THERE’S SOME EXCITING NEWS FOR YOU THAT WAS RELEASED A LITTLE BIT EARLIER TODAY ABOUT YOUR CONTRACT EXTENSION WITH HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS. BEFORE WE GO TO THOSE QUESTIONS, CAN YOU JUST GIVE US A QUICK OVERVIEW OF WHAT THAT ANNOUCEMENT MEANS TO YOU?
“It certainly means a lot. It’s just been a special few weeks – to get the wins that we did and then have this announcement today is obviously great. I’m really excited for it. Excited for the next few years and just want to keep building what we’re doing with our No. 24 team. I feel like we’re really starting to build good momentum. I’ve got great people around me with my Crew Chief Rudy (Fugle) and all the people he has assembled under me. Just really excited, thankful and hopefully keep it going.”
WAS THERE ANY PART OF THIS NEGOTIATION THAT WERE DIFFICULT FOR YOU, JUST FROM THE SENSE OF NOW THAT YOU’VE REALLY ESTABLISHED YOURSELF. YOU HAVE WINS, YOU COULD PROBABLY – I DON’T WANT TO SAY DEMANDS – BUT ASK FOR THINGS THAT MAYBE YOU COULDN’T ASK FOR IN THE PAST. MAYBE YOU HAD SOME LEVERAGE. WAS IT ANY DIFFERENT OF A NEGOTIATION OR ANY WAY STRESSFUL?
“It was a little different, but I think it’s really fair. I think they’ve done a great job. I connected with Rod Moskowitz this off season; started working with Pro Sport. It was definitely different. This is kind of my first deal outside of my rookie contract and I think that it’s good to kind of understand the economic sense of the sport a little bit more as I’ve gotten older, and start to understand all of the moving parts and what goes into it.
I thought it was educational and fair. Definitely left me excited and looking forward to the years ahead. It was different, for sure. But I’m happy with it. I’m happy with how everything turned out.”
SPEAKING OF THE ECONOMICS OF THE SPORT – CHASE (ELLIOTT) SIGNED A FIVE-YEAR DEAL. THERE ARE SOME PEOPLE THAT SAY WITH THE TV DEAL COMING FOR RENEWAL AND NOT KNOWING HOW MUCH THE TEAMS ARE GOING TO BE GETTING STARTING IN 2025, THAT YOU SHOULDN’T GO ALL THAT FAR OUT. I’M CURIOUS IF ANYTHING WAS DISCUSSED ABOUT PUTTING IT BEYOND THREE YEARS? WAS THERE ANYTHING IN YOUR THOUGHTS OF SAYING - OK, LET’S NOT GO TOO FAR INTO THE FUTURE WITHOUT KNOWING WHAT THE TV DEAL IS?
“Yeah, I think those things are all at play, for sure. I think our sport is going through a big change; a change for the better, really. We’re really thriving I think as a sport – seeing how much the fans are turning out to the races, how the TV ratings are and things like that. It’s exciting. For somebody like me coming into the sport, I’m 24-years-old and hopefully have a long career ahead. I want to see this sport do well. I want to see fans be interested in what I’m doing. I’ve got a lot of support from friends from high school, and things like that, that are watching the races. I didn’t get those messages a few years ago, so it’s cool to see that. Hopefully, as drivers, we can continue to benefit from the success of the sport.”
FROM A NEXT GEN STANDPOINT, WHAT HAS BEEN THE HARDEST MUSCLE MEMORY ADJUSTMENT THAT YOU’VE HAD TO MAKE GOING FROM THE GEN 6 CAR TO THE GEN 7?
“I think with this car, you drive it a lot straighter. The old car, you had skew. You had things in the car – skew and side force where probably the biggest differences. With that came some ability to lean on the right side of the car; lean on the right rear especially. Typically the cars didn’t build so loose throughout a run. I think this car builds a little bit looser and I think, overall, you just drive it a lot more off the right front tire. It’s an adjustment, but it’s not that hard of an adjustment because I feel like there has been cars throughout my career that have driven like that. It’s just different.
I think the biggest thing that we’re seeing is the track change. We’re seeing a lot of change in the race track as the weekend goes along. And with that comes a lot more confidence by the end of the weekend. You don’t see guys wrecking as much by the end of the races. I think there’s a shift going on in the race track that we’re not used to. Goodyear has brought different tires and in a lot of ways, they’re softer than we’ve ever had. So, that’s creating some variables.”
