NOT WINNING A CHAMPIONSHIP IS ONE THING, BUT TWO SEASONS NOT WINNING A CHAMPIONSHIP IS THERE ANY DANGER IN LOSS OF MOMENTUM OR ANYTHING? “No, we haven’t thought of it as a loss of momentum. I think back to the five in a row and really how special that time was. It didn’t happen for a lot of reasons, it’s tough. We were very fortunate to get that done. When I look at 2011, I’m disappointed in the way we performed and the way we were involved in the Chase. We really weren’t past the halfway point. But, last year was quite different. I’m very proud of the effort we put in. I think that last year kind of showed how much of a team sport NASCAR racing really is. We seem to forget that at times and how many variables do play into winning the championship. We go to Phoenix and our issue. We go to Homestead, a couple of issues. There is a lot more to it than just Chad (Knaus, crew chief) and I and what we do in the car. At the end of the day I’m very proud of what we did last year.”
JUST KNOWING COMPETITORS PERIOD, RICKY (STENHOUSE, JR.) AND DANICA (PATRICK), IF ONE OF THEM ROUGHS UP THE OTHER COULD WE SEE A LITTLE DOMESTIC DISPUTES ON THE RACE TRACK? “(Laughs) I guess anything is possible. That would be one heck of a show. I’m sure rating would go up quite a bit. You never know. Danica (Patrick) has shown that she can get quite upset at times. There could be something going on.”
HAVE YOU SEEN RICKY (STENHOUSE, JR.) GET AS PAYBACK MINDED AS DANICA (PATRICK) HAS SHOWN? “No, he has seemed, as far as payback, pretty focused in doing his job. He will drive a car sideways every laps, which I’m always impressed with. His mindset in letting things go away has been just as impressive from watching him on Saturday’s on T.V. I can’t remember who he got into something with towards the end of last year and they were chasing him around on the race track. He just let it be and ran his race.”
DO YOU THINK THAT WHOLE THING IS A GOOD THING FOR NASCAR OR IS IT A DISTRACTION? “I haven’t thought about it at all until just now. I mean in some respects it’s just a relationship, clearly there is more to it. I mean, I have no clue. It doesn’t hurt anything. It will keep people looking and watching, curious to what that dynamic is on the track I’m sure.”
DO YOU THINK IT WILL IMPACT THE WAY THEY RACE? “If it does it’s going to impact their lifestyle and their job. We are paid to go on the race track and race. If they are handling things differently on the track because of their personal relationship, it’s going to affect their jobs. Their owners aren’t going to be happy or their sponsors.”
WHICH ONE MEANS MORE WINNING THE CHAMPIONSHIP OR WINNING THE DAYTONA 500? “There isn’t a single race larger than this one. The Daytona 500 is in the same sentence as the other major auto racing events around the world. When you think of Monoco, Le Mans, Daytona 500, Indy 500, those are the staples. A championship does trump that in my opinion. I was fortunate to win my Daytona 500 before my first championship. I was plenty happy. Winning the Daytona 500 was a huge accomplishment for myself.”
YOU LOOK SUPER FIT ARE YOU DOING ANYTHING DIFFERENT? “I’ve just really stayed with the training program. I had a very good race in Palm Springs a triathlon after the banquet. I have just stayed with it. In the triathlon’s you really make your time up on the run. I’ve always ran, but just kind of slow and would run long distances. I’ve worked hard to get some pace and to run faster. I’ve spent a lot of time running. I’ve still been on the bike a little bit and in the pool. It’s probably the best off season I’ve had for not gaining weight. I’ve stayed busy and was able to stay lean even through the holiday. I did put on some holiday fat, but I was able to burn it off getting ready for this ½ (marathon).”
DOES THIS NEW CAR HAVE THE MOST UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES THAT WE HAVEN’T REALLY SEEN YET AND MAY NOT SEE UNTIL RACE DAY? “Yeah, I think crash damage is going to be something to learn from and understand how to repair the race car. When those guys crashed on the backstretch during the test, stuff broke apart and disappeared. Where before with the sheet metal on the car you were able to bend things, put things back in place. I understand that we didn’t have all the parts and pieces on the cars at that time either, but noses would smash in pretty easily. I think crash damage will be something that we all need to learn pretty quick.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WINNING A CHAMPIONSHIP AND DEFENDING A CHAMPIONSHIP? WHAT KIND OF PRESSURE IS (BRAD) KESELOWSKI GOING TO FACE THIS YEAR? “A lot of it depends on how the season starts. If you take off where you left off it’s pretty easy and you get accustom to what being the champion is, the perks that come with it, the notoriety, then everything kind of blends in. But, once you are a champion at any point following that when you don’t run like you should for a period of time, the questions will come. That is when any driver and team is tested. It just depends on when that moment in time is. Brad (Keselowski) and Paul (Wolfe) are both very strong together. I don’t see it affecting them and preventing them from succeeding, but they will be reminded often that you have to go out there and earn each and every week. It’s not a layup. I don’t think they feel that it is, but I have had years where we left the Chase successful, started the season successful then midway through the year it became really tough. Then the pressure sinks in and your mind starts playing some games on you. Those were moments we just had to learn from and work through. I would expect at some point in the year they will go through that too.”
