NASCAR Sprint Cup racer to discuss this and future races, his relationship with new crew chief Steve Letarte, Danica Patrick's progress in the Nationwide Series with JR Motorsports and more.
How is the switch from Lance McGrew to Steve Letarte as your crew chief working out?
“Lance had some times where we did have good chemistry and we did run some good races. I'm real excited about what's happening right now, real positive about it.
“I think it's realistic to be patient about your expectations. I mean, my expectations are really the same. It's just early in the season and we got a long, long way to go, a lot of tracks to go race at, a lot of different setups to be working on, ideas that will come and go. It's just a long season.”
Do you get the feeling that Steve wants to be there?
“I think Lance had times where he didn't want to be there. It's a real tough job where Lance was put in a very challenging and tough position. He did a really good job being put in that position, how he handled it. We got along good.
“I think me and him did as good as we could under the circumstances. I wish we'd have done better. I know he wishes we would have done better. But, you know, it's a clean slate, the different personalities. It's allowed me to sort of reboot a little bit. Me and Steve are getting along really good, and the environment around the garage and trailer and stuff is good. Hopefully, we can maintain that.
“That's going to be the challenge really, me and him maintaining the positive attitude, the communication and the consistency of how it's working right now. That's going to be the part that is the hardest and that will determine whether we will succeed or not, is whether we can keep that going over the entire season.
“The season is long. You get pissed off. Things don't go right. You've just got to get through those points when they happen, whether it be in a practice or whatever. The littlest thing, you got to be able to manage it and not let it ruin things. I have a hard time not letting things ruin my day, get pissed off at everything around me. I've always had that problem.”
Do you reckon Steve could help you there?
“I think that's what he's great at and that's what he's doing right now. I mean, he gives you the impression that when you get yourself in a hole or the car isn't quite going like you want it to go or the car isn't responding like you think it should, you get the impression that you'll get it fixed and, as long as he doesn't fool me too many times, yeah!
“He does a great job at just keeping you in the game. You're part of the puzzle, and everybody needs to be pulling in the same direction. He's good at what he does. Ain't no doubt about it.”
What are your expectations for Danica Patrick this weekend?
“I think she'll do fine. She was up to speed rather well in the first run. You know, it's not a real challenging place to look at and say, ‘Well, there's a line, I need to go out there and run there.' With the new banking and stuff, you can be off a couple feet in the cars and relatively still be in the line. Once she hones it in, we got 24 hours of practice, so by the end of all that, she should have it nailed.”
How do you feel she is progressing?
“She's done a pretty good job. I expected her to do well. Watched the races last year pretty well. Saw some flashes. Watched all the laps she ran. We saw there was some great potential. She started to realize some of that potential like she did in Vegas. I thought that was a great race she ran. She was real competitive, raced guys hard. She's getting comfortable being around the cars, being around the other guys, making moves.”
The new Bristol or the old Bristol – which do you like better?
“I really like 'em both. I don't prefer one over the other. This one has so many different characteristics versus the old one. The old one, you ran the bottom. There wasn't a second groove. You moved guys out of the way. You know, it was a fun racetrack. A little tougher on cars, a little rougher.
“But this place is really smooth. There's more grooves. It makes it harder to pass because the guy on the outside can hold you off if he wants to be hard-headed about it.”
Do you think you're inching closer to a win?
“Yeah, I feel we've made some steps that have helped us. We've got a long way to go, though. We have to temper our expectations and just try to maintain our focus on what that job is that day, that moment – just do what we need to do, do it as good as we can, try to get competitive, stay competitive, try to do a good job in the races. We'll see.”
You mentioned before the season that you'd like to see some shorter races, so presumably you're happy that Fontana is down to a 400-mile race?
“That's awesome. Hell, yeah, that's great. They should look at Pocono, the only race that lasts four hours. All the others ones are in the three-hour to 3:15 mark. We go to Pocono, it's 3:58. They should cut about a hundred miles out of that one, too.”