TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT KIND OF WHAT THAT RACE MEANS AND JUST THE OPPORTUNITY TO TAKE HOME THAT TROPHY AFTER WHAT IS TRADITIONALLY A VERY LONG NIGHT?
“Yeah, it’s definitely one of the most prestigious races on our calendar, so it’s one that you circle as a driver every year that you want to win. I was fortunate enough to have a great car last year and win all of the stages and the race too. An awesome trophy, an awesome vintage Coke machine that you get, the ring, all of that kind of adds into the prestige of the event and makes you want to win it even more. Hopefully we can do it again this year. Another thing too, visiting the Arlington National Cemetery was a neat honor that I got to do a few weeks ago. They’ve done a really great job with this event and building it over such a long time now into one of the biggest races on the schedule. So, glad to be here and glad to have another opportunity to chase a win.”
AMONG YOUR 10 WINS LAST YEAR, WHERE DID THE 600 RANK WITH IT BREAKING THE ALL TIME WINS RECORD FOR HENDRICK AND IT BEING YOU’RE FIRST CROWN JEWEL?
“It was definitely up there. I think as you mentioned there was a lot of reasons why this event was up there on my list of wins. I think the main reason why I think it was so big was getting win 269 for Rick (Hendrick). I knew it was really special to him and I think all of us drivers were putting pressure on ourselves to win it for him. That made it special. I wouldn’t say it’s my first Crown Jewel, because I’ve won the All-Star Race in 2019 I think here, and I’d say that was probably my first real big win. It was awesome getting to celebrate here with the team and all that. It was definitely one of the probably top three or four wins we had last year.”
FOUR OF THE LAST EIGHT RACES, FOUR OF THE WINNERS HAVE COME FROM THE POLE. WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT HERE TO WIN THE POLE THAT YOU GUYS ARE COMPETING FOR TODAY?
“Yeah, I don’t know. I think just shows you have to have a fast car, I guess. Yeah, the teams at least I guess that sticks out to me would be myself winning last year and then Truex dominated one year in probably even more dominating fashion. I think it’s just your team’s got to be on it all race long. You have to have a fast car to go along with it. That’s kind of unique that you come from the pole because you would think that a super long race like this it wouldn’t matter as much as another. Typically, this place you can kind of pass on, but maybe it’s gotten a little bit harder to pass I feel like the last few years. When they put the PJ1 down and stuff like that it kind of made it really fast paced and hard to pass. This weekend so far it seems like they didn’t put as much resin down, so it seems like the groove is widened out again, which is great. Hopefully that means we will be able to race like the Xfinity cars just did earlier today.”
HOW ARE YOU FEELING AFTER THE FLIP ON WEDNESDAY?
GOOD, GOOD. ON A HAPPIER NOTE, WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER THE MOST OUT OF YOUR WIN AT SONOMA AND BEING ABLE TO GET A WIN IN FRONT OF YOUR HOMETOWN CROWD?
“That was great. Always love going out to Sonoma, maybe because it’s home or really close to home. Even if it wasn’t, you know Sonoma’s such a beautiful, Napa Valley is such a beautiful place. We usually go out early and spend it as vacation and do some wine tours. Since I am from out there you get to see some friends and make new friends. Then you get to race in front of all those people. Last year, getting the win was special. Getting to celebrate in victory lane with a lot of our friends, getting to see some old, not old, drivers that I used to race sprint cars with that I don’t get to see often anymore. Our friends camp there, so we’ll go eat food with them before the races and stuff. It’s just a fun kind of relaxing weekend for me. Good to be at home.”
DO YOU THINK THE RACING THERE WILL BE MORE AGGRESSIVE LIKE IT WAS IN COTA WITH THIS NEW CAR?
“I’m not sure. I think it will be a typical kind of Sonoma race. It just lacks a lot of grip, so I feel like it’s hard to be extremely aggressive there. COTA’s got more grip. More grip and higher speeds, so you can be more aggressive with bigger braking zones. I think you could watch any Sonoma race and it would probably be a lot like that one.”
AS THE CHAMPION YOU SORT OF HAVE A BIGGER VOICE IN TERMS OF NASCAR AND THE CARS. WHAT IS YOUR EVALUATION OF THE NEXT GEN CAR AND FOR YOU AS A DRIVER, WHAT ARE SOME THINGS THAT YOU MAY NEED TO GET A LITTLE BETTER WITH? OVERALL, HOW HAS THE CAR PERFORMED IN YOUR OPINION?
“I don’t know. I felt like I really enjoyed the cars early in the year and I think you know the intermediate style tracks stuff was really exciting early on in the year. I don’t know if that’s because people’s set ups were different and stuff like that. Maybe now maybe everybody’s narrowed down what’s good. It seems like the racing’s been really hard to pass lately. Hard to pass, hard to make runs. There’s been exciting finishes and stuff, but I haven’t really been that excited about the racing the last couple of months. I still think every week your teams are trying to develop their stuff and get better and better and maybe the races will get more competitive again. It’s a stock car, so they’re heavy and lazy. The dirty air’s been the biggest issue I feel like to me anyways. I don’t know if the other manufacturers struggle with it but feel like we’ve struggled in dirty air worse than it seems like most have. We’re working hard and we’ll keep fighting to get better.”