DO YOU THINK THIS NEW CAR IS GOING TO BE A GREAT SPRING FOR CHAD IN FIGURING OUT THIS NEW CAR? “They took so many tools away from us that I don't know what we can really do. We have far less tools today than we did at Homestead. They have changed the rules for the rear geometry. More in a straight jacket. We still have opportunities to find things, but the reward is so small. I mean you are finding a half of a tenth at best. You have to stack up four or five things to create an advantage. The opportunities are still there; it is just much more difficult to recognize them and to put them in play. But with the rear geometry change, they opened up one or two things in the front and then also took away some stuff. There are a lot of changes to the car, but at the end of the day, we have less tools to work with."
CHAD SEEMS ENERGIZED WITH THE NEW CAR: “I think everybody has that opinion. And everybody is excited about the look of the car; the speed in the car. It is a race right now for the first quarter. Whichever organization car find what the car likes first, is going to have a nice advantage starting the first quarter. It won't last long. By Q2, we'll all be on par and trying to find the next thing at that point. Chad, I really have to commend him the way he carried himself and handled the ups and downs of last season. Then through the off season and the building with the team. Not letting some issues from last year affect the off season and affect coming into this year and a couple of new guys coming on board. There's been a lot of change when you look at the car and then some of our personnel change. Chad has been the best at leading that I have ever seen him since we've been together."
HOW IS THE STRUCTURE AT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS GOING TO BE DIFFERENT? “We'll still have the lead situation (with team engineers). Some of Hendrick Motorsports teammates have the co- scenario. We'll still have a lead, then our second engineer doesn't have the real race experience. Very smart guy in developing, but he's not there yet. Then we have a new mechanic up front. We've got some change. But all three of those positions are very important. The engineering side is actually...we worked with Dave (Elenz) for one race last year. Great guy. He's left for his child to be born. Dave filled in; did a great job and got used to us. But still, the new engineering situation is going to put more demand on Chad getting started until he's comfortable with these guys, and can give them the free rein that he had with Greg (Ives) and Cody (Plemmons) up there."
DOES PART OF YOU HATE TO SEE THE CAR OF TOMORROW GO WITH ALL THE SUCCESS YOU HAD? “No. I mean, no. Largely because if the rules stay the same long enough, everybody will figure it out. Where there are opportunities when the rules change. That's when it is a race to figure it out. We were the first on that rear suspension last year, and it wasn't three weeks later after a lot of complaining from drivers that NASCAR had to say 'Hey, they are working within rules'; every team showed up at the track with it. Your advantage is short lived. Right now there is an opportunity to have an advantage so we're excited about that."
IS CHAD LOOKING FOR NEW AREAS ON THE CAR WHERE HE CAN BE INNOVATIVE CONSIDERING THEY HAVE TAKEN AWAY AREAS WHERE HE HAD BEEN IN THE PAST? “Yes, Chad is doing what every crew chief is in trying to find areas to find some speed in the car. We've learned things over the years as to what puts speed in the cars, so your mind set is...we all know that skew is important. So, within the rules, how can you get as much skew as possible in the car. You just kind of work through all the...camber. We know what camber does. That's going to be something actually in the rear of the car that we'll have to see over the course of the year how much rear camber guys can run. We've seen a lot of excessive wear on the right rear tire with the high camber settings that they let us run. Long story short, Chad is doing what all the other guys are. But that box keeps getting smaller and smaller. To find something is so small, you can't recognize it at times. You might have to try A-B, A-B, A-B to try to figure out if there is enough there to say yes, that's better. It makes the test sessions a little frustrating because then you are worried about cloud conditions, or if the tires are older than what they were when you tried it the first time. Kind of chasing your tail."
HOW DO YOU USE YOUR TWITTER ACCOUNT? HOW DO YOU USE SOCIAL MEDIA? “For me it's just been an extension of what goes on away from the track. Certainly talking about at the track. There are so few touch points for fans to interact with the drivers. You get a radio interview potentially, or a TV interview and that's it. So, I was one of the last to join. But certainly have seen the upside to it. Kind of fill in the areas between each Sunday."
ANY INTERESTING INTERACTION WITH A FAN THAT YOU REMEMBER? “There are a lot of very cool, and genuine and great interaction. Then there haters on there having their fun too. You have to have thick skin when you open it up each day."
WHAT DO YOU DO ABOUT THE HATERS? “Just smile and laugh."
