YOU’VE WON THE LAST TWO RACES HERE. WHAT’S CLICKED HERE FOR YOU?
“I don’t know. Even when I was at Ganassi, I would say this was one of our better tracks for racing. Then you come to Hendrick Motorsports, and they have a really good package here and setup. Chase (Elliott) has pretty much dominated and won lots of races here and led lots of laps. Things just kind of worked out the last couple of years to get the win. We’ve been fast, probably not as fast as Chase still, but hopefully today we can be competitive and have another good shot.”
YOU’RE 28 POINTS BACK FROM THIRD? IS THE GOAL THE NEXT TWO WEEKS TO GET UP TO THIRD IN POINTS?
“Definitely I’d say that’s our goal… get to third and get those two extra playoff points if we can do that. It will be tough. William (Byron) is really good at road-course racing and superspeedway racing as well. We’ve been really strong here at Watkins Glen and hopefully things work out well for us at Daytona to get some points.”
HENDRICK HAS WON EACH OF THE LAST FOUR HERE BUT WITH JUST ONE NEXT-GEN RACE HERE. WHAT DID YOU LEARN WITH THIS CAR A YEAR AGO AND CAN THAT STILL APPLY?
“We’ll be here this weekend with less downforce. I would say at most of the tracks that we’ve ran that on, I don’t feel that much difference in it. We’ll see once when we get out there in practice if it feels different. Last year, I thought our cars at Hendrick Motorsports were much better than the field. I hope that’s still the case this year. I’m sure everybody has caught up a little bit. Hopefully we’ve gotten a little better as well. I felt like last year, especially the 9 and the 5 really stood out in the field compared to everyone else. We were able to pass and get to the front… not easily but we didn’t get stuck like typically you do in short-track or road-course stuff with this car. I hope we’re good again and can qualify well here today and have a good race on Sunday.”
THIS SEASON SO FAR HAS BEEN ALL-OR-NOTHING. HOW IMPORTANT WILL CONSISTENCY BE GOING INTO THE PLAYOFFS?
“Consistency is the most important thing I think about in the playoffs. Thankfully there is only one superspeedway in the playoffs, and we’ve DNF’d in every superspeedway this year so that’s where a lot of that has come from. I can’t think of the other DNFs. Bristol, I kind of started all that. I can’t remember where the other one was. But I feel like the last half of the regular season, we’ve actually been pretty consistent. Maybe not quite as fast as we were the first half when we were leading lots of laps and contending for wins and then getting caught up in something and not getting a great finish. I feel like we’ve as a team executed pretty well. That’s important when it comes to the playoffs, but you still want to be a little better. You’d love to get some wins and lock yourself into the next rounds.”
DAYTONA IS THE NEXT RACE. CAN YOUR TRACK RECORD THERE CHANGE AND DO YOU GO IN THERE WITH YOUR FINGERS CROSSED AND NOT WRECK OUT THIS TIME?
“That’s the goal for me every time, and that’s just to finish. We’ve not been able to reach that goal yet this year. I’d love to go there and just finish honestly. I’d hate to end this year and have a DNF at all the superspeedways. That would be pretty embarrassing.”
GOODYEAR WILL HAVE A DIFFERENT TIRE AT BRISTOL AND MAYBE AT MARTINSVILLE AND A DIFFERENT TIRE AT PHOENIX COMPARED TO PREVIOUS YEARS. THOSE ARE TWO CUTOFF RACES AND THE CHAMPIONSHIP RACE WITH A DIFFERENT TIRE. HOW DOES THAT CHANGE THINGS?
“I don’t really have an opinion. It doesn’t matter to me at all. I just hope that our team does their homework well and can figure out the engineering behind the tire well enough to implement into our racecars and be good like we always are at Bristol, we won at Martinsville and we’re great at Phoenix, as well. I don’t mind it. I want to see the racing get better, for sure. If the tire helps that, make a change quickly.”
CAN THE TIRE MAKE MUCH OF AN IMPACT AT ANY OF THOSE PLACES?
“I don’t even know what the difference is in the tires. They wouldn’t change it, I guess, if it wouldn’t make it better. I hope it makes it a little easier to pass, but it’s still been tough to pass everywhere… even at New Hampshire, where I guess that tire was ran.”
DO YOU NOTICE AN INTENSITY PICK-UP GOING IN THE LAST COUPLE OF WEEKS, AND DO YOU EXPECT TO SEE THAT THIS WEEKEND AND NEXT WEEK AT DAYTONA?
