THE LACK OF STAGE BREAKS ON ROAD COURSES.. HOW WILL THAT IMPACT WHAT WE SEE HERE AT SONOMA RACEWAY?
“Yeah, I mean to hear whether or not it’s a two-stop or a three-stop race, I think is still kind of to be determined based on pace fall-off and things like that. But that’s what the guys are initially looking at and see where that kind of falls. But yeah, you would always jump the stages and then you’d have the cautions, and then you’d have to go back green and all that sort of stuff. So I feel like making it a more traditional road course race lends itself – and we kind of saw it at COTA too – where there was actually still a lot of cautions, where maybe guys kind of knew or felt the pressure that if it gets too strung out, there’s no chance for me to keep it closed up and they’ll run into somebody and create a yellow. So that could certainly sometimes be the case as well here at Sonoma (Raceway). The leader here, until he runs into lap traffic, typically has a good advantage of just having that clean air and everything else to kind of walk away a little bit. So it makes it a lot tougher to try and come from the back without restarts.”
NASCAR ANNOUNCED SOME CHANGES TO THE CARS EFFECTIVE AT ATLANTA (MOTOR SPEEDWAY) BASED ON WHAT THEY SAW FROM THE RECONSTRUCTION OF THE NO. 5/NO. 41 ACCIDENT. I’M CURIOUS WHAT YOU THINK OF THOSE AND ANY LINGERING CONCERNS AS FAR AS REAR IMPACTS WITH (NOAH) GRAGSON BEING OUT THIS WEEK?
“Yeah, bummer for him. We saw a few big impacts last weekend and his seemed to be the worse, just after the brunt of how it all transpired - not being able to just get up beside the wall and not take a huge hit. The safety advances of the car and things like that – that’s all great, right. We needed to withstand big hits and hits like that and whatnot. I feel like we keep adding material and keep adding material and keep making these things heavier. We used to run 3,400 pound cars and now we’re at 3,600 pound cars, so what’s the limit? What’s the level of how heavy is too heavy?
Just talking to some of the engineers that I’ve spoken to – there are a few areas of the car that are really, really, really stiff and don’t have any sort of crush zone like the old car used to, and that’s why those bars broke. And so we didn’t look at any of that.. we didn’t cut any stuff out to soften up the frame rail, for instance, to let the frame rail flex. All we did was add stiffeners to make it even heavier and stiffer. So again, I’m not a genius, but at some point we all have to reimagine some things.”
YOUR WIN AT WORLD WIDE TECHNOLOGY RACEWAY WAS YOUR 63RD. NEXT ON THE LIST ABOVE YOU IS DALE EARNHARDT SR. WITH 76 AND JIMMIE (JOHNSON) AND CALE YARBOROUGH WITH 83. DO YOU LOOK AT THAT AS REALISTIC GOALS THAT YOU MIGHT BE ABLE TO ACHIEVE?
“Yeah, I mean I would have said during the 2015 to 2019 timeframe, when I was winning five or six a season, that it was definitely attainable. And then we kind of slowed down the last few years and I would have probably told you I didn’t know if I’d get there. And then this year, we’ve got three and I feel like there’s plenty more. So hopefully we can continue to showcase that at RCR and with the No. 8 Chevy to go out there and win some more. I think anything is possible. I think it would be more fair to talk about it when I at least hit 70, which that could probably happen by the end of next year, so hopefully it does.”
NOW THAT YOU’VE GOT THREE WINS, PEOPLE ARE STARTING TO SAY THAT WE THOUGHT AUSTIN DILLON WOULD LEARN MORE FROM KYLE (BUSCH) OR HE WOULD WIN. IS IT HARD FOR HIM AND THEN HOW DO YOU BOOST HIM AND HELP HIM?
“Yeah, I would say Austin (Dillon) is actually – given his finishes and they’re probably not as good as he wants them to be – but where he comes from in a race, starting deep in the field, he’s been in some unfortunate circumstances on Friday’s or Saturday’s to get himself not qualified well. He flat out out-ran us at Bristol (Motorsport Speedway) Dirt, Martinsville (Speedway), North Wilkesboro (Motor Speedway).. the places with the low downforce stuff that us on the No. 8 are struggling with. Like last weekend, for instance, he ran in the teens for a while and he was slated to run probably eighth to tenth. So I don’t think that’s out of the ordinary for him and those guys. They are with a new crew chief with Keith (Rodden) coming over and getting ingrained into the system.. it’s probably a little bit more difficult on that side with those guys. But I still think there’s time and Austin is fine. He’s a competitor. He’s got a lot going on behind the scenes, as well. But I really enjoy working with him. He’s been a great teammate. We say a lot of the same things and talk a lot about how to continue to improve and make our stuff go, so that part of it has been really fun.”
