TELL US HOW YOUR OFFSEASON WAS:
“It was good. I did some karting and tried to be out there and be in a race car as much as possible. Between the switchover with the team and being back full-time, it’s been a good offseason. I’ve been happy and excited for this opportunity. I’m ready to go.”
DO YOU THINK ALL THE KICKBACK THAT DANICA GETS STEMS MORE FROM THE FACT THAT SHE COMES FROM OPEN-WHEEL? I DON’T KNOW IF IT’S THAT STOCK CAR PEOPLE LOOK DOWN THEIR NOSES AT OPEN-WHEEL PEOPLE OR WHAT THE DEAL IS. BUT DID YOU EVER GET SOME OF THAT KICKBACK SHE GETS?
“A couple of years ago when I first started, yeah for sure. But I don’t see it being a big thing now. The Danica thing… I don’t pay much attention to it, either. Everyone has an opinion – everyone’s got an opinion about me, everyone body has an opinion about Jimmie (Johnson), Danica and so on. I don’t really pay a lot of attention to it. Its more focusing on what I need to do to be better. That’s no disrespect to a certain degree. You have to let everything go from what reporters say – good or bad. Everybody has fans and everyone has haters. So I don’t pay attention to it.”
DO YOU THINK THAT COMING FROM OPEN-WHEEL THAT SOME OF THE STOCK CAR TRADITIONALISTS LOOKED AT YOU A LITTLE DIFFERENT AT YOU GUYS AS OPPOSED TO PEOPLE THAT HAVE COME THROUGH STOCK CAR RACING?
“I think eight, seven, six years ago they did because it wasn’t happening a lot. But all of a sudden there is that influx of open-wheel guys with myself, Juan (Pablo Montoya) and Sam (Hornish) coming over. The traditional not-Sprint Car drivers. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal now.”
HOW DO YOU THINK JUAN WILL DO WITH ROGER?
“I think it will be fun to watch. I was always a huge fan of Juan. Watching him back in the CART days, I was in awe of the car control he had. That series is tough. I got to experience it first-hand last year and how tough it actually is. But I think he’ll do a great job.”
DO YOU FOLLOW ANY OTHER SERIES?
“I follow all of them. I’m a bigger race fan than a race car driver.”
CAN YOU DESCRIBE TO THE FANS THE INTENSE, PHYSICAL AND MENTAL CHALLENGE OF WHAT HAPPENS DURING A RACE?
“Every race track is a little different. This place isn’t physically that hard of you. You’re not physically worn out. Mentally you are spent by the end of the race – trying to work the draft, figure out where to go, being tense for 500 miles because you know the big wreck could happen at any time. Every track has a little different nuance to it. But by the time you get out of a race car – either physically or mentally – you’re spent. It’s a rough three to four hours just because you are working so hard. It’s not to the point where you in the middle of a race can sit back and run 80 percent. You can’t do that. It’s almost qualifying every lap to a certain extent. Donovan McNabb may not think it’s tough but it definitely is.”
ARE THERE ANY DRIVERS IN FORMULA ONE OR INDYCAR THAT YOU THINK MIGHT BE ABLE TO CRACK INTO NASCAR AND DO A DECENT JOB?
“There definitely are some who could crack into it. It’s tough, though. That was the biggest thing for me when I was watching it while I was in open-wheel racing. The Tony Stewarts, the Jeff Gordons, the Jimmie Johnsons… you know they are badass race car drivers. To get in these cars and the way they drive is so different than an open-wheel race car and anything anyone like myself has ever experienced. So that’s the biggest transition – the cars are way different than would ever believe.”
ARE THERE ANY DRIVERS – PAST OR PRESENT – WOULD HAVE HAD GOOD CHANCE AT FORMULA ONE?
“I think when Jeff came into the sport, he could have gotten into it and been really quick. Tony (Stewart) I would have to say, when it comes to driving any race car, is the best there is out there. I feel like he can get in anything and be fast right away. These are some of the best drivers in the world. They can cross over and be quick. But it’s different with every challenge you have.”
THERE WERE TIMES WHEN YOU WERE IN AND OUT OF A CAR LAST YEAR. I KNOW IT’S NOT LIKE WHAT TONY HAS HAD TO DO BEING OUT FOR SUCH A LONG PERIOD. BUT CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW MUCH CHANGES AND HOW MUCH YOU FELT CHANGES FROM NOT BEING IN A CAR EVERY WEEK?
“It was tough, especially because of the new car. I was in a decent amount of races early on. I took the break for Indy and when I came back for Pocono and realized, ‘Wow these cars are different.’ The spring packages everyone was starting run was a little different. It was tough jumping back and forth. It was a fun challenge; I really enjoyed the opportunity to jump in a different car every week. But I’m happy to be back full-time. Tony is Tony. He’s not going to have any rust. He will jump right back in and we know he will have a shot at winning the Daytona 500. I hope he’s right behind me. I hope he’s pushing me to the win. He won’t have any trouble. He’s Smoke.”
DID YOU HAVE A FAVORITE SET OF WHEELS GROWING UP?
“Steering wheels or tires? I’ll put it this way – anything that had a steering wheel and tires, I was happy. I had a Big Wheel that I wore through tires on, and on up. I just loved having steering wheel and tires under me.”
DID YOU GET A WORK ETHIC EARLY ON THAT HELPED YOU LATER ON?
