HOW ARE YOU LOOKING AT THIS WEEKEND, AND HOW DIFFERENT IT IS BEING ELIGIBLE FOR THE OWNER’S CHAMPIONSHIP BUT NOT THE DRIVER’S CHAMPIONSHIP?
“I honestly don’t view it any differently. I come here with as much focus as I had last season when racing for both championships. Maybe if I hadn’t won last year and didn’t have a championship under my belt already then I’d come in here with a different mindset. But knowing that I have that on my resumé already, it allows me not to be careless with the weekend. We’re extremely focused and would love to win that Owner’s Championship for Rick (Hendrick) and bring that big paycheck home, too. That’s the most important piece.”
ON FRIDAY’S 50-MINUTE PRACTICE CONSIDERING THE AMOUNT OF PRACTICE FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON.
“It’s a good opportunity to do a lot of little things to get ready for the race and execute that right. Pit-road speeds… I believe we get to select the pit stall fifth in the order, so we already have an idea of what couple of pit stalls those might be… stopping in those and accelerating out of them and trying to get some reps doing stuff for the race. Hopefully our car is close enough where you can do that stuff and not be in and out of the garage working on your car. I think we should be good. We were good here earlier in the year. I feel like our short-track stuff has just gotten better. It’s a good opportunity for everybody to have a 50-minute practice.”
ON ROSS CHASTAIN’S MOVE AT MARTINSVILLE. DO YOU STILL FEEL THE WAY YOU DID THEN AFTER LOOKING BACK ON SOCIAL MEDIA AND SEEING OTHER PEOPLE’S REACTIONS? DOES NASCAR NEED TO MAKE A RULE ON THAT?
“I’d love to say after listening to all the fans that my opinion has changed because they’re very educated. But no, it hasn’t. I feel the same way I did about it last week. I’ll start with this: it was (awesome). There was no denying that. When I first saw it, I was like ‘That was crazy. That took guts’. I think my opinion was more from looking into the future of it and when that move is going to happen again. Because it will. I don’t even know if NASCAR has to police it. When a car scares the wall with five to go and doesn’t even touch the wall, they throw a caution because they want to set up a good finish. At the end of the race, it should be no different especially with something obvious like that. I think there’s lots of layers to it, safety and whatever. But yeah my view hasn’t changed. And it’s nothing personal against Ross. It could be anyone in the field to pull that move and I would have felt the same way about it. It’s not fair racing. Again, I’ve done it before so I’m being hypocritical. But I’m glad I did not win because I would not have been able to sleep at night and be proud of it. Just like I don’t think I’d be proud to be in the final four with a move like that.”
“It’s the integrity of it. It doesn’t take any talent to floor it against the wall and go two seconds quicker than the field. I don’t think that’s fair. It’s not fair at all.”
BEING AT PHOENIX AS THE REIGNING CHAMPION AND HOW HAS THE YEAR CULMINATED FOR YOU? WHAT ARE THE HIGHLIGHTS LOOKING BACK?
“I don’t feel like I’ve done anything different this year than other years as far as being an ambassador. I’ve done a lot of the same stuff that I’ve always done. I’ve still continued to race a lot outside of NASCAR. I feel like that’s where most of my legacy is… just racing a lot and growing motorsports. So that hasn’t changed. There are definitely things to be proud of this season. I think the fight that we’ve put in throughout the season to get better and become stronger as a team is something I’m proud of. Although we’ve done it a little bit late, we’ve gotten to the point where I feel confident when we go into the races in myself and the team. I look forward to one more weekend of trying to execute well and bringing another championship to Rick Hendrick.”
YOU SAID IT WOULD BE A BIG CHECK. DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH THE TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP WILL BE WORTH IF YOU WIN IT? AND IS IT SPREAD ACROSS THE TEAM?
“I don’t know exactly. I’d have to look back at my emails to see what last year paid! It’s good. It would be good. Everybody’s deal is different. I could give you an answer, but Joey Logano might have a different deal.”
DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOUR GOING FOR THE TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP IS BEING DOWNPLAYED? YOU WEREN’T INVOLVED IN CHAMPIONSHIP MEDIA DAY.
“No, it’s been good. I’ve had a lot going on this week so I haven’t had a lot of time for it anyway. It doesn’t matter to me. I like kind of flying under the radar. I’m sure the broadcast will talk about it some and I’m sure we’ll be part of it. But the main storyline is the Driver’s Championship. Even though the Owner’s Championship is what pays the bills, the prestige of the championship revolves around the drivers. It’s never happened in the Cup Series, at least for a very long time, where you have a team like myself racing for the Owner’s Championship. It doesn’t matter to me at all that we haven’t gotten much recognition for it. And I understand why. The Driver’s Championship is what it’s always been focused around.”
