Ford Chase Positioned Drivers Discuss Watkins Glen
Ford Chase Positioned Drivers Discuss Watkins Glen
Foster Gillett, Richard Petty and AJ Allmendinger were on hand Friday morning in the media center at Watkins Glen to formally announce that Richard Petty Motorsports has signed Allmendinger to a multi-year contract extension. Gillett, Petty and Allmendinger discussed the future of RPM and the No. 43 car.
FOSTER GILLETT OPENING REMARKS “We are here to announce that we have re-signed AJ Allmendinger to a multi-year extension to drive the No. 43 Ford Fusion for Richard Petty Motorsports. I think this is a wonderful move for the company and we are really excited about it. We really appreciate everyone’s hard work to get this done and we really appreciate all of the support of our wonderful partners to make this possible. AJ has worked really hard on the track and with our sponsors to become an integral part of our family. From Richard’s and my standpoint, any thought of him not driving for us was a difficult one. We are pretty excited about this and believe AJ is a big part of what we currently do and going to be a bigger part of what we do in the future.”
AJ ALLMENDINGER OPENING REMARKS “It has been an exciting year for me. It is the first time in my career that I could say I have been at a place that I could build off of. That was something that between all the partners, as Foster said, especially with Best Buy and Valvoline, I have had more fun than I have ever had in my race career. To be able to drive the No. 43 has been a huge honor that I really enjoy. With the partnership with Ford, there are a lot of really great things happening at Richard Petty Motorsports. We looked at a lot of places and went through a lot of things and Tara, my manager; she asked a lot of hard questions. In the end, we got the answers that we wanted to. I feel like this is a place that I can just keep building on. We are definitely not where we want to be when it comes to where we are at right now, but I see the potential and want to keep building a team around me that continues to get better and go out and contend for victories every weekend and hopefully eventually get a championship. That is the goal.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHERE THE ORGANIZATION STANDS NOW AND IF THERE ARE FUTURE ANNOUNCEMENTS COMING? “When you are in a process like this, you are going to look around at all the options. Tara wasn’t easy on these guys. She asked the questions that I needed to know to feel comfortable about making the decision to stay here. It came down to the fact that I see the potential. They gave the answers that I needed to hear. To know that this is a stable place and a place we can really build on. For me, that is all I needed to know. For me it is all about going out there and trying to win races. Anybody that has been around me knows that is all I care about. I think that a lot of it had to do with Jamie Allison, the head of Ford Racing, and Ford in general being huge supporters of this race team and huge supporters of me. Between RPM and Ford in general, they really made me feel like they wanted me to stay and be a part of this company as a whole. In the end, it made the decision easy. I look at the race teams that are out there, the 48’s, 24’s and 11’s, they have had huge success, and a lot of it is because they have been together for so long. I feel like we started something great here and we just need to build on it now.”
GILLETT CONTINUED: “I think that AJ and I have a great friendship and a mutual appreciation for what we are trying to do. I think we have accomplished a lot together since we have both been here. I think we have been open with each other through this process. In an athlete’s career, one of the great moments in your life is having the chance to choose what team or organization you are going to be with. It is your chance to put your own stamp on things. I think through many years of trying to get to this level you have to compromise. You finally arrive and get a chance to choose. We wanted AJ to choose for the right reason to be here. There are no secrets between us. We are all teammates here. We have a lot more good news coming as an organization. We have a base of which we believe we can propel cars to victory on a regular basis. I think drivers and partners want to be a part of that and we look forward to rolling that out in the future. We are excited to start with AJ and the No. 43 car because it is important to all of us. We are going to go down a path here for a few weeks and hopefully have a lot more news as we go. It is exciting times here at Richard Petty Motorsports.”
RICHARD PETTY: “We have some announcements in our pocket. We like to have press conferences, so we wanted to spread it out a little bit (laughter).”