YOU’VE GOT NASHVILLE THIS WEEKEND WITH THE SUPER LATE MODEL AND DONNIE WILSON. I’M CURIOUS – HOW EXCITED ARE YOU TO DO THAT? BUT ALSO, JUST SEE WHAT THAT PLACE COULD BECOME OVER THE NEXT SEVERAL OF YEARS WITH SPEEDWAY MOTORSPORTS LOOKING TO TURN THAT INTO SOMETHING MORE. MAYBE YOU COULD GO CUP RACING THERE IN THE NEXT FIVE YEARS OR SO?
“Yeah, I’m really excited. Nashville is an awesome race track. I got a chance to go test there on Tuesday and just that experience was a little bit different than what I’m used to. The last time I went there was six years ago. So, to kind of see how the race track has evolved and like you said, see the potential for that race track that it has is really cool. I think it’s almost a perfect race track for super late models because it’s so low in grip; there is a lot of tire fall-off, but it’s fast as well. So, you get to kind of see the horsepower of those race cars, but also see tire fall-off. I think that’s, obviously, the perfect equation. I think it’s a cool race track. I felt good about our car and hopefully can get back to getting a win there in that car; it would be fun. I haven’t been in it in a couple of months, so it took a little bit of an adjustment time. But hopefully it’s a lot of fun on Saturday.”
IF NASCAR DOES GO THERE, THEY’RE PROBABLY GOING TO PAVE IT, SO IT’S NOT GOING TO BE THE SAME. DO YOU THINK THE NEXT GEN CAR WOULD RACE WELL THERE?
“I do. It seems like a big, heavy stock car races well with some banking. I think some of our worst races are unfortunately the flatter tracks. They’re just so heavy that it’s hard to make much work, I guess. But the banked tracks, like Nashville, would be kind of a perfect race track. It’s probably half the banking of Bristol, so I think it would be perfect.”
AS YOU WERE GOING THROUGH THESE CONTRACT TALKS – THE SUCCESS YOU’VE HAD EARLY THIS SEASON, HOW DID THAT IMPACT BOTH PARTIES?
“It’s hard for me to say. I feel like we kind of started them right around that time, so it’s hard for me to say the differences there. But definitely seems like both sides are happy. I’m happy where I am. They are happy with the progress that I’m making. I feel like there’s that excitement for the future of what we’re going to do together. I’m looking forward to it. To answer your question, I don’t know how much it changed it. But I think everyone is happy. Jeff (Gordon) was excited when he saw me at Dover and I’m excited, too.”
MOTHER’S DAY IS COMING UP THIS WEEKEND. THERE WERE SOME CHALLENGES OVER THE LAST YEAR. DID THAT CHANGE HOW YOU APPROACH MOTHER’S DAY AS A HOLIDAY THIS YEAR? DOES IT HAVE ANY MORE MEANING THAN IT DID PREVIOUSLY?
“I think for sure. That whole series of events has kind of changed my perspective, in general, on life. I think it does make it different because last year at this time, it was weird. None of my family went to the Darlington race I don’t think. So, it was weird and just a different kind of weekend. This week has already been good. We’re doing a family dinner tonight, so getting to see my cousins and things like that will be fun and celebrate the mom’s in our lives. And just enjoy the weekend, in general. Obviously, the race at Darlington to cap it off. It should be a fun weekend. I’m excited for her to go to the race; my sister as well. Looking forward to it.”
CONGRATULATIONS, WILLIAM. YOU SELDOMLY DO AN INTERVIEW WITHOUT MENTIONING JEFF GORDON. I’M CURIOUS – HOW MUCH OF A MENTOR HAS HE BEEN TO YOU AND HOW MUCH HAS HE HELPED YOU ACCLIMATE TO YOUR ROLE AT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS?
“Yeah, he’s (Jeff Gordon) helped quite a bit. I think he’s just made me comfortable in the Cup Series and made me understand what’s important. He’s really good at managing both sides of it. He’s good at managing the off-track and the on-track; knowing the importance of both. That’s been what I’ve learned from him over the years. And also, little tidbits of information about racing, too. He’s been good for me, but also good for the race team and good for Rudy (Fugle, crew chief). He’ll come into our 24 room and he’ll talk about race tracks, what to expect and what he thinks is important. That’s cool because he’s won at a lot of places, so I think it’s great information.”
YOU’VE GOTTEN A LOT OF YOUR TRAINING DURING SIMULATION. YOU’VE ALSO INTEGRATED A LOT OF DIFFERENT VEHICLES. YOU’RE RACING DIFFERENT VEHICLES OUTSIDE OF JUST YOUR TRADITIONAL NASCAR STOCK CARS. WHAT’S BEEN MORE BENEFICIAL TO YOU – INCREASING YOUR WORK ON SIMULATION OR THE EXTRACURRICULAR RACING?