I DON’T KNOW WHAT THE CURVE IS OF YOU BRINGING STUFF UP..
“No.. I mean I would say obviously he looked to me and wanted me to help elevate RCR and also help elevate himself. I feel like I’ve been able to do both of those things. I just don’t know the results are necessarily indicative to Austin’s (Dillon) standards or maybe to our other stands, and I think they’re still a work in progress on that front.”
WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR THE CHICAGO STREET COURSE RACE?
“(laughs).. to hit the walls minimally, where you don’t create too much damage and you can still continue, and hopefully you don’t get pile-driven into a wreck if the track gets blocked.
I don’t know.. it’s going to be tight; it’s going to be narrow. So we’ll just kind of have to see when we get there about what exactly it looks like. Looking at it on the simulator is probably entirely different than what it might feel like or be like when you get out there on the race track.”
AS THE ONLY ACTIVE DRIVE IN THE NASCAR CUP SERIES WITH TWO CHAMPIONSHIPS RIGHT NOW, HOW DO YOU APPROACH THE PLAYOFFS? WITH THREE WINS, YOU’RE LOCKED-IN, BUT CAN YOU TAKE EVERYTHING THAT YOU’VE LEARNED FROM THE OTHER TWO, EVEN THOUGH YOUR WITH ANOTHER ORGANIZATION, AND HAVE YOUR STRATEGY MENTALLY GOING IN THERE TO KNOW HOW YOU WANT TO APPROACH IT THIS YEAR?
“Yeah, I mean I feel like the consensus of how we’ve done things when I had Adam was always really good. We came up with a good system, good format, that we looked at and kind of followed and it seemed to work really well. I need to talk to Randall (Burnett) about that.. haven’t really gotten that far ahead yet. But it would be a good discussion point to look at some of that stuff; some of the same things we did there.
It’s all about maximizing stage points, whether you’re winning stages and getting those points, which is awesome. Or just maximizing your stage points throughout a race to get the best finish possible all day long to get those all-important points. That’s probably one thing that we really executed well with at World Wide Technology Raceway – going one, two, one. But weeks prior to that, we’ve kind of been on the struggle bus with being able to maximize our stage points through the year. If I could have gone back and recalculated all of the stage points that we’ve probably lost, we’d be the points leader, you know what I mean. So it’s just a matter of hitting it perfect.”
WE’VE GOTTEN TO SEE SOME OF THE PARTS THAT HAVE BEEN CONFISCATED RECENTLY WITH NASCAR DISPLAYING THEM. FROM A DRIVER’S PERSPECTIVE, ARE YOU GUYS INTERESTED IN SEEING WHAT OTHER TEAMS HAVE BEEN DOING, LIKE THE PART FROM THE NO. 14?
“(Laughs).. I wish we had a ‘what an idiot’ award. I mean even if you can’t find that part, you know you can call one of the other race teams and say – hey, do you guys have this.. can we buy it from you? That blows my mind.. I don’t get it. For as little as that probably meant, that was a huge fine to the pocket book and points book.
So yeah, anyways – I think it’s kind of cool that they show all of that stuff; show exactly what’s going on and what guys are doing. What’s crazy about it, though, is all the penalties that have come out of the R&D center – I guarantee you that you could take 15 of them after every single race and there would be something wrong with 14 of them, you know? It’s all the tricks and what you’re trying to do and what you can get away with, all of the time.”
DID YOU ENJOY INDUCTING KURT (BUSCH) INTO THE WEST COAST HALL OF FAME THE OTHER NIGHT?
“Yeah, thank you for bringing that up. Congratulations to Kurt (Busch) to being inducted into the West Coast Motorsports Hall of Fame. That’s really, really cool. Something special I remember years ago was seeing some of the names that were getting enshrined and inducted in. It’s really neat to have Kurt be a part of that and hopefully one day obviously me be a part of that.
But growing up in Las Vegas as two little punk kids and making it big time with not a lot of money and just a lot of talent – it was certainly really special. He did a great job of kind of paving the way for me through other circumstances also to get to the levels that he was able to get to, and beat the doors down that he was able to beat down and become a champion and a driver with a bunch of success. It’s been fun to see that, although I’m sure he kind of wished he could have ran out the rest of his time in his Cup career like he wanted to, but I think he’s made a lot of the right decisions in all of that. It’s good to see him rewarded for his time spent here in NASCAR.”