“I think it’s great. It gives us consistency and gives us all to focus on making us all faster. That’s what really is our goal: to continue to work together and improve and get to a point where we can be multiple race-winners a year. That just further solidifies that, and we probably have the most stable driver lineup out there, so that’s nice.”
What’s Alex (Bowman) like as a teammate?
“He’s great. Alex has always been a good friend of mine, and we’ve always worked well together. I think he’s always brought good assets to the table, and that’s been good for all of us.”
On qualifying Wednesday night.
“Good. We always seem to bring a lot of qualifying speed. It’s all about trying to keep that mojo going and get another pole for Mr. Hendrick. That’s the goal every year down here. Personally my goal is to win the race – win the Duel and win the race on Sunday. That’s all of our goals because we’ve been down here a few years and we haven’t gotten that win. That’s what is at the forefront of our minds.”
Does it bother you that there has only been one Chevy win in the last eight Daytona 500s?
“It’s not a good stat, for sure. It could be better. We’ve had speed here. We know the deal. It’s a lot of good fortune but you have to have enough bullets for the fight at the end to put up a good chance at it. For us, we need more chances at the end. We need as many Chevys at the end that we can have. That comes down to strategy, it comes down to decisions as a driver, making sure we don’t make any dumb decisions that put ourselves at jeopardy. I want as many Chevys at the end as possible because it’s going to make my job easier.”
How closely do you guys work together?
“I think I have a good trust level with some of the Chevy guys. I’ve worked well with Austin Dillon in the past. I don’t know Kyle Busch as well on superspeedways, so I’m going to have to learn him a little bit and his style. The Hendrick guys, we’ve always worked well together. The goal is to get all four of us Hendrick guys to the end and then the other key partners as well. That’s the goal. We’ll try to work with the Trackhouse guys, too. Personally, I just want to make good decisions. I feel like I’m a good plate racer but I have to make good decisions and be patient. The extra 100 miles that this race has and all the meaning that it has is what kind of creates that impatience and those early wrecks. I haven’t caused an early wreck but I’ve been part of quite a few. I’m ready for that to end and get to Stage Three, take a deep breath and have 10 laps to go and try to win the 500.”
When you talk about having to learn Kyle, how does that process work?
“I know him well from other forms of racing and other racetracks, but I don’t know the style he has on these tracks. So we’ve never been in a conversation about it before the race. We’ll have that chance now to talk to each other now to talk to each other and be like, ‘What’s your preference, do you like to ride, do you like to race for the stages’ and try to figure out where his head is at with that. I assume we’ll all try to work together.”
What will it be like racing against Jimmie Johnson and not have him as a teammate?
“It’s weird for sure. I’ve always seen him in that 48 so I think seeing the 84 in a different brand and different team… It’s cool that he’s still a Chevy guy because I think that’s the neat part. He’s still in the family so we still share notes, we can still be open with each other. That’s cool. It's kind of bittersweet but I think he’ll have a great time over there.”
Have you had any conversations with him?
“Just in passing this week. When he was off doing IndyCar stuff, it was hard to keep up because we were always racing at the same time. We had more conversations last year when I did that ride-along with him at Indy. We still try to keep up since he lives in Charlotte.”
With a bunch of guys in new rides this year, does that change how you approach those cars?
“It’s like going to school and seeing people in different outfits. You make mental notes so it’s kind of getting used to that and that acclamation period of (Tyler) Reddick is in the 45, it’s not Kurt (Busch)… all those things. It all happens in the first couple of weeks and then you start to figure out what happens from there.”
How do you prepare for those final laps of the 500?
“I wish I had more chances at that. I need to get to the end. That’s the goal this year. I think watching races back and seeing what guys do and what moves they make. The biggest decision is where you restart with the choose now. The choose is going to be crazy on superspeedways. I think you’re going to see a lot of dynamic changes there. It’s going to help the lines go forward on the first lap. There’s a lot of energy in that first lap. Denny (Hamlin) and I at Talladega, we worked together on the front row. He got down in front of me and I pushed him. That was a really good strategy, even though we weren’t teammates. It worked. So you try to be tactical.”
Does that favor the Chevys especially early in the race because there are more cars?
“It’s all effort-dependent. It’s how much effort the guys in the line want to put forward to make the line go. It’s all about making sure everyone in the line is contributing. That’s the biggest thing. It doesn’t matter what team or person it is; they just have to make the line go forward. So keeping the gaps close and pushing when needed, that’s the key.”
If you were to get shuffled out of line, how hard is it to get back up front?
“Really hard. The package we have is two-wide. Three-wide is hard. Hopefully three-wide is a thing this year. But as we saw last year, I got shuffled at one point in the Talladega fall race. I needed to win that race and I couldn’t get back there, as much as I wanted to unless I just shot off the apron and spun someone out and caused a wreck. The goal is to try and keep that track position. That’s the key.”
What are you going to try to glean most from the Duels?
“The Duels are important because there are points now. Trying to start the year with 10 extra points is huge. If you get two good stages in the 500 and then you have the Duel, that could be 30 points. That’s the key, is trying to put yourself in that position to get all those points.”