ALLMENDINGER CONTINUED: WHAT ARE SOME OF THE SPECIFIC THINGS YOU SAW THAT ALLOWED YOU TO MAKE THIS DECISION AND DID YOU ACTUALLY TALK WITH ANY OTHER TEAMS? “Yeah, I am not going to sit here and lie. We talked to a lot of teams, which for me with everything I have been through the last three years in NASCAR, to have a lot of big team owners coming up to me about the opportunity to drive for them is pretty special. It is similar to last year with the King starting a fourth car with me with the Gillett family. They saw that I am passionate about it and want to go out there to win. For anything, that just made me feel good and know that I am doing the right things on and off the race track for people to want to talk to me. In the end, it is the relationship with Ford. They give us all the tools we could ask for to go out there with a chance to win every weekend. The new motor is getting a lot better and we are building on that. It was great to see Ford back in victory lane last week with the new motor. In general at RPM, the team is a lot of fun to be around. Everything at the race shop is a good energy and that is always fun to be around. The race cars are getting better every weekend. Like I said before, I am not where I want to be at when it comes to points and trying to contend to win races, but we are getting there. For me, it was tough to go out there and know everything we have built up here and go to a different team and have to start all over again. If you look at the great teams in NASCAR, they are not one and two year teams; they are teams that have been around for five or six years together. We have potential here and that is all I needed to see. We needed the right answers from Foster and Richard and those guys to know that this was a stable place. Tara fought hard to get those answers and Foster and Richard have been completely open and honest. We got the right answers and it made it very easy to know this was a place we could build on.”
PETTY CONTINUED: WHEN WE TALKED EARLY THIS YEAR YOU WERE HAVING SPONSORSHIP ISSUES, DO YOU FEEL THAT IS STARTING TO TURN AROUND FOR AUTO RACING? “I don’t know that it has turned around everywhere, but the partners we have had before have been really good to work with. We have a couple of new people that I think are coming on board, so really from an overall view it has not been easy by any means. I think it has come down better than what I thought it would. I see the deal of people tightening up, but they are loosening up in the deal of knowing they need to be advertising and be out in front of the people. It is coming together pretty good for us right now.”
GILLETT CONTINUED:“If I could elaborate on that, I think because of what we went through in the past with Dodge I think we were forced into the marketplace at a time it was at its worst. I don’t know many other teams that have added sponsorship and changed manufacturer affiliation like we have. We have a realistic idea of what the marketplace holds and run our race team to that. I think other race owners are going to have to look at how they do their business as they go in the marketplace and try to understand what partners are willing to do. I think things have changed and it is changing. I think Richard Petty Motorsports is at the spearhead of that. I think we’ve been through it and come out the other side. I think we understand what our partners need to be successful and others in this garage are going to have to do that. I feel proud that we have gotten through it and we are going to see others go in our wake. We are excited about that.”
GILLETT CONTINUED: I HEAR A LOT OF BUZZ WORDS LIKE STABILITY AND COMMITMENT, BUT WHAT DOES YOUR SPONSOR LINEUP LOOK LIKE FOR NEXT YEAR AND HOW MANY TEAMS DO YOU ANTICIPATE TO RUN IN 2011? “Obviously we have an opportunity we are seeking and things we have already done that we are waiting to talk about. It starts here and we will see over the coming weeks as we roll out or driving roster and partner roster we will have answers as we go along. Things are very good here. Richard and I were talking last weekend in Pocono and you saw a smile on both of our faces because it felt positive with what we were going through and what we had ahead.”
ALLMENDINGER CONTINUED: LOOKING AT WHO IS DEPARTING RPM AT THE END OF THIS YEAR, ARE YOU PREPARED TO BE A LEADER OF THIS TEAM DEPENDING ON WHO IS COMING IN AND SECONDLY CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR ROAD COURSE SUCCESS? “Yeah, that was a big selling point. I am ready to be a leader of this race team. It is something that I thrive on and excites me every day to know that I can be the guy. I have the confidence in myself to know I can lead this team and represent it to the best of its abilities. Hopefully, when people think about Richard Petty Motorsports, they think about me as the guy and the leader. It pumps me up to think about the opportunity to be the spearhead to take this team to a lot of victories and eventually a championship. As far as the road course racing goes, it is what I grew up doing. I grew up in Indy car and it is different with different techniques that you have to use, but now in the Sprint Cup series, everyone seems really good at road course racing. In the past you had a few guys, road course ringers that would really stand out, but now there are a lot better road course drivers than guys that are struggling at it. I don’t think anybody has an advantage now when you show up to these places, but I still love road course racing and wish we did a little bit more of it.”