“My parents were the biggest supporters of mine. Before I was ever racing something, I was watching my dad race full time. Nothing big. It was local dirt track stuff. Just his work ethic. He didn’t have a lot of money. My parents weren’t rich my any means. But watching his work ethic and how hard he worked at it, that’s what I grew up around and where I got it from.”
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE HERE AND KNOW WHAT’S HAPPENED THE LAST 18 MONTHS?
“It’s been a crazy ride to a certain extreme. To be where I’m at – not just full-time but mentally and physically… I’m as happy as I’ve ever been. I feel like Tad and Jodi (Geschickter) and Brad (Daugherty)… their moral beliefs make this team like a family. Throughout this whole process, I’ve felt like part of their family and not just a driver. I really enjoy walking into the shop and the hauler. It’s such a fun time to be there. I’m really looking forward to it. It will be a great year. It will be a lot of hard work but I think we can go out there and live up to our work ethic and live up to the things we know we can do, we can win some races.”
YES IT’S A SMALL TEAM AND THERE WILL BE CHALLENGES. BUT REALISTICALLY THERE WILL BE SOME UPHILL CLIMBS. HOW DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU ARE BETTER PREPARED TO HANDLE THOSE TYPES OF CHALLENGES:
“It’s about setting our realistic expectations. My expectation is to go out and win every race. That isn’t going to happen. But realistically, we can go out there and contend. We need to make our bad days are 22nds or 24ths. There are going to be days like this. Are we going to roll into Phoenix – the first true race when it comes to outright speed – and be a top-five team? I’d love to be, but maybe not. We have to take each day one at a time and see where that puts us. I don’t have a limit on ‘we need to be 15th in points or 13th is a bad year.’ Just take it one day at a time. With the RCR alliance and everything we have, we can go out there and have a chance to win. It’s about taking it one day at a time to get there.”
BEING IN INDYCAR, YOU’VE BEEN THROUGH KNOCKOUT QUALIFYING. CAN YOU GIVE A SENSE AS TO WHAT IT WILL BE LIKE AND HOW IT WILL CARRY OVER HERE
“It’s a little different. At most of the race tracks – especially the mile-and-a-halfs – it’s still going to be that one lap that you’ll have to nail it. If you don’t, then you’re probably done. But the fun fact about qualifying is if you don’t nail it the first time but just slide in, you have another shot at it. It will be interesting to see. There will be a lot of pissed off race car drivers and spotters fighting on the spotting stand! When you pull out in front of someone when you’re trying to get your lap or you mistime it or everyone waits to the last minute… you look at a track like Phoenix and no one is going to be the first guy on the track; everyone is going to be waiting. But eventually someone is going to have to go out there and everyone is going to pile on. It’ll be fun for the fans and drivers. I think there need to be tweaks a little a little bit.”
WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE CHAMPIONSHIP CHANGES, DO YOU THINK IT MAKES A TEAM LIKE YOURS MORE PRONE TO MAKING MORE GAMBLES?
“When I look at the change to the Chase, it doesn’t change how I drive. My goal is to try to win. If you can’t win, take the best finish you can. I don’t think it changes our risk-to-reward value. But at the same point, and I think it goes for any team, if you struggle the first 12 races usually your year would be over and you’re trying to get going and build momentum for next year. Now if you struggle for the first 18 races but win the 19th, you’re right there and have a shot at the championship. I think that’s what makes the new format fun. It’s cool to see what NASCAR is doing whether it’s the Chase or qualifying format. It leads to so many more variety of things that can happen. For us, I think it gives us a good chance.”
ARE YOU MORE WILLING TO TAKE THAT BAD FINISH KNOWING YOU HAD NOTHING TO LOSE?
“I’m not willing to take a bad finish ever. Points still matter too. If 16 cars aren’t in the Chase, it’s still the next guy up in points. So they are always important. I never want to take a shot at having a bad day over a good day because I changed my decision-making on having a chance to win. If I have a chance to win, I’m going to do everything it takes to go out there and win.”
WHO DO YOU PREDICT WILL BE IN THE FINAL FOUR?
“Me and three others guys! I don’t care! It’s no secret that Jimmie Johnson has a pretty good shot at it. If you take off from last year’s stats, I think Matt (Kenseth) has a pretty good shot at it, too. But it’s a brand new year. We don’t know. We will see what happens.”
WHAT FOR YOU IS THE MOST EXCITING CHANGE THAT HAS TAKEN PLACE? “Me being back full-time. That’s the most exciting thing! I love the qualifying format. Single-car qualifying to me is the most boring thing on the planet – not just in NASCAR but they tried it in F1 and IndyCar. The new format leads to so many different things that can happen on Friday. If Jimmie Johnson has the fastest car in practice and we’re in a place where it’s one lap on the tires and someone gets in his way, and he doesn’t make the next round, that makes it exciting. For the fans and on TV, you don’t know who is going to be on the pole until the last second of that final qualifying session. That is one of the most exciting things you can do.”
HOW IMPORTANT DO YOU THINK SOME OF THESE CHANGES ARE TO BRING MORE LIFE BACK INTO THE SPORT?
“We have to continue doing the things that attract a younger fanbase and new fans. We have a great fanbase. NASCAR has some problems that other sports would like to have. Their bad day when it comes to a crowd is 75,000 people. You don’t get that at most sporting events. But we know we have to do things to get that new base in. Whether its qualifying or the Chase changes or just as drivers trying to get a younger fanbase to come in… the tracks have to work together as a whole as a whole asset of the Sprint Cup Series. There is a great product here. We have to keep getting out there and doing the right things to make it better.”