ALEX, UNTIL 2020 THIS HADN’T REALLY BEEN A GREAT TRACK FOR YOU, BUT OBVIOUSLY YOU GO OUT WIN THE RACE LAST TIME, LEAD OVER HALF THE RACE, WHAT DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU GUYS WERE ABLE TO LEARN LAST TIME HERE AND CAN AND OF THAT TRANSLATE TO THE NEW CAR?
“Yeah, it’s been, it feels like it has been forever. I’m not quite sure really what particular thing we learned. I feel like our mile and a half program had gotten really good at that point, which I guess you would call it the intermediate program in general which applies to there. So, just feel like we had a really good car, and we were really good the entire weekend from the time we unloaded. Made my job a little bit easier than normal and just really had a good car the entire time we were there. As far as applying that to this year’s car, a couple years down the road. I don’t think you can drive this year’s car as loose as you could with the previous gen car. I was really loose that whole weekend, it was really fast. I think kind of going a little different direction than we were then. This car is so different every way so it’s hard to apply much. So excited to get back to it. It’s a really fun and technical racetrack.”
ANY EXPECTATIONS ON HOW THE RESIN IS GOING TO INTERACT WITH OR AFFECT THE WAY YOU DRIVE THE RACETRACK?
“Yeah, it’s definitely laid out in a strange manner. The way it is kind of tapered into Turn 1, I feel like it might make passing harder on entry to one just because if you are inside of somebody you are going to be out of the resin, and they are going to be in it. So, it’s going to be a little interesting to see how it all kind of works out. But yeah, I think we haven’t been there in a long time, we need the track to rubber up quickly, kind of limited practice before we are on track. Hopefully it does what they want it to do and hopefully it works out well, but it’s definitely going to be interesting to see how it holds up. That place is super abrasive, super high tire wear and it might change that for sure.”
YOU MENTIONED THE LIMITED PRACTICE TIME. I WAS JUST CURIOUS WHAT KIND OF DISCUSSIONS HAVE YOU HAD WITH GREG (IVES) ABOUT IN SUCH A SHORT PERIOD OF TIME AS A DRIVER WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO TRY TO FOCUS ON IN THAT TIME TO MAKE SURE YOU’RE COMFORTABLE AND WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS THAT HE’S MENTIONED THAT HE WOULD LIKE TO KNOW AND FEEDBACK FROM YOU BECAUSE I AM SURE THAT HE HAS ALREADY SPELLED IT OUT FOR YOU?
“Yeah, I mean the biggest thing is you know we really can’t make changes in that amount of time; we might have time make one change. So, kind of just getting a handle on what you have, and you know you can’t go through a normal practice agenda like that. It’s definitely an interesting schedule, really compact when it comes to on-track race time, but the guys are there all weekend anyway so it’s kind of interesting how that played out. Just trying to figure out what we can learn. The racetrack is going to change a lot as it rubbers up, the resin comes in, so kind of seeing the progression of that and seeing how the car drives. Obviously, William (Byron) was there with it a couple of years ago when it was pretty new. It has changed a lot since then, so just trying to get a handle on it at a place it hasn’t been to and a place that is super rough, super slick, got seams all over the place. There’s so many aspects that are really going to test the car and test how the set-up is. Trying to be on the right side of it is going to be key and hopefully we’re guessing at it better than the rest of them.”
EVEN MORE SO THAN DAYTONA, PARTICUARLY IN LIGHT OF YOU GUYS HAVEN’T HAD ANY RECENT ON-TRACK, LIKE YOU MENTIONNED TESTING AT A 2-MILE OR PARTIUCLARLY HERE SUCH WILLIAM’S (BYRON) TEST WAY BACK, DO YOU CONSIDER THIS THE FIRST BIG TEST OF THE CAR AS FAR AS DURABILITY GOES AND ON RACETRACK CONDITIONS?
