What are your thoughts [on superspeedway racing], and when you come here, how optimistic do you always feel?
“Everybody’s got a shot to win that you, that, that brings along some optimism But I've also crashed a lot. I'm pretty optimistic that I'll crash at some point. It’s definitely a unique style of racing and one that I haven't quite figured out yet. I've had good races where I'm like, ‘Okay, I’ve got a handle on this,” and then come back the next time you crash on like lap 20, and you're like, ‘Okay, no I don't.’ It’s unique. It’s hard to study for because it changes. Almost every time you go, you go back to a place where setups evolve, cars evolve, so it's hard. There’s a handful of guys that seem to always be up front no matter what generation car it is or what rules package it may be. They just have a good understanding of it.”
“I think the best thing to do is just piggyback off of those guys and just stay glued to their rear bumper and go wherever they do. I don't really know like how to answer these questions because I haven't quite figured it out.”
Do you want to check that box for superspeedway racing since you’ve won pretty much every track there is?
“Yeah, definitely. I would love to, and I'm sure at some point in my career the stars will align and, and I will. I also I need to do a better job of putting myself in the right spot. I used to always say, ‘oh, I've got bad luck at these places,’ and stuff. I don't think those guys that are always in contingent have better luck than me. I think they're putting themselves in a better position to avoid crashes. I seem to always find my way to around 10th, and that's kind of where you get swarmed up in a crash. Just got to continue to try and evolve and figure it out quickly to be up upfront.”
Did the offseason kind of give you a different perspective on things, or how you assessed how 2022 went?
“I understand like there was a lot of mistakes that I made behind the wheel and, and some that we as a team made that cost us some either good finishes or opportunities to get a race win. Races are extremely tough to win in this sport. I think just try to try to focus more on taking what you can get. I think a lot of times I was trying to get more than maybe what our car was capable of or try to too quickly make up for a mistake that maybe was on pit road or whatever it may be. Then those mistakes just compounding it bigger, and then you end up either crashed or making another small error that you give up positions. Just try to clean up on those areas and at least keep us in contention more often each week.”
With being the defending pole winner from 2022, and with Toyota seeming to step up their game in superspeedway qualifying, what do you expect heading into this year’s race?
“I have no idea what to expect. I don't think anybody honestly does, especially with no practice. I mean, how are you supposed to know where you're going to stack up? So we’ll see. I think what gives me confidence is that Hendrick Motorsports has always been in contention for the pole. It was a definitely a cool experience last year getting to lead the field to the green, and would love to experience that again today, to get the pole tonight. I'm just going to try and do my part and not miss any shifts, hold a steady wheel, and hopefully that's enough to get us a pole.”
With Auto Club being a short track after this next race, what are your thoughts about conversion, or are you one of those guys lobbying to keep it where it’s at?
“I love that racetrack as is. I feel like it produces amazing racing, but at the same time I think we need more short tracks. I feel like sitting in the stands, it’s hard to view a two-mile track or even mile-and-a-half [tracks]. They’re so big. I think short tracks produce exciting racing, exciting finishes, tempers, stuff like that. I'm a proponent of making it a short track and I think we need more of them.”
You and Cliff (Daniels) seemed to hit towards the last part of the season. Does that help you get momentum early out of the gate?
“I felt like we were pretty fast the last 10 races, I think we were one of the best teams in the Playoffs consistently. I think we were kind of that way the whole year. We just didn't execute to our potential, where I think we executed to our potential more often in the Playoffs. Maybe not every race, but I feel like we did a decent job. We ended the year pretty strong and I don't think any rules have really changed over the course of the off season. I think whoever was fast towards the end of the year are probably going to be pretty good to start the year. We’ll see. I’m ready to just hit the track and kind of see where we stack up.”
What, what does it feel like to be in a pack and you kind of get a sense that something may be about to happen?
“A lot of the times when these crashes happen, you don't really expect it in the middle of the races. I think at the end, like the closer it gets the end, the more you expect the wreck. So that's when it gets like nerve wracking. But, like I said, either at the end of the stages or the end of the race, that's when you expect it. I think a lot of the times when the crashes happen not at the ends of the stages of races, you're not expecting it, so it kind of just happens and you're trying to avoid it. In a way too, you're always kind of expecting it, but at the ends you're always more aware of it.”
