Chase Media Day: 6 Contender Transcripts

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
CHASE FOR THE NASCAR SPRINT CUP
CONTENDER ROUND MEDIA DAY
TEAM CHEVY DRIVER PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPTS
OCTOBER 6, 2015

MARTIN TRUEX JR., NO. 78 FURNITURE ROW/VISSER PRECISION CHEVROLET SS:

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  Well, I mean, every race is important, obviously.  But I think for this round, Talladega being the third race is really like on everybody’s mind.  It’s like Charlotte, Kansas, all right, what can we do to hopefully win, if not be in a really comfortable position going to Talladega.  So for us, two great racetracks for us, ran really well at both of them this year, felt like we probably should have won both of them, so that’s a good feeling going into those tracks, but at the same time that was a long time ago.  Everybody has stepped it up since then, and we’ve got to find some more.  We’ve got to find some more performance, some more speed.  It would be nice to win one of those first two, just not to worry about Talladega.  I think everybody is worried about it right now.


American Muscle

Q.        It’s amazing to me how much you guys talk about a race within a single year when you go back to it the second time, it changes so much.  This one you’ll have 100 miles less, you’ll be at night the whole time instead of just part of the time.  How much differently do you approach Charlotte this time?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  It’s going to be a lot different.  I think probably the biggest change right now is you figure when we were there in June or July, it was 90‑some degrees.  Really hot, really slick.  It’s going to be in the 60s this weekend probably at night.  The track is going to be ultra‑fast.  Tire wear is going to be different.  The things you need to set the car up is going to be different just because the pace is going to be so fast.  So it’s definitely going to be a different ballgame for sure.

Q.        And then moving on to Kansas, did you do the test there?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  Yes, tire test.

Q.        What are you expecting from that?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  It went good.  Honestly we mostly worked on 2016 rules, low downforce stuff, so we didn’t really do a lot of testing on this year’s package or the stuff we run there.  But the little bit of running we did in this year’s stuff, the car felt great, and it really was a lot like what we raced there the first race.  So not expecting any curve balls, but do feel like we probably could have been a little bit better last time around, and we’re focused on trying to hit those areas for sure.

Q.        Is the track starting to come back into its own a little bit?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  Yeah, track is definitely coming back.  The test day there, we were running the second groove by noon the first day, so yeah, I mean, in the summer race, earlier in the summer race, we were running middle to pretty high.  I think some guys were running all the way up near the wall.  Track is definitely coming around.  It’s going to be an awesome racetrack when it really gets wore in, but definitely getting there quick, and should be a good race.

Q.        You’ve mentioned it a few times, but when you get to Talladega, what’s the first thing that runs through your mind, even if you’re not locked in, especially if you’re not locked in?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  I mean, you don’t know.  I mean, there’s just so many unknowns there.  You’re really just trying to survive, but it’s nearly impossible.  It’s out of your control.  You go race ‑‑ my outlook the last few times we’ve went there has been try to stay at the front, try to lead laps, try to keep the thing at the front the most you can, and even that is no guarantee.  It’s stressful, you know, for sure.  It’s going to be ‑‑ there are going to be some sleepless nights that week no doubt for a lot of people, and again, that’s why there’s so much effort being put into Charlotte and Kansas.

Q.        Physically it’s one of the least demanding tracks that you face, but do you feel like mentally exhausted when you get out of the car there?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  Yeah, mentally, just that chess game all day long, 500 miles of that moving and shucking and driving and trying to put yourself in the right positions.  You know that one move, while it may not be the wrong move, could put you in that danger zone at any point in time.  You’re always battling that, just trying to figure out where the best place is to be.  Some guys lay back and try to stay behind the pack.  Some guys try to stay at the front.  It’s hard to know when you’re in a bad spot to get out to say, I’m getting out of here for a couple laps, hang on, and you just never know when it’s going to happen.  Sometimes it just blows up in your face and there’s nothing you can do.

Q.        Are you guys able to bank on how well you did in the 600 or when you go back to Charlotte is it that much different in terms of conditions, weather, all that sort of stuff?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  Yeah, for sure.  I think we can use a lot of what we did there.  I think the first off is just the mindset of how we approach the setup of the race car and the weekend.  We can use some of that.  But weather conditions are going to be so much different.  We were talking earlier, it was probably 90, 95 degrees when we raced there in June or July I guess it was.  You know, and this time around it’s probably going to be in the 60s Saturday night.  It’s going to be a huge difference.  A lot of the stuff you did on the race car is going to be different, but I think the mindset and the approach is similar.  We had a really strong car there, but we know a lot of people have stepped up and improved their programs since then, and we have to do the same, and the guys at the shop are working hard on trying to find some more speed, and hopefully we’ll go in there and have a good weekend.

Q.        Speaking of stressful, what was it like for you when you saw the car leaving the grid right before the Dover race?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  You know, I didn’t even see it actually.  I was at driver intros, and Marty Snyder from NBC was like, hey, your car is not out here.  I was like ‑‑ I looked at Newman.  He’s like, yeah, I just walked by it coming out here, and then I seen on TV that it was back in the garage.  I was like, well, that’s not good.  It actually wasn’t as bad as you’d think.  I felt really good about the race car we had going into the race.  I obviously felt really good about Dover.  I always do.  It’s just something about that track just gives me a lot of confidence, and they were like, we’ve got to go to the rear.  I’m like, no worries, we’ll be fine.

Q.        So it didn’t ratchet up the stress level a lot?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  No, not at all, no.  If anything it made me more focused.  I was kind of mad about it for a minute, and then I was like, you know what you’ve got to do, just go do it, and we did it, so it was good.

Q.        Going into this next round, talk about the confidence you have from being able to make it this far?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  To be honest I feel better about the second round than I did the first, just track‑wise and where we were going and the things we had going on.  I feel more confidence in the first two races of this round, just because of my past history at Kansas.  I feel like any one of these next couple races I’m going to finally get that win there, so that’s a really good feeling.  Charlotte, you know, in the first race, the best I’ve ever run there, led the most laps.  Really felt like we were in position to win it.  Didn’t have the right fuel mileage or the fuel strategy I guess it was.  Kind of got snookered on that.  But a lot of confidence going into those two racetracks, and luckily for us, we do, because Talladega is the third round, and that’s obviously a crap shoot.  Nobody really knows.  It would be awesome to get a win the first two races.  I think out of the first round and the third round, this second one is probably the most important to get that win early just because of Talladega.  It’s such an unknown.  Unless you’ve got an 88 on your door, your chances of winning there are pretty slim.  We’ll see what happens.

Q.        I realize you guys are focused on your own deal, but do you still kind of pay attention to what the 4 is doing, especially after last weekend?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  You know, I didn’t.  I think you’ve got to worry about yourself.  I think it comes down to Homestead, absolutely you have to worry about what other guys are doing because it’s for all the marbles there.  You pretty much have to win Homestead to win the championship, right?  On Sunday I never even asked anything about what was going on until about 10 to go.  I was like, are we good?  Do we need to do anything?  If something weird happens do we chill out, or what’s going on?  I think you’ve got to worry about yourself.  It’s real easy to get caught up in what other guys are doing and make mistakes and lose your focus.  We’re just ultra‑focused on what we need to do, what it takes, and take it one race at a time, try to do the best you can do.

Q.        Are you in favor of one of the things being talked about, limiting green‑white‑checkers at a race to maybe one attempt as opposed to three?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  I mean, just from the standpoint of owners throwing away money for one extra green‑white‑checker, yeah, because all you do is destroy race cars.  When it gets to that point, guys just lose their minds and hold it wide open no matter what the situation.  So yeah, I think it’s a good thing.  We tear up so much stuff there anyway, it would be nice for at least half the field to bring home a race car.

Q.        (Inaudible.)

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  Well, I feel fortunate, but I feel like we did our job.  We felt like going into the first round, there was no ‑‑ there was really no issue with us moving on.  The season we’ve had, the consistency we’ve had, the speed we’ve had, it was like, okay, this should be no problem, barring anything crazy happening, and we were able to do that.  We didn’t make mistakes.  We didn’t beat ourselves.  That was our first goal, and we were able to do that.  I feel good about that, and now we’ll reset, and ready to go for more.

Q.        Do you feel blessed?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  Blessed, definitely blessed.  Absolutely.

Q.        Obviously the next three races (inaudible) do you have to look at the first two a little differently knowing you don’t want to go to Talladega ‑‑

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  Without a doubt.  Nobody wants to go to Talladega and say I’ve got to finish top 10 or I’ve got to do this or do that because there’s no way of knowing what’s going to happen there.  So yeah, I think this round is probably the most stressful because of Talladega.  I think everybody is really putting a lot of pressure on themselves to do good in these first two and try to get a win so you don’t have to worry about Talladega.  That would be the ultimate.  There’s going to be a lot of us trying to do that, so it’s not going to be easy.

Q.        (Inaudible.)

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  It’s definitely different.  You know, it’s similar to Vegas I would say, but it’s definitely a smoother surface, and it’s got different asphalt on it than Vegas does.  It’s only been repaved now, what, I think four years, and it’s already starting to get wider.  The second groove is coming in, third groove even when we were there the first time around.  So it’s starting to really get like back to how it used to be.  It was an awesome racetrack before they paved it, and it’s really getting close to that again.  Something about the sweeping turns there and just the way the corner entry and exit load the car, it’s a place where I’ve always been really comfortable and feel like been really good.  I’ve been really close to winning there multiple times, but none of them would be more important to win than this time around, and hopefully those heartbreakers that we’ve had in the past will come back to help us this time around.  That’s what I’m banking on.

Q.        You guys are so strong in Vegas.  Do you feel like you have that same momentum going after this first round?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  Yeah, I mean, I think that ‑‑ not quite.  I don’t think we quite have that confidence that we can go every week and lead the most laps and have a shot at winning like we had then.  We need a little bit for that.  But I think some of that was racetrack determined.  I think these next two weeks are going to be a real telltale sign for us.  Charlotte and Kansas, I felt like we had the best car both of those races, should have won those races, and if we go there this time around and we’re not as competitive as we were then, we’re going to be disappointed, and we’re going to be looking at ourselves saying, what do we got to do to turn this thing around.  It’s going to be a really good measuring stick for us this weekend to see where we stack up, what we need to work on.  But I think we feel really good about it.  Certainly the weather is going to be a lot different.  It’s going to be 65 degrees probably Saturday night where it was 95 degrees there for the 600 or whatever.  It was really, really hot.  So that definitely throws a curveball and changes things.  But I think, yeah, we feel good about it, and we’ve already made it further than anyone expected us to, so the rest is a bonus, right?

Q.        When you look at the guys that are favorites going into this, guys that have gone out the first round, how do you approach that?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  You just focus on your job.  You can’t worry about them and what they’re doing.  The only time we look at them is to see how fast they’re going and maybe see if we can figure out how they’re doing it.  Aside from that you’ve got to focus on your own deal.  We know what we’re capable of.  We know what we need to do to be better, and really it’s just focus on that.  For us the first round didn’t go ‑‑ we made it through, we did what we wanted to do, but it didn’t go as well as we wanted it to.  I felt like we gave up some spots at Dover and at Chicago.  We ran better than we finished at both of those races, and that’s something that going down the road cannot happen because you’ll find yourself on the outside looking in.  So we’re going to focus on that stuff, clean up some little areas here and there and really try to execute better.