“I think the car is super durable. I don’t think anybody’s really worries about the durability side of things. I think this is going to be a big test on how it drives and how we I guess, guess at the best set up and how we stack up to start the year. It drives so different than what we have had in the past and obviously not having been there before and how slick of a race it is we haven’t really been to a place like this with yet so just trying to figure it out quick because it’s going to be tough. As far as durability stuff goes, I think that thing is stout. It should be just fine.”
ALEX I WAS TALKING WITH TYLER REDDICK YESTERDAY ABOUT THE APPLICATION OF THE RESIN AND HE SAID SOMETHING TO THE EFFECT THAT DEPENDING ON WHERE IT’S PUT DOWN YOU COULD ACTUALLY CHANGE THE RACING WE SEE AT FONTANA WHERE AS TRADITIONALLY YOU WOULD SEE EVERYONE FAN OUT ALL THE WAY FROM THE INSIDE OF THE RACE TRACK UP TO THE OUTSIDE WALL WHERE AS KNOW YOU CAN THE INSIDE NOW BECOME A DOMINATE GROOVE THERE AND THE OUTSIDE BECOME LESS OF A STRENGTH. I HOPE I AM REPRESENTING THAT RIGHT, BUT DO YOU FORESEE SOMETHING LIKE THAT HAPPENING OR DO YOU THINK THE GROOVE IS GOING TO WIDEN OUT LIKE WE NORMALLY SEE IT DO?
“Well, Fontana is really wide, and I think the way the racetrack is laid out it favors itself to widening out. These cars are really aero critical. The dirty air is tough, so I think we will widen it out regardless of the resin. I think you know the way the resin was put down and laid out is interesting. I don’t necessarily know that it’s going to be great right away, but I think as it wears out it’ll make you move around. You know we saw in Nashville kind of like right at the end of practice it really started to come on but then we kind of wore it out in the race and had to move around. It will still be wide like normal. You’ll still use the seam. You’ll still be slipping and sliding all over the place. It just might take a little bit of time to get there, which I mean it’s a green racetrack, so it is going to take time to get there kind of regardless.”
ALEX, CHASE (ELLIOTT) WAS ON THE MORNING DRIVE THIS MORNING AND CLEARLY FROM HIS PRESPECTIVE GROWING UP IN THE SPORT HE’S FAMILIAR WITH NASCAR’S BOOM, THE HIGHS, THE LOWS IT HAS GONE THROUGH AND HE SAID HE CAN’T REMEMBER A DAYTONA 500 LIKE WE HAD SINCE THE TIME HE WAS A CHILD. KIND OF WONDERING ABOUT WHEN DID NASCAR FIRST HIT YOUR RADAR AND DO YOU KIND OF SHARE HIS SENTIMENTS FIRST OF ALL?
“Um, so yeah I watched NASCAR a lot as a kid. Obviously was not around it in any sort of capacity like he (Chase Elliott) was but watched on TV a lot as a kid, went to a lot of races at Phoenix (Raceway), couple races at Fontana, so was a fan for a long time. Yeah, I think the Daytona 500 was great. There were a ton of people there. I drove since I was down there kind of all month and leaving you knew there was a lot of people. You knew there were a lot of people there kind of all-day but trying to get out there you extra knew there was a lot of people. So, I think it was great, great for the sport, great to see. Happy to be a part of it. It’s definitely refreshing to see that many people at a racetrack, especially after COVID and not having anybody there and then some people allowed back, to see a packed house like that was really cool.”
AND SECONDLY HOW DO WE CONTINUE THE MOMENTUM THAT WE STARTED AT THE LA COLISEUM BUILT INTO DAYTONA AND NOW CARRY IT THROUGH THE WEST COAST SWING?
“I’m glad there are people way smarter than me trying to figure that one out. I am just trying to figure out how to drive the racecar. Yeah, I mean I think as long as we keep putting on good shows and being exciting that’s the biggest thing. You know keeping fans involved, controversy is always great for the sport, and I am sure there will be some of that this year. I think the perception of everything right now is really good, so props to NASCAR for doing a great job at everything they are doing. It’s been really good.”