What has working with [Alex Bowman] been like these last couple and how does it help you guys having him?
“I think just honestly having all four of us solid at Hendrick Motorsport Motorsports over the next however many years is a good thing. I’m happy to have Alex with the team for at least three years. I really enjoy Alex. I feel like we’re great friends. We have a lot in common with the dirt racing stuff. He’s who I’m probably closes with because of that connection through dirt racing. So, I’m glad to have him back. We work out together in the mornings when I’m in town. He’s who I spend the most time with out of the rest of my teammates, so yea, happy that we’re both at Hendrick Motorsports for the next however many years.”
Have you talked to AJ Allmendinger or Conor Daly about any Indy 500 tips?
“I haven't talked to anybody really yet about [Indy] 500 tips. My mind's kind of been on the NASCAR stuff still at this point. I think as the IndyCar season gets going and hopefully we'll get to go to some practice days for the 500 I think that’s when I’ll start my initial studying. I did get to meet Felix Rosenqvist. He was at the simulator a few weeks ago. We chatted about it and it was good to hear because he’ll be one of my teammates. I think once I get to [Indianapolis Motor] Speedway and especially too when I get closer to getting in the car, I’ll be asking whoever’s got any advice.”
With 2021 being such a phenomenal year, and 2022 still a multi-winning season, what’s going to constitute a successful season for you and the No. 5 team this year?
“Obviously I know that winning 10 races is very, very hard. I don’t like to set my goals that high, but I think honestly if you can win multiple Cup races each year and be in contention in other races as well, I think that’s a solid season. We didn’t win as much as we wanted to last year, but three wins is still a lot more than others had, so I don’t view it as a totally down year. We know that we can go out there, we’ve done it before, and win 20 races and also race in a championship. We know that we’re capable of that. It’s nice to have that out in the distance that you can do it, but it’s difficult. I just want to be in contention making less mistakes this year and just getting ourselves more opportunity to win.”
How do you look at the Duels on Thursday night, and what you’re hoping to get out of it?
“From what I remember of the Duels last year, with the half the size of the field, it’s like it wasn’t enough cars for everybody to stay together. It kind of got strung out after green flag stops. I imagined it’ll be like that again. You don’t learn anything from racing that way to at least to prepare you for the [Daytona] 500.”
With pit cycling either under green or yellow flag conditions, what is it like on pit road?
“It’s just hectic, right? You’re trying to maximize the time to the yellow line, but you’re also trying not to lock your brakes up, trying not to run in the guy behind you, or in front of you, trying not to get ran over from the guy behind you. You can’t really see when the commitment line is coming up, so you are kind of judging off the guys in front of you and all that. It’s hard. We all have experience doing it, even for a guy like Jimmie Johnson who does have a ton of experience, not in this car. With this car compared to the old one, you can brake a lot later. I’m curious how it’s all going to work, but I’m glad that I’m locked in so I don’t have to worry about that.”
What will the choose have, or what impact will it have?
“I would assume it will. I think you’re going to have more teammates working together as far as lane selection and stuff goes. I think you have it on the front row, but now you’re going to have it back three or four rows. I’m interested to see how it all plays out. I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal once we get out there. I think we all overthink it and then once you get out there.”
How special is it to go to Indy with Rick Hendrick as part of the [Indy 500] deal?
“I am very thankful that he is a very big part of it. That’s special, and for both of us. He probably never thought he’d be involved with the Indy 500. I guess I thought maybe someday I would, but I didn't think that I'd be a part of the Indy 500 with Rick Hendrick. I thought with my time at Ganassi, I would’ve been with either Chip [Ganassi] or somebody like that. It’s pretty unique, and I know he’s excited about it.”
What does 75 years in NASCAR mean to you?
“I think it’s an amazing milestone year. I think it means more to me because I am one of those champions throughout the 75 years of its existence. It’s pretty special. I don’t know where I rank within those 75 years, but I feel like we had a pretty solid year in my championship season. It’s just cool to be a part of the history of the sport, and know that I’ll be always a part of the history of the sport. I look forward to the next however many years to the next milestone.”