GILLETT CONTINUED: DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE SILENCED YOUR CRITICS A LITTLE BIT CONSIDERING WHERE YOU WERE AT SIX MONTHS AGO AND WHAT DID YOU TELL AJ AND TARA TO CONVINCE HIM THAT HE SHOULD STAY? “I think in this sport it is wonderful because the talking happens on the track and I think that AJ and Tara see our commitment to getting better. I think some of that is through our partners that have continued to support us and our unbelievable partnership with Ford. Since day one that we walked through the door they have been excited about us being there and wanted AJ to stay. I understand the criticism because it is part of life and part of sports. It is what churns the pot and keeps everything going. We do this for ourselves, our partners and our own success. We are our hardest critics. I think we hold ourselves to high standards and try our best. We look forward to winning races and progressing to championships and try to do everything we thought we could do. I met AJ at my bus in Talladega after he had separated from Red Bull and there were six races to go in the season and we talked about putting him in our car. I told him that he made the right decision to come to RPM because this was going to be a long term relationship that we were going to work on. I am proud that those five races turned into a season and a second season and then a long term relationship. We are excited about that and we all want to win together. We are a family and we are pretty excited.”
GILLETT CONTINUED: CAN YOU ADDRESS HOW YOU SEE AJ AS A LEADER IN THIS ORGANIZATION GOING FORWARD? “I think AJ’s passion for this sport is obvious. I think the way he works with our partners and our people is phenomenal. I think there are some drivers on different teams that call in and are around, but AJ is in our shop daily and knows every single person on our race team. Our guys root for him a lot because last year and in previous years, every person has felt a part of AJ and what he is doing. When I told the guys in the shop, it was great news for them. We are looking forward to AJ being that and stepping to the forefront, blazing the way and other people trying to catch him on our team and we encourage him to do that. We like the way he drives and how he handles our partners and so we think that is the future, which is why we have done this.”
Carl Edwards has a pair of top-five finishes to his credit over five career starts at Watkins Glen, including a career best third place finish last year. Edwards talked about road racing on the NASCAR circuit, his ominous debut at the Glen and his thoughts on Atlanta’s future.
“I am really encouraged. Our team has been doing really well and we have had I think four top-10’s in a row. Last week is exactly what we needed as a team. It was cool to have two guys in the top three and to get a victory. I talked to Jack this week and he says every time he hurts himself we go out and win, but he doesn’t know if his body can take it to keep that up. I told him he doesn’t need to do that for us to get to victory lane. I love this race track. We finished third here last year and the year before that I thought we had a shot at the win but I ran off into the dirt and finished eighth or something like that. This is a really fun track for me and I feel really good about it.”
TALKING ABOUT QUALIFYING, IT IS AMAZING TO THINK THAT YOU GAINED 30 SPOTS LAST YEAR, CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW YOU DID THAT? “That is something Bob and I have talked about. We have to qualify better. I don’t know what I am doing wrong, or what we are doing wrong with the car. It seems like after qualifying we are hanging our heads but then after the race we are one of the fastest two or three race cars. I have a feeling it would be easier to run third, second or first if we started closer to that position. That is something we are going to work on. It is going to be a little more difficult with having a day between practice and qualifying and running the Nationwide car. When you start a race 33rd and have a survival mentality, then you race for the lead for like 20 minutes it is tough. If I were racing like that the whole time I would have a better chance.
HOW DID YOU PASS ALL THOSE CARS LAST YEAR? “I don’t remember how I passed them all. I think it was pit strategy. I don’t think I have ever passed that many cars on a road race before. A lot of it was strategy and restarts. If someone makes a mistake you can pick up three of four spots in a hurry, but it can go the other way too. We just need to qualify better that’s all.”
