Tell us what happened in the off-season. Get a chance to spend any family time? Yeah, definitely. We pretty much have a routine down that we've done for several years now. Of course, that changed a little bit with the kids and evolved slightly.
You volunteered to take the concussion impact test. Can you tell us what went into that thinking. Well, I mean, one is I think there's a potential for it to be mandatory in the future. To me why not go ahead and get ahead of the game. Plus I'd rather have it before the season starts, before the potential of having a head injury, to get a baseline.
I talked to Junior about it. He told me the process of it. It was pretty simple. I stay in pretty close contact with Dr. Petty. We're good friends as well as I just admire his work and his opinion. So I mentioned it to him. We made it happen.
It was kind of fun to do. I tell you, it was stressful. It makes you think really hard. Haven't had to think that hard in a while, maybe other than the closing laps of a Talladega or Daytona race (laughter).
Other than that, it went pretty smooth.
Do you think it needs to be mandatory? I just think whether it's voluntary or not, it's a good idea to have.
I don't think NASCAR necessarily has to make it mandatory. But if you're a racecar driver, you feel like you're going to be here a while, then you need to make it mandatory to yourself, in my opinion.
Junior's situation spur you to do this? I mean, I didn't even know what an impact test was prior to that. So, absolutely.
Did you imagine being like a crash test dummy? I've hit my head many times, so I felt like a crash test dummy at times. But also I don't know if I just really have a hard head, good helmet, good racecars. I've never been knocked unconscious, never had headaches following. I've had MRIs and things like that just for precautionary measures, but never had any issues.
When you hear about guys having issues, you want to take every measure you can possible to not only the safety of what's going on in the cars and the tracks, but if there's a way to get a baseline of where you're at, it's a good idea.
Would you ever take yourself out if you didn't feel lucid after a crash? You know, I'm in a position these days with my career that I don't have anything out there to prove. I don't have a situation where I feel like my job's on the line if I'm not out there in the car.
So for me, yeah, if I felt it necessary, I would. But I also think the doctors can help you make those calls. But if you don't feel right and you don't feel prepared to go perform at your best, not to say 'at your best,' there's days I felt like I wasn't at my best, but in a competitive way, then I think, yeah, you got to make that call with other information at your disposal.
Did they want to retest you after that video you posted? Yeah (laughter). Probably after a few things I've done in recent years, they said, Maybe you should take that test.
You know, I'm not scared. That's one thing I've found over the years about myself. I'm not afraid to put myself out there. The Saturday Night Live thing did that. The break dancing.
This thing happened fast. We did it in two takes. One of the best times I've ever had. Certainly the best time I ever had in my race shop with my guys in there. Luckily it was quick so it didn't take them away from their jobs too long because there's a lot going on at the shop.
It turned out fun. I'm a little embarrassed at my dancing, but it was still worth it. It was fun. It was a great time.
How do you deal with social media as part of your racing persona? It's fun. You got to laugh at yourself. Your fans, they're very loyal, they want to be connected to you in a closer way. I think it's a great way to connect with your fans.
I really enjoy Twitter and Facebook, our YouTube channel, getting reactions from them, seeing what they like, their comments. I love it.
The sponsors, they enjoy it as well. Knowing you have that kind of loyal following makes a big difference when you're talking to sponsors, when you're re-upping with sponsors, or current sponsors, another way for them to benefit.
It's great for everybody as far as I'm concerned. But it opens you up. You got to be a little careful.
Who do you like to follow on Twitter? I follow where I can get my news, to be honest with you. I follow all these guys that write about racing because I'm interested in knowing what's happening, what's the latest. Then there might be a couple drivers that I follow. Then outside the sport, people.
But if a fan writes enough interesting things to me and asks great questions and is intuitive and into with who I am and our sport, I'll follow them as well.
