Having won at Fontana, does it make it bittersweet that the track in its current configuration might be going away?
“It does. I love the racetrack, it’s one of my favorites and I’m not one to pick favorites. It will be a bit bittersweet going out there for the last time with the 2-mile oval. I’m going to miss it and hopefully we have a good last showing out there, it’s been good for us. All I’m going to do is go out there a think about how we can win and have a great weekend with our Reser’s Fine Foods Toyota. Reser’s is the sponsor of our team and of good times, so I can’t think of a better time than winning, and that’s what we will work toward this weekend.”
With the pavement so worn at Fontana, what are the challenges to get your car where it needs to be for 400 miles there?
“For starters, you want to be able to race in between the seams. If you don’t hit that right, you lose a ton of grip and a ton of traction. If you don’t hit that right, it can really change how your car drives. Between the bumps and the tire wear, there are a lot of challenges. You start the run, you feel like superman and you have a ton of grip and the car is really hooked up into the track. After 10 laps, then 15 laps, then 20 laps, it just gets worse and worse and you are sliding around a lot and wearing the tires out. There’s a real balance there of having a car that well balanced but you have to make sure the car can take off on short runs and restarts, but also in the long run with the tires because the thing is sliding all over the place and running against the wall and moving lanes around. It’s just a fun track to be able to do that.”
Where the most challenging part of Fontana to get figured out in order to be successful there?
“Turn two is probably the toughest part of the track because it’s the tightest radius. The exit of the corner is a lot tighter than the exit of turn four and down the front straightaway. There’s also less banking off of turn two, as well. That’s definitely the trouble spot and the most challenging place to get your car working well at Fontana.”
Was it a huge relief to get the monkey off your back by getting the win in the Clash?
“Yeah, absolutely. I think points or whatever, it’s a big deal. Winning in the Cup Series is a big deal. It’s a big win. Going winless last year and then to be able to go out and do that, it’s huge for us, it’s huge for me. I feel so good about our team and what we’re doing and what we can do. We showed that last year at times but not consistently enough, and then we did have some heartbreakers that were disappointing. Hopefully this year we’ll have a little better luck and we’ll be able to take care of a lot more things ourselves. Now that we have Daytona behind us and getting to some of these tracks where things are a lot more in our control, it’s exciting, for sure.”
How difficult was last season on you?
“It was tough, we never gave up. We worked hard and had a lot of headwinds, a lot of things working against us. At the end of the day, we didn’t win and we needed to win, so missing the playoffs by three points and just all these things that happened. We were right there. We could have turned the season around by just one of those things going right. We were fourth in points at the end of the regular season and we didn’t make the playoffs. It’s crazy to think about it. That’s the way the season played out, and we had to have one of the little things turn our way and they never did. This year we’re just going to work hard. I’ve never seen a team more determined. We’re fired up for the year and going out and winning the Clash showed us that we’re doing the right stuff and we’re going to be fine.”