Q.        Kevin was saying how tough it’s been on the guys in the shop to take care of these cars for the final 10.  Has it been tougher on those guys than in years past?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  Yeah, I mean, I think that the amount of effort put in this year by our guys is just incredible.  You’ve got to remember, we’re a single‑car team and we have 50‑some employees.  You look at these guys with four cars, they have 300, 400.  I mean, you look at a place like Hendrick Motorsports, they’ve probably got close to 500 employees.  We do a lot with less people than most people, and our guys have worked really hard to bust their butts, and honestly, we didn’t put in the effort that we could have on the low downforce and the high‑drag package, simply for the fact that we couldn’t.  We didn’t have the time to dedicate to that.  We said ‑‑ when the year started we put all our eggs in the basket of the ’15 rules and the ’15 package and really built our whole car around that.  So we didn’t have not only the time but the money and the resources to put behind those other two.

So that kind of got us off a little bit through the summer, honestly.  We lost some consistency, and that was part of it.  But we were still fast at all those racetracks.

So we never really lost confidence.  We never really lost that consistent speed that we’ve had all year.  It just came down to circumstances and sometimes not executing perfectly each weekend.

Q.        Does it give you that confidence knowing that you ran well with that package earlier in the year?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  Absolutely, absolutely, yeah.  When the ’15 rules ‑‑ when we started screwing around with all that stuff, we were second in points, we had the most top 10s, we had won a race, and we felt like we’re going to go after this championship, and we kind of got off track a little bit.  We needed to gather it in, try to find some more speed on that package, try to step up our game, and hopefully we’ll figure out where we stand at Charlotte.

Q.        Is it frustrating when that happens because you had this good run going and you have all this thrown in the mix?  It was really kind of an experiment?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  It wasn’t really frustrating as much as it was like ‑‑ we felt like we were right where we wanted to be, and we wanted to keep going down this road, and somebody said, no, you can’t take that road, you’ve got to go down this one, and we’re going come back and swing around in two months and go back down that one, so I don’t know, just kind of got us out of sync, out of sync, and just figuring out, okay, where are we going to ‑‑ when we get back to Chicago in September, where are we going to be.  Three months we haven’t run this package at these racetracks, how hard ‑‑ how much do we need to focus on certain areas?  Are we going to be a 10th place car when that happens or are we still going to be running up front?  So it was just a lot of unknowns, a lot of question marks.

And really the only way to find out is to go to the racetrack and see what you have.  We did that at Chicago, we did it at Dover, and we got some really good ideas going forward, and we just have to see how they handle.

Q.        Talk about how anything can happen and how important it is to ‑‑

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  Absolutely.  I mean, there’s so much pressure on everyone to do their job perfectly, and then you have thousands of little parts on these race cars that can fail at any moment.  You have a caution ‑‑ untimely caution.  There’s so many things that can take you out of this championship fight that are out of your control.  So really you just have to focus on what you can control, go out there and race hard each and every weekend and hope that something bad doesn’t happen.

Q.        How difficult is all the stress and pressure and not to worry about that and go out there and race like you would any other time?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  I think for us, for our group, it’s not that difficult.  We don’t have a lot of expectations on us.  I think most people didn’t even have us moving through the first round.  For us it’s more about personal goals and wanting to prove people wrong and just go out there and really just do a great job.  I think for some of the guys that are favorites or expected to be there, I think there’s more pressure on them, so I think we’re in a great spot.  We’re just going to go out there and have fun and keep doing what we’ve done all year long, and hopefully step up our program a little bit in the next couple weeks, and who knows, it would sure be nice to get to Homestead and have a shot at this thing.

Q.        I was going to ask you about Richard Petty.

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  Sure.

Q.        Talk about what he means to you.

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  Yeah, I mean, Richard Petty is ‑‑ he is NASCAR.  I mean, when you think about NASCAR, even if you don’t watch it or know what it is, you know what Richard Petty is.  I mean, most people do.  I think the coolest part about him is just what he’s done throughout the years for the sport.  He is the king for a reason, and the fact that he’s still around, he’s still involved, he’s still at the racetrack all the time, the same guy he was 30, 40 years ago when he was winning races is just incredible.

He’s a great role model for all of us drivers to model ourselves after and just one of the coolest cats you’d ever meet.  It’s always fun to talk to him and see him at the racetrack.

Q.        Talk about your experience racing at Rockingham.

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  I got to race twice at Rockingham, 2003 and 2004 in the XFINITY Series, and finished second there both times.  One of the most fun racetracks I can ever remember running on.  Wish we still went there.  It’s a great old racetrack.  Really fun, really different than anywhere we go these days, and would be cool to get it back on the schedule somewhere somehow.

Q.        (Inaudible.)

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  All the time.  Especially Sherry talks to his mom probably three, four times a week.

Q.        Talk about the Chase here (inaudible) beat off pit road.  It seemed like it didn’t matter what the tires were.  Looking back on that does that give you a lot of confidence?  I know the weather is going to be different, but is it one of these racetracks where given the rules package (inaudible) does that gives you a lot of confidence?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  It does.  It definitely does.  You know, and it also gives us a good measuring stick of where we stand today compared to where we were then.  You know, we’ll go there and hopefully be able to get the same results as last time as far as our speed goes and then capitalize on that and get the job done and hopefully close the deal and win.  But we know a lot of guys have stepped up their programs since then.  We’ve seen the Gibbs guys come on strong a few weeks after all that, after those races, and have won a lot of races here lately.  The 4 car seems like he’s faster here now than he’s ever been.  We’re really going to get to see, okay, where do we stand, are we in the hunt, or do we really need to work hard to get some more speed for these next six or seven races.  You know, I think we definitely have a lot of confidence, but I think we want to go there and be able to win.  We don’t want to just go there and run top 10.  Especially with Talladega being that third race, we’re going to really find out what we have at Charlotte and then hopefully we’ll be able to be 100 percent prepared to go win Kansas because that’s a place that I know we can win at.  I’ve come so close there before, and it would ‑‑ if we ever ‑‑ if there was ever a time we really need to capitalize and finish the deal there at that track, it would be this time around.

Q.        Speaking of Kansas, you’ve had that win slip away there.  With you guys being in Denver is that a little bit of a home game for you?  Next to Phoenix, that’s as close as you guys get?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  It is the closest race from what they tell me to Denver, so they treat it that way.  Any time we go that direction they’re happy because they have to travel less distance, and they’re on less time change.  So yeah, they definitely look at it that way, and they bring a lot more people to the racetrack because of it.

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KURT BUSCH, NO. 41 STATE WATER HEATERS CHEVROLET SS:

KURT BUSCH:  I think it’s going to stay as tight as it will in the next two rounds, but this first round, I didn’t expect it to be that tight.  The competition of 16 cars and the probability of everybody finishing that close happened because I think enough people had mediocre finishes, and then you have exactly the right timing, so to speak, for a yellow to come out at Dover.  That basically took everybody that was running I’d say fourth to ninth to come in for tires and everybody from 10th to the tail end of the lead lap stayed out, and so you did a flip‑flop, and then nobody could pass each other at the end.  Everybody was running real aggressive, which was great to see, and everybody treated each other with respect.

But it was because everybody got flip‑flopped, and I think that happened at Chicago, as well, on that last restart.  I was the leader at Chicago at the end and Jeff Gordon was second, and we were on old tires on that front row, and we tried to do the best we could to get away from the guys, and Jeff ended up 14th after he was running second.  You know, I was leading, I ended up third.

So what we have in all these restarts is a lot of flip‑flops at the end.  So that’s going to be a continued trait of how these races are going to finish up is people are more or less just gambling on what they think they can get for track position at the end, even though they haven’t been running top 5 all day.

Q.        Talladega has to be worrisome as the elimination race in this round.

KURT BUSCH:  Yeah, last year when I watched Kevin Harvick win at Charlotte, I basically went into Rodney Childers’ office and I said, this is yours to lose now.  You have a hall pass through Talladega, you don’t even have to sweat it, and then they start working on their Martinsville setup, their Texas setup, they start working on other things, and you’re more relaxed, and you don’t even have the anxiety level at that top level that you will if you go to Talladega needing a good finish.  That’s the ultimate thing is if you have to go to Talladega to try to get a good finish, that’s going to be the toughest hurdle to overcome.

Q.        Does that show the importance of Charlotte?

KURT BUSCH:  Well, it’s Charlotte and Kansas.  If you win at either one, you’re good to go.  You’re golden.  If you have a poor finish at either one, now you’re relying on Talladega to be a good finish?  You’re working from behind.

Q.        That’s probably the least physically demanding track you go to, but mentally from all that you have to do all day long, are you kind of drained after that race?

KURT BUSCH:  Yeah, that one is the toughest.  It’s a chess game at 200 miles per hour.  You’re trying to survive and not run into things or somebody run into you.  Points can be taken away from you so quickly at Talladega, that’s what everybody is stressed about.

Q.        You’re a past champion.  You’re teammate is a past champion.  You’ve got great cars.  You’ve been running really well.  He’s been the story because of what happened at Dover.  You’re kind of under the radar a little bit.  Does that make it easier for you?  Does it make it different for you at all?  Is it an advantage, disadvantage?

KURT BUSCH:  It’s part of our strategy is to run consistent, run fast, and finish the races strong, and so we’ve been consistent, we’ve been running fast.  We haven’t been finishing the races strong.  That’s our next objective in these next three.  If the spotlight is on others, that’s great.

Q.        Is Tony back 100 percent now?

KURT BUSCH:  Gibson is back 100 percent.  It’s a tough surgery to go through, but it’s a quick one.  But what he did to go through his surgery on a Tuesday and then to be at the racetrack that Friday morning, and he came in somewhat unannounced to the crew members that morning, and to see the energy and their eyes light up, and to go, our boss, our guy, our team leader is here today, that inspiration is something very special, and I know the team members want to use that, they felt it, and they’re going to feed off it for the rest of the Chase.

Q.        How surprised were you that Johnson got knocked out, and does it make it easier that one of those big hurdles is gone for you?

KURT BUSCH:  Very surprised by it, but at the same time, if you have a mechanical failure in a three‑race series, you’re done.  That’s the side effect of this cutthroat situation.  You can have 26 regular‑season races that go fantastic, and then you can have one bad race in this three‑race stretch, and you’re done.  It’s a poor side effect to the situation.

Q.        But not having him in the last ‑‑

KURT BUSCH:  Oh, yeah, the first round almost swallowed up Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson.  Dale Jr. got through on a tiebreaker.  That’s how competitive this year’s Chase is.

Q.        I think at this point in the season everybody would agree that Stewart‑Haas and Joe Gibbs Racing are the two teams to beat or the two favorites at least.  How do you size up the two teams against each other?

KURT BUSCH:  Well, we’re beat by the sheer quantity, and let’s say only two advance out of the Stewart‑Haas camp, or let’s say two advance out of the Gibbs camp next round.  You’ve still got those other two that if they didn’t advance, they’re still running strong, and they’re going to take away points if we don’t outrun them at Stewart‑Haas.  They’re going to be tough to beat.  Those four Toyotas, those four drivers, that whole organization, they’re tough.  We’re right there with them.  Kevin Harvick is our dominant car.  We’re that Steady Eddie that’s going to be up there and continuing to knock down points each week.

Q.        About Kansas, did you do the test there, first of all?

KURT BUSCH:  Yes.

Q.        And is the track ‑‑

KURT BUSCH:  No, I did not do the Kansas test, sorry.  That was Chicago.

