Continued from part 1 HAVE YOU TALKED TO ANYONE ABOUT THE NEW SURFACE AT MARTINSVILLE? "I have not just yet. I've heard some rumors about what would be repaved. Of course, they're moving the railroad tracks so they can put in some more ...
Continued from part 1
HAVE YOU TALKED TO ANYONE ABOUT THE NEW SURFACE AT MARTINSVILLE?
"I have not just yet. I've heard some rumors about what would be repaved. Of course, they're moving the railroad tracks so they can put in some more grandstand seating and elevate the fans' excitement at Martinsville Speedway. It's a short track where you see bumping and grinding all the time. That's what fans thoroughly enjoy is the roots of our sport. At Martinsville, the surface has always been tricky and treacherous and we'll see what we get this time around. We are actually going to perform a two-day test with our team to help our chances in this chase for the cup."
DESCRIBE YOUR FEELINGS GOING BACK TO CALIFORNIA.
"This one definitely is gonna have a different value to the normal races that are held at California Speedway. It's the first time that we're going there for a second date as well as primetime television on a Sunday evening, where everybody is gonna have a chance to watch our race on NBC. Nextel has done a tremendous job bringing in different excitement levels, whether as a short track or a speedway, and anytime you add a night factor into things, it will definitely showcase a different style of race. The sparks will fly. The flashbulbs will be going off. The excitement level of primetime TV and the chance to win at California Speedway for the first Labor Day venue. That's the excitement value that our team sees right now, but we can't get caught up in that and lose track of our chase for the cup and getting locked in, as well as the past that we've had there. We've run well in the past - a great finish my rookie year. We finished second my second year and won last year. We just stumbled a little bit on a new setup this time around, but we'll probably go back to some of those roots for this fall race and make sure that we've got a great solid finish ahead of us."
ANY WORRIES ABOUT THE LIGHTS AT CALIFORNIA?
"It is a different element that we have to make sure that we take care of the right way. With tracks cooling down at night and with the temperatures going down, you usually get faster speeds. The track gives you more grip and the numbers keep going in different directions, so we'll rely on our past with different styles of tracks that are similar to California Speedway with night racing. One thing I'll look back on is some of my west coast roots with the asphalt out on the west coast. It provides for a lot of grip even when it's warm out during the daytime and it doesn't seem to change much at night, so that's an advantage I believe I can bring into California Speedway and try to look for in the asphalt to make sure that we don't get too aggressive on one specific tire versus another and to make the car to where it can adjust. I believe the race starts late enough in the evening to where the sun will be down and the temperatures will be cool, so it will be a whole different aspect for us than what we've normally seen."
YOU CAN TELL THE DIFFERENCE IN ASPHALT BETWEEN A WEST COAST TRACK AND AN EAST COAST TRACK?
"Definitely. It's something I might be looking at too in depth, but I try to find as many advantages as I can. In the southeast, you have a lot of sand mixed in with the asphalt and it's very abrasive on the tires. That's very noticeable at Darlington. Rockingham is one of those race tracks that we don't race on anymore, but Charlotte has that small characteristic as well as Atlanta. So those are some of the small characteristics that I see in different areas of the country. Of course, when we race up north, those tracks go through such harsh winters that the snow really takes it's toll on the race track."
WHEN THE CHASE BEGINS AND THE POINTS ARE RESET ARE YOU GOING TO BE ON A ROLL?
"That's obviously the new format that's gonna give us a second breath of fresh air or a second opportunity to start the season over. The way we've looked at it is we don't really want to run too aggressively and lose track of our ideas early on in the season as well as saving our tests for the latter part of the year because we know we need to run strong when the money is on the line and that's in the final 10 races. We have, the Sharpie/Irwin team, found ourselves in a position that we didn't really care for or feel like we deserved to be in - being seventh-place in points at one point. We were just too close to the cutoff point, so we stepped our game up at the first Loudon and so far we've been able to rip off four top-10s in the last five races and that's helped us. But when we get into that next Loudon race, there's not gonna be an opportunity for mistakes. Everybody is gonna have to be on their game."
HOW WILL YOU BE ABLE TO COMPETE WITH JEFF GORDON?
