YOU’VE GOTTEN AROUND HERE PRETTY WELL SINCE JOINING HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS. ARE THERE ANY CONCERNS OR THOUGHTS THAT THIS NEW CAR IS GOING TO COMPLETELY TAKE AWAY SOME OF THE GOOD HABITS YOU HAVE HERE, THE FEEL THAT YOU HAVE, AND IT’S NO LONGER GOING TO BE BASICALLY YOUR MARTINSVILLE?
“Yes and no. I did get to run the wheel force car here last year, which was a Next Gen car. I think running Richmond (Raceway) last weekend gave us a good idea that the short tracks are kind of still the short tracks. You still fight really similar things. While you may not have the same issues with things like wheel hop and stuff like that, it’s still loose in, tight in the center and loose off; kind of the standard stuff. We still weren’t good on short runs. We were still really good on long runs. So, it was pretty typical us. I think it will hopefully still be a good place for us.”
WITH THE BIGGER BRAKES, DOES IT STILL LOOK LIKE MARTINSVILLE – THE WAY THE RACE PLAYS OUT AND THE WAY THE DRIVERS RACE EACH OTHER?
“Yeah, I think so. I think this car definitely lends itself to being more aggressive. It’s not nearly as fragile as the old car was. We have more braking power than we have grip. So like Richmond (Raceway), you don’t have much grip to lean on the car getting into the corner. So, you have a ton of brake power, but you can’t really use it. I think this will be pretty similar to that. I’m excited to see how it works out.”
THIS RACE HAS GONE FROM 500 LAPS TO 400 LAPS. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT AND HOW THAT YOU FEEL THAT WILL IMPACT EVERYTHING?
“I think it’s great. I don’t think it’s going to impact the race very much. It’s still a long day around this place, for sure, so it’s not like it’s a short one. The stage lengths kind of change a little bit, but I think it’ll look similar. I think it’s definitely a good move and hopefully puts on an exciting show for the fans.”
LAST FALL, YOU PUT YOUR NAME IN THE RECORD BOOK HERE. IT’S 75 YEARS OF MARTINSVILLE SPEEDWAY. HOW NEAT WAS IT TO GET THAT WIN AND JUST BE A PART OF THAT WINNING TRADITION BECAUSE EVERYONE STRIVES TO GET THAT GRANDFATHER CLOCK?
“Yeah, it’s really special to have a win here. Obviously, it’s a really special trophy. We had some controversy, but still super cool to be able to win here. It means a lot to me. It’s a place that I honestly struggled at quite a bit at first. I feel like I’ve worked really hard to get better here and, lately, we have been pretty successful here. Hopefully we get another one this weekend.”
AT DOVER, HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS SWEPT THE TOP-FOUR LAST YEAR. HOW BIG OF A DEAL WAS THAT? DID YOU UNDERSTAND THE HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE AND WHAT WAS THAT LIKE?
“Yeah, I think looking back at post-race, we all immediately understood and realized how special it was. Some things that we got to do throughout the week, like the photo we were able to take on Monday morning and stuff like that, was really cool. It was pretty special to be a part of that and be on the front side of that, as well.”
WHAT WAS IT LIKE IN THE CLOSING LAPS WHEN ALL OF A SUDDEN IT LOOKED LIKE THAT WAS A POSSIBILITY?
“I didn’t know we were 1-2-3-4 until after the race was over. I was just trying to hold the No. 5 (Kyle Larson) off and win the race; kind of business as usual until post-race.”
WHAT DID YOU THINK ABOUT THE DRAFTING AT DAYTONA AND WHAT DO YOU EXPECT WITH THE NEXT GEN CAR AT TALLADEGA?
“Yeah, we got stuck with flat tires and four laps down pretty quickly at Daytona (International Speedway). Hopefully we can have a better day at Talladega (Superspeedway). The draft is similar, but different. It’s still superspeedway racing. I think Talladega is going to be pretty similar to Daytona, as they always are. Looking forward to trying to get some redemption from the Daytona 500.”
BRISTOL DIRT IS NEXT WEEK. HOW DO YOU FEEL GOING INTO THAT RACE THIS YEAR COMPARED TO A YEAR AGO?
