The fact that Long Beach has even been rumored to maybe being a venue.. do you like the idea of adding street races or road races to the schedule, or do you like the balance that we have now between oval and road courses?

“I don’t know.. I hadn’t really put too much thought into it. It doesn’t matter to me. I don’t really mind it. I think Long Beach would be cool because it’s a nice area. Yeah, I would be OK with it.”

In the Hendrick Motorsports Museum, there’s a big sign that says ‘Race to 300’, and now it says ‘304’ above it. I’m curious.. what would be the next big thing for Hendrick Motorsports or do you have any sense of what the next big sentimental moment would be?

“I don’t know.. probably a championship in the 40th season. I think that would put Hendrick Motorsports at 15 championships, as well, so maybe that would be the one closest to chasing. I didn’t even know 80,000 laps (led) was a thing until leading into Phoenix. I’m sure there are other milestones that I haven’t really heard about yet. I think all of us would love to win a championship in the 40th season.”

As the defending winner of Martinsville Speedway next weekend, when did you guys really feel like you got your skill level to a point where Martinsville was just comfortable and it became repetitive?

“It’s still not (laughs). Honestly, it’s still not comfortable for me. I still don’t really feel I can run like consistent, comfortable laps with a rhythm. Yeah, I won last year, but it’s still not a good track for me. I don’t go there and dominate like I have at a lot of other race tracks. But we happened to win there last year, so that was really neat and something I’ll never forget. It was something that I never thought I would do. I still have a lot of room for improvement there to be a consistent contender.”

With the way all the Hendrick Motorsports cars seem to be running so well right now, does that kind of elevate your game because you know, in addition to Joe Gibbs Racing, most of your competition is going to come from within?

“I don’t know.. I think honestly just try and focus on yourself, and focus on trying to put together the best race possible for you and your team. Yeah, we’re quick every weekend, which is great. But yeah, I think because of that, you’re not really losing too much focus.”

We’ve seen over the years, especially on the dirt side, you just get bombarded by fans, and it seems like you’ve really embraced that. What has gone into your willingness to give a lot of yourself to fans anywhere you go?

“I don’t know.. I think I understand that I’m a draw. I remember being a kid – going into the pit area and wanting autographs from drivers and stuff. They always took the time for me, so I try my best to take my time for every fan that stops by my hauler after the races. Sometimes I’m there for 20 minutes.. sometimes I’m there for two hours signing.

I don’t know.. I just enjoy it. I enjoy feeling like I’m making an impact on the event; the promotion and just the sport, in general. It’s cool. It gets overwhelming during the night sometimes, but I try my best, for sure.”

Now that the sports betting flood gates have opened in a lot of places now. It has the potential for growth for a lot of sports and getting people interested. Have you ever put any thought towards the pros and cons of what that could mean for NASCAR and racing, in general?

“No.. no, I haven’t. I haven’t yet. I don’t gamble on sports, so I think maybe if I gambled on sports, I would have an opinion on it.

Yeah, I don’t do any gambling, but I do think, or I would assume, it would be good for the sport overall, just because you would attract probably a bigger audience.. a new audience that maybe hadn’t paid any attention to NASCAR racing. And a younger, I would think, audience, as well.”

A lot of drivers seem to list Martinsville Speedway as one of their tougher tracks, although it’s the shortest, slowest, etc. Where would you put it on your list of tough places that you have to race at?

“Yeah, I would say it’s up there. It used to be probably the toughest track for me, and still probably is in the top two or three toughest places. Honestly, here at Richmond (Raceway) and Martinsville (Speedway) are probably both up there, which is surprising that I’ve won a couple Cup races here and a Cup race at Martinsville, just because they are so difficult on me. They just don’t really suit my driving style. They don’t suit kind of the style that I learned growing up in sprint cars and stuff. I think everybody assumes with a short-track.. like sprint cars race on short-tracks, so it must translate 100 percent. But the driving style at a sprint car track is more like an intermediate – fast speeds, not a lot of brake. Where at Martinsville and Richmond, you’re like slowing down and trying to hit this mark all the time, which is difficult for me. So yeah, it’s tough.”

Does it surprise you that Bubba Pollard came in here and led practice for his first time out in these cars?

“No, I guess not really. I knew he’d be good and all that. I hadn’t really paid attention (to practice), I had just read a tweet on my way in here that he was quickest, and then I see that he’s like last in qualifying. So I don’t even know.. I’m assuming that car has enough points to make the race, or I hope it does anyways.

I’m just interested to see how his race goes and all that. He’s one of the best short-track racers that I’ve ever heard about. I don’t think I’ve ever raced with him, but the little bit of attention that I’ve paid to pavement late model racing, he seems to be the best. I’m excited to see how he does. Hopefully he can drive from the back to the front and get more opportunities.”

Obviously this time last year, you won the Toyota Owners 400. What is your approach coming into this race this weekend?

“I don’t know. As I’ve mentioned, it’s a tough place for me, so I don’t ever really come here with the highest of expectations.. more so just because of me. Talking to my team and stuff – we won the spring race, but we were really bad in the fall race. So I think we’ve come here with a much different approach for car setup. I’m just excited to get on track in practice and feel if it translates and if we’re really quick or not. And then kind of evaluate from there and set goals for the race. As of right now, I just don’t know what to expect. But I’m excited for the challenge and ready to get going.”

What approach did your team have going into this year versus last year, even though the tracks may have changed?

“I’m not sure. As far as our team, it hasn’t really changed too much since I got there four years ago. We’ve had a couple of guys come and go, but overall, our team has been pretty much the same since I started there. The pit crew, there’s only one guy different. And then on our team, I think there’s two or three guys now that have changed.

Cliff Daniels, my crew chief, and the leader of the team – he does a great job of assembling people and leading our team. I feel like our communication is great within the team, especially during the race. Every team is trying to improve every week. Look at how you did, whether it be good or bad from the race before, and try to improve on it. That’s our goal every week, and sometimes that looks different week-to-week on what needs to be improved. But I feel like our team knows the areas to work on.”

Was there anything in the celebration after the win at Martinsville, or in the days following, that made you realize just how important Martinsville is to Hendrick Motorsports?

“I would say not any more than what I already knew. I understood the significance of Martinsville (Speedway) long before I ever got to Hendrick Motorsports. You could see it when any of their teams won, what that place meant to them. So when I got to come to Hendrick Motorsports, I knew about Martinsville and all that, and I hoped that I would win there some day to add to the legacy there.

I think Cliff (Daniels) and myself, both, probably never expected me to win there, so that made it really good. The first win there is talked about a lot, but the tragedy, I feel like, is not mentioned often.. at least personally to me. But it’s always on everybody’s minds anytime we get ready to go to Martinsville. Yeah, I’m sure all of that makes us want to win there, or have a good run there, even more than other tracks probably.”