As far as getting butterflies, jitters, do you get those before a big race like Daytona? You know, not necessarily at this stage or even next Thursday. But come Sunday morning right when you're getting ready to take the green flag, everybody probably handles it differently. But for me it's, Oh, wow, the Daytona 500 is getting ready to start. It's a huge race. We've prepared and worked so hard. It's just been all work up to that point. It's all on the line and this is the moment.
So there's no doubt for me there's a few butterflies. Then once the green flag drops, it's back to business.
Is that the best way to handle it? It's just the way I handle it. It's worked out good for me three times over my career.
What do you see as the differences in running for a first championship and defending one? I think a lot of times the hardest thing is to get the first one because once you get that first one it gives you confidence in yourself and your team. You know: I'm capable of doing this. Especially in the new format, to do battle over 10 weeks, you got to get in and you got to be on top of your game for 10 weeks.
So to me that gives you confidence to come back and do it again. But it also puts a target on you. People are now focused on you, paying more attention to your every move, what's going on throughout the season. That's going to make it a little bit more difficult for you to repeat.
Plus other teams want to step up and find out where their weaknesses were, what they missed out on in winning the championship and make themselves better. So competition gets better and you have to improve along with that. You can't stay stuck in that place where you were at.
This year with a whole new car, not many people are stuck. They're in that mindset of, We got to push, push, push, because it's all different and they're not sure what is going to work and what is not.
Are you surprised Junior hasn't competed for a championship yet and can he still do that? I think he can. It's just things have to click at the right time. It seems like guys peak at certain moments in the season. With the way the points are now, you've got to peak right at the end of the season. You got to be careful of getting off to too good of a start and how you maintain that momentum.
I think Kasey Kahne was a good example of that I think last year. Brad was pretty even throughout the season. But I just think that Junior had a great start to the season and then it seems like some things flattened out a little bit for them and it was hard for them to get it ramped back up. Of course, he had the issue with the crash.
I mean, I don't see why not. It's a great team, best organization. Steve Letarte is a great crew chief. They click well together. Junior is a great driver. I'm going to say yes.
He gave me a ride down here today. I'll tell you all kinds of good things about him. I wouldn't be here right now if it wasn't for Junior (laughter).
Things in the garage changed in the last years? He was the butt of a lot of jokes because he was getting a lot of coverage but his results weren't there. Now it seems like that has dropped off. What are things like in the garage? I would say the way I look at it is he had a lot of buzz and hype coming into the series. He did very well his first couple years. Came off of a championship in the Nationwide Series. For whatever reason, and I'm sure there's a long list of them, of why things didn't continue to progress.
To me where he earned so much respect in my book was that he looked at Hendrick Motorsports as a team that he wanted to come to knowing how much pressure there would be, how good the equipment would be. That could also add pressure, not necessarily take it away, yet he wanted that challenge and he felt like that's the right place to be.
That's the mindset you should have. A quality driver that feels like they can go win championships should have that kind of mindset and he did. That certainly earned a bunch of points in my mind.
Now I think that decision is starting to pay off.
Over the years, what it means to win a Daytona 500 compared to what it means to win a championship, has that changed? Not in my opinion. I've always looked at it as the single biggest race we have is this one. The single biggest thing we strive for is the championship in every season. So the championship is really the ultimate goal. But when you just look at each race you prepare for, you prepare for this one different.
It is different. It's a huge, huge event. For all the good reasons, the history, the excitement and energy that this track and this event has is second to none.
What about for a driver's career, to win at this level? Depending on your career. Everybody wants a Daytona 500 win. If you don't win another race, you win the Daytona 500, it's made a huge impact on your career. If you've won championships and haven't won the Daytona 500, you feel like you're missing something on your résumé. It is obviously very, very important to your stats and where your career is going.
Speaking of through the years, can you believe it's been 20? No, I can't. When I look in the mirror, I see more wrinkles and gray hair, I know it has been a while. I look at some of those old photos and things.
