It's been an eventful week for you…
“It's been a great week. To be in the position I'm in now and know where I'm gonna be in 2012, to have the opportunity with Rick Hendrick and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports, to me, it's an unbelievable opportunity. I can't wait to get that started. Now I'm focused again on just making sure that the 9 car, our whole Budweiser Ford team, works well together and communicates well together, do everything we can the rest of this season to perform, enjoy ourselves, win races, and I still feel like we have a shot at the chase. We just need to put a big effort in, but I think we can get back in the points and definitely have a shot at the chase and run strong throughout the rest of the year.”
How are the track conditions here?
“We did a majority of race runs. We were off a little bit at the start, and I felt like we got better and better, and then we made our ‘qualifying run' at the end and ran a pretty decent lap. Definitely, there are some things we can do to the car to help it for this afternoon, and I think we should have a good shot at a good starting spot for Sunday. You always have to build a little bit into the car for Sunday, because you never know exactly what the track is gonna do; so, hopefully, we have that built in and we'll be able to make the right adjustments through a long race here.”
Are you worried about next year or waiting for Hendrick to deal with it?
“I'll work through it with Mr. Hendrick and figure out exactly what we need to do in '11 that makes the most sense. As far as right now, I still don't know and I'm leaving it up to those guys. They made the commitment to me and Rick said he'll make sure it's right, and I took that as I think it'll be a pretty good opportunity, a pretty good situation I'll be in next year. In order to know I'll be in the 5 after that, I was able to take somewhat of a risk and wait a month or two months, whatever it is, to figure out what 2011 will be, but the future will definitely be really good to be a part of that team and part of that organization.”
Is it a case where it was just time to make a change?
“I feel like we've had six and a half years that I've spent with those guys and we've had a great run. They've given me a lot of opportunity and we've had some pretty good success. I definitely have a lot of friends there and a lot of people that I really enjoy working with there, and I'm gonna keep doing that through the rest of this year, but sometimes you just need some change and you need something different. I was fortunate enough when I came into this sport that I jumped right in with Ray Evernham. Until this year, I'd never looked at another shop. I'd never been inside another building and I never knew what was out there in any way. To be able to go around to all these other teams over the last few months and learn as much as I did about them, about the owners, about the people at each team, was pretty neat for myself. I feel like there's definitely some really neat race teams out there and they're gonna be tough to beat for a long time.”
How much say will you have in your crew chief? Have you talked with Kenny Francis about making the move with you?
“Kenny Francis, to me, is as good as anybody in the garage. We have a great relationship and we communicate really well. It seems like we figure things out pretty quickly, so I really like working with Kenny. As far as the future and where that all goes, I'm not sure how that will work yet. That's another one of the things we're not sure about, but it'll be good. Kenny is wanted by a lot of teams. He does a great job for Richard Petty Motorsports, and hopefully I'll work with him for a long time because I really like Kenny Francis.”
Mark Martin said he came to you in September and suggested you would be a good replacement for him in the 5 car. Did that have an effect on you?
“It did. Mark pulled me aside a few times and one time we sat in his bus for at least an hour and talked about things. He's an unbelievable guy and an unbelievable racecar driver, and to be able to sit there and talk to him and learn about something I have no idea about was nice for me. So, yeah, that was a huge part of my decision. I've always had that in the back of my head on what I had learned from Mark. Jimmie Johnson has been a big part of it as well. He's always been a great guy to me and I think he's helped me whenever I've had questions – not even about the whole Hendrick Motorsports thing – I've had questions about other things and Jimmie has always been there to help out. So I think between those two guys and then just sitting down with Mr. Hendrick and learning about the place, walking around the place, I was just really impressed and really excited to be a part of it now.”
So, if you have the 5 and 19 in front of you, who do you push?
“Whichever line is moving faster. I don't know. That stuff just happens in the race. You go with the line that you think at the time is the right one. They'll probably both be moving pretty quick because Elliott Sadler is a really good restrictor-plate racer and you know the 5 will be really fast there as well.”
Was your initial strategy to take Budweiser with you?
“I don't have control of that. That's not up to me. I worried about myself, what I needed to do for my future. I have a great relationship with Budweiser, the people there, and I think the last couple years have been awesome with them, and, hopefully, we can win some more races this year which would be great. As far as the future goes, I enjoy that brand and I want to be part of that brand, so it's completely up to them and what they want to do in the future. I haven't talked to any of them about it.”
Are they still on your sprint car?
“Yeah, they're on our sprint car. That's just through this year, so that's something we'll have to look into also as time goes here.”
How does getting into a car like the 5, that is competitive every week, change a driver's personal expectations?
“That's something as a driver, that's what you want. You want to know that you have the same stuff Jimmie Johnson is winning all the races with or winning the championships and. I'll be in that position and I'll be able to work with Jimmie and Jeff, Dale Jr., Mark Martin, I'll be able to work with those guys and learn from those people. What they've done in the last few years – for a long time but especially the last few years – working together as teammates and things, I think I can learn a lot from them. Hopefully, it'll help me as a driver. But, I need to perform. You get in a car like that and if you're not performing, then you're the problem.”