“I feel like I haven’t felt that intensity pick up. I don’t know why. I think drivers closer to the cut-off… I think the points were within reach there for a little while for a lot of the teams that were on the cut-off. They weren’t really in their minds in must-win situations. If anything there’s been less aggression just because they were trying to maximize their day as far as gaining points. Maybe you’ll see that change here in the next couple of races. Even Daytona, I’d feel like every year that it’s been the cut-off race before the playoffs, that it would be crazy, it would be intense, all these guys are going to be going for it. Those guys’ only shot of making the playoffs is to win, and you can’t win if you’re crashed. Typically they all just ride around until the end of the race, and then they try and get up there and usually don’t make it happen… or the whole field wipes out and the 3 squeaks by and gets the win. Honestly, I feel like at this point of the year it gets a little less aggressive. Maybe if you see it come down to a late-race restart, that’s when you see the aggression pick up. But from the start to finish of a race, I think it’s less aggressive.”
WITH THE POSITIONS THAT CHASE AND ALEX (BOWMAN) ARE IN, HOW CAN YOU HELP THEM HERE AND NEXT WEEK AT DAYTONA?
“You don’t know how the race is going to play out. But if there is room to help, I’m more than willing to do what I can to benefit their race without doing something egregious. Like at Michigan, I felt like Alex and I worked really well together when we went to the back and I helped him kind of get going forward. He ended up crashing, Chase has been really fast this weekend. I imagine he’s just going to dominate anyway and probably not need anybody’s help. I’d love for each of them to win one of these races coming up and get all four Hendrick cars in the playoffs.”
HOW WOULD YOU FEEL NASCAR HAS HANDLED THE RAIN OVER THE LAST YEAR. IT SEEMS LIKE THEY ARE MORE AGGRESSIVE TO THROW THE YELLOW FOR LESS MOISTURE.
“It seems that way. It’s good. You always want them to err to the cautious side. At Michigan, I was like ‘Don’t throw the yellow! It’s not that bad… I just want to get to halfway so we can leave.’ Or we’d delay restarting and I’d be thinking we could totally go green right now. But I’m sure there are some other drivers that had different opinions, so I’m sure they always err on the safer side of things, which is good.”
WE’VE RUN FOUR ROAD-COURSE RACES WITHOUT STAGE BREAKS, WHICH WAS A BIG DEAL COMING INTO THE YEAR. HAS THAT BEEN NOTICEABLE TO YOU AND HAS IT CHANGED THINGS FOR YOU BEHIND THE WHEEL?
“It’s just more physically demanding, for sure. Wrapping your head around it mentally took an adjustment. I remember at COTA, I kind of forgot that we don’t have a caution and I’m racing really hard and you’re getting your heart rate up and pushing to the end of that stage where typically you can relax. As soon as I crossed the start-finish line, I was like, ‘Oh… we still have to keep going?’ That was mentally tough trying to manage your race and your body. Indy was the same thing, but I was more ready to keep going. It was hot, but I enjoyed it. It’s more of a pure race. I know it’s probably super-boring on TV with no cautions, but I think the strategy and the race playing out how it should is what racing is all about, especially road-course racing. With the old way of how it was, it wasn’t ever fair, I felt like, that teams that ran around 20th or 30th could stay out and get stage points and take them from teams who were really fast. Now if your car is fast, you stay up front, you get the points you deserve and get a good finish.”
WITH WHAT HAPPENED LAST YEAR AND YOU SPOKE ABOUT HOW YOU AND CHASE TALKED SHORTLY AFTERWARD, AND YOU SAID IT WAS A POSITIVE TALK AND YOU DID MORE OF THE LISTENING, WHEN YOU HAVE A SITUATION LIKE THAT WITH A TEAMMATE, WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM THAT EXPERIENCE AND HOW DID IT CHANGE THINGS SO YOU COULD COMPETE HEAD-TO-HEAD INTO THE FUTURE?
“I’m sure I answered all those questions last year. If I was in the same exact position as I was last year, I think I would be a little less aggressive into Turn One and probably would have had a different result. But I also think that Chase would probably choose a different lane than he did last year knowing that you can control your own destiny being from the right lane.”
FOR A LONG TIME IT WAS ALWAYS JUST WATKINS GLEN AND SONOMA AS ROAD COURSES ON THE SCHEDULE. THE LAST FEW YEARS YOU’VE HAD MORE ROAD-COURSE OPPORTUNITIES. HOW HAS THAT IMPACTED THE LEVEL OF COMPETITIVENESS IN RACING AT TRACKS LIKE WATKINS GLEN?
“I don’t know if it’s raised the level of competitiveness or anything like that. I feel like I would like for there to be a couple less on our schedule, but I also think it’s been good for our sport to have as many as we do because it’s allowed that crossover with international drivers and drivers of different backgrounds to come and run our races. If you had three or four Cup races on a road course, I don’t think you’d see guys like Jenson Button or even maybe SVG (Shane Van Gisbergen) coming to race as willingly as they are now. It’s good for our sport that we have as many as we do. I’d love to have one or two less, but I don’t know how that affects things with the international competitors. I do think it’s really awesome to be able to share a racetrack with everybody that we did last week. I think that’s awesome, but NASCAR is an oval sport in my opinion, so I would love to see us a little bit more ovals.”