“That’s a great question. I think that’s the question we’re all trying to answer every week. What’s more important – is it going to the simulator? Is it going to a real race track and running something else? I think the answer is both. As much racing as you can do is important and with my age, I fortunately don’t have a ton of other distractions and I can get a lot of time to go and sit in the simulator at my apartment, go to the Chevy simulator, or go to Nashville to test a super late model.
I think all that experience is great. Monday wasn’t the best day for me at Dover and I was able to go to Nashville the very next day; get in something else and kind of erase that memory of the weekend and get on with it. For me this year, it’s been awesome for just my mental thought process; to be able to go get into different cars. It just keeps me fresh I think.”
THIS YEAR, IT’S SEEMINGLY KIND OF HARD TO PICK OUT WHO’S EMERGING AS A POSSIBLE CHAMPIONSHIP FAVORITE. BUT YOU’RE ONE OF THOSE GUYS – YOU’RE ONE OF ONLY TWO DRIVERS WITH MULTIPLE WINS. AT THIS POINT IN THE SEASON, WHO WOULD YOU CONSIDER IS YOUR BIGGEST COMPETITION, IN TERMS OF GETTING TO THAT CHAMPIONSHIP FOUR IN PHOENIX?
“To your point, it’s definitely been hard to learn this car at different race tracks. We’ve nailed it at certain tracks and then there are certain tracks that we’ve been way off. So, I think it’s just learning the car - learning what it needs, the balance that it needs and kind of erasing those old memories of what the car used to drive like at that track because it doesn’t really matter.
I don’t know. When it comes to the competition, I still think that if we can just do our deal and just continue to build a notebook that’s a good foundation, I think we’ve got all the tools and resources to do well. I’m not too worried about anybody else. I continue to see my teammates, if they hit on the setup, they can win; and I feel like we’re just the same. So, I’d say it’s really just internal focus. Try to be good every single week and try to build that notebook. Knowing that your teammates are going to be right there to challenge you for wins is a good thing.”
LOOKING AHEAD TO NEXT WEEK, YOU AND ALL OF HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS HAVE SHOWN A TON OF SPEED AT 1.5-MILE TRACKS. WHAT ARE YOU EXPECTING WHEN YOU GO TO KANSAS SPEEDWAY FOR THE FIRST TIME IN THIS NEW CAR?
“I’ll answer that after I get through Darlington. I think Darlington is kind of my biggest question mark, just getting through that. We’ve been to a couple of high-speed race tracks. It’s been awhile since we went to Las Vegas, but we were obviously good there. We finished fifth and had a good result. I’d see us being strong at Kansas, for sure. I just haven’t put much thought into it.”
JUST TALK ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH RUDY (FUGLE, CREW CHIEF) AND HOW YOU’VE GROWN SINCE YOU’VE BEEN TOGETHER NOW A FEW YEARS. HOW HAVE YOU ALL RE-FOCUSED THIS YEAR AND PRETTY MUCH SET YOUR GOALS UP FOR THE SEASON TO MAKE IT FURTHER INTO THE PLAYOFFS AND TRY TO WIN A CHAMPIONSHIP?
“For us, it’s just learning this new car. Everything we did last year was great and it kind of set a good foundation for what is important to us and how we’re going to approach our season. What we want to go for – obviously Playoff points was a big part of that and trying to get more of those. But yeah, it’s all just about communication. I feel like Rudy (Fugle, crew chief) and I communicate well. We’re really good at that and we can have a lot of success. We’ll just keep working on our communication. What I like about him is that after a tough race, he digs his feet in deeper and figures out how to solve problems. He’s a problem solver and I like that aspect. I think that’s why we’ve always been good. We’re able to rally from bad races, get closer together and go work on it.”
CAN YOU JUST TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH RUDY, MAYBE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU DO OUTSIDE OF THE TRACK TO GET CLOSER; OR HOW YOU ALL FOCUS ON A DAY-TO-DAY BASIS?
“Yeah, I mean we don’t go get a beer together or anything (laughs). It’s not like we’re best friends off the track, but we care about each other and our families. I like to see what his son is doing and all that. And he cares the same about me. We text a lot and talk a lot on the phone. At this level, that’s pretty constant in our relationship.”
HOW HAS A YOUNG CORE AT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS PROVIDED YOU GUYS WITH A NEW SPARK AND A NEW OUTLOOK COMPARED TO SOME OF THE OLDER GUYS IN THE CUP SERIES?
“I think it’s just circumstances that we’re all the age that we are, but I think it’s just our paths to the Cup Series and the way that we’ve all come together. We all have different experience levels from different race cars. I think we all get along really well because we’re similar in age and we all like similar things. A few of us play golf; a few of us go race other things. So, we all have kind of common interest, I’d say.”