WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO START ON THE POLE TOMORROW FOR THE LONG RACE, PIT STALL SELECTION AND HOW GOOD TODAY’S LAP WAS?
“Yeah, it’s really important to have pit stall selection. I feel like I reiterate that a lot with my team – qualifying position is important, but pit stall selection is really critical. Just happy to get that number one pit stall. For us, I felt like we had a really smooth day. We had some tough conversations after Loudon. We just had a tough weekend. We went into Wednesday and focused hard on kind of building up our Pocono car and using the Chevy simulator. Just thanks to those guys for their efforts. Some weeks it’s different than others, but this week they did a great job. Just thankful for our whole team and the effort we put in. This really is a speed race track. I was nervous coming here. I feel like the Toyota’s have been really strong, but we’re inching up on it and I think we’re right there.”
SIX WEEKS LEFT IN THE REGULAR SEASON. YOU AND MARTIN TRUEX JR. ARE CHASING FOR THE 15 PLAYOFF POINTS BONUS. HOW IMPORTANT IS STAYING CONSISTENT OVER THESE NEXT SIX WEEKS?
“It’s important. I don’t think I stress any more or less, based on the regular season. I kind of had that thought after Loudon. It can go either way. I think there’s tracks that he’s really strong at; there’s tracks that we’re really strong. It’s just going to be kind of toe-to-toe for the rest of the time. There’s a lot in our control, but there’s also some wild card races in there. So I think honestly for us, just trying to perform. We know that the last 10 races is where it really counts. If we can compete for stage wins and compete for race wins, we’re going to stack up playoff points and the points on the regular season will take care of themselves.
I think for me, my mindset is just trying to do the best that we can and try to make these six races a good prep session for the playoffs.”
THE FACT THAT YOU GUYS WERE ABLE TO COME BACK WITH SPEED BECAUSE, LIKE YOU SAID, IT WOULDN’T HAVE BEEN THAT SURPRISING IF TOYOTA WAS LIKE ONE-TWO-THREE IN QUALIFYING OR SOMETHING. SO FOR YOU GUYS TO SHOW UP WITH THE SPEED YOU HAVE AFTER THE WEEK YOU JUST HAD, DOES THAT GIVE YOU EVEN MORE CONFIDENCE THAT THIS IS SORT OF A DIFFERENT YEAR THAN YOU’VE HAD BEFORE WHERE YOUR TEAM CAN JUST OVERCOME WHATEVER?
“It does, for sure. I think that for me, I was a little bit nervous after last week. We had some damage on pit road, so it wasn’t completely realistic how we finished. But we were off a little bit on speed and I feel like Nashville (Superspeedway) we were off a bit on speed, as well. So I think this week, showing up with the pace that we had off the truck, was really impressive. It shows that our tools are working correctly because right now, it’s really all about unloading with the right setup and the right feel. So for us, our balance was really close. We had potential – we had lap time that we could go out and get. So I think that’s a really good sign and we just have to keep pushing. Those guys have been strong, really strong, at a lot of the tracks. It’s nice to see though that we can take a few punches for a few weeks and come back with this performance.”
“I do. I think Martin (Truex Jr.) and I have somewhat similar styles. At least in the old car, when we would look at data, we had similar brake pressure and similar inputs. I mean we’re totally different backgrounds and totally different ages. But yeah, I enjoy racing him. I think he races the way people should. I don’t think he does anything super malicious, but he’s aggressive. He’s good to race against. I think there’s five or six guys out there that I really like racing with.”
SINCE YOU WON THE POLE, HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT YOUR CHANCES FOR THE NEXT SIX WEEKS, ESPECIALLY WITH A GOOD START COMING ON SUNDAY?
“Yeah, I mean we’ve kind of had our tough tracks over the summer for years – I would say the years that Rudy (Fugle) and I have been working together. For some reason, just some of those tracks haven’t clicked exactly how we wanted them to. But this is one that we come to that we take a lot of pride in being good here. And there’s also some other ones – Nashville (Superspeedway), Atlanta (Motor Speedway) was good. We just have to keep it up. It’s a long six weeks and we just have to continue to pace ourselves, do the right things during the week. Make sure our process kind of stays similar throughout the week so that we can show up on Sunday’s and perform.”
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE ATMOSPHERE AT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS RIGHT NOW? OBVIOUSLY YOUR IN THE MIDST OF THE FIGHT FOR THE REGULAR SEASON CHAMPIONSHP AND HAVE FOUND PLENTY OF SUCCESS THIS SEASON. KYLE LARSON IS COMFORTABLY IN THE PLAYOFFS, AS WELL. CLEARLY CHASE ELLIOTT AND ALEX BOWMAN ARE ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN AS IT STANDS.
