His teammate, Dario, is also focused. I think that's different than being composed. I don't think it involves a Screen Actor's Guild award, you know? I think what happens internally is that he realizes – and the people around him realize – that we have a common purpose and we work hard together toward that goal. I think he's satisfied with the fact that he's surrounded by people who are working to help him achieve something that very few people have achieved in their lifetime and that's to win the IndyCar championship. Yeah, he's done it before, but we hope that we can do it together with him again.
I don't think he's suicidal and I don't think he's emotional about it: He's still leading the championship, after all! But I think last year proves that he's not going to get overwrought. At this point last year he was behind in the points, but he understood that if everyone worked really hard together, he could win the title and I don't think this year is any different. I think we approach it the same way. The competition we face is very fierce. They are very much directed and very focused. They are doing the same things to win that we're doing. I think that's what makes it fun.
But, you know what? His name isn't on the trophy if he finishes second. So maybe that's where the pressure is. The pressure comes from how much he respects the lineage he represents, that's what's important to him, in addition to what we are together. Will Power is very driven this year to win, and Dario and his guys are equally driven, and that isn't lost on any of us. It's head-down through Las Vegas.
We weren't surprised by the edge Penske had over us at Sonoma, even on the back of our excellent 1-2 in Mid-Ohio. We always operate as if we're expecting that to happen at every race. We expect ourselves to be fast but we expect them to be fast and, to be truthful about it, I think both organizations have the capacity to be able to pull those kinds of performances. What Scott did at Mid-Ohio, Power did at Sonoma and Baltimore: each of them was one of those races where there were 24 other cars and the polesitter and winner. It's not what everybody wants to see – not Versus, not the people watching Versus and not the people sitting on the hillsides around either track. They want wheel-to-wheel action for the lead, not wheel-to-wheel action for second through sixth with the winner driving away.
So Penske has won the last two races, and although we noticed at Sonoma they were using different dampers on their cars than they had before, I don't think that was the sole reason they did so well there or at Baltimore. I think every race team that has that mindset where they pretend they're not as good as everyone thinks they are, and then go about their business everyday to try to make their product better, will race at the front and win races. We are working just as hard as Penske and they have worked extremely hard to be where they are at this point and have made some real gains with their program.
The final two races are, of course, on one-and-a-half-mile ovals, and I know many people think the driver just gets in there, jams his foot on the throttle pedal and off he goes. Well, it's only that way if the car is right and even then, only in qualifying. If the car is wrong, believe me, you don't want to be in the car for an eight-second ride, let alone two hours, so it's really important to have the car right mechanically. That partly involves what the suspension is doing, but it's more important to be able to understand the aero balance the car needs to have in combination – maybe not so much for qualifying, more so for the duration of race runs. That's what you have to work hard to achieve.
But you also have to consider the tires which subtly change from race to race. Firestone might say, “Oh, we're using the same tire at Las Vegas as we used at X race or Y race,” so people think the tire is going to behave exactly the same. Well, it's not. That's not a negative statement toward Firestone, because they come with a very good product. It's more to do with the fact that we don't really get a lot of testing anymore. So all the testing we do is done in the race weekend practice sessions and to be successful in the race itself it's important to not let ego get in the way during practice. You don't want to throw tires at it: You want to have tires that run the longest in practice so you can get the most out of it in the race. So, I think measured maturity by a race team from the start of a weekend will pay off as the race progresses. Yeah, it's great to be fast on the time sheets, but it's more important to be faster on three or four sets of tires through three or four runs in a race. I think that's what creates the success or lack of success that you see, particularly on one-and-a-half-mile ovals.
Look at the edge we gained between the Homestead test and the Homestead race (ABOVE) last year. We created speed there at the right moment. We worked hard to achieve that, our engineering group studying what we did and what they did during the test to be prepared for the race. We didn't come back there with exactly the same setup or the same items that we used for the test at Homestead. We came back with a combination that worked for each of the drivers and it worked really well. (The rest will be in my autobiography!) I don't think we can ask for more than for history to repeat this year.