YOU WERE FASTEST IN THE NASCAR XFINITY SERIES’ PRACTICE YESTERDAY. WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO LEARN TODAY FOR XFINITY AND FOR CUP?
“I don’t know.. I mean obviously I get excited about qualifying here because we’ve done so well in it the last handful of years. And then excited to run the Xfinity race later on, just to try and learn as much as I can. I qualify well here, but I don’t typically race the best. So yeah, there’s still a lot of areas to improve on and get better. I’m excited for the opportunity and hoping for a good weekend.”
I KNOW YOU’RE A HUMBLE GUY, BUT AFTER XFINITY PRACTICE YESTERDAY, A LOT OF PEOPLE WERE SAYING EVERYBODY WAS PICKING KYLE LARSON TO WIN HERE. DID YOU THINK THE EFFORT WAS REALLY GOOD YESTERDAY IN XFINITY, AND ARE YOU FEELING LIKE YOU’RE GOING TO BE REALLY STRONG TODAY?
“Yeah, I know we’ll have a shot, for sure. I don’t get too overly excited because I think I was like 1.2-seconds faster in practice at Road America too, and I wasn’t even the fastest car in the race and got beat.
Yeah, I don’t know. This is the first time for a lot of the guys here (in the Xfinity Series), so I know the spread will get much tighter after they’ve had a night to sleep on it. But yeah, regardless, I know that No. 17 Chevy is fast every time it hits the track, so we’re going to have a good shot to have a good run.”
WITH NO CAUTIONS AT THE STAGE ENDS, DOES THAT MAKE THINGS A LOT SIMPLER FOR YOU, OR DO YOU NOT REALLY GET INTO TIRE STRATEGY AND JUST PIT WHEN CLIFF (DANIELS) TELLS YOU?
“Yeah, I don’t know.. I just go until they say to come in. But I think, yes – it makes it simpler. It makes qualifying even more important I think because hopefully you qualify well and the race could potentially run out.. I know that won’t happen, but yeah you just have a better shot of staying towards the front. Rather than with the stage breaks before - if you stay out, then you’re restarting like 20-something and it’s just hard and you’re in the hornet’s nest. So it should be a little bit more straight forward, hopefully. But depending on when cautions fall, it can still get kind of mixed up.”
NASCAR ANNOUNCED MORE CHANGES TO THE CARS THAT ARE EFFECTIVE FOR ATLANTA (MOTOR SPEEDWAY) BASED ON THE RECONSTRUCTION OF YOUR WRECK WITH RYAN PREECE. HAVE YOU SEEN THE CHANGES AND ANY THOUGHTS ON HOW NASCAR WENT ABOUT FIGURING THOSE OUT?
“Yeah, I mean not an engineer, so I don’t know. I can’t look at it and really give you an opinion on how well they did with the changes or what not. But I am very happy that me being in that wreck at Talladega (Superspeedway) and seeing how close it got to being really bad – seeing them go straight into action, compile data and make quick moves on improving the safety was something I was happy to see.
Yeah, I think it’s a great thing and great for them to move along quickly.”
FROM THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN, IT APPEARS THAT THE DRIVERS HAVE A LITTLE MORE EXCITEMENT ABOUT SONOMA RACEWAY BECAUSE IT DOESN’T HAVE THAT INHERENT CHAOS OF LIKE INDIANAPOLIS. IS THAT TRUE FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE, AS WELL?
“Sure.. I mean I think there’s a little bit of that, yeah. I mean there’s no 90 degree corner directly after restarts, so yeah I think this is more of a true road course race than the newer ones on our schedule. But I think everybody looks forward to Sonoma (Raceway) because of the area – the region that we’re in and the stuff to do outside of the race track, as well. But then yeah, the the race track is flowy. It’s got pace fall-off, which is a lot of what we like as drivers. Yeah, it’s just a good track.”
AS SOMEONE WHO HAS WON HERE, DO YOU HAVE A LAYOUT THAT YOU PREFER?
“I like the layout with the carousel, personally. But I think for viewership-wise for the fans, I think this layout is a little bit better maybe. I don’t know.. I like the carousel because you can kind of reshape that corner a few different ways and set people up either for the next braking zone and stuff like that. Where with turn four and how it is now, it’s not really very easy to pass. It’s kind of a fast corner, too. And then that leads into turn seven, which is a passing zone.
I just feel like there’s a little bit more room for mistakes with the carousel with it being really bumpy getting in and you can kind of reshape that corner and setup some passes. But like I said, I think viewership-wise, it sounds like it’s maybe better this way.”
HOW HAVE YOU GROWN AS A ROAD COURSE RACER THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER? OBVIOUSLY YOU GOT THE POLE HERE (SONOMA RACEWAY) A COUPLE OF TIMES AND YOU’VE WON HERE AND AT WATKINS GLEN (INTERNATIONAL). HOW HAVE YOU ADAPTED AS A ROAD COURSE RACER – FROM WHERE YOU STARTED TO WHERE YOU ARE NOW?
“Yeah, I don’t know. I’ve always qualified well at road courses. COTA (Circuit of The Americas) is probably the only one that I don’t really qualify that good at, for whatever reason. But I don’t know.. I’ve always qualified well. And when I was at Chip Ganassi Racing, I didn’t race good at all, especially here (at Sonoma Raceway). We would qualify on the pole and then run like 20th in the race. At Watkins Glen (International), I would qualify good and we could race better there.
But since I got to Hendrick Motorsports, I still qualify well and our race car is good. I’m not sure where I’ve developed. I think our race cars are just really good and can kind of handle me being crazy, abusing my tires and stuff.
I don’t know.. I look forward to road courses just because it’s different – it’s fun and it’s something I feel like I’m good at.”
ON THURSDAY, ONE OF THE DRIVERS SAID THAT BECAUSE THIS HAS SO FEW PASSING OPPORTUNITIES, THAT YOU ALMOST HAVE TO BE AGGRESSIVE TO TRY AND CREATE SOME PASSING ZONES SOMEWHERE ON THE TRACK. HOW DO YOU BALANCE BEING AGGRESSIVE ON A RACE TRACK WITH BEING CAUTIOUS ON A TRACK WHERE IT’S PRETTY NARROW AND YOU HAVE A LOT OF TIRE WEAR?
“I don’t know.. every road course is tough to pass on, so I’m not sure. Honestly, I feel like maybe there’s a little more passing zones here (at Sonoma Raceway) than some others. Like Watkins Glen (International), kind of turn one, maybe.. the bus stop is really tough to pass in (turn) two. That’s it, really. Turn one is really the only good passing zone. Where here, you kind of have a little bit in (turn) four. (Turn) seven is obviously really good. (Turn) 11 is obviously really good. Restarts and stuff, you can make some moves. Off of (turn) eight to nine.. and off of (turn) two to three. So I feel like there’s more passing zones here if your car is good. But hell, ovals are tough to pass on, too. It’s just racing.”
THEY KIND OF PATCHED AN AREA IN TURN THREE AND BY THE CURB IN TURN EIGHT. DURING XFINITY PRACTICE, DID YOU NOTICE MUCH DIFFERENCE IN THOSE AREAS?
“I thought that in (turn) three that you would feel it.. feel the new patch. But I didn’t really feel a grip change there, which was kind of nice. And then yeah, (turn) eight is where I think they added it right next to the curb, and again, you don’t really have much weight in your left-front tire right there, so you don’t feel the grip of the patch.
But yeah, I don’t know. Maybe as it rubbers in (turn) three, maybe you’ll feel some grip there, but it didn’t feel any different. So, it was fine.”