Q: It's the month of May. That means the Indianapolis 500. I know you haven't gotten off to the start you wanted to in the No. 7 GoDaddy car, but you have to be focusing on Indy?
“Yeah, I've had a bad start to the year. You know, it happens. Every now and again I would imagine a lot of athletes have a year where they just aren't where they want to be, and I'm not this year.
“If the answer was as simple as going, ‘This is what I'm going to do to fix it,' I would know that and it would have been done already. I have some ideas to take it in a better direction. At the moment, we're all working hard. It's not from a lack of trying.”
Q: You've qualified in the top 10 in all of your Indy 500 starts and finished in the top 10 in four of the previous five starts. What is it with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that suits you?
“I don't know. I guess all I can say is I think it's important to be patient. I think it's important to be fast and be on a good team. I think it's important to really stay level-headed. It's the longest race of the year. You've got to limit your mistakes, be there at the end. I think it's usually from a long, hard-working month of practice and coming to a good setup in the end, driving for a good team.
“I'm not really sure exactly what it is that makes it Indy that has been a place for me where I've done well, but those are the things that I think are important at Indy and perhaps I do them well. I guess I have to say, if you're going to do well as one place, you hope it's Indy.”
Q: You talked about the bad start. Is there any one thing in particular or just a bunch of little bits of things that are happening?
“It's just a bunch of things. First race at Sao Paulo I kind of got screwed on the start. A few cars went around the accident and went around me. I never got those positions back. My explanation was there weren't enough cameras to see all of it. Then that leads to taking a risk because I was like eighth. I thought ‘I'll stay out for one more lap' when it started to rain, came around to the last couple of corners and spun.
“St. Pete was OK. We didn't qualify well. Qualifying has definitely been an issue. My team did a good job of helping me get up to seventh.
“Then, at Barber, I didn't qualify well. There were no yellows that mattered. I was unable to make any progress. We had a missed opportunity when the first yellow came over for (Takuma) Sato to pit. Instructions came a little late. That could have been a better finish.
“Long Beach, I did everything I could. Didn't qualify well. Needed yellow flags. We pitted early before every stop. It worked last year and I was able to get up to second, but it just didn't work this year. I passed three cars, but ended up finishing 16th or something like that. I don't remember where I finished. Last year, I didn't pass any cars and I finished fourth. Breaks just weren't coming my way.
“At Kansas, I think we just picked an optimistic downforce level. I was pretty good halfway or three-quarters of the way through the race. At one point I passed three‑quarters of the field. But it was too late. I was a lap down.
“There's been a series of things that have gone wrong. I can't put my finger exactly on one thing. But, like I said, we're working through it. We're just continuing to work really hard. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.”
Q: A lot of people would look at that and wonder if what you had going on with NASCAR has affected this in any way, shape or form. Are they two separate things?
“I think that's just a really easy thing to look at, an easy thing to point to and an easy excuse. I don't think there's anything to it. I keep going back to the old days – race drivers drove all kinds of racecars and nobody thought it took anything away. In fact, it should be adding. It's just an unfortunate situation and there's no other answer.”
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the Indy 500 experience in so much as your stature? It's not just getting in there and qualifying and making that race and trying to win that race. You're pulled all over the place by media demands, sponsor demands, and fans as well. Maybe for no one else in that field, the Indy 500 experience is a huge juggling act for your time. Talk about whether or not you've gotten used to that or can you ever get used to that?
“Let me use today as an example. I arrived home after an appearance yesterday late. I have to get ready and pack to go to New York today for a couple of days of media, then to Indianapolis. I schedule this availability for the duration of my trip from the house to the airport. My packing went a little bit long. I got in the car 15 minutes late. But that's just how tight the schedule gets when it comes to this time of the year.
“I'm trying as hard as I can to make everyone happy, to get everyone what they need, and take advantage of the time of year that it is, the race that we have going on. But it sometimes can get a little overwhelming.
“Everybody does everything they can to make sure that when it comes to race time, that that is carved out, which is why we will try to do things like schedule the availability today so I'm not doing these things when I'm supposed to be racing the car.”
Q: What do you consider your best race at Indianapolis?
“Maybe 2007. We were third after the rain restart. I passed Marco. I was in second. I felt faster than Tony. It wasn't until I caught Lazier and I tried to pass him in the short chute between One and Two, he came down on me, I went into the grass. I dropped back. Then a couple cars went by me. Before you know it, the race ends early for rain.
“From what I remember, I was on a winning strategy anyway for the end of the race, but the end of the race did not come at 200, it came at 170 or 160. So I think some of us had maybe just pitted or whatever. We dropped back. The cycle would have worked, but it didn't work because it rained.”
Q: How do you feel about this compacted Indy schedule? Does that really make that much of a difference? Does it help you kind of focus and compress things more?
“Well, I actually rather enjoyed the long schedule. It was the only time of year I was in one place for that length of time. It's nice to get into a routine, have some consistency. It gave you time to be able to work through things with the car, be methodical.”
Q: What about your team's overall sense of pace going into the Indy 500? Even though the results may not have been good during the first four or five races, the team looks stronger than it has been the last couple seasons. How close do you think you are to Target Chip Ganassi and do you see any improvements you can make going into the month of May?
“I, unfortunately, got one lap down to run with the leaders at a restart at Kansas, which, of course, is the only oval we've had so far. You know, Ganassi cars are really fast. Those guys can run along that white line lap after lap after lap and just be fast.
“If it's the same way at Indy, they're going to have an edge. It's 500 miles of road to cover, pit stops and all kinds of things to cover. They were strong last year. I think there were maybe some pit stop issues or something. So anything is possible.
“Ganassi did look pretty strong at Kansas. So we just haven't had as many ovals to really kind of see how everybody is doing, get a real feel for it. But just like normal, I'm sure they – and Penske – will be strong.”
Q: It was reported in Indianapolis today that Randy Bernard would like to get rid of the Indy Racing League moniker. There's a lot of emotions tied up with that phrase positive and negative. Do you see it as a nice gesture or is it just a name change for you guys now?
“Years back, I remember talking to some of the bosses at the IRL, just saying, if you take NASCAR, for instance, I think I remembered using the example that NASCAR, it's all capitalized, it's almost like a blanket word for racing anymore. It's just so simple. Simplicity is important, just so that people can remember, there's so much stuff out there these days.
I remember saying, 'What do I call it? I don't even know what to call it.' It was decided, 'Hey, just call it IndyCar.' So, yeah, I think it's the right word."