Q.        Has the track started to come back into its own a little bit, or is it still stay down, stay down, stay down?

KURT BUSCH:  It’s a matter of what tire they’re going to choose, and I don’t know if they’ve changed the tire or not.  That’s how focused we are one week at a time.  Every Monday is a different Monday for its specific week, and right now it’s focused on Charlotte and what we have to do to get the best amount of points this weekend.  We’ll see what happens with the tire once we go out to Kansas.  I don’t know what’s changed.

Q.        How different do you expect ‑‑ obviously you’re going to be 100 miles less and at night more of the time, but how different do you expect Charlotte to be this time versus May?

KURT BUSCH:  It’s always faster in October, and you cannot rely on May’s notes as much as what you would want to do from last October, so October ’14 is more relevant than May of ’15.  That’s what I’ve seen over the years about Charlotte.

Q.        Whether you win a race in the first three races of the Chase, you still have momentum now coming into this part.  How nice is it to be going into the next part?

KURT BUSCH:  Well, it’s fantastic.  Our team, we still feel like we’re a top‑four team, so we still have work to do.  But to have made it through the first round, all of the bugs and butterflies and all of the anxiety and the appendixes being taken out are done and over with, and now we need to settle in.  This is the who’s who.  This is the top 12.  This reminds me of qualifying each week.  You advance to that third round of qualifying, which is the top 12, and you lay it out on the line and see what you get.

These 12 can win at any given track, at any given moment, and they’re tough to compete with.

Q.        With what you know about Talladega, do you have to approach Charlotte and Kansas a little bit differently?  Do you want to go to Talladega needing a win?

KURT BUSCH:  Yeah, you don’t want to be depending on Talladega for a good finish.  You want to win at Charlotte, you want to win at Kansas, and take Talladega off if you really had the best option.

Q.        (Inaudible.)

KURT BUSCH:  Cubs, I’ll focus on them on Wednesday of this week, and then I have to say goodbye between Thursday and Saturday night, and then I’ll check back in on Sunday.

Q.        Are you going to the game?

KURT BUSCH:  I’ll be going to the game tomorrow, yes.  I’m at Kevin Harvick’s golf tournament in the morning to support Kevin and his sponsors and the people that have helped Kevin over the years and will celebrate with him, and then go on up to the Pittsburgh for the one‑game wild card.

Q.        You guys have become pretty good buddies, you and Harvick?  You used to be guys that were real strong rivals when you were with different teams.  Can you talk about how that relationship has grown and developed?

KURT BUSCH:  Yeah, the two of us had very similar upbringings out on the West Coast with racing late models a lot, and our rookie year in Cup was the same rookie year, and the two of us looked at each other like a mirror image.  I’m you, you’re me, and it was like a genuine competition it seemed like of what stats can you compile versus what stats can you get.  We raced each other hard and aggressive, and there’s some of that DNA of being rookies together that always stays with you.  You have Matt Kenseth and Dale Jr. who were friends from that year in 2000.  Then you have like Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman that were rookies together in 2002.  So Kevin and I were ’01.  We’re that class, that group, and we’ve always looked at each other that way, and now over the years as we’ve matured, that rivalry is more of a friendship and it’s more of a pact of, hey, we came into this sport 15 years ago together, and here we are.

Q.        The longer we go in this, is it an advantage or is it hard having a teammate you’re competing against still?

KURT BUSCH:  You want to go all the way through the championship run with him.  I believe that helps everybody within the team.  It gives you that drive and that internal confidence, and then you go to Homestead and you shake hands and you go, hey, may the best man win.

Q.        I feel like you have to be against the other 11, but when you have that teammate aspect of it, is it a little different?

KURT BUSCH:  It’s still early within the system to think about it, but you’re always there thinking about that, with how to help them or how they can help you, and I’ve got the other little wild card in there with the sibling, of watching Kyle out there and rooting for him but also racing against him.  It’s neat to have both aspects.

Q.        This might be a little early to ask, but could you see yourself dabbling in Gene’s F1 car since you were in IndyCar?  Do you have any interest in just kind of ‑‑ not racing but messing around or maybe testing or anything like that?

KURT BUSCH:  Yeah, if the opportunity ever came up ‑‑ every time I see Gene I ask him sarcastically if the seat is ready, and we’ll see how things progress.  There’s different things they need to accomplish to develop and mature as a team, and then we’ll see if there’s a fun day that could be had.

Q.        So you could just walk over to the shop and familiarize yourself with the cars a little bit?

KURT BUSCH:  Yeah, I still need to get a key card to get in, but ‑‑ I haven’t gotten one yet.  But no, Gene’s commitment to that sport is very unique.  I’m very intrigued by it, and I’d love to see some of the development and to see what can bleed over, if anything, on the mechanical side of it.  But if it’s a toy or a car or a tool to better a race car that I’m driving, definitely want to learn about it.

Q.        Would you rather see the Cubs at home or on the road?  Do you get a sense this might be their year?

KURT BUSCH:  We’ve been rebuilding for the last four, and we have a very young team.  That’s what makes this exciting is that it’s not just a one and done.  There’s so much potential into the future that we can play loose and find results that we didn’t even expect this year, so it’s neat to watch them as a fan and to see the team develop because I’m in sports and I’ve seen how my team has developed over the years, and it’s a good comparison.

Q.        (Inaudible.)

KURT BUSCH:  Yeah, it’s really one race at a time, but yes, they’re three and three and three, and you can’t get too far ahead of yourself because one week at a time, if something happens, then it changes your strategy for the other two weeks.  So each time you start a new grouping like Charlotte, I think Chicago is one of the most important races of the year.  It starts the Chase.  I think Charlotte is one of the most important races because it’s the first race in that sector.  And then I think Martinsville, it’s one of the most important races other than Homestead.

So there’s different ways you can look at how to win a championship.  I think the bottom line, though, is still consistency.  That’s how I won it in 2004.  Kevin Harvick won it last year off of brute strength and race wins, but a guy that finished runner‑up in that race at Homestead last year was Mr. Consistency, and that was Ryan Newman.  So there’s two ways to go about it.

Q.        With Charlotte being the next one this week and it’s obviously as you mentioned the most important in this segment, what changes for you guys because it is a playoff race, or do you just go back to what you guys did the nice race, the 600, the back half of that race and just kind of go off of those notes?

KURT BUSCH:  Yeah, you’re exactly right.  It’s going off of the most consistent notes.  Most of that is the spring race.  But then the fall race, there’s something special about the fall race at Charlotte because of the speed that’s in the track.  It’s like the earth has cooled off and you get into those cool nights that are in the 50s, and the track has so much speed in it that it’s a different setup than what you run in May when the track is warmer.

Q.        The feeling around Stewart‑Haas has got to be pretty good.  Does that kind of permeate through the other teams?

KURT BUSCH:  Oh, it definitely does.  Everybody is there to help motivate each other, but when you have a guy that has to win and he wins to get in, and for us to have done the job that we needed to do to advance, it’s really neat to see the whole complexion of the team, one that’s being very aggressive and one that’s being consistent continue to advance.

Q.        (Inaudible) do you put your foot down this week or take it on to the next one?

KURT BUSCH:  Yeah, we led, I think, 100 or so laps at the 600 this year, and we did it earlier in the race, and then when the track cooled off, we lost a little bit of the handle on our car.  That’s what we’re going to focus on is that latter part and making sure we close the deal this week.

Q.        Talk about how crazy this format is.

KURT BUSCH:  Yeah, it’s the way that it’s structured, and you have to embrace it if you want to succeed.  That’s really the best answer I can give.  When you have a mechanical failure, take away the whole season, that’s part of what the new Chase format is.  It’s very difficult to say what we should change or what we should do different.

Q.        Those are the hardest ones to swallow, though, aren’t they, the mechanicals?

KURT BUSCH:  Yeah, the mechanicals sometimes aren’t the hardest ones to swallow because there’s not a human error involved, and it was a piece that you never knew would pop up and bite you, or if it’s an engine failure, you really don’t know how it started or what originated from it.  Sometimes a pit road miscue, you can really look at what happened, whether it was the jack that broke or a wheel that was left loose.  Those are the tough moments, and that’s when you have to go to that individual and really take care of them and let them know that they’re part of a team, and it wasn’t that moment that took away the whole season.  But it’s tough.  It’s a tough format.

Q.        What’s Richard Petty meant to you and NASCAR in your eyes?

KURT BUSCH:  Well, he’s the king, and his aura and his ambience and his personality is so powerful that he deservedly is our king, and that’s what everybody refers to him as.  When you’ve won 200 races and you’ve won seven championships, there’s nobody that’s higher.

Q.        Talk about your experiences at Rockingham and how special that track ‑‑ can you talk about what that meant to you and what it meant to the sport?

KURT BUSCH:  (Inaudible), and the way that that track was part of the schedule for so many years, it’s just down the road, a couple hours down the road from Charlotte, and it used to have two dates that were part of the schedule, and it’s close to Fort Bragg, that military base down there.  That’s where you get a lot of the military support, in that region, and that’s what Rockingham meant to me.

Q.        Would you like to see it return to the schedule?

KURT BUSCH:  Well, it’s a deserving date, and yet there’s certain things that have changed in our sport on whether a track is close to a metropolitan area and it has roads that help fans get in and out of a bit more easy.  It’s just a change in the sport.  I mean, there’s different tracks that deserve to have a date that don’t.

Q.        With the change in weather, how much different does the track drive than the last time you were here?

KURT BUSCH:  It’s much cooler out, so it’s much faster.  So what you ran to help preserve a tire in a May race is definitely different than October.  You’ve just got to keep in mind that, yeah, what you did in May is good, and if you ran good, don’t get too stuck with it, because October is very different.

Q.        Resetting the points after the first round, is there still the same sense of urgency in the first race of this round?

KURT BUSCH:  There is because of that Talladega factor, so I think if you win Charlotte, you can actually breathe easy for a couple weeks.  That’s why I think you see a lot of emotion and a lot of anxiety around this portion of the Chase because of Talladega.  So people want to win at Charlotte for sure.

Q.        Is it extra special because it is Charlotte and all the shops are here and some of the guys are from here?

KURT BUSCH:  It’s everything about this region, the heritage of NASCAR and how the moonshine runners started in the hills of North Carolina.  Here’s our Hall of Fame that’s based in Charlotte, the biggest racetrack that we race on right here, right up the road in Concord.  It all seems to just permeate in this area.  Everybody wants to win here because it is prestigious, the history in this area.

Q.        The way the standings finished after the last race, were you keeping track of everything and were you just hoping everything would fall ‑‑

KURT BUSCH:  It was a crazy finish to say the least.  We had a 17‑point cushion going in, and we advanced by two points because we had a mechanical issue.  It was wild.  It was wild for everybody.  I think that who advanced got a big wake‑up call on this year’s Chase is going to be that much tougher than last year.

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JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 3M CHEVROLET SS:

JEFF GORDON:  I mean, there’s no doubt that Kevin and Stewart‑Haas, that combination is really shown to be very dominant, and I think only time will tell in that sense.  I mean, what he did on Sunday was unbelievable.  You know, but at the same time, not surprising because they showed it last year, and I think they’ve even showed they have more strength this year.  Yeah, time will tell.

Q.        Instead of looking at Jimmie as the guy to beat every year, do you think maybe now Kevin is the guy to beat every year?

JEFF GORDON:  Well, I always look at ourselves first.  First you have to ‑‑ we’re in a category right now where it’s really just focus on how we get ourselves to Homestead, and then see who we need to worry about.

