HOW DO YOU APPROACH THESE NEXT 10 WEEKS?
“You know, I think I have had the same mindset my whole career that I have ever made the playoffs and that is just being consistent, finishing and not making mistakes. If you remember last year, I had a mistake at the Roval, and it bit me and cost us a chance to win the championship. So, if you can finish and be consistent and get good stage points, you can help yourself out quite a bit. So, that is the mindset for me.”
WHAT DID YOU GUYS LEARN FROM THAT EXPERIENCE IN THE PLAYOFFS LAST YEAR THAT CAN TRANSLATE INTO THIS YEAR?
“Last year was just difficult on many fronts. We had a lot of adversity throughout the year speed-wise, mistakes, and all that and we still were in the final four for the owner’s championship. So, it was a good realization that our team is extremely good and if we just clean things up, we can be really strong. And I feel like we did that this year, I think we did that and although the results look very similar, we have been a way better team consistently this year. We have challenged for a lot more wins this year. So, yeah, I think we are in a good spot going into the playoffs and hopefully we can just be smooth and quietly make our way through.”
HAS THERE BEEN A MESSAGE FROM CLIFF TO THE TEAM ON HOW TO APPROACH THE NEXT 10 WEEKS?
“I am not sure because I usually hear the message Sunday morning. He has probably talked to the team throughout the week, but he is really good about motivating us and saying the right thing at the right time. Usually, the pre-race meetings are very motivational.”
ARE YOU AT THE POINT OF YOUR CAREER TO WHERE IF YOU DON’T MAKE THE CHAMPIONSHIP FOUR, IT’S A DISAPPOINTMENT?
“I don’t know. It hasn’t been that long since I won a championship, so I have only gone one year without winning one. So, I don’t know how I feel. Last year felt shitty because I screwed up at the Roval and took myself out of it. So, that wasn’t fun to deal with. But, at the end of the year we still had three wins and that is not a bad year. This year we have got three wins as well and won the All-Star race. If I don’t win the championship, for sure I am going to be disappointed. We didn’t achieve the goal, but it wasn’t a disappointment from start to finish. We won a lot more than a lot of people did and this year we still have 10 races left. So, I try to be a glass half full guy most of the time, so I try to set realistic expectations as well.”
WITH THE 9 AND THE 48 NOT IN THE DRIVER’S CHAMPIONSHIP, DOES HENDRICK APPROACH THAT DIFFERENTLY IN HAVING THOSE TEAMS HELP YOU AND THE 24 TEAM?
“Yeah, I don’t know. I am not sure what….I am not sure. We all work really well together as it is and I don’t see that changing. And I don’t know if there is any R&D stuff coming or not, but I could see if there were any R&D things that Alex (Bowman) would probably get it first and depending on where Chase (Elliott) is in the owner’s points….which he is going to do really good job. He has got a really good shot to make it to the final four of the owner’s side of things. But yeah, I don’t really know and I think we all work really well together, so its really hard to change everything up.”
IS THERE A TRACK OVER THESE NEXT 10 WEEKS THAT JUMPS OUT AS A NEXT OPPORTUNITY TO PERFORM FOR, AND MAYBE A STRUGGLE POINT WHERE YOU GUYS FEEL LIKE YOU NEED TO MAKE THE MOST IMPROVEMENTS?
“I think the first round are three great tracks for us. Darlington, Kansas, and Bristol are really, really good. In the second round, Texas hopefully will be a good track for us. Talladega is Talladega. And the Roval is a good track for us as well. I think if we can make it to the Round of 8, I like that better than the Round of 12. We have Vegas in there and we almost won that earlier this year and Homestead is probably my best track. Then there is Martinsville, where we won at earlier this year. So, I would love to make it to the Round of 8, because I think we would have a good shot. You just never know, and this sport kind of evolves each week and you don’t know if you are going to be as strong the second time around as you were earlier in the year.”
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO NOT OVERLOOK ANY OF THE 16 TEAMS IN THE PLAYOFFS?
“Yeah, especially with the Next Gen car, I don’t think you can overlook anybody. Everybody is so equal and those underdogs have done a really good job this year of executing each race and finishing where they probably deserve or a little bit better. I look at Ricky (Stenhouse Jr.), because he has probably had his best season by far to date. He has been super consistent and has had a lot of speed at times and those races that he has had speed, he has finished up there too. You can’t overlook those guys at all because they are going to be consistent, and they are going to do a good job. There is always somebody where their team just does a really good job of executing and making themselves stand out. So, hopefully that is us this year.”
IS THERE ONE TEAM OR DRIVER THAT STANDS OUT THE MOST AS THE BIGGEST COMPETITION?
“I think Martin Truex Jr. and William Byron have been the two best guys consistently all year long. Maybe not necessarily the fastest every week, but they are about. They are top three guys every week and then they do a really good job of executing. So, I look at those two. They have a lot of playoff points as well, and not necessarily that they are guaranteed to make it to Phoenix, but I think they have the best shot.”
REGARDING THE RYAN PREECE WRECK AND THE ROTATIONS IN THE AIR. WHAT IS THAT LIKE?
“When I wrecked in New Zealand a few years ago, it was not as crazy as that, but very similar where I had like really quick rotations and its just wild. Like the gravity pulls your hands and whole body off the wheel. My eyes were bloodshot for a few months, and I am sure he looks pretty attractive right now.”
YOU ARE ABOUT FIVE WEEKS AWAY FROM THE INDYCAR TEST. IS THERE ANYTHING YOU DO NOW TO PREPARE?
“I haven’t done anything yet and I haven’t heard if they want me to do any simulator time or anything like that. I don’t know how well their oval stuff is on there for INDYCAR. But yeah, I am sure it’s going to creep up on me. It is kind of tough because it’s right at the beginning of our playoffs, so it’s hard to take too much focus off that currently. I think once we get racing, I can focus more on the test. But honestly, I don’t even know what to do. Like I don’t know what to look at before I get in the car. I think I just need to get some laps and get familiarity with it and then I can understand what I need to work on.”
REGARDING WILLIAM BYRON SAYING THAT YOUR DRIVING STYLES ARE SIMILAR AND THAT COULD HELP ADVANCING IN THE PLAYOFFS
“I don’t know. People have said we are similar, and I think at least set-up wise, we are the most similar it seems. As far as driving style, I don’t know, I think at this point and the way these race cars are driving that we all have similar driving styles. I think William and I can do a really good job and we can go bring Rick (Hendrick) another championship.”
HOW HAS YOUR TIME AT HENDRICK HELPED YOU EVOLVE AS A BETTER DRIVER?
“Well, I don’t know how things would be if I was still at Ganassi, but we have so much more data to look at now than we did a few years ago. So, maybe I would still be doing all the pre-race stuff that I do now, it could be the same because you have the data. You have so much more data and I think Cliff and the engineers are so good at looking at the data and kind of coaching me through how I can be better, things I am doing good at and keep after. So, I don’t know how like I have evolved, and you just naturally evolve. With all that data, the learning curve is so much easier, and everybody is getting so much better every week because of the data.”
REGARDING IF YOU LOOK AT KYLE BUSCH’S DATA MORE NOW THAT HE IS IN THE CHEVY CAMP NOW?
“I wouldn’t say I look at his stuff any more or less than I used to. But maybe now that I can see his data, I can understand that our cars drive more similar now than when we were at different organizations. So, we can talk about it and debrief about it a little bit more and understand what he is talking about a little better. Kyle Busch is one of the top drivers in this sport, so I was always looking at his stuff before, and I am still looking at it now.”