“Well I think we all work really hard, so I think it’s just trying to put all the pieces together. It’s been a tough season for a couple of our teammates, in terms of staying healthy and all of those things, and just the rhythm of the week. Yeah, we’ve been fortunate that we’ve had a good year so far, but like I’ve been saying, it’s race #20 and there’s a lot left to do. So we can’t kind of rest on what we’ve done, but yeah hopefully our entire team can keep pushing and just continue to improve.”
WITH WHERE YOU ARE IN THE POINTS RIGHT NOW AND THE BATTLE WITH MARTIN TRUEX JR., HOW DO YOU KIND OF BALANCE POINTS RACING WITH ALSO BEING AGGRESSIVE, TAKING SWINGS AT THINGS, TRYING TO GO FOR PLAYOFF POINTS AND CONTINUING TO CHASE WINS?
“I mean I’ve noticed a change in how Rudy (Fugle) calls races. I think that he’s just aggressive, in general, so really it doesn’t change anything. We were aggressive at Atlanta (Motor Speedway). We were aggressive at Chicago (Street Race) – it didn’t work out because I hit the wall, But I think overall, I think he’s pushing and I don’t think he’d do anything different. I think that’s just his learning curve in the Cup Series. He’s not been at it for very long and I think he’s starting to kind of adapt to the strategy side. So for me, I drive the same. I don’t really change anything.”
YOU’VE BEEN PRETTY CONSISTENT AT POCONO RACEWAY OVER YOUR CAREER. HOW DO YOU VIEW THIS PLACE? DO YOU LIKE RACING HERE AND WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE SUCCESSFUL AT A PLACE LIKE POCONO?
“For some reason, I like it. I don’t know. My dad sent me a stat that was pretty good this week, just about this being one of my best tracks. I don’t know why. I think when I came here, I came here in the ARCA car when I was like 18 years old – I don’t know if that helped. Or just the experience in the truck and winning that race I think helped. When we got here in the Cup car when I worked with Darian Grubb my first year, this was a bright spot to our year. We had a really strong performance here. So I think it’s just kind of clicked ever since that first time in the Cup car.”
WHAT UNIQUE CHALLENGES DOES POCONO RACEWAY BRING TO BOTH YOU AND YOUR TEAM?
“Everyone talks about it – making all three turns and having the right balance. It’s really tough to have all three turns have the right balance in the car. When you talk to your crew chief about this place, you say – man, OK one was good.. two I missed.. three wasn’t as good. There’s always like little spots – I feel like other race tracks, you just kind of talk about the whole balance around the whole track. You’re like – at Nashville (Superspeedway), I’m free in this spot or I’m tight in this spot. But here, it’s just really different. You have a lot of time to think down the straightaways and corner entry is really tough."
OBVIOUSLY YOU’RE GOING TO ROOT FOR YOUR TEAMMATES TO MAKE THE PLAYOFFS, BUT IF THEY DON’T MAKE THE FIELD, DOES THAT MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE FOR YOU OR FOR KYLE (LARSON) ONCE THE PLAYOFFS ACTUALLY START?
“I think it’s obviously better if all four of us make it because that’s all four of us pushing each other to perform; build better setups, build better racecars. But yeah, we just try to do the best job we can. Try to help those guys when we can at certain race tracks, and go from there.”
DOING THE RICHMOND (RACEWAY) TEST IN A WEEK, DO YOU THINK THAT THE RESULTS WILL BE ANY DIFFERENT THAN WHAT YOU WOULD HAVE GOTTEN AT NEW HAMPSHIRE (MOTOR SPEEDWAY)?
“Well I know it’s going to be really humid and hot, so I’m going to sweat everything out from the weekend. But I don’t know – I think it’s going to be a good test. Hopefully we try to give our best effort to help NASCAR with helping the rules package on the short-tracks. I think it’s great that they’re using this as an opportunity to improve. Yeah, I’m just going to try to help them as much as I can. I don’t know how much it will really help us for this year, but going to try really help grow that short-track package and hopefully get a better product.”
CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR POLE-WINNING LAP?
“Yeah, I think the first round was crazy because we basically ran half of our lap and had to come back in, change tires and just kind of reset. At that point, try to put a first round together that is good enough to advance. The second round lap, I felt like I got off of (turn) three good coming to the green. I felt like I had pretty good momentum. My shift point was as little bit sooner than before, so I felt like I had good momentum coming to start-finish. And then really, just felt like one was a weakness that I saw on SMT between rounds. I felt like I could get into one just a little bit deeper and maybe have some more grip through the middle. I got off of one good, so I was really confident getting to the tunnel. And then when I got into the tunnel, I just kind of got in a little bit soft and a little bit shallow and hit the bumps at a bad angle. So I had to lift a little bit off of two – just didn’t have a lot of momentum off of two. I felt like my RPM was down going down that short chute, so I was just coaching myself into not trying to make up for it in three. I was like – man, that corner is done, I just have to go through three and have a good exit of that corner because kind of the exit of three is really what makes the lap coming to start-finish. So tried not to compound mistakes. You’re never going to really hit a lap perfect here, but I felt like I got through one and three good enough.”