WHEN YOU’VE WORKED WITH YOUR SON OWEN ON HIS RACING, IS THERE ANYTHING FROM THAT THAT YOU PULL THAT YOU CAN TAKE AWAY AND SAY THAT CAN ACTUALLY HELP ME?
“I don’t think so. No, we flew with Kyle Busch a couple of weeks ago and we were joking with him, and I guess he tells Brexton (Busch) to do as I say and not as I do. I could do as Kyle Busch says and not as he does(laughing). That could go further for me, I guess.”
I WAS TALKING TO KYLE ABOUT THIS THOUGH AND HE SAID HE WAS TALKING TO BREXTON ABOUT RESTARTS. HE WAS KIND OF EXPLAINING HOW TO DO SOMETHING AND THEN BREXTON LOOKED AT HIM AND SAID YOU DON’T DO THAT ON A RESTART SO WHY SHOULD I. I’M JUST CURIOUS IF THERE’S ANY MOMENTS LIKE THAT EXCHANGE?
“Not that I can think of yet. That’s a good question, but yeah, I don’t know. I feel like Brexton’s at a different level than my son is right now. I’m sure as Owen gets more experience, yeah I think he could teach me some things. After my races I’ll ask him what should I have done different, even if I’ve won a race or crashed like I did the other night. I just like to hear his opinion. Mainly to see if he’s really paying attention while I’m out there on the track. He does. He offers his opinions and sometimes I agree with him and sometimes I tell him that he’s wrong. It’s fun having you’re kids get older and pay attention to your racing and offer some advice.”
YOURSELF, KYLE BUSCH, HARVICK, BOWYER, THERE’S A GROUP OF YOU GUYS WHO’S SONS ARE NOW IN RACING. IS IT INTERESTING KIND OF WATCHING THIS NEXT GENERATION OF YOUNG KIDS KIND OF WORK TOGETHER AS THEIR DADS COMPETE ON THE RACETRACK?
“Yeah, a little bit. I don’t know, I mean I think it’s definitely cool. It’s a good thing that Millbridge has going. Obviously, it’s in the perfect region for that. There are so many more other people than us, you know Kyle Busch, myself and Clint Bowyer. There’s mechanics, crew chiefs, engineers, all that other drivers or past drivers that have their sons or daughters into racing. It’s a great little thing they have over there and it’s cool to see. For me just makes me kind of reminisce on the memories I had at Cycleland Speedway growing up. Just playing with my buddies, that kind of stuff. Building memories is the cool thing that I take away from us going to Millbridge. Whether they all grow up to be racecar drivers or not, they’re all just making memories right now which is great at their age.”
IN THIS PRACTICE SESSION THAT YOU GUYS ARE ABOUT TO HAVE, ARE YOU GOING TO WASTE ANY TIME TRYING TO SEE WHAT THE BOTTOM LINE IS LIKE? OR ARE YOU JUST GOING TO GO STRAIGHT TO THE TOP SINCE THE TRUCK RACE AND THE XFINITY RACE THAT SEEMS TO BE THAT FASTEST WAY?
“I don’t know. We’ll see. I think typically the first lap you kind of drive under the limit, so naturally that kind of takes you to the bottom of the track. I mean, yeah, I plan on probably running the bottom for you know a lap or two. Really, you can kind of get a sense of how your car is handling right in those first couple of laps and probably chase it up the track. It’s been good to see the other cars up to the wall, because it gives us more racing groove. I’m sure we’ll try to move around a lot.”
YOU CAN WIN A DIRT 30-LAP DIRT RACE AND YOU CAN WIN A 600-MILE STOCK CAR RACE. WE CAN SEE THE DIFFERENCES IN THOSE TWO THINGS. WHAT IS SIMILAR ABOUT THOSE TWO THINGS FOR YOU AS A DRIVER?
“I think it’s all similar to me. I feel like the 600 last year I ran as hard as I could every lap. I felt like even though I won all the stages and won the race, it wasn’t we didn’t cruise for 600-miles and win the race. I was fighting off William (Byron) for a lot of it, fighting off Chase (Elliott) for a lot of it. Lost the lead to them both a couple of different times. We’d get it back through green flag cycles. From what I remember, last year’s race I ran like it was a 30-lap race the whole time. I’m sure all of us in the field are like that. With the stages, I feel like that’s really kind of been the way ever since we’ve had stages. You have a bunch of little races within the race. It’s hard to pass too, so you're running really hard, trying to either pass the guy in front of you or hold off the guy behind you. I mean there’s moments where you give and take, which there would be also in a 30-lap race. Maybe it’s just a corner, but it all feels the same to me. I feel like I run hard all the time. I feel like everybody in this Cup Series runs really hard all the time.”