Continued from part 1 CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH JIMMY FENNIG? "He's a very strong leader and has the most experience, by far, in the garage area. With the way that we've been able to position ourselves in this championship is...
Continued from part 1
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH JIMMY FENNIG?
"He's a very strong leader and has the most experience, by far, in the garage area. With the way that we've been able to position ourselves in this championship is due to the support of Jimmy Fennig. His backbone is by far the strongest and he's the one that keeps everybody motivated and pumps everybody up in the proper ways, and, of course, holds this team together and forces them to do their job better. He's by far the best leader that any driver could ask for and he's the one that's helped me elevate myself to this level."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW YOU FEEL AS A LEADER OF THIS TEAM?
"That's something that I noticed back in 2002 when we had a championship run put together, that I lacked some of the leadership skills - one you could call a cheerleader and helping motivate the guys after a bad day or even a bad pit stop, and not knowing my role 100 percent. With this change and understanding the new point structure and having more years of development underneath my belt to learn to Jimmy Fennig and then to experience the mistakes that I've made in the past, it's helped me be a better person and play more of a quarterback role and understanding what calls are being made from the crew chief on the sidelines and being able to implement those into place and what I see out on the track. And then pumping up the guys on pit road and the guys back at the shop - just being engaged at what everybody is doing to a further detail is what has helped me understand more about their job and to develop a relationship with everybody."
YOU SEEM VERY CALM ABOUT THIS WHOLE THING?
"I like when the days are smooth - qualifying good and having practice go the right way and, of course, having the race go smooth. Those are the easy days, but then there are the tough days in between. When you get spun out on the race track or when you have a plug wire come off, there are so many circumstances that can come up and develop into further problems from that one circumstance that it's not good to dwell on those, it's good to bounce as hard as you can on what you can do next and alleviate that problem and move forward. Those are things that I've changed throughout my career - just understanding more, racing more and just becoming more developed over time - just trying to keep an even keel on everything is the way that I approach it. You don't want to get too excited about things, but yet you have to stay on top of the wheel for the entire race."
WILL YOU HAVE A TARGET ON YOUR BACK THIS WEEKEND OR WILL YOU FELLOW COMPETITORS BE RACING THE RACE TRACK AS WELL?
"If they approach it the correct way, they'll understand what they have to do and that's to race the race track. I believe that the way the competitors have been as of late with pit stops being important, with track position being important, all of those elements will take a back seat to racing hard on the race track and understanding how you've abused your tires - if you have or if you haven't - and just taking care of your tires is gonna be the key role to achieve success at Darlington."
SO YOU DON'T FEEL LIKE A TARGET?
"By no means. I believe that we've led the points up until this point and we hope to add to that after Darlington to give us a better cushion going into Miami because that's the style of race track that you're gonna see side-by-side racing on and you can end up vulnerable into somebody's mistake at that style of track."
WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE ONE-DAY SHOWS ON THE CUP LEVEL AND WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CONS?
"That's a great observation in keeping up with the changing of times in our sport and understanding the Busch Series is experimenting a little bit with doing these one-day shows, even impounding the cars at a superspeedway. That was something very new for NASCAR racing - that is to cut cost for some of the teams, that is to put more emphasis on practice, not just for qualifying but for the race. It gives a different element for the crew chiefs and the drivers to look at and it breaks it up from the normal routine and the normal grind. It keeps you on edge and keeps you on your toes. It develops more options for questions on what to bring to the race track as far as setups and just your approach. NASCAR likes to mix it up a little bit and they're trying that out with the Busch Series and I do see that as the future development for Cup races."
WILL THAT GIVE YOU MORE PERSONAL TIME OR MORE TIME FOR PERSONAL APPEARANCES DURING THE WEEK?
"It'll open the door up to a whole different group of avenues, whether it's a personal side or whether it's the marketing/sponsorship side. It depends upon which race track they're gonna work on that direction with first as well as the future of our sport and technology and trying to hold back a little bit and try to cut cost for the teams. I believe that's the main direction, but if there's an opportunity to cut down to two two-day shows, maybe we can race twice in one week and have a bigger off-season."
WHERE HAVE YOU MADE YOUR BIGGEST IMPROVEMENT THIS YEAR AS A DRIVER?
