You've won a lot of big races. Where do you rank the Coca-Cola 600 on your list of races that you want to win?
“On my list it ranks pretty low, but I'm a little bit biased the wrong way, I guess, because it's been just such a tough place for us. In the sport, I think it's obviously an important race just for the fact that it has a lot of history and it's a really long race and it's right in everybody's backyard. Hopefully we have a good weekend; a good, solid weekend is really what we're looking for this week.”
Is there a specific element of this track that gives you trouble?
“It's just one of those places that has been tough for me to interpret and communicate the right feel of the racetrack and what I need in the car. Usually, that's my strong point in helping them and helping to guide them in the right direction, but this place has been a little bit tougher for us. We ran good in the second half of the All-Star race the other night. We ran good for the last race here, too. We should have a decent day.”
It's obviously a long race. What does a driver need to do differently to prepare for the 600 as opposed to any other race?
“There's just so many things that you go through in a 600-mile race, just with the fact that you start during the day and you wind up being later at night than a lot of races go to. This track is very temperature-sensitive, so your car has to be very adjustable and do things that you normally wouldn't do in a weekend adjustment-wise for pit stops, and just trying to anticipate when the racetrack is going to take those swings. Hopefully, you make the right adjustments to anticipate those swings. From a driver's standpoint, you prepare early in the week and just make sure that you're hydrated correctly and try to take care of yourself for the couple days before that to eat the right things and have as much stamina as you can in the car.”
Is there any difference for you mentally this weekend now that your contract is signed, announced, and there are no more questions?
“Well, I think we did a great job of just preparing, getting everything done, and keeping it between ourselves. For me, I think there was a lot of questions that you guys wanted answered, but we did it the right way. Now, we can just concentrate on doing the things we need to do on our racecars. We can put all that behind us and really concentrate on being in contention and hopefully racing for a championship.”
Are you more relaxed?
“I've been relaxed all year. I don't know why. I've been relaxed about it and when things are going good it's a lot easier to be relaxed.”
You talked about how temperature-sensitive this track is. Does that come into play with qualifying and how important your qualifying draw is?
“Yeah, I think speed comes with darkness here. As soon as the temperature starts dropping, the surface temperature drops rapidly and it just gains a lot of grip. It's hard from a driver's standpoint to know how far you need to drive it into the corner, how soon to get back to the gas, and to anticipate how much grip you have. A late draw usually helps a lot here.”