But first step is just that.  I mean, I will say consistently every weekend, he’s at the top of the board.  He’s the guy that I think everybody is measuring themselves off of.  But in all honesty, I think he’s in a whole ‘nother category right now.

Q.        Do you look at something as a fresh start going into this round now?

JEFF GORDON:  Yeah, I mean, I feel like we’re just ‑‑ it’s all bonus from here on out.  We haven’t had the best year, but we’ve done a great job at fighting and overcoming things, and here we are with having up to the Chase, not a very great performance, and yet we’re in the Chase, and I think we showed at Chicago that we’ve improved our mile‑and‑a‑half program.  Let’s hope that continues these next two weeks.  But it’s full‑on reset.  We came into this thing very far behind in bonus points, and now we’re on an even playing field as far as points are concerned.  You’ve got to just play to your strengths, and I think our strengths are that we’re very consistent.  We’ve got a lot of fight in us, and we’ve had to, to fight through a lot of things this year, so we’ve got a lot of experience at that.  And then hopefully we can step up like we did in Chicago and do something special on these mile‑and‑a‑halfs the next couple weeks so we don’t have to think about Talladega, but I will say I think we’ve led a lot of laps at Talladega and Daytona this year.  We’ve got an excellent race car for there, as well.

I’m looking forward to this round.

Q.        The races are winding down, and you don’t have a win yet.  Will you be disappointed if you finish this year without a win?

JEFF GORDON:  I mean, I’ll be disappointed, but at the same time, you know, I’m a realistic person, and we’ve rarely put ourselves in position and had the cars and the team to do that.  I think certainly Martinsville is high on my list of opportunities, and I feel like we’ve been able to win there the last several years.  You know, I’ve got to make sure I go in there and do my job because I think we’re very capable of winning there.

But to me, the championship overrides that, and even if we don’t win a race and win the championship, that’ll supersede a win.

Q.        I would think so.

JEFF GORDON:  Yeah.

Q.        Can you win the championship?  Can anyone touch Harvick right now?

JEFF GORDON:  Absolutely.  I mean, we can’t really be focused on them and worried about trying to beat them on speed.  They seem to have everybody covered in that sense and doing it week in and week out.  But they’ve shown that for all that strength, you can have weaknesses, as well, and all we can do, like I was mentioning, is play to our strengths, do what it is that we do well, which is consistency, steadily improving.  I think we’ve really been focused on getting more solid pit stops, and I think that’s coming around, as well.  We’ve had some of the most solid races that we’ve had all year long since the Chase started, and that certainly has me excited to feel like we can make it to Homestead.

I think last year we certainly proved that you get us to Homestead and we can be a big threat for it.

Q.        With Talladega in three races, is it kind of a different mindset for Charlotte and Kansas, like I’ve got to be better there because of what Talladega can be?

JEFF GORDON:  Yeah, nobody wants to go to Talladega ‑‑ even if you’re Dale Earnhardt Jr. and you feel like you’re the most dominant car on those restrictor plate tracks, and we’ve been, I think, as dominant as he has been just without the victories, I still don’t want to go there and have to be in the top 10.  You know, it’s just one of those tracks where there’s too many variables that can reach out and grab you and things that are out of your control.

So yeah, we’d like to go in there with a cushion, but with this group and the way everything has already stepped up in the intensity, you’ve pretty much got to count on the fact that you’ve got to go in there with the mindset of we’re going to have to step up and perform big here at Talladega, as well.

Q.        I assume you had your competition meeting today?

JEFF GORDON:  Yes.

Q.        What’s the mood at Hendrick?  Is there any shell shock at the 48 being knocked out?

JEFF GORDON:  I mean, I thought it was pretty much just all business.  I mean, we went through our debrief like we normally do.  Jimmie wasn’t there.  Chad wasn’t there because they were doing some other work.  But we talked about their failure and their issue.  You know, we’ll just try to make sure that that’s not something that bites us going forward.

Q.        Was that like a vendor part or any sense of what it was?

JEFF GORDON:  You know, if I wrote down the list of inexpensive parts that are on the car that can fail at any time on any given weekend, it would blow your mind.  I mean, it’s unfortunate that it happened, and trying to actually diagnose exactly what caused it and why it happened, it’s tough.

I think other teams will tell you, these kinds of little gremlins can reach out and grab you at any time.  It’s unfortunate it happened to them when it did.  You know, it’s now our job to try to find a way to prevent that from happening in the future.  Yeah, I don’t think we make that seal, but I wouldn’t also just blame it on the seal.  You know, there’s procedural things.  There’s a lot of different factors that play into it.

Q.        (Inaudible.)

JEFF GORDON:  I mean, I think we can take some extra precautions to maybe make it better, but there’s more of a long‑term solution to it than ‑‑ that we can’t really address right now.

Q.        Was the first round the biggest pressure round?

JEFF GORDON:  No, it only intensifies from here.  Yeah, it doesn’t get any easier, my experience with it, whether it be in the past or just last year, I think it only gets more and more intense.  You can tell, I mean, everybody is pretty loose and relaxed going into Chicago, and then each race that goes by, it gets less and less, and now you go into this round and all the people are relieved to be in this round, a lot of us, because it was a nail‑biter.  At the same time it’s like you instantly switch over to getting the intensity ramped up to the next level because you know you’ve got a big job ahead of you the next three weeks.

Q.        Are people racing any different than they did the first time in this format?

JEFF GORDON:  I mean, you know, I can’t say I’ve ever raced any differently any time I’ve ever been on the track.  It’s just I race to win, and if I can’t win, I get the best finish that I possibly can.  You fight for every single thing you can.  But there definitely is a more intense mindset that when things start to go wrong, if they do, you definitely have to catch yourself because it’s very easy for that to spiral out of control because of the intensity.  But as far as what I do on the racetrack racing‑wise, no, no different.

Q.        I’m wondering, though, last year at Charlotte there was that confrontation after the race and then a couple races later you had a confrontation.  Are we going to see that sort of ‑‑

JEFF GORDON:  Absolutely.

Q.        We haven’t really seen it ‑‑

JEFF GORDON:  We haven’t?  I thought we saw it race one.

Q.        Once, but I’m wondering if as we go it’s going to get ‑‑

JEFF GORDON:  First of all, let’s not put the expectations out there that this has to happen and is going to happen every race and every round in the Chase.  The intensity is there.  It’s huge.  It’s no different than we saw this past weekend.  You had two guys that tied for points for that final position that were racing one another that were battling on a restart.  It could have existed right then and there because of how hard they had to race one another.  It just didn’t.  So it goes both ways, and it will only intensity.

When it’s the final four to make it to Homestead, that to me seems to be the most intense round and final race day at Phoenix because you know, just like what we saw Newman do last year, he knew what was at stake, and he weighed that out and he went for it, and it worked.

Q.        When you were in the car at Dover, how aware were you of where you were points‑wise ‑‑

JEFF GORDON:  I wasn’t aware of it at all throughout the whole day.  I knew if we were in the top 10 that we were in good shape.  I wasn’t aware of who was having trouble or having issues, just racing as hard as I could.

Unfortunately there at the end when that caution came out, it was a very untimely caution for us.  We had to make a decision whether to pit, not pit.  We stayed out.  Whether that was the right decision or not, we were on the inside, didn’t get a great start, some guys got by me, and then it was fight for your life to the finish, and it was not a lot of fun.  It wasn’t easy, but that’s part of this new format.

They didn’t tell me what was going on.  They were just telling ‑‑ I just knew.  I knew.  I knew that at that point I could not afford to have one car pass me.  Luckily it was very difficult to pass at Dover once you got going, so even though I lost some spots on the restart, I knew I had a good chance of holding them off even though they had fresher tires than me after that.

Q.        Did doubling the length of the restarts change the restarts at all?

JEFF GORDON:  Yes.  Yeah, I mean, I think it needs to be longer, but I definitely think it helped.  I didn’t see some of the things that I’ve been seeing on restarts.  You know, you have to understand that when you roll into a box, you want to have some time to ‑‑ as the leader to make some decisions and control that restart, which to me is the leader’s job, and the shorter that box is, the less time you have to do that in, and that means everybody can anticipate when you go.

What I saw was you couldn’t anticipate it as much.  Still, again, I think it needs to be longer so you can anticipate it less, but I liked it.  I definitely liked it.

Q.        Can I ask a foundation question real fast?  I was looking through your website today and at the things you’re funding.  Have you seen your funding result and some sort of discovery that’s not impacted a lot of kids, or does it not work that way?

JEFF GORDON:  I mean, I would say that yes, we have.  I’d rather you talk to some of the doctors up at Riley that we actually fund a research lab up there and the work that they’ve done I would definitely say has saved lives, and that goes into the children’s oncology group database that spreads throughout not just Indiana but beyond, and so I’d be happy to put you in touch with those folks to give you more information.

But I mean, I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t feel like we were making an impact, but if you think I feel like we’re making enough of an impact, absolutely not.  I can’t do that alone.  That’s why what we do is not just fundraising, but we try to do as much awareness campaigns, as well, to try to get more people involved and understand what we’re doing.

Q.        I was wondering if you had like an anecdote of seeing somebody that your research helped?

JEFF GORDON:  Oh, it’s definitely helping, but unfortunately it’s ‑‑ it gets isolated on certain types of tumors or certain types of cancers, and on the broad spectrum, if you just look at research in general and how that’s impacted lives, it’s done a tremendous amount.

We’re one piece of the pie.  It’s a big pie, and we’re contributing towards that and making a difference.

Q.        Your team was one of many recently to make a crew change last week.  What do you think that trend speaks to, and how much is the driver consulted?

JEFF GORDON:  Well, that was an opportunity.  I think that someone that is highly regarded on pit road, very knowledgeable about more than just changing tires is ‑‑ you know, he was somebody that a lot of people wanted to get their hands on, and Nick had to make his own choice and decision where he was going to end up going.  I’m very proud that he came to our organization.  I think it’s going to pick our program up, which I feel like we’ve been off, and it’s not just ‑‑ we train guys.  We have very talented individuals.  But it goes further than that.  Now we’re starting to see where these pit guns are a crucial part of pit stops.  It’s something we’ve been working on, and now that helps us take it to the next level.

Q.        Does he bring some trade secrets in addition to experience?

JEFF GORDON:  He brings a lot of things, yeah.  He’s very, very in tune with all that equipment and was a big part of that at Gibbs.

Q.        So once he decides on Hendrick, how does he land on your car?

JEFF GORDON:  You know, you’ll have to ask him and Alan.  They had conversations.  You know, I think it seemed to me pretty evident that he was interested in being at Hendrick, and then he seems like it’s less of a money guy and more of a personality and the kind of impact that he feels like he can make in long‑term.  You know, I think he and Alan, I don’t know how well they knew one another prior to that, but it seemed like they hit it off pretty well right away.

Q.        Was there any noticeable change in your stops on Sunday?

JEFF GORDON:  I mean, when we weren’t pulling spring rubbers and making adjustments, I felt like we had one or two really fast stops.  I mean, he was really good.  But we’re still ‑‑ we’re still a little bit behind with the equipment.

Q.        I know that pit crew positions are always important, but it does seem like more teams are making changes coming into this Chase season.  Is there anything to that?

JEFF GORDON:  I think you’re just always trying to find out where you need more strength and what can make you better.  Track position has become so important.  I think next year it’ll be less important because of the aerodynamics, and I think that’s great for the sport.  But we’re never going to stop trying to figure out how to find time on pit road, if it’s possible, and to do it consistently.  But right now I think it’s so crucial.  I mean, the aerodynamic and power combination we have this year, it is so difficult to pass once you get the green flag and get strung out.  Very, very difficult.