"That's a great question - just being able to roll with different changing circumstances on the race track and not developing a problem into bigger problems. That's one thing a championship driver has to have is the ability to have a circumstance arise and to be able to make sure that it's taken care of properly and as quickly as possible and to make sure that if there is any unforeseen circumstance or problem that you have time to overcome that - which means it doesn't happen too close to the end of the race. That's what has provided for great finishes for us. We had one problem in this playoff series at Atlanta with the motor and before that, since Daytona in July, we've only had one other problem and that was a mechanical failure with a transmission at Pocono. Other than that, it's been top-12 finishes. We've had great cars to try to win with. We've had horrible cars that we've polished on and made better, it's just being able to balance out all the days into a good finish."
WHAT THINGS HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO DO TO WORK ON THAT IMPROVEMENT?
"It's been a matter of going to all of the different subsidiaries that I can find, whether it's Jack Roush, whether it's Jimmy Fennig - even my teammates with Mark Martin, Greg Biffle, Kenseth. They've all had their ups-and-downs. They've all had positive finishes at some of the toughest tracks. Where we struggled in the past I looked at the outline of who did well and I researched that and modeled that and tried to implement that the best that I can so that I can go to those tracks with confidence next time around to know what to do and how to stay out of trouble and how to go for the win."
WHAT DOES YOUR CREW DO TO STAY LOOSE EACH WEEK?
"They've done a fantastic job of knowing what to do for each circumstance and with the pressure building they still have this great focus and strong minded effort that's going forward with their pit stops and things in the garage. We took Monday off yesterday after a long west coast trip, so everybody had their chance yesterday to get caught back up. Today is when the motors are being brought in for the Darlington cars - setting up the primary - and just going forward with the normal routine is the answer that I'm going towards here. Everybody is focused on what they have to do and nobody is deviating from the main project."
WHAT ADVICE HAS JACK GIVEN YOU?
"He's been great. He'll pump you up in one sentence and then he'll kick you in the knee in another sentence just to challenge you to understand that there are so many things to look at and there are so many things that come about each and every race that you have to take care of. Jack is by far one of the most versatile car owners as far as his knowledge about the race cars and as far as his past experiences on winning championships. I'm definitely in the right court with having him on my side - just being able to move forward and know what to do each and every race. Ten races ago it was different from what we're doing now with these final two."
IT SEEMS THE SEASON HAS HAD ONE DOMINANT DRIVER EACH QUARTER - EARNHARDT, JOHNSON, GORDON AND NOW YOU. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT?
"That's an interesting viewpoint to look at the way the competitors have had their chance in the season to flourish and to run competitively, but that's something that everybody knows that they have to do now. For us, with a regular season of 26 races - playing it calm and playing it cool knowing that we were a team that could get into the final 10 and save most of our tests and build the best possible cars for the later part of the year - we've put all of our eggs into one basket and that's these final 10 races, so we hope that our outcome is more positive than the rest."
IS IT COINCIDENTAL THAT YOU FOUR ARE BATTLING IT OUT AT THE END?
"That's who we believe our competition is. We've looked at the way that this playoff series has gone and we've seen the 48 have a great stretch with three in a row. We've seen the 8 car be consistent at every race track and we've seen the 24 take a horrible day and turn it into a positive outcome. With us running top five every race up until the last couple, that's what it takes to win is to be able to beat these guys on an average of six out of the 10 races."
HOW MUCH HAS LUCK PLAYED A FACTOR INTO THIS YEAR?
"Luck has a great deal to do with what the final outcome on a day is. Every day is a new opportunity for things to happen and when you're prepared and when that opportunity comes together with that preparation, luck is usually developed from that. I steal that almost from Richard Childress. It was a great quote that he had when Earnhardt went through some of his bad races and his strengths came out to win those types of championships. It's just a matter of going out and doing your job and when things come in your direction, whether it was in your control or out of your control, luck is a factor. In the race this weekend, we were running off-sequence with the leaders as far as tires were concerned and we didn't have much luck when the 5 car spun and allowed 18 cars to pass us because they hadn't pitted yet. We went from running in the top-three back to 28th, so there's been some good luck and then there's been the other side of the coin as well."
ARE YOU SURPRISED AT YOUR POSITION TODAY AND HOW THIS SEASON MIGHT TURN OUT FOR YOU?
"It has been a great season for us. I'm very privileged to be in this position and this is a great question to answer. It's something I've looked forward to for a long time and to be able to go into these final two races with an advantage in points, it feels great, but I know that there's a little bit more work to be done so that we can come out on top."