How can you improve for 2014?
“You always go back after every race, every practice, every qualifying session, certainly every season and you look back and try to see what you can do to improve. I’m super far from perfect so certainly there are mistakes I could have eliminated. There’s certainly things I can do a lot better so I think you always do that and you look back and try to make it better. Last year was a spectacular year for us obviously. We had really, really fast cars, led a lot of laps, qualified good, won a lot of races and really had a pretty decent last 10 races. Would have been good enough to win some years, it just wasn’t last year. Just keep working on it. There’s a lot of people that would love to have our season -- it was a great season last year and just going to try to improve and try to be better if that’s possible this year.”
“Daytona is so unique. It’s our biggest race of the year, but it’s so long. We’re down here for a week-and-a-half or whatever. Honestly, Speedweeks and being down here for a week-and-a-half is a lot for me. I could stand going home for a couple days or something. I really look forward to the Unlimited this weekend just to kind of knock the rust off of everybody a little bit, get some pit stops in, get some laps on the track, draft a little bit -- I think that gives you a really good head start on the week. Then outside of that I really look forward to Thursday and running the Duels to try to get qualified for the race and get out there in race conditions. There’s going to be some different cars than what you had Saturday and then the Nationwide race and then Sunday. I like all the preliminary races and the time to prepare, but it’s a long week-and-a-half so I really look forward to the actual 500 and getting that race in the books and then that almost feels like it’s a mini season and it’s over and then you get ready for the rest of the season.”
Are you worried having a championship runner-up slump moving into 2014?
“If anybody was going to have a hangover the next year you would think it would be Jimmie (Johnson) winning the championship because they had a lot of fun. I’m not a big believer in that stuff. Every situation is a little bit different. I don’t know why that would be. Certainly as we got into the Chase and as we were leading and tied and behind and ahead again -- we were tied with two races to go or three races to go and not to win it when we were that close and going to tracks that we thought were going to be really good was a little disappointing for sure. We’d be lying if we said it wasn’t. On the other hand, it was our first year together. When we sat here last year at this time we were really excited, we didn’t really know exactly what to expect or how we were going to do. We all had high hopes. Our goals were high that we were going to go out and win races and compete and make the Chase. To expect that and hope for that is different than doing it so I don’t think anybody expected us to have the year that we had. It was way better than we expected. I feel as good today as I did sitting here last year. I don’t know why we shouldn’t be better this year. We’ve got Denny (Hamlin) healthy again and won the last race at Homestead. Kyle (Busch) finished as high as he’s ever finished in the points and was really strong down the stretch. We ran good most of the year and was able to do a lot of really great things. I feel really good about our group and the whole group working together. Really the whole organization, but Kyle, Denny and I all getting together and the crew chiefs with how close they all work together, I feel really good about it. We just have to get to the track and see how it goes.”
Do you have a plan to approach the new Chase format?
“I think that could change during the season. Certainly, right now you don’t. I haven’t really put -- I put a very small amount of thought into it just because you’ve got 26 weeks to get in. If you win a race, you’re more than likely in so really you’re just going to go out and race the way you always race. Try to prepare to win, try to call the race to win, try to drive to win and do all those things and hopefully you get some wins -- hopefully before you get to that 26, but certainly I could see that if you get down to that then there’s maybe a few things you try to do a little different. I haven’t spent enough time thinking it all through, but honestly there’s probably not a lot of things because other than Jimmie (Johnson) when he goes to Homestead more years than not and has that lead and all he has to do is finish 18th so obviously he’s not going out there trying to win, but other than that I can’t think of any examples where we’ve went to the track and not tried to win. If you look at a lot of our wins last year, Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) made some gutsy calls and rolled the dice to put us up there and give us a chance to win. I don’t know why that would be any different right now. I certainly can see some stuff once you get in the Chase and whoever wins Chicago is going to the next round so maybe that’s something to think about -- maybe he’s got a teammate out there, which I hope none of that happens, but, ‘Man, I’ve got a teammate out there and the boss would like my team car to be in there too.’ I could see people talking and thinking about that, which I’m sure that will get addressed. Until you get to that point I don’t think the strategy is any different. You go out and race as hard as you can. If you don’t win, you still want to finish as high as you can every week. That’s a given no matter what I race, you always want to put your best foot forward whether there’s purse money or not purse money or points or not points. You still want to do the best you can. If you look at past history, there’s going to be a few cars that are put in that didn’t win a race. You still want to finish the best you can in case you don’t get a win so you have points to get in that way.”
How strong was your car in last year’s Daytona 500?
“We had a really good car in the 500 and Jimmie (Johnson) had a good car as well. I thought whichever one of us was leading was probably going to win, if one of us was leading. We were getting ready for that last pit stop leading the race so that was disappointing not to finish, but on the other hand I left here last year more encouraged than I’ve probably ever been just because of how we performed and how we were able to learn and progress through the week. I didn’t have my car in the right place in the 150s (Duels) and lost that, but Kyle (Busch) was able to win it and in the 500 I thought we made all the right moves and we had it all in the right spot. A lot of things go into trying to win these plate races. You have to have things go your way and you have to be in the right place at the right time and you have to have people want to be with your car because it’s fast enough and you’re making the right moves. I’m looking forward to the challenge again this year and hopefully we can be there at the end.”