Q.        Are we going to see that Saturday night as much as anywhere?

JEFF GORDON:  Yes, absolutely.  So it makes restarts ‑‑ well, it doesn’t take away from what’s on the line.  Just like this past weekend in Dover, I didn’t think that was a spectacular race.  I was having a heck of a time passing.  I couldn’t pass anybody because of the aerodynamics, but yet everybody is raving about that race.  It’s just because the story line and the drama and everything that’s been built because of this new format.  I think that’s great, and I think that’ll continue over these next three weeks.  But restarts are going to be very important.  Track position, pit strategy, all that is going to be extremely important.  Only Harvick will be able to drive right up through the field.  The rest of us will all have to battle for every slot and position we can.

Q.        Do you feel like conventional wisdom was the middle segment was the toughest?

JEFF GORDON:  Because Talladega is in there, it just makes it such a crap shoot.

Q.        But Kansas ‑‑

JEFF GORDON:  And it can.  It can, and it will.  But you know, I think all of us know that we want to have really solid ‑‑ the first two races are going to be really solid so we don’t have to go worry about Talladega.  The reality of that is that that’s probably not going to happen.  Not for all of us anyway.  But I think it puts more emphasis on how important it is to win these next two.

Q.        You have a pretty big thing coming up with your foundation I saw.  What’s going on with that?

JEFF GORDON:  Oh, yeah, that’s more my wife and daughter.  We had an opportunity there where American Girl doll does some charity events where they allow individuals in each city to put on a fashion show, American Girl fashion show, so Trish Kriger with my foundation saw that opportunity and brought it to Ingrid and Ella, and I know Steve Letarte’s wife is involved and Alan Gustafson’s wife and others around the community that are going to do that event to help it, and the proceeds will help go towards the foundation.

Q.        Are you going to go on Sunday?

JEFF GORDON:  Oh, yeah, yeah.  I’m used to dealing with dolls and girls at my house, so yeah, I’ll be there on Sunday.

Q.        How will this weekend’s race at Charlotte be different than what we saw earlier in the year?

JEFF GORDON:  Yeah, just track conditions because it’s going to be cooler.  You know, in May it’s hot, so the track is very slick at the start of the race, and as the sun goes down, it gains grip, and there’s a big change and it is longer.  Pit strategy plays a little bit different role, and we’ve seen where whoever wins the 600 doesn’t necessarily win the 500, and we’ll be just kind of up against that and battling that, most importantly because it’s going to be so much cooler this weekend.

Q.        Did you do the test at Kansas, and if you did or did not, is that track coming in a little bit more, more and more every time you come back?

JEFF GORDON:  Not much, a little.  Jimmie did the test there for us, and we’ve got all that data and information.  But right now we’re just focused on Charlotte.

Q.        When you see something like Saturday night’s deal in Las Vegas where Theriault hit the wall in basically the exact same place that somebody hit it in the XFINITY race earlier this year, you’ve had your share of ‑‑

JEFF GORDON:  No, it aggravates me, and it points out how important it is to have every single wall covered at these racetracks.  You know, for whatever reason, somewhere along the way, somebody said, oh, we can put it here and we don’t need it here, and that just proved that it doesn’t matter what stats show.  You know, these incidents can happen at any time.  A SAFER barrier would have lessened that impact tremendously, and I hope that ‑‑ I think they already have in their plans to do this.  It’s unfortunate it didn’t happen by the truck race, so we’re just hoping that that will be implemented by next March.  But I feel confident that it will be.  But certainly now it will be.

Q.        How many of those (inaudible)?

JEFF GORDON:  We’ve changed over the years.  We do our Corvette raffle.  I used to do a bowling tournament every year up in Indianapolis.  We used to do a dinner and a golf ‑‑ now what we do is we’ve been involved with kick‑it and doing a lot of kickball tournaments and doing those events and promoting that.  There’s a lot of one‑on‑one with donors and promoting it.  There’s a lot of online things that we do, auctions.

Q.        Personally, 10 days a year, 50 days a year?

JEFF GORDON:  I mean, if you just think of time that I spend working on it and thinking about it, it’s 100 days out of the year.  I mean, it’s something that we do a lot with, and whether or not it’s an actual event that takes my time ‑‑ our goal is to where it doesn’t take my personal time to be involved in every event.  It’s taking something that can build on its own, and I can contribute towards it and see it through and help in any way I can, but if you take hospital visits and promotional things that we do, I don’t know, 20, 25 days maybe.  I don’t know.

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RYAN NEWMAN, NO. 31 CATERPILLAR CHEVROLET SS:

RYAN NEWMAN:  I mean, I think everything we do is just about the same thing.  It’s about trying to win, putting yourself in the best position, eliminating mistakes.  It’s the same as the Daytona 500.  I mean, it’s just that type of mindset.  The intensity is ‑‑ the intensity is changed a little bit, I think, and your competitors have changed a little bit, but the end result is still the same.

Q.        Looking at Charlotte this weekend, what is your mindset going into that race?

RYAN NEWMAN:  Well, it all depends on what your car is like.  It all depends on what tire Goodyear has brought.  You never know if you’re going to be running the bottom, the top or the middle.  If the guy in front of you is running the bottom, then you’re going to have to go someplace and get around him.  You can’t just sit around and wait for him to make a mistake.  You’ve got to make it happen.

Q.        Going to Kansas, how do you think that track has widened out?

RYAN NEWMAN:  I think Kansas has widened out a little bit but not a lot, not like Atlanta or old Michigan or something like that.

Q.        And Talladega, we know your strategy; why do you choose that strategy?

RYAN NEWMAN:  At Talladega I’ve been burned so many times trying to run up in that front group, and all it takes is somebody’s one little mistake or somebody cuts a tire down or something like that, and you end up being involved in a big crash that you had nothing to do with.  I’d rather eliminate the time of that risk and be there at the end, or at least hopefully have a shot at the end.  You might have to miss a couple crashes in front of you, but it’s not unachievable.

Q.        And this is the round last year where we saw (inaudible)?

RYAN NEWMAN:  Well, I think it already has happened, and I think there’s plenty of potential for it to be more or less.

Q.        Is the mindset different in this round?

RYAN NEWMAN:  Well, I think the biggest advantage is the clean slate.  I mean, we’re not at a disadvantage to get started points‑wise by not having a win.  You know, that’s a big deal in a three‑race deal.  You’ve already eliminated four guys, so the next four, it’s kind of getting a little bit tougher.  Being on a fair playing field, so to speak, at the start is an advantage for the guy that doesn’t have the disadvantage.

Q.        (Inaudible.)

RYAN NEWMAN:  It’s just super fast.  It’s super smooth, not really wide, so track position is pretty important.  But you know, all of these races, the next seven races, are extremely important to qualify well.  That’s probably one of the biggest things is just having a good start to your weekend.

Q.        When you think about the next two races, is there more urgency to do well because of Talladega or what Talladega can be?

RYAN NEWMAN:  Yeah, I mean, absolutely.  Talladega is a bit of a crap shoot, but it still offers the same amount of potential, same amount of points, same guarantee for a victory.  That’s not to say that we can’t do it.

Q.        (Inaudible.)

RYAN NEWMAN:  I mean, yeah, we want to win.  We want to ‑‑ we would like to have won in each of the rounds and then showed them all that it was no spoof in the last round.  But it is what it is.  We try as hard as we possibly can.  We haven’t been the best race car as far as leading laps and winning races, but we’ve been consistent, and we proved last year that there is some math involved that gets rewarded for consistency.  There’s no guarantees this year, no guarantees that myself or Jeff or whoever is winless can make it in.

Q.        (Inaudible.)

RYAN NEWMAN:  It is kind of nice to be home, but for some reason by being home, everybody keeps us busier.  You know, you spend a little bit more time driving back and forth to the house.  But the appearances and everything else seem to be a little up.

Q.        You’re three races into it, you’re into the next round.  When you look back at that first round, what do you think?

RYAN NEWMAN:  I mean, we struggled at Dover.  That was the biggest thing.  We just did not have a good grip on the race car.  We can have it fairly balanced but just didn’t have the overall speed that we needed to, and that was our weakness of the first three races.  We did better qualifying, we did better at delivering.  The last restart there at Chicago was pivotal, obviously, if you look back at it.  Gaining 10 spots in five laps was pretty important if you look at the 10 points or the one point that we barely made it in by.

You know, I think that we ‑‑ this next round of three races is going to be the most pivotal for most of us.  For us Charlotte wasn’t that good in the spring.  Talladega is obviously its own animal.  Kansas I’d say would probably be our strongest of the three races.  But it is what it is, man.  I mean, who would have thought that an axle seal would have knocked out the 48 car at Dover.  But in saying that, if you look at the laws of racing, when you win so many you’ve got to lose so many at some point, even if it took an axle seal to knock him out.  You just never know.  We’ve seen cars get hit by seagulls and turtles cross the racetrack, and you never know.

Q.        Are you guys as good at this point as you were last year?

RYAN NEWMAN:  I think we’re better than we were last year, but I think a lot of guys are.  You’ve got four Gibbs cars that are stout.  You’ve got two Hendrick cars that are left in the deal.  You know, if you look at us, that puts ‑‑ wherever you feel like you rank puts you tight.  If the Gibbs guys got one little deal that’s making all four cars better, then you’ve got to beat all four of those, and that’s all it takes anymore.  That’s what makes it so difficult now.

Last year we had a little bit of that, but I feel like it’s even more obvious now with this year’s rule package or the way NASCAR is policing everything.

Q.        Is it any different if you’re the only RCR car in there?  Is everybody in RCR focused on ‑‑

RYAN NEWMAN:  I don’t think that changes it.  We always talk about how competition makes everything better, so having competition within your own house, so to speak, is a good thing.  Not having competition is also a good thing.  It all depends on how the mentality of that organization is and how you approach that.  It’s no different than if you’ve got a brother playing the same sport, right?  You can use each other to make yourselves better or you can use each other to make yourselves fight and focus on that and not the game.

We feel like we’ve got good cars, good equipment.  We have got to make them better at certain racetracks, and you know, consistency I don’t think is going to win the championship.  We’ve got to get better at leading laps.  We’ve got ‑‑ within RCR we’ve got eight bonus points as an organization this year.  Kevin Harvick has got 42.  There you go.

Q.        But you learned last year that consistency is enough to take you to that point?

RYAN NEWMAN:  Consistency can.  I just don’t want to rely on consistency.  I’d rather consistency be our second strength and winning be our ultimate strength.  That’s the ultimate.  I mean, that’s what was good about the 4 car last year, and that’s what’s been good about him this time.  I mean, he’s ‑‑ he had two failures and then a complete success.  Questionable, but complete.

Q.        Questionable?

RYAN NEWMAN:  Just as questionable for you as it is for me.  I don’t need to say anything more.  It’s obvious.

Q.        Do you think NASCAR should have a rule that you cannot destroy a car after a win so if there is something untoward with the car that it won’t be compromised once it needs to go through tech?

RYAN NEWMAN:  I think that would be a very gray rule.  I think it would be probably beneficial for the rest of us that didn’t win that day, but I mean, there’s really no point in destroying a good race car.  I’ve seen Rico do some pretty crazy stuff here after a victory and not destroy a race car and put on a hell of a show for the fans.  I don’t think destroying a race car is at all respectful to anybody.  I’ve never personally done it.  Never had any need to.