It's been a heck of a ride, a lot of fun, great and challenging moments. I wouldn't have wanted or asked for anything different than the way it's been over the last 20 years.
Got to be gratifying to compete this long and still be competing for races. I've gotten beat up and beat myself up a little bit not being as competitive as I was 10 years ago. No matter how long you've been in this sport, when you're competitive like that, it's hard to manage those expectations.
I'm so excited the way this team has stepped up. Winning the final race of the year last year was big for us. I think I've got a crew chief that can take us all the way.
The pressure's on me to step up my game and maintain that level of consistency and drive and talent that I've had that's gotten me to this level and has gotten us wins and championships.
I know that I don't have 10 more years left in me. It's important to me to stay competitive as long as I possibly can. I think I definitely have a few more good years left in me.
The first Duel you won in '93, how big was that? That was huge. That was more of I didn't expect anything, didn't plan on it, and it happened. I was just like, Wow, how did that just happen? Now I go into the Duels, make that same move and finish 15th. I'm like, Gosh, the move worked that time, not necessarily other times.
We've won a bunch of Duels. '93 was a very special Daytona 500 for me. It's one I'll always remember because we qualified well, won the Duel, battled all day long in the top five with Dale, not just Earnhardt, but Jarrett, who won the race. It was a surreal experience for me that I'll never forget.
My mind wandered during that race. There were only four or five of us up there, so you could breathe a little bit more. I just remember trying to take it all in. I mean, full grandstands, live television, Daytona 500, and I'm sitting there in a position as a rookie making an impact on the race and the sport, starting my career. That was exciting to me.
Do you have any advice for young drivers that are up-and-coming? Yeah. Work hard, try to get yourself in the best equipment, the safest equipment, race as many different things as you possibly can. Diversity is extremely important. When you get to the Cup level, the competition is so tough, the types of tracks you race on are very diverse.
That's why I love guys that have dirt backgrounds, because they're racing on high banks, flat tracks, short tracks, big tracks, tacky tracks, to black, slick tracks. I think it just teaches them how to be very well-rounded and have great car control and have what it takes to be at this level.
(Question regarding Danica and Ricky racing against one another.) I've raced my wife on the track and I can tell you that I've raced her different (laughter).
You know, they're racecar drivers. They're professionals. I'm sure they'll handle things accordingly.
Listen, we all have awkward moments with our competitors, our teammates, our friends out there. There's no doubt it's going to happen. It's just how they handle it. I'm sure that hopefully that conversation has come up and they've talked about it, or they will if they haven't.
What did you race your wife in? Just go-karts. I didn't let her win. I scared her and tried to show her a few things, bumped into her.
Is she competitive? She's very competitive, very competitive. Once she got over the fact that she thought it was going to flip over and realized it wasn't, she just kept going faster and faster every lap. It was fun.
No, I was much easier on her than I was on anyone else that would have been out there for the first time go-karting. I would have taken it much harder on others.
I knew where I had to draw the line and say, Okay, can't cross it.
Keselowski has said that he didn't like the way the COT looked and that looks matter in a car. A hundred percent agree with that. That was the first thing I noticed about the COT, that I didn't like the way it looked. I expressed my opinions. I didn't like the way it drove either.
In the last couple years, we made that car drive really well - but at a price. You hear the TV commentators saying, What is that car doing? It's running sideways down the straightaway. Through inspection line, NASCAR's head is spinning trying to figure out what these teams are doing.
What's nice about this car is it's going to start off looking good, driving good, looking like a racecar should look.
Any sentimental value regarding DuPont? I can tell you it makes racing Homestead that much more special to me, that that DuPont oval won't be on there. It's kind of odd to answer that because I'm working with the same people. It's the same business, probably a lot of the same customers, as well.
Other than the name change, getting used to that, making a few mistakes along the way, and probably just not going to Wilmington, seeing the broader scope of DuPont, that's going to be significant.
Team Chevy Racing