Richard Petty Motorsports driver takes media questions on his NASCAR Sprint Cup season to date, this weekend's return to Darlington and Osama Bin Laden.
Q. You've been pretty solidly around the top-10 this year. What is needed to take that to the top-5, is it one or two things you can point to?
“Well, I mean, I think there's just certain areas we've got to work on, really including Bristol. We had a top-5 to a top-10 car at some point during the race, every race we've been there. We've qualified up front. We have run up front. The biggest thing for us is we have to get a little more consistent through the races.
“I have to keep cool during the race, try to stay as patient as possible. We have got to start making the right adjustments. We are just missing a little bit. We kind of get off-track and that hurts us.
“For us really we have to work on the mile-and-a-half, two-mile program. I feel like our short track program is really good. I feel like we'll be really good at the road courses, especially with Marcus there. Those types of racetracks, when it comes to mile-and-a-half, two-mile, we have to get an overall racecar starting in practice; so when the track changes we are not right there to where a small little thing kind of kills our racecar and that's kind of what's hurt us really.”
Q. I've got a really off-the-wall question for you: How did you feel about Osama Bin Laden being taken out and your general thoughts on that accomplishment for this country?
“It's a big deal for the country and obviously a lot of his actions that he's done put our country – whether or not it's economy or just heartache or just a lot of stuff that we've had to go through as a country, you know, it's really because of him. It's a big deal and hopefully that's the first step of getting everything back on track to where it used to be.
“I remember when it all happened, I was testing a kart in Sacramento and I didn't – it's like you hear about it and you don't really understand how big of a thing it is until the next couple of days kind of went on, and you really figured out, this is a big deal and this is going to really put a lot of damage on our country. So it's a good step in the right direction, hopefully.”
Q. When you first got to Darlington, what did you think about the track?
“Well, my first time was before they repaved it and, honestly, I thought somebody just completely messed up on the design. It's an insane racetrack. For how narrow it is and how fast we are around there, it's unbelievable.
“And I remember them telling me, ‘You're going to hit the wall when you get there,' but I didn't understand like what it meant to hit the wall every lap. And that was tough to do. But as tough as the place was, it was one of my best qualifying efforts in 2007 and we actually had a solid race until I blew the tire out.
“It's an insane place. I love it. I love the history behind it. I love everything about it. We just need to have a good run there so I don't leave the place hating it. I always go there loving it, I usually leave hating it. So we are going to try a different thing this time.”
Q. Are there any drivers now that you lean on for advice?
“Well, Carl [Edwards] and those [Roush Fenway] guys are fast. I try to talk to those guys to see if I can help. Mark Martin has always been just really nice to me, especially the last few weeks. Ever since I got to NASCAR, he's been probably the guy who has come up to me the most, especially when I was struggling early on in my career in 2007, telling me I was doing a good job.
“I've always just had a huge amount respect for Mark Martin and everything he's accomplished and how kind he's been to me. Especially this year, we seems like we have been next to each other or waiting in the garage next to each other. So I try to ask him as many questions as I can, because he's been around for a while, obviously, and he's never lied to me, so I can just go it up to him and ask him a question and I know he's going to tell me straight up.”
Q. Has Darlington lost a little bit of grip since it's been repaved?
You know, I really liked it [before it was repaved], and you were sliding around and that was a lot of fun to me. I feel like these cars – I'm better on racetracks that get slicker and you slide around a little bit more. I enjoy that a little bit more.
“But since it's been repaved, it's just fast. It's unbelievable, insane how quick it feels, especially in a qualifying run. It is just is crazy fast for how narrow the racetrack is, and to me that's the best way to describe it. The whole racetrack is fast.
“But the last couple of years, it has not lost a ton of grip. I mean, it's lost a little bit of grip from the first time they repaved it, but I felt like over the couple of years that went on, like the track would get a lot slicker. So there's still a ton of grip there.”