SO, GOING BACK TO WHAT YOU SAID BEFORE ABOUT OBVIOUSLY FONTANA IS SUPER ROUGH AND OF COURSE THERE HAS ALREADY BEEN DISCUSSION ABOUT TIRE WEAR WITH THE NEW CAR, DIFFERENT TIRE, SO DO YOU ANTICIPATE MAYBE HAVING TO BE A LITTLE MORE AWARE THAN NORMAL OF YOUR TIRE WEAR AND KIND OF HOW HARD YOU ARE RACING SUNDAY TO JUST MAKE SURE THAT YOU GUYS DON’T RUN OUT OF TIRES AND THINGS LIKE THAT?
“Well I think that is why they have the resin on the racetrack to get the track to rubber up quicker and to be better on the tires, but yeah, I mean I think you are still going to drive the car hard. The way Cup racing works, I think you could conserve tires man seven or eight years ago but as the racing has progressed people have stopped kind of letting people go and racing each other easy. Everybody runs each other hard all the time now and I think if you save tires you have to run people so hard to get back by them that you just burn the tires up even worse. I’m not sure there’s much that we can really do as drivers anymore, obviously driving the thing sideways and trying to smoke the right rear tire off of it or just putting a ton of wheel in it and killing the right front is bad, but it’s not like we can ride around and save our stuff and come back through the field at the end because passing has gotten so difficult.”
I WANTED TO ASK, I’M PRETTY SURE YOU LIKE THE 2-MILE FONTANA OVAL, SO WILL YOU BE DOING ANY LOBBYING GOING FORWARD AS NASCAR STILL TRYS TO FIGURE OUT WHAT THEY’RE GOING TO DO WITH THIS RECONFIGURATION?
“Yeah, you know I think it is an amazing racetrack. Super bumpy, really slick, the seams add a whole other element to it. It’s a track that drivers really like, but at the same time it typically gets won by like 10 seconds. Once a guy gets out there, dirty air is bad in any type of racecar. You can’t unlearn aero stuff and once you take the air off of them tire wear gets even worse, so the leader just gets a big advantage. It’s tough, so I think I totally understand why they want to go to a short-track. I think the Next Gen car is way better suited to the shorter tracks, so I am all good for a short-track. I love the track the way it is, but I think a short-track will be great for everybody as well.”
CAN YOU GIVE ME A SENSE OF PRESPECTIVE, THIS CHALLENGE THIS WEEK WITH THE NEW CAR, YOU HAVEN’T RUN AT THIS TRACK IN TWO YEARS, YOU GET 15 MINUTES OF PRACTICE, CAN YOU GIVE ME A PRESPECTIVE OF HOW CHALLENGING THIS IS? IS THIS SOMETHING LIKE MORE SO THAN ANY OTHER CHALLENGE OR IS THIS JUST A NORMAL WEEK AS A DRIVER IN A TOP SERIES OR ONE OF THE TOP SERIES IN AMERICAN AUTO RACING?
“It’s a big challenge for sure. Just we’ve never been there with this car. We haven’t been there with a high horsepower, lower downforce package in a couple years, so just trying to know what I need to do to start practice. Lift points, basic stuff is a big question mark right now. Hopefully I adapt to it as quick as anybody and I think it’s difficult from the team side too, right? Like you have your simulation and all that, but until you go do it who really knows? Hopefully our stuff is accurate, and we are good when we get there.”
ALEX, YOU ARE KICKING OFF YOUR WEEKEND BY ENTERING THE WALK OF FAME. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT IT MEANS TO JOIN THAT GROUP THAT ALSO INCLUDES LIKE MARTIN TRUEX, TONY STEWART, AND JIMMIE (JOHNSON)?
“Yeah, it’s really cool. Kinda cool to get to go back somewhere that I have won. We tend to not let me do that. I got to go back to Richmond last year, but other than that I haven’t gone back anywhere as a winner. Cool to be able to do that and excited for that experience.”
DO YOU HAVE ANYMORE TATTOO WAGERS THIS YEAR?
