You won the 500 here in '06, but the last three years, your finishes haven't been strong. What is it that you need to turn things around?
“In the plate stuff in '06, I had a really good understanding on how to drive the old car; where to position myself and how to really defend once I got to the lead. I don't feel like I'm doing the best job with plate racing and the way the CoT drives. Couple of things lead to that: One, we've really tried to make sure we are learning for the Talladega Chase race, so I've not been in position in a lot of plate races to race for the win and defend. It has been trying to understand how to be in the right spot and avoid the problems and then go like crazy to get to the front at the end. The other side to it is, if you look at those races, we've been caught up in wrecks late in the race each time. That is what reflects those poor finishes. I guess last year I felt like we were in a position to win, we were right there in the thick of things with the leaders and with [Jamie] McMurray obviously cycled out to win and we were caught up in a wreck. So I think our finishes would have been better than what the results show.”
Does that speak to your great success in the Chase, because you are thinking Chase when the season starts?
“Yeah, it does. Sometimes we feel like we make good decisions for plate tracks. Other times it is so tough to tell because, quite frankly, there is a lot of luck involved in missing the big wrecks and being in the right line and having the right guy pushing, whatever it may be. So, there is skill that is involved, but it can be superseded with luck at any point on a plate track.”
Phoenix has announced that they are going to reconfigure that track, change some things on pit road, change some things on the front stretch and dogleg as well. What was your reaction when you heard about that and what do you think about the changes they are planning?
“Definitely disappointed that they needed to resurface the track. I understand that at some point all tracks need it and they are at that point. We love the tracks that are worn out and on the verge of needing to be resurfaced. I think we put on our best races there. So, disappointed to hear it go – but Phoenix has done a good job in speaking with drivers, trying to understand the track from a safety standpoint and to make sure that we don't have single-file racing starting at the first race after the repave. I've been in talks with Phoenix and the crew that is working on the track and I feel good about things and where they are going with it. If we don't like it, which sounds like the chances are low, in time it will come back, just like a lot of the other tracks.”
From what you've seen, where do you want to be coming off Turn 4 the final lap?
“I still think leading is not the position you want to be in to win the Daytona 500 or at Talladega. We will be able to push for some period of time. Even if the cars overheat in a very short period of time for the win as you come off of (Turn) 2 or (Turn) 4, you'll find a way to get connected and try to separate yourselves and just run until the engine blows, whatever that threshold is. So as long as the push is in effect, the guy pushing has the advantage.
“Kurt (Busch) showed us all something in the Shootout – that a second group coming up has a fair shot as well as the leaders. I would say you either want to be second or third; that's really the payoff position as of now. When we had the old cars and the way we would be single file and we couldn't connect the bumpers, leading was a pretty good position to be in. It took a lot of work from second place of dragging the break to get to third, get a bump-draft, to get the momentum to try to make a move. And it took lap after lap after lap just setting that up. If the leader was smart he could just ride the brake and control that energy and never allow a pass to happen. Those days are gone. We can't do that now. As you drag the brake to stop the energy from taking place, the guy just picks you up and pushes you and off you go. So it's just a different game.”