Pocono was a place you didn’t take to right away, but you seemed to turn the corner there over the last 10 races. What are you expecting this weekend?
“I get asked a lot what my favorite track is and my answer is usually Bristol, but Pocono is one of those places that has really moved up much higher on that list. It’s always, ‘What have you done for me lately,’ so Pocono has been a really good place for us and a place we started running well starting in 2013, 2014, but really didn’t see the actual results from that until the 2017 season. We were able to make the pit strategy work last year and had enough fuel to get to the finish line first even though we had transmission issues, so it would be great to be able to go back there with this new car and get back to victory lane with our M&M’S Camry. For all that M&M’s has done for the fans over the years, and the cool schemes I’ve been able to drive, it’s also cool to see them sponsor a race and certainly would be pretty cool for them to have the opportunity to hand over the M&M’S Fan Appreciation 400 trophy to me this weekend.”
You make Pocono look easy, but what is still tough about Pocono even for you?
“Every time you go there, it’s a bit different. The bumps change, the characteristics change, where the bumps are. Are they getting bigger? Are they getting worse? Are there more? That turn-two tunnel turn is always a culprit for the bumps, and the harsh winters up there really change the racetrack. Then, what happens in turn three, where the wind is blowing and stuff like that, is always kind of a convoluted piece to Pocono, and how you get through turn three versus turn one versus two. There are three distinctly different corners, there’s definitely going to be compromise.”
How do you learn to get better at a track, like you have at Pocono?
“There are so many different ways you can do it. You can look at data, you can look at the driving technique. Talking is kind of the best resource, just being able to ask a guy, ‘Hey, when you do this, why do you do this, or what do you expect when you get into a run and you’re going this far, and tire wear, and how do you get around turn two,’ whatever it might be. Lots of different things there, being teammates with Denny (Hamlin) for this long, it’s lended itself to myself improving at Pocono and Martinsville, places like that, and him improving at places like Bristol and Charlotte from myself.”
Is missing it as an organization at one track and hitting it at others just a function of this new NextGen racecar?
“A little bit. I would argue to that the Penske guys weren’t great at Kansas. But they’ve been super strong at the flatter tracks. They’re really fast at Martinsville, Phoenix. They’ve been good. They were good at Gateway, as well. They qualified really strong, so as far as their packages there, it seems that these teams or organizations kind of have what it takes to be good at these particular tracks. And so I think as we all continue to learn and grow, it feels like the good teams will be the good teams everywhere. But you know, it is kind of patchy right now with just getting an understanding built around this car. We’ve struggled on the road courses, but we ran well at Gateway, and pretty well New Hampshire, so hopefully that will translate over to Pocono, as well, with all of them being flatter tracks.”