“No. No and that question has come up a lot this week and I had completely forgot about it. But yeah, we are just going to blame Covid on that one.”
WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ABOUT AUSTIN CINDRIC’S MOVE AT THE END OF THE DAYTONA 500? WOULD YOU WRECK YOUR TEAMMATE TO WIN THE GREAT AMERICAN RACE?
“Yeah, I don’t really think he wrecked his teammate. I think, obviously, he made a block and did what he had to do to win the race. I don’t think he did anything wrong there. I don’t think, he definitely didn’t do anything that Ryan (Blaney) wouldn’t have done. I don’t think you can really say that he wrecked him. He put him in a situation where he could have lifted and he didn’t and ended up crashing, but he still finished well in the 500 and a Penske car still won. I don’t think either one of them did anything wrong. I think that was just racing.”
I WAS WONDERING WE HAD THIS BIG RACE WEEKEND, SOME OF THE STATISTICS ARE STILL COMING IN. ONE THING THAT HASN’T BEEN TALKED ABOUT A LOT IS TWO AUSTINS THAT WERE ROOKIES WON THE RACE. I GO BACK TO HENDRICK’S STRATEGY, HOW YOU GUYS WERE LOOKING AT STARTING UP FRONT MAKING EVERYTHING WORK. WAS THERE A STRATEGY THERE ANYWHERE WHERE YOU GUYS WOULD HAVE BEEN ABLE TO DO BASICALLY THE SAME THING THAT THE PENSKE GUYS WERE DOING SAFELY? MOST OF THE BUMP DRAFTING I SAW IT WAS REALLY BORDERLINE DANGEROUS. SO, I DIDN’T KNOW IF YOU GUYS HAD TALKED ABOUT A SAFER WAY TO HANDLE THE BUMP DRAFTING OR IF IT WAS JUST KIND OF WINGING IT AS YOU GO?
“Yeah, I mean anytime that you have two cars pushing each other to go faster it is going to look like that. I mean we tried, obviously at the start trying to work with the five and it didn’t work out. Tried to do our best to make it happen, but it didn’t work out. Obviously two of us crashed out early so our numbers went down from there. The five and the nine were still in it and then the five ended up getting crashed late too. It was definitely a bummer. Not the day that Hendrick Motorsports wanted, but yeah, we definitely tried out best to work together. Just didn’t work out."
YOU GO INTO FONTANA AS THE DEFENDING RACE WINNER, BE IT TWO YEARS AGO, WHAT’S THE SECRET TO GETTING AROUND THERE?
“Nothing from 2020 is going to apply to 2022 I don’t think. I wish there was a secret. I think the secret is a fast racecar that works really well. That’s what we had in ’20 and hopefully we have a similar thing in ’22. I think it is going to take a much different balance than it took back then. We are doing our best to make that happen.”
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT THAT A PRACTICE THAT YOU ARE GOING TO GET THIS WEEK GOING TO BE BEING THAT IT IS THE FIRST RACE AT AN INTERMEDIATE TRACK WITH THE NEXT GEN CAR?
“It’s definitely important, but at the same time when it happens you can’t really change much. We’re pretty locked in with what we have when we get there. Hopefully it works out and it’s the right direction because once you get on track you know we don’t have much time to change anything. Looking forward to it. It’s going to be a big challenge and I know I have some of the best in the business working on getting it right.”
CHASE (ELLIOTT) JUST RE-SIGNED TO STAY WITH HENDRICK (MOTORSPORTS) FOR FIVE MORE YEARS AND IT SOUNDS LIKE WILLIAM BYRON IS NEXT IN LINE. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO HAVE THOSE GUYS STICK AROUND AS YOUR TEAMMATES, RATHER THAN LIKE HAVING NEW TEAMMATES COME IN?
“Yeah, I think the four of us work really well together so it’s been fun to be teammates with these guys. We all kind of bring our own unique point of view to the table, so it’s good. I think between the four drivers and the four crew chiefs, the communication is really good. We are all friends. I definitely lean on all of them and I think we can all definitely count on each other.”