“Yeah, it feels all new again, with the new car and not knowing what to expect on how the car drives. I’m looking forward to it. I think it being a night race is obviously a great call. We’ll see how it plays out. Hopefully we’ll eliminate some of the struggles from last year; whether it’s the dust, the mud and just lack of being able to see. I’d like to be able to see where my race car is traveling. But other than that, I’m really looking forward to it.”
IF BRISTOL DOESN’T GO AS HOPEFUL AS PEOPLE ARE THINKING IT WILL, WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE THE DIRT EXPERIMENT CONTINUE AT A DIFFERENT TRACK, LIKE MORE OF A DIRT TRACK ITSELF; OR SHOULD NASCAR STICK TO PAVED RACETRACKS?
“I think as far as dirt tracks that are that size, the same things are going to happen wherever we go, with vision and things like that. I think ARCA is a good example of being able to make it work really successfully, but they’re running basically on rubber when they go to the mile (tracks).
I think the dirt thing is really cool. I enjoy it. We were really strong last year until we broke a transmission. So, I’m all for it. Hopefully the sequential is a little harder to break for me and I don’t create my own issue there again and have to ride around in third gear all day. I think it’s fun. The cars are really fun to drive. Obviously, it presents its own unique set of challenges and we’ve only had one try to get it right so far. I think the more we do it, the better it’s going to get.”
THE WEATHER TOMORROW NIGHT, IT’S GOING TO BE COLD. DOES THAT HAVE ANY EFFECT ON A DRIVER WHEN IT’S COLD LIKE THAT AND WHAT EFFECT IT MIGHT HAVE ON THE TRACK ITSELF?
“Yeah, I think the biggest thing is typically when it’s that cold, the racetrack has a lot of grip. Tire fall-off is not as bad as it is when it’s really hot and slick. From my side, Greg (Ives, crew chief) texted me earlier this week and he took all my cooling stuff out of the car. So, hopefully it actually is cold because if it gets hot tomorrow night, I’m going to be complaining (laughs).
It will just be a little different from the tire fall-off side of things. But it really doesn’t change a lot.”
THIS YEAR, THERE HAVE BEEN SEVEN DIFFERENT WINNERS TO START THE SEASON. LAST YEAR STARTED IN A VERY SIMILAR WAY. IS THAT JUST COINCIDENCE THAT THE SEASON HAS STARTED OFF LIKE THIS? TALK HAS ALREADY STARTED THAT THERE COULD BE 16 OR MORE DIFFERENT WINNERS BY THE END OF THE REGULAR SEASON – DO YOU BUY INTO THAT?
“Yeah, I think people probably will win multiple times. For me, I don’t really pay attention to that stuff a lot. I focus on my own thing and my own weeks; and just trying to go to the racetrack and do the best job I can. But my opinion, I think you’ll see people win multiple times. I don’t think you’ll see 16 different winners, but maybe you will. I guess we’ll wait and see.”
ARE YOU SURPRISED IT STARTED OUT THIS WAY LIKE LAST YEAR?
“Not really. I think with the new car, guys are figuring it out week-to-week. Big gains are being made right now. So, I’m not surprised to see so many winners.”
SPEAKING OF THIS CAR, IT SEEMS LIKE EVERYWHERE WE GO, IT’S GIVING US A LITTLE BIT OF SOMETHING DIFFERENT IN TERMS OF THE RACING. IS THAT A GOOD THING FOR THE SERIES AND IS THAT A GOOD SIGN OF WHAT THIS CAR CAN DO?
“Yeah, I think it’s good. It’s like anything – the old car had tracks that it put on a really great show and tracks that left a little bit to be desired with it. I think this car is going to have places that it puts on a better show than others. That’s kind of how it is with any racecar.
I think it’s been really good. We’re all fighting our own individual struggles with it, whether it’s guys dealing with pedal stuff, seat stuff, handling stuff, whatever it is. It’s been a big learning process, which it’s been fun having something new that you’re not familiar with; and it’s not the same that it’s been, what feels like, forever. I’ve been enjoying it and I think it’s been really good.”