THE MODERATOR: Next up we have William Byron and Alex Bowman from Hendrick Motorsports. Alex, we’ve heard you’re bringing back the Best Friends donation program for this season. Would you mind telling us a little bit more about that?
ALEX BOWMAN: Yeah, so obviously last year was really cool, learning more about Best Friends. I think we raised like $120,000 to try to save animals, so that was really cool to be a part of, and big thanks to Ally for helping bring it back and doing it again. This year we’re going to donate $4,800 every week to a local shelter through Best Friends, so looking forward to that. If we win, it goes to 10,000 again, so hopefully we can raise a bunch of money to save some animals.
Q. Alex, just a while ago Kyle Busch was in here and he told all of us to watch out for the 48 car tonight in qualifying when it comes to getting on that front row. You have a history with being on the front row here; how are you guys feeling about what you guys need to do tonight?
ALEX BOWMAN: I feel pretty good from my side of things. All I can do is floor it and hold the wheel as straight as I can, try to hit my shifts. Yeah, I think we have a shot at it. I think Greg Ives and Hendrick Motorsports really put a lot into speedway qualifying. Obviously we focused on it a lot yesterday in practice.
Hopefully we can make it happen. I think if there was a year you wanted to be kind of on the front row and not have to worry about the Duel as much, this year would be that year, so hopefully we can make it happen.
Q. William, I’m curious how you approach this race being a past winner here at Daytona. You know how to get to Victory Lane here. How do you approach the rest of this week leading into Sunday?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I think that honestly it’s one of the more nerve‑racking Duels just because of the car situation, but for us just to see how qualifying goes tonight and hopefully it goes well and we can lock in with Alex, I hope, like last year, and then hopefully I don’t have as bad a Duel as I had last year.
Other than that, Sunday is its own deal.
Q. A question about Fontana. William, looking at your stats for Fontana, 15th three times in a row is your record ‑‑
WILLIAM BYRON: That’s not a great stat.
Q. Can you not finish 15th this time?
WILLIAM BYRON: I hope not. I hope I can do like him. He’s finished first there and top 5 I feel like. Yeah, I don’t know. I think it’s been kind of a tough track for me, but hopefully this year it changes.
Q. Alex, it’ll be two years and some change since when you won at Fontana. Does it feel that long, and do you feel like even with the new car you can pick up where you left off?
ALEX BOWMAN: Yeah, feels like forever. You know, no, I don’t think we can pick up exactly where we left off with the new car. I think the new car is going to be so different. You can’t drive the car nearly as sideways as you could with the old car, and that day we were really loose all day but super fast.
I don’t think you’ll be able to be as aggressive on being loose and kind of leaning on the right side of the car, so just figuring out how to get it snugged up and still be fast around that place is going to be key.
Q. I’ve been asking drivers all day about qualifying. Kyle said zero attention put on it from his camp, and you guys put a lot on it. Is that mostly team and you understand the reason why mainly because of sponsors, you feel like you’ve got a good piece underneath you for qualifying, but is that mainly the team effort and you don’t do anything different or emphasis on it compared to what they do to get you ready for it?
ALEX BOWMAN: Yeah, I think it’s definitely mostly team from my point of view. I’m going to come down here and do whatever they tell me, right, so just trying to know how to hit my shifts right and kind of maximize each and every little thing is really all I can do. From there it’s up to the team.
It means a lot to Mr. Hendrick and to each and every individual at Hendrick Motorsports, so doing all we can to get them another pole.
Q. William, your contract with Hendrick Motorsports is up at the end of the year. I’m wondering if you can update us where negotiations are at, and do you anticipate signing an extension with them?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, just I feel like we’re in a good place and just focused on this weekend. I love racing for Hendrick Motorsports. I think we all do. Love the culture that we have. Just focused on kind of this year and having a great start to the year because I feel like last year finished off strong for all of us, and looking forward to it.
Q. Hendrick Motorsports has won six of the past seven poles for the Daytona 500 but has failed to win in all six of their pole winnings. How do you translate it now to the 500 and making sure your car is getting to Victory Lane on Sunday when it matters?
WILLIAM BYRON: Well, I think just knowing that Sunday is kind of a marathon and you’ve got to get to the end of the race, which is ‑‑ looking at the stats, it looks like not many guys get to the end, so hopefully we can be one of those guys, and I think if any of our cars are there at the end, we’ll have a shot to win. Chase last year finished second, so I think we’ll have a shot to win.
Q. When Kyle was in here, he didn’t think the Next Gen was going to be a better car at Phoenix. I had some drivers talk about it being a little more nimble on road courses or short tracks. Do you think it’ll play out that way? What kind of car do you think you’ll have for Phoenix, or what kind of race do you anticipate there?
ALEX BOWMAN: Yeah, I think like anything, when you change things, it’s going to have racetracks that it’s better and racetracks that it’s worse. I think if we had the Gen‑6 car at the Clash, it wouldn’t have been nearly as good as it was. I think the Next‑Gen car was really suited to a small place like that.
I think it’s going to be really awesome on road courses. Phoenix, the test was pretty interesting. It’s just difficult, you can’t lean on the car as hard as you could with the old car, so trying to find that balance of not spinning the thing out every couple laps is tough.
So much has changed throughout all the tests and everything, it’s really hard to say what it’s going to be like when we go there to race. But it’s definitely going to have places that it’s better than the old car and places that drivers felt like the old car drove better, but I don’t think that necessarily means it’s better or worse.
Q. William, as far as maybe the brakes, the braking package, do you think it’s better suited for Phoenix or short tracks?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, they’re definitely very powerful. I feel like they lock up easier, so it’s kind of ‑‑ we all seem to kind of have that at the clash like where the brakes seemed to lock up, and we never really had that with the old car. Typically with the old car you’d lose the brakes before you had any other issues.