Q.        It raises that “hmm” factor, doesn’t it?

RYAN NEWMAN:  I mean, there’s questioning that could be made of it, but in the end, does that make my race car any faster?  No.

Q.        Where do you think Childress has made the biggest gains over the last year?

RYAN NEWMAN:  I think our engine package at ECR is definitely better, a little bit more detail per racetrack, and that’s something we needed a little bit of help on last year.

Q.        How is the track at Kansas getting better, or is it since the repave?  How is it changing and what are you expecting to see this time?

RYAN NEWMAN:  I mean, I think any time a racetrack ages, it’s good.  It’s better for racing.  We’ve always said that.  That’s the biggest thing we talk about is the ability to race side by side, three wide, four wide sometimes, increases when a track ages.  It can’t be worse.  Even if it’s bumpier, it can’t be worse.

Q.        And then Talladega is always the wild card race.  If you don’t have a win going into that race, you’re still not safe, are you?

RYAN NEWMAN:  We talked about it before last year going into Talladega, and it proved to be exactly what we talked about.  But you can’t predict that.  I mean, we’ve also seen it go green and checkered there before.  That was a long time ago, but odds keep getting better that we could have that again.

Q.        And when you get in that situation, you know that even if you’re feeling comfortable and locked in, it can be taken away from you like that.  Can you drive defensively there or do you feel like you have to go for it?

RYAN NEWMAN:  You want to be locked in, but there’s no guarantee that anybody is.  That’s the thing.  Jimmie Johnson can go out and win the next two races and then we go into Talladega not knowing who the next group is going to be.  It’s all racing.  That’s why we love it.

Q.        A little bit about Charlotte this weekend:  How much different is it going to be from what we saw back in May?  It’s a little bit shorter but you’re also going to be in the dark most of the time.

RYAN NEWMAN:  Yeah, I hope it’s different because we didn’t run very well.  We had a decent finish because of fuel mileage, but our performance was off.  We’ve spent a good part of this week just making sure that we have some options, have some things planned out in case the first option doesn’t work.

Q.        How important is it to get off to a good start and not feeling like you have to play catch‑up in each individual round?

RYAN NEWMAN:  Well, it’s the same as practice.  I mean, you want to come off the truck good.  You want to be good in practice and good in qualifying, and then usually you should be good in next race practice.  That’s no different than it ever has been, and that’s the same way we approach the races.  You’ve got to be good off the truck.  For the first race, for the second race, for the third race, good for the first race but hopefully build some momentum for the second and third race.  You’d never want to be trying to rebound.

Q.        With this format being what it is, can you separate yourself back from it and say, compartmentalize, or is it so intense that you don’t have time to think about it that way?

RYAN NEWMAN:  It’s one lap at a time.  It’s one lap at a time, one pit stop at a time, one race at a time.  Everything we do is one at a time.  You cannot focus on the next two or three while you’re doing or before you’re doing the first one.

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DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 NATIONWIDE CHEVROLET SS:

DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  Yeah, it wraps up our car, fills our car out for the first time in a couple years.  We’ve always seemed to have a half a dozen races that don’t get filled up, so it’s good.  I mean, with the addition of Chase and NAPA coming on board, it really fills out a lot more of the four cars and is able to move the Axalta deal over to our car, so they’re excited, we are excited, and it’s going to be fun.

We’re sort of in the middle of the designing the car.  Going to be pretty bright, a lot of neons and fluorescents, so it should be a fun little car.

Q.        (Inaudible.)

DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  Yeah, Mountain ‑‑ it’s sort of going back to branded as Mountain Dew, not going away from Diet Dew, but every time we run a Pepsico car, it’s never the same thing.  We do the Diet Dew, something with Amp we do, maybe a Kickstart or something like that, so there will be four or five paint‑outs on that car, and they may all be different.  But as an associate when you see the Axalta car or the Nationwide car or the TaxSlayer car, you’ll see a Mountain Dew logo on the quarterpanel instead of a Diet Dew, but we’ll probably run a Diet Dew car somewhere fully branded.

But they have a whole different way of doing it, but yeah, they’re not backing down any.  They’ve got the same paint‑outs as this year.

Q.        (Inaudible.)

DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  I don’t know.  If that’s what they want to do, that’s what they do.  I like the neons and the bright colors, and Menard’s got sort of the market cornered on the yellow, so I don’t want to ‑‑ we’ve come up with some pretty decent ideas, and I like the direction we’re going right now with the car, and we’re mainly working with yellow, orange and red and sort of having a fade effect on the car, and there’s going to be an associate because Axalta has a lot of associates they work with, and you see that on the quarterpanel of Jeff’s car, and they’ll be on our cars ‑‑ every time we run Axalta, probably be one of their partners paired up into the paint scheme somewhere on the quarterpanel or the deck lid, and they’ll have a color, as well, that they want to incorporate on the paint scheme, so it’s going to be a bit of a challenge.  There won’t be really any throw‑back inspiration on this car, but it’s certainly going to be bright, and it will be pretty cool.

Q.        (Inaudible.)

DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  They had a seal fail.  It just sometimes happens.  It tears.

Q.        (Inaudible.)

DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  Not at all.  It’s just kind of a freak deal that happens every once in a while.  The seal can get a nick or a tear.  It can happen throughout the weekend with moving an axle in and out.  You don’t know how it happens sometimes.  It’s just kind of a freak accident.  We have not had any problems with our deals and everything has always looked good in our cars, but you never know.  You hope that you don’t have any issue like that because something as simple as that can ruin your day.

Q.        (Inaudible.)

DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  Um, yeah, we had some issues during the race, but you know, I think it’s a combination of the guys that we have.  We had a new front changer, Scott, from the 24 car, and he was moved off the 24 car.  They brought in a guy from Gibbs that was unemployed, and so we got Scott on our car, and I think, you know ‑‑ I hope that Scott wants to stick around beyond this season.  I actually talked to him today.  It’s not really a ‑‑ it’s not like we need two new changers.  We just need one key guy that can come in and kind of raise, elevate the standard and push everyone.

Over the past couple years when we’ve had great pit crews, a lot of the guys that we’ve been working with this year were on those teams, but if you get like a really ‑‑ if you get one guy in there that’s kind of a key player or a bit of a superstar like a wide receiver or a quarterback is to a football team, he can really elevate the play of everybody around him and boost the entire crew, and just the confidence that those guys have going over the wall when he’s a part of it changes the whole ‑‑ the whole consistency of the team.

Anyway, my point is that we really want Scott to try to wrap his brain around sticking with us.  We could really use a guy like him on the 88 car to bring some stability to the rest of the group.  I’ve got a lot of faith in our guys, and it’s not like we need to go crazy and blow it up and go looking outside our system, but Scott really changes the confidence and the whole ‑‑ we were under one pit stop during the Dover race, and I looked over, and our backup changers have started, had been our starting changers at some point during the season, and when those guys kind of get moved off and get put back on second string or so forth, sometimes that hurts you and whatnot, but I looked over during one stop, and the backup guy that used to be the starter is blowing the left front wheel to get the brake dust off, and we’ve got another backup guy that was a starter catching a tire, getting rolled.  Everybody was up on the wall, trying to be a part of the pit stop, trying to be a part of getting us in and out of there as fast as they could.  Everybody puts their egos to the side.

Again, Scott is a ‑‑ if we can keep Scott and get him to where he sees an opportunity with us and wants to be a part of our future, I mean, that can really change things for everybody, for the whole team.

Q.        (Inaudible.)

DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  I really would like to keep my guys.  I’ll be honest with you, I believe in ‑‑ this is me.  I mean, I don’t know what’s going to happen.  It might ‑‑ you might find out tomorrow that somebody got changed.  I haven’t heard anything like that is going to happen.  But I would like to keep my guys.  I don’t think you build a guy’s trust.  He needs to know that you believe in him.  The same way for the driver.  The driver needs to know the team believes that he can do it.  I think the carrier, the changer, all those guys want to think that the driver and everybody involved believes in them when they go over the wall, and if you get in a position where if I take the 48 guys, because I think they’re better, then what am I going to do next year when we have to start from scratch again?  All those guys that are on my car now are going to be pissed off because I don’t believe in them because I took the 48 guys when the going got tough, so I don’t believe in doing that.  I think that my guys can do it, and I think that we’ll find a combination that works for us and that gets us to the end of the season and beyond.

You know, I know teams have done that before, but I just feel like that, yeah, you might get somewhere in the short‑term and get some stability, but over the long‑term, you basically have just destroyed the integrity of the team you have, so having those guys back at the beginning of next season is not going to be an option.  They’re not going to want to work for you once you take them off the car in the middle of the Chase.

Q.        (Inaudible.)

DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  That’s ‑‑ Doug, Greg, that’s not my decision, but that’s my opinion about it.

Q.        I’m doing a story about Jeff Gordon’s impact and legacy on NASCAR.  Your thoughts on what he’s meant to the sport?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  He’s awesome.  He’s going to do great in the booth.  Especially as he gets more and more comfortable up there.  I think that it’s obvious what he’s done on the racetrack.  But the success of our sport depends heavily on the personalities up in the booth and how well they deliver the product and the race itself to the fan and how exciting they make the face to the fan.  I mean, the race itself doesn’t sell the whole thing.  The broadcaster, I mean, you look back over the history of our network deals and the personalities that we’ve had in the booth, and you think about guys like Benny Parsons and Ken Squier that you enjoyed being in the booth and being on the telecast, you know, it just ‑‑ those personalities really bring a lot to the table, and I think that he’s going to be one of those guys that people are going to enjoy having in the booth, and it will ‑‑ I mean, he’s got ‑‑ closing a chapter on his racing career and he’s starting a new chapter with the broadcast deal, and it could be just as important to the sport, and he could be just as big an asset to the sport in the broadcast booth as he was in the driver, so that would be a good deal.

Q.        And as far as bridging kind of a new generation of fan after your dad and those folks, did he have an impact on a new generation of fans?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  Yeah, he sure did.  He was a young guy coming in.  He was whooping up on the older guys, and definitely he appeared to a different demographic, different age group when he first came in.  You know, he was from the West Coast and had went up through Indiana and all through running sprint cars, around there, so he had quite a unique fan base to begin with as opposed to a lot of the southern drivers.  Back when he started I think 99 percent of the drivers in the field were from North Carolina and now I’m the last one.  You know, he definitely brought a new demographic of fans, a new group of fans to the sport and appealed to a different fan than we generally had back then.

You know, we’ve got guys from all over the country now, and got fans in every corner of the country, too.  It’s changed quite a bit, but he was huge at bringing in an influx of younger fans, I think.

Q.        We know what you’re capable of doing at Talladega, but the next two races, Charlotte and Kansas, how would you forecast your potential?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  This year, at the three tracks we’re going to run next, we finished third, third and first, so we’ve got a great shot.

Q.        How important is the first one, getting off to a good start and not being in a position where you have to go out and do something at Talladega?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  Well, even if you do run good in the first two, anything outside of a win, you still are concerned with Talladega because you could have a terrible finish there.  There’s only 12 of you, right, to advance, so the odds are getting tougher the further you get into this deal as there are less drivers to compete against.

Yeah, I mean, you’d like to go into Talladega with a win at Kansas or Charlotte, and I think we can go to Charlotte and compete.  We’ve got a better shot maybe at winning at Kansas.  I think I really like that track.  The high line there seems to work for me really well.  It’s came in pretty good over the last couple trips there, and we were going to run in the top three if not win the race last year when the right front tire blew.  We had like a six‑second lead at that point or something, so we had good speed there last year and finished third there this year, so we’ve got fast cars.  We’ve been good and competitive over the last couple weeks.  We should go into those races and finish good.