ATLANTA MOTOR SPEEDWAY HAS ANNOUNCED IT IS LOSING A RACE DATE FOR 2011. FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE, WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO LOSE A RACE THERE AND POTENTIALLY GO TO KENTUCKY? “That is a tough one. I think Atlanta is one of, if not the greatest oval that we go to. I think that track has all of the things that make racing fun. It has history and a surface that is really fun to race on. The fans there are very knowledgeable about racing and it is a grueling race. It is fast and exciting, so to lose a race there to me is a little sad. I love that place and every time I come through the gates reminds me of my weekend that I won my first two races in this series. To go to Kentucky though, those fans there really love NASCAR racing, so that will be great if that is what happens. I think all of us will enjoy going to Kentucky. In the end, it would be pretty neat to go to all the tracks one time. I don’t know how the politics work, but it would be fun to go to all the tracks one time. Coming to these road courses once a year is special, not only for us, but for the fans. Maybe it will work out better and let more fans enjoy the sport.”
HOW IS JACK AND WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT AN ALL-STAR RACE IN ATLANTA? “An All-Star race in Atlanta would be exciting. The surface there would allow for some amazing feats of car control. At Charlotte, the surface is aging and getting better, but in Atlanta you can drive the cars down in there sideways with smoking tires. I don’t know if that will ever happen because that Charlotte weekend is pretty neat the way it is, but it is a good thought. Jack is really good. I saw him yesterday. He is a lot better than I expected. He is Jack. We talked a lot about the race this weekend and what we were doing with our teams. He seems really good to me.”
IF YOU ARE IN THIRD PLACE WITH 10 LAPS TO GO ON SUNDAY, WHO ARE TWO DRIVERS YOU DON’T WANT TO SEE IN FIRST AND SECOND? Marcos Ambrose is one for sure. I think he is going to be the guy to beat. That is my forecast for the weekend. I probably have to go with Tony Stewart too. I stared at those guys a year ago and they were pretty fast. I don’t see either of them being slouches this weekend.”
WHAT DO THEY DO THAT MAKES THEM GOOD ON ROAD COURSES? “I have never been close to Tony and gone testing with him or talked about his style of driving, but Marcos I have been around a lot. We ran a Grand-Am race, well we didn’t run it because I wrecked in practice, but we partnered up and went testing and he is just an unbelievable road racer. He can break later, go faster through the corner and get on the gas sooner than anybody I have ever gone with. He is just really good.”
A VICTORY HERE WOULD BE GREAT, BUT WHAT WOULD A WIN AT MICHIGAN DO FOR JACK AND COULD YOU COMPARE WATKINS GLEN TO MONTREAL?
A VICTORY HERE WOULD BE GREAT, BUT WHAT WOULD A WIN AT MICHIGAN DO FOR JACK AND COULD YOU COMPARE WATKINS GLEN TO MONTREAL?“A win at Michigan would be huge, but right now any wins we can get for Ford and Roush Fenway are great. All the guys have been working so hard, if we can keep this momentum going forward and keep running well and winning races, it is what we have to do. We are on the step, this is the way Jack described it, we have a chance to either step up or step down. That would be huge and Michigan would be a great place to take that next step. Sonoma is its own thing. It is hilly, slippery and slower, so it is more of a finesse track. This track is kind of a combination. There are some slower sections like the last two corners onto the front straightaway that are finesse. Then there are huge high speed areas and breaking zones. Then there is Montreal which is full on, go all the way through the gears, come to a stop and turn right and left. It is a real stop and go race track. On a scale, I would say that Sonoma is swoopy and smooth, Watkins Glen is in the middle and Montreal is very aggressive. It is fun that we get to go to all of them.”
CAN YOU TALK FROM A HISTORICAL CONTEXT WHAT WATKINS GLEN MEANS ON THE CIRCUIT AND WHAT IT WOULD MEAN FOR YOU TO GET A WIN HERE?
