HOW MUCH DO YOU SEE DRIVERS THAT YOU STARTED WITH BEING SUCCESSFUL IN INDYCAR NOW AS THE EVOLUTION OF THE SERIES?
“I think it just shows that the talent's there. There are some of the best that are there. It's fun at least because when I left there was still all the best there and unfortunately they were split between two series. You can sit there and argue all the time, ‘OK, who's better?' It was a terrible argument because you couldn't compare it. To have it back to one series and to have all these guys, it's fun to watch because you have to show up with your ‘A' game. If you don't, it's not like your fifth or sixth, you're going to be 20th. That's what makes it fun.
"It's good to see the guys that I raced against and I think you have a good mix of both. You have the guys like Dario (Franchitti) and Helio and those types of guys that have been in the series for a long time that are still really fast. Then you have the young guys like Will and (James) Hinchcliffe and RHR and all these guys that were really fast as young guys that have come in and they're stars of the series. It's a fun series and I'm looking forward to being a part of it.”
DID THE FACT THAT OPEN-WHEEL WAS SPLIT IN 2006 INCREASE YOUR DESIRE TO WANT TO GO TO NASCAR AND TRY THAT OUT?
“Yeah, it was no secret that being in Champ Car at that point, you didn't know what was going to happen. It was tough. I took a lot of heat for leaving, but at that point being sponsored by Red Bull and they had a Cup team starting, it wasn't like I was like, ‘OK, I'm just going to ditch one series and go to another.' I didn't know if the series I was going to be in was even going to be around next year and if I was even going to have a job. I didn't know if Jerry Forsythe was going to the IRL -- he hated it. It wasn't like I was guaranteed a job the next year, so I took a lot of heat for leaving because people thought I just left one job to go to another. No I left ,something that I didn't know if I was going to have a job the next year to a job that at least I knew was there. When I went into NASCAR, I didn't want to go into it like I did. I didn't think I was ready to go right to Cup, but at that point you can't turn it down. It's how it happened.”
IF THIS WORKS OUT FOR YOU, DO YOU THINK IT WILL ENTICE OTHER NASCAR DRIVERS TO TRY INDYCAR RACING?
“Honestly, I don't care. It doesn't matter to me if it does or it doesn't. For me, it's just focusing on myself and looking for the best opportunity, being happy in life and in general and then at a racetrack with whatever I'm driving. I think it's pretty simple. You make the series strong, you're going to entice a lot of people because it's a fun series to be a part of. You go to a lot of great venues and you drive a really cool racecar. I think it's pretty simple. I'm not going to entice people to come over. It's all about the series enticing them. If it's strong people will come. It's like the field of dreams -- if you build it, they will come.”
HAVE YOU HAD A CHANCE TO SEE THIS BARBER TRACK?
“I've played it in a lot of video games and I've watched a lot of video. It's almost the same, but not quite. It's a fun looking race track. Just talking to Helio and Will and they really enjoy this racetrack. It's got a good flow, it looks like. It's a track that you can really attack, it's got a lot of speed in it. I'm looking forward to getting out there. There's also a lot of little nuances around this place that it will only take laps to figure out. Hopefully, for two days it goes smooth.
"The biggest thing for me is, obviously, speed is important. You don't want to leave here at the bottom of the time charts a second off and think I'm OK. The good thing is the Penske racecars have been dominant around here since they've come here, so I know I'm going to have a good racecar, so for me it's about being comfortable. If I can leave this test being comfortable and feeling good in the racecar and kind of understand pit stops and how all that is going to work and things like that and still have decent speed, then I'll be ready to come back for the race weekend and know it's about the race weekend and not about learning the track more or learning these cars more. That's what I'm going to try to do for two days.”
HOW CLOSELY DO YOUR DRIVING STYLES MATCH WITH WILL POWER AND HELIO CASTRONEVES?
“I made it simple and said to start with their setups. I didn't care which one; they are both fast. I'll figure it out as it comes. I would say initially just looking at it, I'm more closer to Will -- he brakes really late and really hard on the pedal. I feel like in open-wheel racing, that is more how I was. Helio is more of a flow, kind of let it roll through the corner, but at the same point in these cars I don't have a driving style yet, so if I can kind of mix both and try to get the best of both worlds, then that's what I'm going to try to do. As I get comfortable with the racecar, then we'll start making changes and see what I feel like I need. The first half is all about just getting comfortable and just trying to stare at their data over and over again and figure out what makes them so good around this place.”
WHAT WOULD YOU THINK ABOUT THE POSSIBILITY OF A SECOND RACE AT INDIANAPOLIS?
“You have to be careful running a race at a place like Indy twice. Then you start losing all the prestige of it. What makes Indy, Indy is you go there for what used to be a month and is a couple weeks now, and it's down to that one race. The series would really have to look at would that be beneficial and would people come out for it or does it just lose the luster?
"To me, especially around a place like Indy, there is no reason to run a second race there. I think what it looks like is you need to go to places that don't have a race. Whether it's an oval or a street race or a road course -- get that city excited about that race. Go to more venues and get those fans excited because maybe you go to a venue where nobody has ever seen what an IndyCar race is all about and all it takes is going out there one time and then they're hooked. Indy is going to get the crowd, so I think it just needs to go to places, new places. I don't care what kind of venue it is, just go to new places. You have to keep the places that are strong and bring in new cities that can just love Indy car racing and know what it's all about. Me, I wouldn't want to go to Indy twice, whether it's a road course or another oval race. You win the Indy 500, you're in Victory Lane there and one person gets to say that every year. No reason for a second opportunity.”
IS DRIVING IN THE INDY 500 SOMETHING YOU HAVE ALWAYS WANTED TO DO?
“Of course. Being an open-wheel guy, I miss not being able to do that when I was in Champ Car. I felt like when they split, a little bit of the Indy luster kind of got lost. As the series has come back together, you've had a lot of great races there the last couple years. I'd never even been to Indy up until I rolled out in a stock car for the first time and thought, ‘OK, this is what Indy is all about, I get it, but it's still not the Indy 500.'
"Honestly, when I sit here and talk about it right now, I'm excited and I've got a lot of emotions, but they will be nothing close to what it's actually like for the first time when I roll out there April 11 for rookie orientation and it definitely won't be the same until I get introduced and you walk down to the yard of bricks and they introduce you and you get those 200,000 people cheering or booing whatever. At least it's a reaction.”