WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON COMING BACK TO CALIFORNIA?
“It's been a fun week for us already. We had our golf tournament that took place on Wednesday and a dinner that was Tuesday night. Raised just around $525,000 so very successful event and something that we're very proud of. Then to come to my home state and be back in my home area to race on my home track, just excited to be back and hopeful to have another solid weekend.”
DID YOU EVER GO TO RIVERSIDE OR ONTARIO AS A FAN?
“I did. I went to Riverside a lot, actually, but mainly for the off-road truck race that used to take place there. The biggest race of the year was there and guys from all over the country would come in and race. It was kind of divided into two different sections where you would have the West Coast racing, the Midwest and a little down south.
"I did make two Cup races. I think my final Cup race was in '86 and the thing I took away from that weekend, my dad was so impressed that this car owner was out there racing himself. So I knew the name Rick Hendrick at that age as this car owner that was out there driving around himself. My dad and I started at the start-finish line and walked literally all the way around the race track and watched the whole race. It was a lot of fun.”
ARE YOU UPSET THAT AUTO CLUB SPEEDWAY WILL ONLY HAVE ONE RACE NEXT YEAR?
“As a California native, I'm disappointed to hear that it's losing an event because it's taken so long for NASCAR to get here and then to really engrain it into the sports fans in the area. I hate to see us lose a weekend here, but on a national scale and what's right for the sport, I kind of see that side as well. If we're not packing the stands, we probably need to take the second date somewhere else.
"I have a lot of friends that would come all the time when there was just one race. When it went to two races, it almost gave them an out to say, ‘Well, we're busy this spring, we'll come back in the fall.' The fall would be here and the race would be here and they would say, ‘Well, we'll come back in the spring.' I could see both sides of it. Either way, I just hope that we have packed stands and everybody watching at home.”
WOULD IT BE MORE CHALLENGING TO HAVE MORE ROAD COURSES ON THE NASCAR SCHEDULE?
“It's an argument that comes around once or twice a year. If they choose to put more road courses in the schedule, I'm all for it, I really enjoy driving on road courses. There are some amazing circuits throughout North America that would be a blast to drive on. Stuff that I've watched other forms of racing on over the years, just thought about how cool it would be to drive there. I wouldn't be against it, but it's just hard for me to have any insight on that. At the same time, it's hard to think that those venues really fit our core fan and what we need to do, unfortunately.”
WHAT IS YOUR MINDSET COMING INTO THIS WEEKEND GIVEN YOUR PAST SUCCESS AT THIS TRACK?
“I come in optimistic, for sure, but to have a race in February and then to come back in October, so much has gone on from a technical standpoint with the racecars that I'm optimistic, but at the same time I know that once we get out there, it's going to be a different set of circumstances than what we've seen in the past. I do have a lot of confidence in how we ran at Atlanta and then again last weekend in Kansas and think that we're going in the right direction with our setups and making our cars more competitive on these big tracks.”
ARE YOU FOCUSED ON THE POINTS AS MUCH AS DENNY HAMLIN IS?
“I do look at the points and I am curious where everyone is. I know how important every single point is, but I just choose not to over-think things, maybe. Just stay focused on what we need to do. We all have different things that we use to motivate ourselves with and set as a goal for the team. It's not a bad way to go about it; I've got nothing against it. I just don't really pay attention to it and just stay within my own head and what I need to do each week.”
WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS EACH WEEK FOR THE CHASE?
“I think really it's just don't squander away a good start to the season and from there, after Talladega, form a strategy. After Talladega, you can finally breath a little bit; you're over the halfway point. If you're behind, you know you need to take chances to catch up. If you're ahead, you might start thinking about protecting something then and take it from there. I just try to simplify things. I'm not a very smart guy, evidently he's (Denny Hamlin) a lot smarter than I am.”
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO GET MAXIMUM POINTS THE NEXT COUPLE WEEKS?
“It is, but I really don't want to fall into a false sense of security and think that because we have run well here in the past that we're going to come back and have it again. You have to come back and prove yourself every qualifying session and every race so it makes the week easy coming in, but as soon as those engines fire and we roll out for practice, all of that disappears and it's about the now. That's what I'm focused on and I think the experience over the years has helped me with that. We'll just go out and do all we can.”
WITH THIS RACE BEING 100 LESS SHORTER THIS YEAR, DOES THAT CHANGE YOUR APPROACH?
“I haven't really thought about it too much. I think that the race distance at 400 [miles] is probably better for everyone. I don't have a lot of fears at this racetrack because there's so much room and if you don't qualify well, there are lanes that you can use to pass. Pit road is very friendly and if you have a poor qualifying effort, these stalls are big enough that you can actually still have a good pit stop and not be blocked in by guys that are laps down or slow or whatever it may be.
"I have less fear on that side for a two-mile racetrack, this place is really racey and I remember the restarts last year, it was just a shootout and all kinds of things. One thing caught Denny [Hamlin] up and he ended up with a wrecked racecar. It's going to be an exciting race and, honestly, I'm very excited for what it's going to be like on Sunday. I think we're going to put on a good show and really race hard for this win.”
HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT THE NASCAR "SOUTH PARK" EPISODE?
“I've had multiple text messages saying that I was on 'South Park,' really from all of my friend's kids. I've got to check it out. I haven't seen it, but I heard that Cartman's in a very entertaining sponsored car. I haven't seen it yet and I can't wait to...”
IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE 91 DEGREES ON SUNDAY. WILL THE HEAT COMPLICATE TIRE ISSUES THIS WEEKEND?
“I chuckle because I don't know if it's really the same tire. At Kansas last weekend we were told that we were on the same tire and it just didn't seem like it. Either we've screwed it up or there are some subtle differences that fall into the ‘it's the same' category and they came back with it. I have no issues with the tire, I just wanted to be a smart ass there for a second...
"Even though it seems like things are the same, they're still so different. I don't think that the temperature will hurt the tire one way or the other. I personally like hotter race tracks, more slick racetracks that pushed the groove out, gives it more options. Directionally, I think it will put on a good show if it's hot. If it's cool, you'll run a lower line, more single file racing and you won't see us spread out as much. We'll rely on the track and see how different things really are. Last week it may have been the same tire, but it may have had less stagger so how can it be the same if it has less stagger.
"We keep hearing these things and it's a lot like a crew chief. He'll say it's the same setup and then you have a tough practice and he's like, ‘Well, it's kind of the same, this is changed, that's different.' It's kind of a crew chief, the same situation. Again, I'm not that smart so I can't dig deep enough to find out what's going on.”
HOW WILL THE WING AND PIT STRATEGY CHANGE IN SUNDAY'S RACE?
“The two less stops, I don't know if it's going to make that big of a difference. The 400-mile race should make it more exciting and entertain the viewers on television and also the people in the stands. I think it will be a good race. We at Hendrick Motorsports have said that there is not a big difference, we've struggled more on these big tracks than what we did last year so maybe there is something there we don't recognize. I don't think, especially for today in a qualifying situation, there is no difference. They've matched the numbers and maybe in traffic it's a little bit different, but we've had enough time with the setups to get used to it.”