"There are different tracks that you see the 24 run well on as well as the different tracks you see the 97 run well on. There are places where he's gonna get a little edge on us, such as a Martinsville-style race track or maybe Talladega because he's won two plate races this year. Then there are tracks that fall into our favor, such as the Loudon track where we won a bit earlier this year as well as the flat mile of Phoenix, which is similar to Loudon. Those are two tracks on my side and two tracks on his side that I think he'll run well at and I think we'll run well on, so that leaves six more that we'll have to duke it out on and see who is the better team that's prepared for the final 10 races."
WHAT DO YOU THINK OTHER DRIVERS WILL BE THINKING IF THEY DON'T MAKE THE TOP 10?
"Each team has an objective at the beginning of the year to do the best that they can and, of course, to run for the championship. As different teams find themselves in places they continue to adjust. Whether it's to win on big tracks, whether it's to develop new crew guys or to develop a new situation for the next year. There's so many different ways to look at each of the teams. The way that our team has performed this year with two wins and I think we're now in the double digits in top-10 finishes, we've been up to par but we haven't been what you would call an A-plus effort just yet. I believe that's all gonna fall into place when we do get into these final 10 races with the tests that we've saved and with the preparations that we've made. Hopefully, everything will fall into place and we won't get too far behind."
WHAT MOMENTS DO YOU APPROACH FANS AND AVOID FANS?
"With my unique position being the spokesperson for Sharpie pens, it's a great opportunity for me to go and sign autographs anytime that I can. When you have different autograph sessions, that's more than a welcome time for fans to come up and to get autographs and buy memorabilia. When you have a practice session at the track in the garage area it's difficult. When you're communicating with your crew chief and you're back and forth with the engineers - over to the hauler - it's difficult to pause and take that moment, but it's still a pleasure of mine to give anybody an autograph that is willing to come up and ask for one, but it is tough in the garage area at times."
HOW MUCH WILL YOU MISS JEFF BURTON AND HOW MUCH WILL YOU LOOK FORWARD TO WORKING WITH CARL EDWARDS?
"There were times when I came into the program that I was so fresh and so naïve that I had to rely on experienced guys such as Jeff Burton and Mark Martin to help me through the smaller things as well as the big projects. He'll be deeply missed by all of us at Roush with his leadership skills and the way that he was able to orchestrate different people into different positions, and to put together a strong program that he had for so many years. Whether it was the new wave of setups or just the chemistry that fell apart, we wish Jeff Burton well on his way. It's opened the door up for guys such as myself and Carl Edwards, coming in from the Truck Series with some wins there and the ambition to run hard at every race track. We're gonna see a whole new 99 program because Carl Edwards can come in and look at different things in different ways from the way that Jeff Burton viewed things."
HOW MUCH MORE PREPARATION GOES INTO QUALIFYING AT BRISTOL COMPARED TO OTHERS?
"Bristol is very difficult to qualify. It's one of those cool places where you make one little slip and you're chasing the car. You're hustling as hard as you can and you end up just a half-a-tenth slower than the leader, but it felt as if you lost a full second. So it's very difficult to qualify at Bristol. It is important to start up front. It isn't everything, but it does give you a good pit selection when it comes time to picking pits and understanding what you've got to do for the rest of the day. When you qualify poorly, you've got to work your way through the pack and take risks as far as two tires or even staying out, but when you get to start up front you can make sure that you take four tires each time and have a nice solid race to where you're not stressing yourself."
WHO HAS DONE YOUR FAVORITE RENDITION OF THE NATIONAL ANTHEM?
"That is completely different. To look at all the different starts that NASCAR has brought in, it puts us on new stage of, again, taking marketing to a different level. We've had some great talent, male and female, country artists, rock stars with rock 'n roll bands. But I'm a little biased to Brittney Spears - before all of this marriage stuff and all of her issues behind the scenes. She's pretty hot and she did a good job singing it (laughing)."
WHO WOULD BE YOUR CHOICE WHO HASN'T DONE IT?
"They've had so many different people in to sing the National Anthem. One guy I thoroughly enjoyed and I can't remember his name off hand, but out in Phoenix they have the Southwest Tour race, the Truck race and the Busch race and they allow this guy with a trumpet to come in and play the National Anthem and it's a different rendition. It's something you wouldn't necessarily feel in the Phoenix area, but this guy is just phenomenal and puts on an awesome National Anthem. I wish they would bring him in for the Cup race as well."