I don’t really see ‑‑ Talladega is Talladega.  You know, it’s ‑‑ we’ve won there earlier this year, we’ve won at Daytona, we’re taking the same car that won both those races.  If we do everything we’re supposed to do, we should run up front.

Q.        Is the Chase fun for you or is it too stressful?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  Yeah, I don’t enjoy it (laughter).  It is stressful and it’s not enjoyable, but as a fan I would love the hell out of it, right?  I’d love to watch somebody else go through this shit besides me.  So I get it.  I don’t think that they should get rid of the Chase or anything like that because I think as a fan, once I’m done driving, it’s going to be really fun to watch somebody else squirm through this process.  But it’s pretty nail‑biting, man.  It’s pretty tough.  It was worse last year, I think.  This year you’re going to run the best you can run, and whatever happens happens.

I’m not going to ‑‑ I think we just all got kind of carried away last year with the emotions.  Not that it won’t get intense and emotional this year, but last year was just something else.

You know, we’ll see how it goes.  It might get pretty crazy.  You just never know.

Q.        The drivers’ council when it first started in late May, since then the drivers have gotten a lower downforce package and it looks to be the direction for next year.  Since then the restart zone has been lengthened.  Sounds like there’s talk of maybe reducing the number of green‑white‑checkers.  How has the drivers’ council played a role in that short period?  And also on the other side, I understand that your butt is on the line here, but where is the point where you’re hearing too much or you listen to it too much?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  Yeah, I definitely think that when we get into a room with NASCAR, we always ‑‑ as we go through these ideas and have the conversation with NASCAR, it always does come down to is this the best thing for the excitement and the product.  We’re going to have to have green‑white‑checkers.  We can’t get rid of them altogether because the fans want to see the race end under green.  They want to see at least one attempt to get the race under green, and that’s deserving for them to have that, you know, and so we’re not ‑‑ I would like to take the green‑white‑checkers out of it, but that’s not the best thing for the fans or the product.

I think it’s smart.  We went in probably two deep, having three opportunities at it.  I mean, that’s just a little bit excess in my opinion.  You know, you get one opportunity at it, and that’s enough.  Give me one ‑‑ as a fan, if I’m in the stands and the caution comes out late, give them one shot at finishing this thing under green, and I’m satisfied as a fan.

I think that ‑‑ and I’ll be ‑‑ the decisions that ‑‑ the discussion that’s going on about Talladega and how to end that race, all the credit goes to NASCAR.  That’s not something the drivers took to NASCAR.  These aren’t ideas that the drivers brought up or concerns that the drivers brought up.  This is something NASCAR came to us with and said what do y’all think.  We need to change something considering what happened in Daytona, we’re going to make these changes, what do y’all think about that, we’re discussing these things.  I’m glad they come to us instead of just doing it.  I’m glad they give us the opportunity to weigh in.

NASCAR is never going to listen to it more than they should, which they shouldn’t.  They’re going to make the decision that’s best for the sport, and we just get to weigh in, which is great.  I really enjoy having the opportunity to weigh in.

If the drivers had their way, the restart zone would have been four times bigger than it was this past weekend.  The drivers want it as big as they can, as big as they can get it.  When I saw it this weekend, I could damned barely tell it was doubled.  It didn’t feel any longer to me out on the racetrack during the race, but I felt like the restarts were a lot smoother, a lot more predictable, less weirdness going on.  Of course it is a concrete racetrack and difficult to get a hold of on restarts, so you’re not going to have guys really getting away with too much because it’s just impossible to do at that place.

But a lot of the decisions are basically a compromise between what the drivers want and what NASCAR wants to do and what the fans deserve.

Q.        Talk about what the restart zone will be like at Charlotte this week.  What’s your discussion or what do you think about what you’d like to see this week?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  Yeah, I think it’ll feel small.  I think the restart zone will feel small.  I talked to the officials at Charlotte Motor Speedway and they talked about maybe being able to paint lines across the racetrack, not for the drivers, more for the fans to see where the box is, and NASCAR to be able to officiate the box easier, trying to understand where the cars are on the racetrack as opposed to a line on the wall creates a bit of a gray area, a judgment call on ‑‑ you might have an opinion that somebody went too early and another guy might see it the guy went right at the line, but if they’re painted across the racetrack, you don’t know –

Q.        I thought that wasn’t done because the paint will make that slick spot for the tires.

DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  Well, the last discussion I had with Marcus was that they were thinking about doing it, so I don’t know if they did it at all, but I told him to make them no more than six inches wide because we would be wheel spin over the paint.  That’s just another challenge.  It’s not a problem if we have a little wheel spin.  We’re going to spin the tires anyways on restarts.

I mean, as long as there’s double‑file restarts, I don’t care what you do with the box.  I don’t care what rules you put in there.  Guys are going to try to get an advantage, and you’ve just got to officiate with a strict hand, a firm hand, and make decisions and call guys out to keep us honest.  You know, if you allow us a foot, we’re going to take two.  So don’t allow us that first foot.  Call it with an iron fist and keep us honest, and we’ll learn not to make those ‑‑ not to take advantage of the tolerance that you give us.

You know, the only way to really get away with this, get away from all this herky‑jerky mess is to go to single‑file restarts, and nobody really wants that.  That’s not an option.  Is it a bad thing that there’s a little trickery going on?  I don’t think so.  It gives us something to talk about, and yeah, as long as you line two guys up side by side, they’re going to be trying to get an advantage on one another, and especially late in these races when track position is so important and it’s so difficult to pass and there’s all this ‑‑ a win is a win, gets you to the next round.  It’s going to be ‑‑ you’re going to have to try to get everything you can get.

I don’t think you’ll ever really fix the situation or cure it, but the larger the restart box, I feel, puts it more in the leader’s hand to be able to get the restart he deserves because he’s in a good ‑‑ he’s in a deserving position to get the ‑‑ control the restart and not be snookered by anyone around him because he was leading the race.  A guy could be leading the race by six seconds with 20 laps to go and get a debris caution and now he’s sitting there with somebody on the inside of him who could take advantage of him.  That just doesn’t seem fair to me.  But the bigger box gives the leader a little more control to get a better restart and protect himself.

Q.        What’s it going to be like for you next year having Jeff not driving Cup?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  I don’t know.  I’m going to look forward to seeing him out there and being able to maybe spend some more time with him at the racetrack.  Other than that, there will be another competitor out there, and hopefully he has fun with it.  I’m just hoping that somehow or another he can use it as a springboard into a new, better opportunity.

Q.        Do you guys talk much?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  Just every once in a while.  He’s pretty busy, I’m pretty busy, but he lives right near me.

Q.        What’s the most profound effect Jeff Gordon has had on you either as a teammate or a friend?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  I think what he’s done for the company, Hendrick Motorsports, has probably affected me and all the other people that work there, all the other drivers.  You know, he’s been huge about making that place what it is today.  A lot of credit goes to him on where Rick is and where the company is in standing with the rest of the series.  You know, he’s done a good job of having a huge influence on that, not only just being part owner of Jimmie’s car, but he helps make a lot of great decisions for that company going forward, and it certainly has benefitted me.

Q.        It seems like the Gibbs cars and Harvick have been the strongest obviously and the guys to beat.  Is that how you guys view it?  What’s it going to take to stop those guys?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  The 4 car is as fast as he needs to be every week.  If he needs to win, his car is fast enough to win.  If he needs a 10th, he finds a 10th somewhere.  It’s pretty crazy.  But he was like that last year.  When it came down to it and they had to win races, their car was the fastest car on the track.  He’s definitely ‑‑ I didn’t think there really was a favorite in this Chase, but he stands out among everyone else.  The Gibbs guys are quick.  They’ve been quick all summer.  But I think we’re finding some speed.  I think we’ve gotten a lot closer.  We still would like to be a little more competitive, but where we’ve been the last four weeks, aside from Chicago, Richmond, New Hampshire and this past weekend, we’ve had top‑5 cars, third‑place cars.  I can be satisfied with that.  But to win the championship we’re going to have to find a little bit more to beat the 4.

Q.        When a guy is able to do those kinds of things, does it make you scratch your head because of how competitive things are?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  Yeah, it makes you scratch your head, yeah.

Q.        You know Austin Theriault a little bit, right, because he drove a few races for you?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  Yeah.

Q.        Did you talk to him, and what did you think about another vehicle hitting an unprotected ‑‑

DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  I haven’t talked to him, but I’ve been talking to Brad.  Brad has got a direct line to him and can tell me about his injuries and how he’s coming along.  That was a nasty wreck.  Those are the wrecks where you’d never think that would happen, but that’s what you’ve got to protect yourself against, the things that ‑‑ the one in a million odd ways you can get wrecked.  Those are the ones where you’re going to get hurt, so you’ve got to protect yourself against those.  A lot of the stuff is pretty much common sense as far as putting the SAFER barrier in the corners and so forth, but we’re finding that we need them in a lot more areas because those one in a million weird circumstantial wrecks like this past weekend are the ones where drivers can get themselves into some trouble physically.  It’s just good ‑‑ you know, NASCAR is trying to fast track everything they can to get more SAFER barrier out there, and the tracks got to get out there and do the work, and hopefully we’re seeing that happen at a lot of racetracks.

Q.        I’m doing a story on Dustin Lineback in your pit crew.  Can you talk about his importance being a front tire carrier and how important your pit crew is heading into this Chase?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  Yeah, every guy is ‑‑ every guy has got a job, and he’s got to work closely with the changer, and they are both in tune, connected to the jack man, and the jack man sort of oversees what lugs are being hit and when to drop the car, because as soon as he drops it I’m going, but he has to understand how the carrier is doing his job and then how the jack man is able to hit the lugs, and if he’s hitting those lugs successfully.  If he sees the guy on the rear done, which is usually the guy who’s finished last, and he doesn’t look ‑‑ if the jack man doesn’t look left and see the front changer done, the changer on the front might have had a slow right front or slow left front, he could drop the jack too soon and send me off pit road with just a couple lugs tight and that’s going to be a problem.  So it’s all sort of a domino effect, and it starts with the carrier getting the wheel indexed.  They practice every day.  They put in a lot of effort and a lot of work to get competitive, and it’s getting more and more competitive each year, more and more guys are coming out of the woodwork, coming from these college teams and other professions as athletes that are creating larger and larger pool of guys to draw from, and so there’s a lot of competition.  It’s really ‑‑ you know, it’s getting really ‑‑ it’s getting really fun to watch to be honest with you as far as these guys pushing each other and driving each other to be faster, and the speed in the pit stops is changing a lot, the guns are changing.  Everything about how you pit a car has changed so much in the last 10 years, shaving just tenths of a second off of the pit stops each year.

The guns are ridiculous.  The guns are costing over hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Development in the guns is over a million dollars.  That’s ridiculous.  You used to just go buy a gun from Hutch or somebody and change tires.  Now you’ve got to spend a million dollars to make the thing faster.  It’s pretty crazy.

FastScripts by ASAP Sports

KEVIN HARVICK, NO. 4 JIMMY JOHN’S/BUDWEISER CHEVROLET SS:

Q.        Rodney made an off‑the‑cuff comment to a few of us in the middle of last week –

KEVIN HARVICK:  What day?

