TALK ABOUT YOUR LAP. "We got a real early draw (5th), and I don't really know if that had any effect on it being better or not. We tested at Greenville-Pickens, and we've been running real good here lately, but we went and tested anyway. I'm ...
TALK ABOUT YOUR LAP.
"We got a real early draw (5th), and I don't really know if that had any effect on it being better or not. We tested at Greenville-Pickens, and we've been running real good here lately, but we went and tested anyway. I'm really trying to go after the win this weekend. I think we have a great opportunity. The car seems to be on par as far as where it was last time we were here and it was a race-winning car then."
DO YOU FEEL PRETTY GOOD ABOUT YOUR CHANCES ON SUNDAY?
"Yeah, I feel real good about it. We had a real good chance of winning the last time we were here and was second to Bobby, and the 32 had the rights on the lefts and the lefts on the rights and kind of doored us down in the corner on the restart. We felt like we would have been around Bobby in
no time and took off and won that race, but track position is everything. We just have to keep good track position. I'm interested in how the new free-lap-back rule is going to work and we'll just see how the race unfolds. It'll be pretty interesting."
IT SEEMS LIKE NOBODY HAS NOTICED HOW WELL YOU'VE RACED ON SHORT TRACKS THIS YEAR.
"That's all right. They noticed our road-course racing that we've done this year and that made me feel pretty good. I think it isn't necessarily the driver here; a lot of credit goes to the cars, our willingness to improve every time we come here to test or go anywhere else to test. I feel like you go somewhere and you run real bad and you chase the car all day long. Then you show up the next time and run real good, it's not like you've learned a whole lot as a driver. You just have a better car, and that's what we've done. We've improved out car a whole lot, learned a lot of things that we weren't doing that other teams were, and that has us up to speed and competitive. We have a real good long-run setup. We're about the same as everybody for 20-30 laps, and then I feel like we start to come on and they start to go away, the longer the green-flag run is. That's kind of where we've been a little snake-bit here the last several races. It's always come down to a 20 or 30-lap run to the finish, and we're no better than anybody else at that point in the race. Our strong point seems to be the long runs here. I'm real excited and happy that we are running good here. It was a real struggle for us when we first came on to this track when we came into the Cup series, and I'm glad we have our program here figured out."
ARE WE SEEING MORE MATURITY FROM YOU?
"I just think my car has gotten a lot better. I feel like I've grown up a little. I don't act quite as foolish as I used to, but I don't know if I've gotten any better on the track. My car has gotten better. Maybe we are communicating a little better. They take me a little more seriously, they put a little more effort into what they do because of how much more seriously I take my job and what's on the line. That all kind of evolves over the years and hopefully, we continue to get better and better and better. We learn a lot at our tests, and we've tested really hard over the last three or four years, and that's why we're a little better every time we come here."
WHAT IS YOUR OUTLOOK ON THE POINTS?
"I'd like to beat Kevin [Harvick] for second and I would like to close on Matt, but he's going to have to have a disastrous last several races and I don't see that coming. We'll just take what we can get. We've got some guys that are real close behind us and we could finish as low as 6th or 7th place in the points, so we have to be very guarded and very careful not to make any foolish mistakes and be pretty aggressive at the same time to catch the 29."
YOU WENT TO HOMESTEAD RECENTLY. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THE NEW TRACK?
"They did a good job on it. The backstretch is a little higher than the frontstretch, so the entrance into Turn 3 is a real nice entrance. It's very similar to Turn 3 at Atlanta, so over time, of course, not this race. I told them there wasn't any chance in hell that there'd be anything but a one-groove race track this time around and that's just the way it's going to be. It's brand-new asphalt and the bottom is going to be where it's at. The transition in banking from one degree to another, you can't really see that. You can't tell it driving around in a car, you can't feel it that much. Maybe at higher speed you might be able to a little, but I can't see a big difference. Turns 3 and 4 are very good-looking corners. There's a lot of opportunity for passing on exit. The track is very wide right there. I'm not sure exactly whether it'll be a situation where you have a lot of race track or the car feeds out to the wall real fast and you don't have a lot of track, but it looks like there's going to be a lot of room. I drove on it in a rental car. The entry into Turn 1 is higher than the fronstretch, so it's kind of like driving up a hill. I'm not sure if that's going to be very susceptible to two-wide racing. It doesn't make any sense to go in and drive up the corner to go faster. From the center off it'll be two-wide racing, because it's very wide and it feeds out to the wall and you have a lot of racetrack out there. Turns 3 and 4 you enter down into the corner because the back straightaway is higher, so it should be interesting. It's going to be different racing on each end of the track. I was pretty impressed myself. It was really amazing. You go out there and you've seen it flat for so many years, and you walk in and it's like this big-assed, super-sized Dover before they concreted it."
THIS IS YOUR FOURTH YEAR IN WINSTON CUP. ARE YOU HAPPY WITH YOUR PROGRESS?
"Yeah, I'm pretty happy with where I am as a driver. We thought we were going to come in here and do so much better that first year, and we really set ourselves up for such an upset and such a disappointment. We haven't had to struggle back. That was just how good we were when we came into the series. We've worked and worked and improved little by little, and I feel like we're really gaining in areas where we need to be gaining. I would be really upset and disappointed if I couldn't fix something that was broken, and it seems like every time we find something or an area where we need to improve, we can improve on it and we find a way to do better there. I feel like I'm with a team that can make things happen and win championships. That was one of the things that I based my decision to stay around on, was whether they could win the championships that I wanted to win before I retire."
YOU'VE HAD SOME CONFLICTS WITH THE TEAM IN THE PAST. HAVE YOU GOTTEN OVER THEM?
"Yeah, we've gotten over some of our differences. There are still days when I walk in the shop and I'm not a very happy person with some of the people in there, but the thing about it is, I tell them all, even the new guys that come in, first off, to work here, you have to be my friend and that's first. If we can't be friends, then they need to find somewhere else to work. I can't work with people I can't get along with and don't want to hang out with and don't want to go do other stuff with. I want to work with people that have, not necessarily common interests, they don't have to like the same things I like, but I have to be able to get along with them. We've learned that over the last four years, especially. Me and Tony Jr. want to work together for a long time. Two years ago, we'd have told you we weren't the best match for each other. It could have been like Jake Elder and my father, who worked together for a point in the Busch Series. It was a great match. They did great and ran great, but they didn't do nothing but cuss at each other on the radio, so it didn't last too long. Me and Tony Jr. didn't want to see ourselves split up and we wanted to work it out, and we kind of got to where we can work together and do just fine. That goes for pretty much everybody on the team. If I can't get along with somebody, I grow pretty distant, and that doesn't work very well for you in this business."
HOW IMPORTANT IS STARTING NEAR THE FRONT FOR PIT POSITION?
"It's pretty important. Pit location is pretty important at this track. Bobby Labonte was in the 22nd pit last yea rand he finished 2nd, but that was on a two-tire strategy. The No. 1 pit is probably the best, and any other pit down there in the curve in 1 and 2 is good because it's easy to get in and out of. There's several good pits here, where normally there's only about three or four optimum pits at most tracks. This track has a few extra pits that are pretty decent, so we'll just go ahead and take the third-best pit."