AS THE DEFENDING RACE WINNER HERE AT SONOMA RACEWAY, HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE BACK?
“Yeah, it’s nice. It’s home, so it’s cool to get out here to Sonoma (Raceway); a track where we won last year. I’ve always qualified really well here, so I’m excited about today. I’m hoping with this Next Gen car that we’re just as good as we were last year. I’m excited to get on track.”
HOW MUCH TIME HAVE YOU SPENT IN THE SIMULATOR TO ADJUST TO WHAT THE NEW CAR IS GOING TO DO HERE.
“I haven’t been in the sim, but we should be alright. These cars, especially on the road courses, haven’t driven too much different, at least at COTA. The braking zones go a little bit deeper, but other than that, it felt similar.”
THIS IS A PLACE WHERE YOU GOT YOUR FIRST CAREER ROAD COURSE WIN. AS A NORTHERN CALIFORNIA NATIVE, WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO YOU TO GO BACK-TO-BACK HERE AT SONOMA RACEWAY?
“Yeah, it would be really cool for sure. Jeff Gordon, also another Northern California guy, has had a lot of success here. I’d like to catch him in wins someday, so have to go to work on that because he’s won a lot here.
It would be neat. Like I said, it’s always nice to come home, but it’s especially nice when you can win.”
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE LAYOUT CHANGE?
“Yeah, it kind of is what it is. I think it’s going to be similar racing either way. The same guys are going to be up front as they would with the other style. Personally, I enjoyed the carousel. It added a left-hander, more normal feeling corner to me. They added a patch of new pavement over there last year, so I felt like that kind of opened up the groove a little bit in getting grip. I don’t know the reasoning behind changing it back. Maybe it’s just better viewing for the fans or something. But again, it doesn’t really matter a whole lot. We know what to expect because we’ve raced on this layout for a long time. It should be fine.”
ON TOP OF THAT, YOU WON BOTH STAGES AND THE RACE LAST YEAR. ARE YOU GUYS GOING TO TRY AND DO THAT AGAIN OR IS THAT SOMETHING THAT’S GOING TO BE HARD TO DO?
“I have no idea. I think last year, our car was so much better than the fields that we were able to kind of be aggressive with the strategy like that and go after the stages and the race win. I think I read somewhere earlier where there had never been a stage winner to win the race here, so that just showed how good our stuff was last year.
I don’t expect you’ll be able to do that this year. I think everybody’s cars are a little bit more equal. You’re going to have to play the strategy more conservatively to prepare yourself to lineup in the best spot for the final stage.”
WE HAVE OUR OFF WEEK COMING UP. WHAT’S YOUR THOUGHTS ON ONLY HAVING ONE OFF WEEK; AND ARE YOU GOING TO DO YOUR TYPICAL THING AND GO RACE?
“I’m not going to race. I’ve been racing a lot more this year than I have in years previous. So, I want to take this off week and spend more time with my family; kind of recharge and get back excited about racing. Obviously I would love to have more than one off week. I think all of us in the sport deserves more than one off weekend. But again, it is what it is. If there were no off weekends, we would still be racing.
I loved having two off weekends in a row last year. I know that was circumstantial with the Olympics, but that fell at a perfect time. It was Katelyn’s birthday and my birthday for both of those off weekends. So, that was fun. I would love to get at least one off weekend back. If we could get three off weekends in a year, that’d be great.”
LOOKING AHEAD TO NASHVILLE, LAST YEAR YOU DOMINATED THAT RACE. DESPITE DOMINATING IT, IT WAS A PRETTY GOOD RACE. WERE YOU SURPRISED WITH HOW GOOD THE RACE WAS AND YOUR THOUGHTS ON HOW YOU WON THE RACE?
“A lot of the tracks we went to last year, our car was so good that we were able to lead a lot of that race and get the win. It raced really well. I had only tested there before and it was always kind of just right around the bottom; where last year, I think they put some resin no the track or something and we were able to move up the track a far bit. It was pretty slick and you could move around. I hope it’s similar to that. I think it should be and probably even better. It seems like these Next Gen cars slide around even more, so it should be fun.”
THE NASHVILLE MARKET HAS REALLY COME TOGETHER FOR NASCAR, WITH THE BANQUET AND CHAMPIONS WEEK. IT JUST SEEMS LIKE NASHVILLE GETS PRETTY FIRED UP FOR NASCAR.
“Yeah, definitely. Nashville is a great area for racing, especially NASCAR racing. I look forward to getting there. Last year was the first event there for the Cup Series. The crowd was huge and the atmosphere in the city was great. I’m sure it will be a lot of the same.”
AFTER LAST WEEK AT GATEWAY, ARE YOU CONCERNED AT ALL THAT YOU MAY GET CAUGHT UP IN SOMEBODY ELSE’S PAYBACK?
“I don’t know – you’d have to ask people if they feel the need to pay me back (laughs). I don’t know who owes me anything.”
HOW CRITICAL IS TIRE MANAGEMENT? ALSO, TOMORROW IS SUPPOSED TO BE COOLER. WILL THAT HELP WITH HANDLING AND TIRES?
“Sonoma (Raceway) has a really wore out surface, so you have to manage your tires, especially the exit of (turns) 7 and 11. I feel like that’s where you really fight grip. The more you can manage your tires, the better off you’ll be for the long run. Tomorrow being cooler will be a lot better for us in the cockpits with the cars being cooler inside. Usually when it’s cooler outside, the track is cooler and has more grip. It makes it a little bit easier to manage your stuff and things like that. It will be similar racing whether it’s 100 degrees or 78 degrees.”
NEXT YEAR’S OFF WEEKEND, WOULD YOU SPEND IT IN FRANCE VACATIONING?
“(laughs) I would, yes. If NASCAR would allow us, for sure.”