CAN YOU TALK FROM A HISTORICAL CONTEXT WHAT WATKINS GLEN MEANS ON THE CIRCUIT AND WHAT IT WOULD MEAN FOR YOU TO GET A WIN HERE?“As a kid growing up and watching on TV, I always thought this was a neat one to watch. The one I always remember is Rusty Wallace on his birthday running second and off in the dirt doing everything he could to get the win. For me, coming here my first time, it was such a challenging race track. I think it was a two day test, Nationwide and Cup right after one another. I wrecked my Nationwide car right off the bat and Brad Parrott was my crew chief and he said, ‘That is it, if you wrecked the first one that early you will probably wreck the second one and we can’t afford it.’ So I sat and watched guys test all day. The next morning I went out in the Cup car and backed it into the fence in the first lap and I thought this was not the way to start a relationship with a race track. Now I have run here pretty well the last few times and it is a track that I have worked very hard at and has become something I really look forward to.”
DID YOU EVER DO ANYTHING CRAZY GROWING UP IN MISSOURI THAT HELPED YOU WITH ROAD COURSE RACING?
DID YOU EVER DO ANYTHING CRAZY GROWING UP IN MISSOURI THAT HELPED YOU WITH ROAD COURSE RACING?“Yeah, not legal though. There were some really neat gravel roads where I grew up and I had a Ford Ranger that was perfect when they put fresh gravel down. It became the perfect road racing car because you are going really slow but could slide the rear end around the corners. Video games have helped me a lot to see which corners make up time on the race track. Nothing too crazy, I didn’t race go karts or anything. This was all pretty new to me and I showed it the first time I came here. That day I had a special paint scheme on for our sponsor and no decals so it looked different. Casey Mears came up to me and said, ‘Hey did you see that idiot back into the fence at 9:05 this morning?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, that was me dude.’ I was that bad. Boris (Said) has helped the most I would say.”
DID YOU TEAR UP YOUR PICKUP TRUCK? “I did hit one tree with my Pickup Truck in the snow, but I was fast until I hit that tree, so that was good.”
Matt Kenseth, currently ninth in the Sprint Cup Series driver point standings, has three top-10 efforts on his Watkins Glen resume heading into Sunday’s Helluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen. Kenseth took time to talk with media about road racing at The Glen, the improved safety at the track and his hopes next week in Michigan.
DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THE CHANGES TO THE TRACK SINCE LAST YEAR? HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT THEM? “I haven’t heard about them but I saw them all today.”
WITH RESPECT TO SAFETY, HOW DO YOU THINK THE CHANGES WILL AFFECT YOU GUYS OUT THERE? “Well, when you are racing you don’t really think about the safety of the track. It is the last thing you really thing about. I did notice that they paved a lot of the run-off areas that were gravel which will be good as far as not causing cautions. I don’t think cars will get stuck in there like they used to. We could have someone wreck to cause caution, but they won’t get stuck like they used to. The SAFER barriers that they put out are good because there have been some bad accidents out there before.”
WHAT DO YOU EXPECT TO SEE IN REGARD TO DOUBLE FILE RESTARTS THIS WEEKEND? “This track does have more room than Sonoma and is more forgiving. Double file restarts at road courses aren’t a lot of fun for the drivers, but they are fun to watch for everyone else. In turn one there is a lot of room to get through there, but you have to get closer to single file as you get through the esses.”
IS THERE A PART OF THIS TRACK THAT YOU REALLY DON’T LIKE OR IS HARD FOR YOU? “No, I really like this track, especially compared to Sonoma. It is faster and there is more room to get around. There are parts we do better at than others here, but overall I really like this track.”
RUMORS ARE CIRCULATING ABOUT SCHEDULE CHANGES FOR NEXT YEAR AND WE KNOW ATLANTA IS DOWN TO ONE RACE FOR SURE, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE SCHEDULE CHANGES? “I don’t know what all the changes are, other than Atlanta announcing they are only having one race. It is too bad because I love going there, but on the other hand you look up and it is one of the smallest crowds we have all year. If people don’t go to the track then we have to go to the tracks where people go, that just makes business sense for the track owners. It is one of the best tracks we race on. It is one of the most fun and one that the drivers really like, similar to how Rockingham was and probably Darlington before they paved it. It is a really fun track and you will miss racing on it, but I am glad we are still going to be there once.”
