HOW WAS THE CAR TO DRIVE LAST WEEK AT LAS VEGAS (MOTOR SPEEDWAY), AERO-WISE, COMPARED TO LAST YEAR WITH THE GEN 6?
“I feel like we had a really good car in traffic. We were able to make a lot of moves on restarts. Some other people kind of looked more vulnerable in traffic. I think it’s similar. We’re never going to completely unlearn all of the aero stuff and the box that kind of puts you in dirty air. I think it’s similar, or better, in dirty than the previous Gen car.”
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE RACINESS ON RESTARTS WITH THE NEXT GEN CAR? DO YOU THINK THE CRAZINESS OF THE RESTARTS WILL STAY THE SAME THIS WEEKEND AT PHOENIX (RACEWAY) OR DO YOU THINK IT WILL BE TAMED DOWN SINCE WE’VE SEEN SOME TIRE ISSUES?
“It’s interesting because I think the restarts are really racy for a high horsepower, low downforce package. But you look at restarts on cooler days with the 550 package, they were really crazy all the time. I would say similar there. Restarts here, they’re kind of notoriously crazy because of the dogleg and being able to shortcut that. I’m not sure anybody has gone down there with the Next Gen car yet, just with how rigid the car is and how things happen when the car hits the ground. We saw some guys cut left-rear cars going into the apron at California (Auto Club Speedway) and obviously the dogleg here is a much harsher transition than that. So, I’ll let somebody else figure that out first I guess; see if it’s raceable down there and go from there. It’s going to be interesting to kind of figure it all out.”
FOR YOU, IS IT IMPORTANT TO DOMINATE RACES OR DOES IT REALLY MATTER AT ALL IF YOU’RE JUST LEADING THE LAST LAP?
“You go home with a trophy either way, right. I think we’ve dominated races that we’ve lost and that sucks. Here in 2016. A couple of races at Charlotte that we’ve led a ton of laps and not won at the end. I think for me, collecting a trophy is really all that matters.”
DID YOU CALL KYLE (BUSCH) OR DID KYLE CALL YOU? DID IT MATTER AT ALL THAT YOU GUYS HAD A CONVERSATION?
“He text me Monday night. I appreciate him texting me, but I don’t think he needed to. I understand why he was mad. We all know Kyle (Busch) – he’s super passionate, fiery and gets lit up sometimes. They lost the race and he was mad about it, so I get that. But I do appreciate him texting me. We’ve always raced each other with respect. He’s one of the guys that I feel like I race better with than most. So, appreciative of that. We’ve never had any issues before and I don’t even think that was an issue. It was just an opportunity to make a t-shirt and raise some money for animals.”
WHAT’S YOUR PERSONAL COMFORT LEVEL DRIVING THESE NEXT GEN CARS AND HOW HAS THAT IMPROVED OVER THE LAST SEVERAL WEEKS?
“Definitely a work in progress. I feel like a lot of things have improved and the teams have gotten the cars closer to make them more comfortable. But I feel like I’ve had to change my driving style quite a bit and kind of shift what I look for in the race car. I used to try to live off of the right-rear tire and be really free every week. These cars are really uncomfortable in that scenario. Just trying to figure out the balance that I need to look for to be better. When we tested here, I just got the car freer, freer and freer; and by the end of it, it was really uncomfortable and really slow. So, just trying to go the right direction instead of the wrong direction like that. I feel like everything is going to change so much over the course of the year. The cars have already gotten way better to drive than where we started for the first five minutes of practice at California (Auto Club Speedway). It’s going to be interesting to kind of watch the changes throughout the course of the year.”
YOU’LL BE USING MORE BRAKES HERE THAN YOU DID IN THE PREVIOUS THREE RACES. DO YOU ANTICIPATE AN ACLIMATION PROCESS TO HOW THAT WILL WORK OR ANY CONCERNS? I KNOW SOME GUYS HAD SOME LEG NUMBNESS IN PREVIOUS WEEKS.
“I actually had a little bit of that during the Duel at Daytona (International Speedway) and we kind of worked on my seat and stuff to try and make it better. I tested the car and I ran the wheel force test at Martinsville (Speedway); ran the test here, did some road course testing. So I feel like we’re pretty acclimated to the brakes. They’re definitely a lot different than the old car. And it’s a learning process. There have been some things that haven’t really added up to some brake issues that we’ve had and things like that. So, trying to get everything squared away and make the right decisions on what parts and pieces you bring here. But I think we should be all good and hopefully my legs keep the feeling in them throughout the course of the race tomorrow.”
HOW NICE IS IT THAT YOU GOT THAT WIN OUT OF THE WAY BEFORE EVERYONE FIGURES OUT THE NEXT GEN CARS?
“Yeah, I think it’s always good to get a win early in the season. Like you said, I think people are going to figure them out and they’re going to get a lot different. So, I’m glad we were able to be on the front side of that. It seems like our cars are really good right now. I’m also excited because I feel like we have a lot of super smart people at Hendrick Motorsports and our cars are only going to get better from here. Starting on the front side of it I think speeds up your development process for the rest of the year, and hopefully we just continue getting better.”
DOES THIS ALLOW YOU TO TAKE MORE RISKS IN FIGURING IT OUT AND PUSHING THE LIMITS SINCE YOU’RE LOCKED IN?
“Yes and no. I think Greg (Ives, crew chief) and the guys do a really good job of calling strategy. It definitely opens a door for some strategy calls. But at the same time, we want to do everything we can to be super consistent this year and perform week in and week out. Hopefully we can make that happen.”
YOU’VE HAD A BIG WEEK. YOU’VE GOT ALLY AND BEST FRIENDS ON THE CAR THIS WEEKEND. CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT WHAT YOU HAVE GOING ON WITH THEM?
“We have Best Friends on the car, which is really cool. Last year, we donated $1,000 from myself and $1,000 from Ally to a local shelter every week, which was a lot of fun. And then when we won a race, it went to $10,000. We ended up raising like $160,000 last year for shelter animals, so that was really cool. This year, we’ve stepped it up to $4,800 a week for a shelter in every market. And then still when we win, it goes to $10,000. I spent the day yesterday at The Barn House; that was really cool. Hung out with some animals I’ve never been around before. Apparently I have an irrational fear of feeding donkeys because I feel like they’re going to bite my hand off, so that was pretty interesting (laughs). Fed some pigs, donkeys – there were a bunch of cats there. There were a couple of dogs, which made it all worth it. It was really cool. They are the shelter we’re working with this week and hopefully we can bring home $10,000 for them tomorrow.”