ON POTENTIALLY ENDING THE TREND OF A CHAMPION WINNING THIS RACE.
“I guess I wouldn’t view it that way. I would still view it as one of the championship teams won it. I think this year is different than other years with the parity that we’ve seen all season long. I think it could be totally different than the five of us. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if come Sunday it’s a different winner. I think it’s going to happen.”
DOES THIS FEEL LIKE A CHAMPIONSHIP RACE FOR YOU?
“Yeah, it does. I don’t feel different. I don’t view it any different. I feel just as focused and driven as I did last year to win the championship. I answered it earlier and said that if I didn’t have a championship already under my belt, maybe I’d come in here a little more careless just because I’d be mad that I’m not in it. But with having a championship on my resumé already, I’m just happy that I have one. So I’m happy that I have one. It doesn’t matter as much to me to get another. Don’t take that the wrong way because I want to win more. But I think I care a lot more because I already have one.”
IS THE CHAMPIONS JOURNAL STILL A THING, AND ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO PASSING IT ON?
“It’s something that’s so special that you want to read it once when you get it and once again before I give it to the next guy. It’s an extremely special book. That was the thing that I was most excited about from winning the championship was to receive that. I’m sure everyone in the final four right now feels the same way. I’m sure it’s crossed all their minds this week. I look forward to writing my little piece and giving it to them. I hope I can win other championships down the road to see what’s been passed on since me.”
YOU OPENED IT WHEN YOU GOT IT AND YOU’LL READ IT AGAIN BEFORE PASSING IT ON?
“Yep, I read it all and read everybody’s pages. I stuck it in my safe and it’s been sitting in there for close to a year now. I’ll get home, pull it out and probably practice my handwriting to make sure it looks pretty.”
BEING A REIGNING NASCAR CUP CHAMPION AND HOW YOU’VE CARRIED YOURSELF THIS YEAR?
“I think what’s good about me is yes, there are things I should probably do differently. But I’m me and that hasn’t changed from winning a championship or not. I’m still the same person I was a year ago this week before a championship, and I feel like that isn’t a bad person. This year has been great on many levels. I feel like through it all and through the ups and downs of this season, I’m still the same person and plan to be years from now.”
JIMMIE JOHNSON MENTIONED EARLIER ABOUT YOU RUNNING THE INDY 500. HAS THERE BEEN ANY FURTHER DISCUSSION?
“When Jimmie ran the Indy 500 this year, I definitely was picking his brain a lot after the race about how it was, what it drove like, and this and that. But I never talked to him about me racing it. I think it’s obvious that I want to race it. Nothing has moved forward with it. If something came to me that was in a competitive car, I’d jump right on it. I think there’s so limited rides when you’re restricted to one manufacturer. It’s tough. I think I read with Kyle (Busch) that it kind of stalled out with him. It’s tough, but I’d love to run it.”
REV RACING IS GOING TRUCK RACING IN 2023. HOW IMPORTANT WAS IT TO HAVE A PLACE LIKE THAT TO GET YOUR FEET WET IN NASCAR BEFORE MOVING UP?
“It was great. Rev Racing was cool. I was so busy that year racing; that was the most I’ve ever raced in one season – 2012 when I ran the K&N East Series. So I wasn’t able to really utilize the resources of Rev Racing and the day-to-day things that the kids do there throughout the week in the shop as far as working on the cars, being in the gym or doing the media training because I was off racing all the time. That being said, it’s a great platform for kids of a diverse background. I’m glad I was able to be a part of it and glad that I was able to get experience at a handful of the tracks that I was able to race at the following season in the Nationwide Series at the time. And we won the championship that year, so that’s something I’m definitely proud of, as well. I’m looking forward to them moving up into the Truck Series with the alliance with KBM (Kyle Busch Motorsports). That’s really cool.”
TAKEAWAYS FROM THE SEASON WITH FIRST SEASON OF THE NEXT-GEN CAR?
“The impact it’s had on NASCAR this year has been really cool. It was a big change in the sport over the last year. It was really cool how through all the supply chain issues and COVID a couple of years ago to see where the sport has come from and where they continue to move forward. Maybe that’s something when you look back 10, 15 or 20 years from now and how it changed the sport, it’s something you can remind and teach younger generations about how far the sport has come to get where it is currently. It’s cool to be a part of this generation of car and this class of drivers.”