ARE YOU AWARE WHO IS AROUND YOU ON A TRACK LIKE THIS OR IF TWO CARS THAT HAVE HAD ISSUES, FOR EXAMPLE THE 48 AND 2, ARE YOU AWARE WHEN THEY ARE AROUND EACH OTHER AND YOU ARE AROUND THEM? “No, not really, especially here where you are just trying to hit your points the best you can, hit your braking zones and get through the corners as fast as you can. If somebody is pressuring then you will watch to see if you are getting out-braked, but you don’t really pay attention to what other people have going on too much.”
LOOKING AHEAD TO MICHIGAN, ARE YOU BRINGING THE SAME SETUP THE SECOND TIME THAT YOU DID THE FIRST TIME? “Hey, did you know that Fiesta is pacing the field at Michigan? As far as our car goes, I hope not, we haven’t run very well there the last two or three races. It used to be one of our best places, but Kasey ran well there last time. I think all of us as an organization looked at their stuff to try to get our stuff better.”
HAVE YOU HAD A CHANCE TO TALK TO JACK? “I talked to him a couple of times. I talked to him last Sunday and it sounded like he was in really good spirits and looking forward to getting back to the track.”
Greg Biffle, fresh off his first victory in 64 races last weekend at Pocono, stands 11th in the latest point standings heading into Sunday’s race at The Glen. Biffle talked about the victory last weekend, his visit with Jack Roush and momentum gained heading down the stretch.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE RELIEF YOU MUST HAVE FELT AFTER WINNING LAST WEEKEND AND HOW YOU FOLLOW UP THAT PERFORMANCE? “Certainly last week was a huge relief for our entire company and Ford and 3M. It was a big win for us. I really enjoy road racing. It is a lot of fun and I like this track a lot. I have a win here under my belt in the truck series. Things felt really good off the truck this morning. The track is starting to free up a little bit for everybody. We lost a little speed toward the end, but we will keep working on our car. We had a flat tire, so we lost a set of tires and we won’t probably be quite as good in the next one. We are going to fire-off at about 15-lap tires. I think we are looking decent for a good top-five and I think we can challenge for a win if our weekend goes right.”
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE SAFETY IMPROVEMENTS THEY HAVE MADE HERE? “Unbelievable. It is amazing to see what they have done around this race track. It is so nice to see a race track respond so quickly to what appeared to be a pretty bad accident last race. They have done a fantastic job with this race track. I think it is going to be a fun race and they have definitely made it a lot safer. I keep saying that it is hard to drive these cars in the grass. It makes it real difficult when it is next to the edge of the race track and you can get off in that area. That is a huge improvement for this race track.”
HAVE YOU BEEN DOING ANY EXTRA WORK ON YOUR ROAD COURSE RACING TO HAVE A GOOD FINISH LAST YEAR AND BE FASTEST IN THE FIRST PRACTICE TODAY? “I think it is just a natural progression. This is a different race car than we had before. Actually, this is a completely different race car. We went more towards the RPM cars and what they had for road cars at Sonoma and here. We made that decision in the spring time when we took what we raced last year at Sonoma and here and what the No. 9 raced at both tracks. He won Sonoma and was running good here. We took and compared those two cars and I drove both my car and Kasey’s car and Kasey drove both cars as well and I felt Kasey’s car was better in regard to the way it drove. I think both organizations have that type of front suspension in their cars here. This is a different race car here for me than last year. It has a completely different front suspension setup and I like the way it is driving.”
DID YOU VISUALIZE YOUR NAME AT THE TOP OF THE FIRST PRACTICE SHEET BEFORE YOU GOT HERE AND HOW DO THE CHANGES TO THE TRACK MANIFEST THEMSELVES ON THE RACE TRACK IN YOUR FEEL IN THE RACE CAR? “The car just turns a lot better and is a lot more sensitive with the steering wheel. It seems like it is better through the high speed corners, which this race track is mostly high speed compared to Sonoma. Sonoma is not nearly as high speed. I don’t do as well on low speed corners like at Sonoma, so it is good for me that there aren’t that many here. I have been thinking about this race a lot. I like to road race. It is fun to do a couple of times a year. I had been thinking about coming here and being able to challenge for the win. Before the last few weeks, I felt like there would be four or five guys that we would be able to run with at this race track and I would just have to hope that we could out smart them on strategy. I don’t think that is the case now. I think we can challenge the fastest cars for the win on Sunday. I didn’t think I would be at the top of this sheet, but I am sure happy about it.”
