when you go out. If you draw number 1; you know we spent the last 30 years in NASCAR wanting the biggest number we could get when they draw because you wanted to go out late because it would be cooler. Well, now everyone fights to get the first pull, so that you have the option to go right out or to wait. So pit road gets blocked up when everybody backs out and pulls down there. If you draw in the 20’s, you know that you’re not going to make the first wave out on the race track. So, some of that is depending on what your draw is.”

REGARDING QUALIFYING, HOW DOES THE NEW FORMAT AFFECT HOW AGGRESSIVELY YOU TAKE EACH LAP?  YOU WON THE POLE HERE LAST YEAR. AND THEN YOU HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT TIRE WEAR.
“I think you’ll see most guys run one lap and that’s going to be your fast lap. When we looked back to last year, it was about a second a lap slower your second time on the track. So, it’s all about getting that perfect lap. And that’s what makes the road course pulls so special is that it’s hard to make a perfect lap here and have the best lap. Last year I think I barely beat Marcus (Ambrose) for the pole. And I think about the places where I could have been better and I’m sure he thinks about where he messed up at, right? But road course racing, the qualifying is tough. It’s a little different now because last year they started the European qualifying where you got to have multiple laps. But, your best situation is to put the most tape on the car for just one lap and the air pressure, so that for only one lap you can put it all on the line. Even though you have the option to run more, I think the pole guy will do it, is to put the most tape on in his first time by.”

HOW MUCH OF AN OPPORTUNITY DOES THIS RACE GIVE YOU THIS WEEKEND FOR MAKING THE CHASE? THE DRIVERS THAT HAVE BEEN WINNING A LOT THIS YEAR NORMALLY AREN’T GOOD HERE. HOW MUCH OF AN OPEN DOOR IS THIS FOR YOU?
“Honestly, I thought we had a car capable of winning last week at Michigan and then I did a terrible job on a restart and we struggled a little bit to get fuel in the car. But honestly, I look at each week as a chance to win. I don’t use Sonoma as like the opportunity for other guys. There is so much that can happen here with fuel mileage and the way the cautions fall and the way you pit. The whole race can change in a matter of four or five laps if the caution falls at the right or wrong time for guys. So, I don’t look at this as a better opportunity. I really feel like each race between now and Richmond, we’ll have the chance to win if we make all the right decisions. So yeah, I think this weekend is as good as any.”

WHY DO YOU THINK WE’VE HAD NINE DIFFERENT WINNERS IN THE PAST NINE RACES HERE?
“I don’t know. I remember the year that Kasey Kahne won here; it was kind of a surprise to everybody. But I think that all of us have gotten so much better at road course racing over the years that if you put someone in the right position in the end, they’re capable of winning. And MWR has been really good here. I think they’ve won the last two races here. I love Clint Bowyer to death, but I would never have put him in winning a road course category, right? But when you look back, he’s done really well at road course racing. So, yeah, it’s kind of circumstantial. You’ve got to have a really good car. We are so limited. We go and test at all these road courses for Sonoma or for Watkins Glen, and it seems like the set-ups you develop don’t work when you get here. So, we’re so limited on time, like we only have three and a half hours of practice today. That’s not a lot. That’s not a lot of tires. So, you don’t really get to try a lot of stuff. And I think when the teams get here and they unload and they’re close, that’s a huge advantage. And if those guys can call the right race, then they have a chance to win. But it is interesting. It seems like there’s a surprise winner here a lot.”

ON QUALIFYING, THIS YEAR WE’VE SEEN A FEW TEAMS HAVE ISSUES (LIKE) NOT GETTING OUT AND GETTING THEIR LAP STARTED BEFORE A SESSION ENDED. WE’VE SEEN GUYS HAVE FLAT TIRES AND ARE UNABLE TO CHANGE THEM TO ADVANCE TO THE NEXT ROUND. WE SAW YOUR TEAMMATE WITH A DEAD BATTERY, UNABLE TO ADVANCE. HOW MUCH OF A CONCERN IS THAT FOR YOU WHEN YOU’RE TRYING TO DECIDE IF YOU WANT TO GO EARLY OR LATE?
“Qualifying has turned into an incredible 50 minutes, I think, for all of us. It’s like another race, I feel like. I feel like every weekend you get in the car and you know you’re probably going to be sitting there for the next hour. And the emotions that happen over the first 30 minutes, especially if you’re right on the bubble, or if you’re only in by a three or four positions. You sit there for the next 15 or 20 minutes while your call cools down. And then you’re waiting for the next guy that hadn’t advanced in, to go. You want to see if the track is faster. At Michigan last week, people could go quicker on their second run. So, qualifying has turned into what was exciting for 30 seconds at a place like Atlanta or Texas, to an hour of an emotional roller coaster for all of us (as to) whether you’re going to advance or not.