DO YOU HAVE ANY RITUALS OR ROUTINES YOU DO EVERY WEEK? “No. We've had things given to us by special guests that we'll put in the car, and maybe thing that is going to bring us some good luck. It's been inconsistent, but it makes you feel better at the time. I've always had a thing with the No. 48, so if I see the 48, or instead of using the microwave for a minute, I will go 48 seconds. Goofy things like that. Nothing has been consistent enough to believe in."
HAVE YOU HAD MOMENTS WHERE YOU ARE LIKE 'I CANNOT BELIEVE I LOST TO BRAD KESELOWSKI'? (JIMMIE LAUGHS) “Watching him on Sports Center following the race trying to drink a beer was not sure the best thing for our sport and how he handled that. (CHUCKLES) But honestly, he and Paul (Wolfe, crew chief) did an amazing job. When I think of them as competitors, they are awesome. They put up a heck of a fight. Sure I'm bummed that we didn't have the final two races that we hoped to have had. What I was laughing about is Brad, as mature as he wants to portray himself as, he had some growing to do. Now he is in the spotlight as the champion, and I think we all sit back and chuckle at times at some of the things he says and does. He is a great guy. He has the best of intentions for our sport; for his sponsor; for his team. He just needs to mature a little. I'm sure people can look back on my '06 year and have plenty of things to point fingers at."
HOW DO YOU THINK HE IS GOING TO CHANGE? “I think he will be more aware of his voice. Once you are the champion, your voice carries much further. The more success you have in the sport, the voice will carry further and further. I had my own experiences where I would just casually mention something, and I didn't realize how far it went, and maybe I wasn't as accurate as I needed to be. So, I think he'll have a few moments like that which will rein him back in some, and make him think about what he says and be more calculated."
DO YOU STILL GET BUTTERFLIES IN YOUR STOMACH, AND ARE THEY BIGGER FOR THE DAYTONA 500? “Yes, the 500 is the biggest. You get to the end of the year, and you are in the hunt, the championship butterflies supersede any other butterfly known to mankind. That changes things quite a bit. I still do get that pre-race jitter. It is just something I'm used to, and if it's not showing up on race day, I actually question why and then somehow generate that feeling again. I think it is important to have it and get in the car and respect what we do. Then fire the engine; make a couple of laps - that always helps."
DOES DOING THE HALF MARATHONS AND THINGS LIKE THAT HELP YOU OVER SOME OF THE OTHER GUYS THAT MAY NOT BE IN AS GOOD OF SHAPE? “I don't know it if...I know it's good for me. I'm not sure what it is in comparison to others. I like structure. I like a routine. The training required for the triathlon and running the half marathons, with a two and a half year old running around and the busy schedule we have, it's not uncommon that I'm in the pool at 5:30 in the morning, or doing a morning run at 5:30. Then when Evie naps in the afternoon, that's when I will hit the bike or something else triathlon-related. I enjoy it, and if I'm away from my house too long, and we're traveling and I can't get in my routine; it's amazing how it affects my temperament. I'm frustrated and feel like I'm not getting things done. So, for me, it's all good. Yes, it's physically helping me. But there are a lot of mental aspects to it that are helpful as well."
YOU RAN A HALF MARATHON THE DAY BEFORE QUALIFYING. CAN YOU IMAGINE RICHARD PETTY OR DALE EARNHARDT DOING SOMETHING LIKE THAT? “Times have changed for sure. I'm not sure anyone would have admitted training back in the Allison-Alabama Gang era, or even in the Earnhardt era. You know running the race on Saturday night will take a little out of us, the guys that are going to run. But qualifying here is pretty basic. Pretty easy. If there was a race Sunday, I would really have to consider running a half. It is going to take a lot out of me and anyone that runs it. That I would have to consider, but qualifying is a piece of cake."
DO YOU WONDER HOW THOSE GUYS DID WHAT THEY DID BACK IN THOSE DAYS WITHOUT TRAINING? “Fortunately for them the cars weren't strong enough. If you drove the cars as hard as you do now each and every lap they wouldn't make it to the half-way point. I look at the seats, the seat belts, no headrest, smoking and racing at the same time; I'm sure there was some moonshine ingested the night before, there's some tough dudes in the day. I have a ton of respect for them."
IS IT A LITTLE UNNERVING TO SEE THIS NEXT CLASS OF YOUNG DRIVERS COMING ALONG TRYING TO REPLACE YOU GUYS? “No, it's not unnerving. I was in that group coming in. I think it is great for our sport to have young guys coming in, and fresh faces; even the ones that respect the veterans that are here, and don't At the end of the day, it creates viewership. It creates interest, and there are a lot of cool stories to be told. I want to have an open mind to it, because I remember walking in here with big eyes looking around, ready for this part of my life to start."
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