WHO ARE SOME OF THE GUYS YOU CONSIDER TO BE TOP DRIVERS HERE? “Tony (Stewart) has won five of them here in the last seven races. He is definitely one to watch. Jeff Gordon’s name is thrown around a lot. The 48 won at Sonoma and has momentum coming in. The 11 and 18 are both usually good. Those are kind of the guys. You can always throw a road racer in there like Marcos Ambrose. We knew that Marcos was going to be tough when he was faster than Jeff Gordon here at the tire test. There was a handful of guys that I felt would be really tough, and they still are, but I am happy that I am at least as fast as they are.”
DID YOU GO SEE JACK AND HOW DEFENSIVE CAN YOU BE ON THIS RACE TRACK? “I think that when you have double file restarts on a road course that you will see guys knocking into each other. These race tracks are hard to race side by side. When you get the field bunched up and get side by side, it is very hard to stay on the course and not give your neighbor enough room. You will definitely see some bumping and banging here. As far as Jack’s condition, before we left to see him yesterday morning, before we went to ESPN, I was told there was an outside chance that he wouldn’t be there. He had a procedure in the morning and had gone to get a MRI. They were still looking at his face. Unfortunately when I had gotten there, they had taken him to do the MRI and he wasn’t there. He was expected to be back but wasn’t back yet and he was going in for his procedure. Unfortunately the timing didn’t work out. I had to be on the ground by noon at ESPN, so I left the trophy in his room on the end of his desk right there at the end of his bed. I am sure when he came back in he was excited to see it. I told him that if he didn’t get out of there soon I would be bringing him another one.”
HOW MUCH DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU NOW HAVE UNDERNEATH YOU WHAT YOU NEED TO WIN? “100-percent everywhere we go now. You can play ‘what if’ all day long, but we had a car that could have won at Chicago. We could have competed for the win there. Whether I could have beaten David on the last run of the race, who knows. Certainly we were as good as or a little better than Carl with one run to go, or whenever that was. Carl finished second. That race I feel like I had a chance to win, not scratch and claw for a 15th place finish. In Indy, arguably myself and Montoya had the two fastest cars there and it came down to four tires or two tires and track position. Sunday was a different circumstance. I didn’t feel like I had the best car early on or three-quarters of the way through the race. My car really turned on at the end. The adjustments really came around. I felt like at the end, even if the caution came out, that I had a piece to race with those guys. Coming here after a race at Sonoma, I think that I got at least an equal opportunity to win here and Michigan I can’t wait for. It is one of my favorite places to race. I think we are going to take our Pocono and Indy car there, no we aren’t, but we are taking something similar to what we have at those two races.”
CAN YOU TALK A LITTLE ABOUT THE SET UP OF THE CAR AND CAN YOU, CARL AND MATT DRIVE A SIMILAR CAR SO THAT AS YOU MOVE FORWARD YOU CAN FIND SOMETHING THAT HELPS YOU ALL OUT? “I think our driving styles are fairly similar. Our crew chiefs have a little different philosophy, so you look at the set up sheet and see minor differences in the car, whether it is springs or bars or whatever. I think Matt and I are probably the closest out of our organization as far as set up and what we like to drive and what we like to feel in a race car. It has been surprising that Matt has lacked a little bit with this new suspension package and new geometry. I thought that I would be swatting against him for the front. He is right there and they are getting better. We will wait and see how he is at Michigan.
WHAT IS YOUR MINDET COMING DOWN THE STRETCH TOWARD THE CHASE? “Last week did a lot for our mindset. It did a lot for our team internally. We know we are in the fight of our life to get in the Chase right now. I feel like, confidence level, I really feel like we can win again in the next five races. I really do feel that way. We have run so well the last three or four race tracks and we have Michigan, Atlanta, Bristol, here all coming up. Those are some great race tracks for us that are right down our alley. If things go right, we can run right up front and be competitive. Even if we don’t win, we need to run top fives and I definitely think we are capable of that.”