“I look back at Fontana and (Greg) Biffle bumped me out with one second to go. And I was 25th and he ended up being 24th. So, I was just devastated. I left the track mad. I didn’t even pay attention to the rest of qualifying. He bumped me out with one second to go and then to go for the next round, his tires were hot and he wasn’t any good, right? And when the race started on Sunday, he started one row in front of me; he was like 24th. And I’m like why did I get mad over that? I would have been in the same position if I had been the guy that made it in. So, it’s interesting how we all want to win. We all want to be on the pole. And you have like really three chances now and it’s really interesting how the guy that’s fastest in the first round is not guaranteed to be on the pole. He might not even make it to the third round at some of the tracks. So, it’s a lot of fun. I like qualifying. I think it’s great.”

HOW INVOLVED ARE YOU IN RACE STRATEGY – WOULD YOU RATHER HAVE A TWO-STOP STRATEGY WITH OLD TIRES OR WOULD YOU RATHER HAVE THREE STOPS WITH THE POSSIBILITY OF FRESH TIRES? ALSO CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW PHYSICALLY CHALLENGING THIS TRACK IS?
“On the strategy, that’s really left up to the crew chief. You have to see the track position you have. I think every driver would prefer to have the best tires on the track. It’s a helpless feeling when you’re the last one to pit and everyone behind you has tires. But it depends on how the car is, how the cautions fall. So I leave all that up to the crew chief and let him know what the car is doing.

“I think Watkins Glen is way worse than Sonoma. I’ve looked at the weather and it’s not going be hot here, which is great. This is one of the places we come to where you’re doing a little more work than we did on the ovals. The cars are hotter; you’re not going as quick so there’s not as much air moving around. So that is a place that can be a little hot and tiring. But it will be only like 75 degrees on Sunday so it should be really good.”

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE GROWTH YOU’VE SEEN FROM YOUR TEAMMATE KYLE (LARSON) JUST FROM THE START OF THE SEASON TO NOW. HE’S FROM NORTHERN CALIFORNIA AND HAS NEVER RACED HERE. WHAT KIND OF ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE HIM FOR THIS RACE?
“He’s done an awesome job. Kyle has done a great job all year long. He’s a great kid. I really enjoy having him as a teammate. We were in the hauler a few minutes ago going over the track and was telling him the little things I think about when I come here and what I look for – shifting points and just things to look for on the track. He’s done a great job. This will be his biggest challenge all year long – to come here and not really practice in a limited amount of time we have on the track. He’ll figure it out. Kyle’s best quality is that he is able to put it all together at the end of the race. Even if things don’t go well at the end, he seems to be able to find a way to finish well. That’s why he is where is in the points because they’ve been able to pull all that together. So yeah… great teammate and great kid. He’s done an awesome job.”

THEY GAVE HIM THE KEY TO THE CITY IN HIS HOMETOWN. DID THEY EVER GIVE YOU THE KEY TO JOPLIN?
“I don’t believe so! I knew that Kyle was from California. But I have to be honest… is it Elk Grove where he’s from? I couldn’t point on a map where Elk Grove is or how big it is!”

A LOT OF ROAD COURSES BRING OUT THE ROAD RAGE IN SOME DRIVERS. ON THE HIGHWAY, WHAT’S YOUR BIGGEST PET PEEVE?
“My pet peeve on the highway is people who don’t want to go the speed limit in the faster lane. When I drive down the interstate – even if I’m speeding slightly –  and I see someone coming faster than me behind, I’ll get out of the way. I also hate people that try to become the police in their car when maybe you’re passing them on the shoulder leaving the track… the guy who pulls over to cut you off. If a guy wants to go on the shoulder, let him go on the shoulder. I don’t really have an issue with that.”

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