I think it’s going to be different. You’re going to have a lot of ability like on the road courses like Alex said to brake deep and all those things.
Q. You both touched on it earlier about the Duels, but it seems like everybody that you ask, the agenda is different. Some people want nothing to do with it, Joey probably to no surprise says he’s going to race because it’s a race. Have you two thought about what you want to do if you don’t get the front row for tonight?
ALEX BOWMAN: Yeah, I mean, I think kind of with our agenda, obviously we’re all in on qualifying, and I think that translates ‑‑ that typically translates to a car that’s not going to drive amazing in the Duels. Just trying to protect the race car the best we can and put ourselves in the best position we can be for the 500. Obviously it is a race and it does pay points, but trying to protect the race car and be as smart as we can be.
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I know my crew chief was very sad last year after the Duels, so try not to be quite so sad this year. Whatever that means.
ALEX BOWMAN: Less sad, more better.
WILLIAM BYRON: Yes, more better.
Q. Of the drafting you have done with this car, how differently does it feel from the Gen‑6 when it comes to what it’s doing here in the draft and some of the Penske guys were pointing out that drafting and especially bump drafting is going to be something to watch because the bumpers don’t line up as normal anymore because the bumper has more of a curve to it.
ALEX BOWMAN: I mean, when I tested here I felt like the bump drafting was great. I think that the car does seem to move around some, but at the same time you can drive it when it’s moving around. We’ll see how all that goes. I mean, probably Sunday.
Q. William, we’ve talked a lot of sprint car backgrounds in here today, but for your background the former NASCAR K&N Series, ARCA series, kicked off last night. When you transitioned from the previous Cup car to this year’s Cup car, can you look back on your career at how you transitioned and compare that transition from the K&N car to an Xfinity car to a truck to the Cup Series?
WILLIAM BYRON: I mean, not really. I think that it’s just ‑‑ still has similar horsepower that we had last year. I think the tire grip is just something to get used to. Yeah, all the ‑‑ going up through the ranks, like the K&N car, it has different suspension than ‑‑ it has ride height rules and things like that, so that’s the biggest difference.
Q. Alex, can you describe what the last few years have been like for you integrating yourself with Ally as a sponsor and what it’s been like figuring out how you two best work together and growing each other’s brands? All the programs involving pets and stuff has been very on brand for you and very on board with that. Has there ever been anything you guys have come into conflict over where you don’t like something they want you to do?
ALEX BOWMAN: Yeah, not really. I think the best part about working with Ally is they came to me and they’re like, hey, what do you want to do, and obviously pets are a passion of mine, so being able to help animals has been really cool. They’re all in on anything that they do. They don’t go halfway in on anything. Anything that they do, they are 100 percent of the way in. Whether it’s the program with Best Friends or the sprint car stuff with AVR, doing Chili Bowl, they’re all in on all of it, and it’s just been really cool to have that support. Everybody over there, J.B. and Andrea, from the top down, they’re awesome people. J.B. is a CEO of a company that I can text every day and talk to.
It’s really cool to have that relationship with those guys, and it’s just been a lot of fun. I didn’t know how it was going to work, obviously, going from Jimmie Johnson to me is like ‑‑ it’s a big jump. We’re not the same person, and I don’t have nearly the stats or anything that Jimmie has.
Just appreciative that they’ve supported me as much as they have and that they’ve allowed me to be myself and to do my own thing and kind of steer the ship because I’ve had a lot of fun, and definitely has made doing my day job a little easier, and I’ve really enjoyed it.
Q. Alex, what kind of grade would you give yourself with the World of Outlaws, and what was the biggest eye opener of racing with that caliber of open wheel?
ALEX BOWMAN: Yeah, I don’t know what to grade myself. I guess like a C or a B. I feel like I exceeded expectations on making the show every night. Can definitely qualify. I felt like we had a lot of speed.
Volusia was really tough to race in the dirty air, just trying to figure out how that works. Our stuff, the dirty air is more like center off the corner is where we really fight it, and Volusia it’s kind of the opposite. The straightaway is really difficult, and then corner entry is really tough. Just trying to learn.
The last night I felt really comfortable. Sensation of speed is insane. I felt like I was going 7 million miles an hour.
Then going to East Bay, I felt really, really good. I was really comfortable all night. I think we just kind of missed it in the feature a little bit, but felt like we were a top‑5 car all night other than that, set fast time and were really fast. I had a ton of fun, and I’m excited to continue doing that this year.
Q. William, you feel like after four years with Hendrick that this needs to be a breakout year for you because you’ve won races the last couple years, but you’re sitting next to a guy that won four. The champion won 10. Do you feel like now that you and Rudy have had a year to get reacclimated that this might be the year?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, for sure. I think that internally we’re definitely very motivated, so just trying to continue to kind of build on what we did last year. I think I said a couple times last year was tough in a lot of ways because I felt like we didn’t get the results that we wanted to get. Going into this year that kind of fuels us, and I felt like we made some good adjustments on our team to make ourselves better.
Q. William, earlier this week it was announced that NASCAR would be doing an iRacing collegiate series where they would be providing opportunities to collegiate drivers on iRacing. Your thoughts overall coming from a guy in iRacing?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I think it’s great what iRacing is doing with continuing to broaden their base of people. When I started doing iRacing it was a couple thousand people on there, and now it’s like 100,000. Pretty insane how far it’s come.
I think the more that they can continue to scan new tracks and like doing the LA Coliseum like they did was pretty impressive.
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