Q.        Wednesday.  He was like, what would happen if we just lapped the field every week, and we kind of were like, can you?  Are you guys that much better than everyone else?

KEVIN HARVICK:  I don’t really know about that comment.  I think Rodney can be playful at times and just –

Q.        It didn’t seem playful.

KEVIN HARVICK:  Yeah, he’s ‑‑ he doesn’t get wound up.  But I think they’ve done a good job of prepping everything and doing what they do best, and that’s prepping the race cars.  I think when you look at Rodney, I think he and our group do a great job of covering the details and doing the things that they have to do on a week‑to‑week basis and take a lot of pride.  I think when you look at these last 10 weeks, I mean, it takes a different level of preparation just because everything matters so much.  It’s not that it doesn’t matter during the year, but it’s just everybody tends to find something a little bit more than what they had in the beginning of the year.

It’s not easy.  It’s hard.  They’re doing a great job.

Q.        Is there pressure?  Is that something that even penetrates this shield?

KEVIN HARVICK:  I like the ‑‑ I like what I do.  I like being behind the wheel and being in the fight.  You know, it’s a battle on a daily basis, whether it’s practice or qualifying, and being in that mindset and being that competitor, to me that’s a rush.  I think that that competition and the higher level of competition, the bigger the rush.

You know, maybe that’s a unique way of explaining it, but I mean, that’s really what drives all of us is the competition and the ‑‑ the preparation last week wasn’t really any different than what it would have been, and to be honest, I was at peace with whatever way it went.  I knew that we had done everything that we could do to prepare, and cars were running well.  It just wasn’t all lining up in the first two weeks.  But luckily it all lined up on week three and worked out.

Q.        How fortunate do you feel to be sitting here today doing these interviews?

KEVIN HARVICK:  I race cars for a living, so I’m pretty fortunate to be in this position on a daily basis.

I think as you look at the way that it all worked out, it obviously made for a good ending at the end of the first three weeks, but I think after the first two weeks, it was definitely not the position that you wanted to be in.  But Stewart says it all the time.  He says, whether you’re leading or running last, don’t ever quit what you’re doing until they throw the checkered flag because it’s going to change and you’re going to be forced with situations to overcome.  I think when you look at the preparation of the cars all year and the things that we’ve been able to accomplish throughout the year, the cars have run good on a weekly basis, and we’ve been in a lot of those situations where we’ve led a lot of laps and not had the end come together of the race.

To have a good car, run all day and have the end come together at a race is something that’s nice to have work out.

Q.        It’s not just a good stretch for you, it’s not just a good year or a good Chase.  This is two years of dominance for this team.  Has there been a passing of the torch?

KEVIN HARVICK:  I don’t really know how to answer that question just for the fact that it’s hard.  What we do is hard, and I think it goes in cycles, and we’ve been fortunate to be –

Q.        This is a ‑‑

KEVIN HARVICK:  ‑‑ through a couple of cycles.  I think as you’ve gone through the year, you’ve raced against different groups of people, and I think when you look at what the 48 has done, he’s raced different people for those championships, and I think that’s rare.  You know, I think as you look as what happens and how competitive our sport is.

Q.        Do you think everybody is looking at you as the guy to beat, the way they used to look at ‑‑

KEVIN HARVICK:  I don’t know.  I’m not going to get into that debate.  I don’t want to get into that debate.  I just want to go do my job and try to race as hard as I can.

Q.        Speaking of competition, I didn’t think your burnout was even (inaudible) something wrong with your car or you were doing it on purpose.  Was it sour grapes, and do you expect that when you have a performance like you did on Sunday?

KEVIN HARVICK:  The thing about it now is people expect that from the celebration.  Back in 2003 was the first time that the rear tires blew off the car at Indianapolis down the front stretch.  That’s not something new.  It’s just something that’s been fun, and you don’t get that opportunity that you get to celebrate.  These things are hard to win, and I enjoy celebrating, and I’m going to burn the tires off, yeah, for sure.

Q.        You tapped the back of your car against the wall.

KEVIN HARVICK:  I did.

Q.        That’s the way it appeared.

KEVIN HARVICK:  I didn’t even know.

Q.        Not to be ‑‑ I know you told us that you don’t read Twitter, but that’s what a lot of the buzz on Twitter is, is that you knocked your car back into compliance by tapping the back ‑‑

KEVIN HARVICK:  I knew how to knock my car back into compliance by rubbing it against the wall.  Crack the back.  I get my back cracked on a weekly basis.

Q.        Do you look at these next two races a little bit different?

KEVIN HARVICK:  Oh, you have to.  You want to do all that you can do at Charlotte and Kansas just because you don’t want to lead into Talladega, as much as you can try, just for the fact that there’s so much out of your hands.  You go to Talladega, there’s ‑‑ I think that’s the one that everybody would be all together with and circling and saying this is the one that we don’t want to go to just for the fact that it’s just Talladega, and there’s just so many things that can go back really fast.

Q.        In a sport where it’s so difficult to win, there’s a number of guys who had to win did it.  Here it’s so hard to win on one hand, and yet you see guys winning when they have to.

KEVIN HARVICK:  Yeah, I don’t think it happens a lot.  I think when you look at our sport and you look at especially Talladega, the chances and risks that you can take, and that race if you go back and look at it, Brad took a lot of chances because of the position that he was in.  You’re just more willing ‑‑ and it’s strange.  When you get in those types of situations, when you see everybody overachieve in every department of the car, because they’re just so focused on all the little things, and when you start taking those crumbs and you start adding them up, but you can’t race like this all year because it’s just so draining and so hard on everybody to look at the shop last night.  Those guys were there until 8:00 or 9:00 and they’ll be there until 8:00 or 9:00 tonight preparing for Charlotte.  That’s what they do for 10 weeks preparing for the championship, but you can’t do that to them all year because it’s not healthy, it’s draining on their family, and you have to prepare for these 10 weeks to take that out of everybody, and you have to mentally prepare for that from a preparation standpoint.

Q.        How do you go further even in this 10‑week period, and how do you try to give yourself a break?  Where is that balance, because I guess I would feel like if I take a break, well, competitor X is probably still going.

KEVIN HARVICK:  Yeah.

Q.        And I don’t want to give him an advantage.

KEVIN HARVICK:  Yeah, I think from a driver’s perspective it’s probably a little bit different because I think one of the things that Tony taught me the most last year was just to go do something else during the week.  We have a lot going on during the weeks.  Today we were at a charity event this morning and gave away a car and got a $219,000 donation for our foundation.  We’ll have our foundation event tonight.  We’ll have our golf tournament tomorrow and go to Charlotte and race Thursday, Friday, Saturday.  I try to do as much during the week that doesn’t revolve around racing.  The team guys, they can’t do that.  It’s going to be 24/7 for those guys, but I’ve got to have my mind fresh and ready to go and handle all the mental curves as they come throughout every weekend as we get to the tracks.

I’ve got to do what Rodney and I talk about, and that’s give the best feedback and help steer that ship from the driver’s seat to make sure that we’re making the right decisions or help be a part of making the right decisions or the best decisions that we have the information to.

Q.        You talked earlier about pressure.  Have you always liked that?  As a kid did you get nervous?

KEVIN HARVICK:  You know, I think as a kid, and I shouldn’t say as a kid, racing as a kid you don’t really understand the circumstances and there’s really not that much pressure, but I think as I got older and realized the financial responsibilities that your parents had and the strain that it put on the family and all the things that come with that and not being able to go back to the racetrack the next week unless you performed on the racetrack and showed up with the biggest check possible, probably all $600 at the pay window if you won, you had to buy tires, and if you tore the car up, you probably weren’t going to race the first week.  So I learned that lesson the hard way.  I raced seven times my first year because we spent the rest of the year trying to fix it.

Q.        We all know that Talladega is a wild card, but we also know that Kansas last year ‑‑

KEVIN HARVICK:  Yeah, it was last year.

Q.        That being said, how important is the winner of Charlotte, just to get it out of the way?

KEVIN HARVICK:  Yeah, it’s definitely ‑‑ it definitely gave us that break.  Who was asking that earlier?  I think if you can win in a first‑round situation, you can definitely put yourself in a position to get those guys on the team that mental break that they’re going to need just because of the detail and things that it takes on a weekly basis when you have to run all three weeks at that level.

So if you can get a win in the first round, you want to go and try to prep to win the car, or prep the car to win the race.  But that level is not going to be the same because those guys, if you can get them a break, they need it.

Q.        Do you think we’ll continue to see the drama like at Charlotte we had last year, then at Texas again later?  Do you think that’s starting to ramp up as we go through these last 10 races?

KEVIN HARVICK:  I don’t really get into drama.

Q.        You could have said anything at the start of the Chase.  Instead you said, “We’re going to pound them into the ground.”  Why did you say that?

KEVIN HARVICK:  We’re in week 4 now.  We’re ready for Charlotte.

Q.        Last year Kenseth wrecked you at Martinsville, then you made it, and you kind of ‑‑ I don’t know if you forgave him or gave him a free pass.  You’re in, Jimmie is out.  Does Jimmie get a free pass now?

KEVIN HARVICK:  I don’t think we’ve even broached that subject yet.  We’ve just got so much going on that we’ve got a lot to work through right now.

Q.        How much further down the road do you look in this Chase, or do you just take it with the elimination and everything that takes place each race, how important it is, that you just have to ‑‑

KEVIN HARVICK:  I just look at you as that guy in that NBC commercial right now.  I’ll just be honest with you, that’s all I’m thinking about right now.  I watched that spot in New York this week.  Can you ask me your question again.

Q.        Can you allow yourself to look further down the schedule, to Homestead, to Phoenix, wherever it is?

KEVIN HARVICK:  No.  You’ve got to put so much attention into each and every week to make sure that you get the most out of it, just for the fact that it can be the thing that leads you into getting that two‑week break for your guys.  It’s not like you’re going to get a break from the track, but if you can just give them that little bit of break, it’s a big deal as you look towards the next round and getting a head start on that.  Right now with where we’ve been, it’s a week to week process just to keep that same level of detail.  It’s not like you’re preparing two or three weeks in advance.  You’re working on Charlotte because we’ve been behind at the beginning of this deal.

Q.        Do you think it’s been tougher on the guys in the shop and the crews given the fact that they’ve had to prepare so many different packages over the season and the rain that we’ve had?  It seems like those guys have been going full bore all season long?

KEVIN HARVICK:  I think this is one of the toughest years I’ve ever seen on those guys in the garage.  With the way that the schedules have been, haven’t been favorable to the teams and the guys working on the cars that are in the trenches.  You know, I think with the rules packages, it’s definitely put a strain on where you’ve put your resources, and people and all the things that you need to make your race team go around have kind of been deviated a little bit, from high drag to low downforce to current package to testing that you didn’t expect.  So there’s definitely been a lot of forks in the road that you didn’t expect that you had to navigate.

Q.        Dale Jr. said a while ago you’re the guy that is becoming known if you need a 10th, you get a 10th.  If you need a 2nd, you get a 2nd or get a win.  What is it that makes you get exactly what you need to get to get to the next round?

KEVIN HARVICK:  I don’t know.  For me it’s just you just go drive the car.  There’s no secret to it.  It’s just we’ve been fortunate from really the first race that I won back in 2001.  It’s just for whatever reason there always seems to be a little bit of flair to it.  I don’t necessarily want it to be that way, but it just seems like it works out that way.

Q.        Given the success you’ve had in this Chase format, do you feel like this is the ideal Chase format for the long‑term future?

KEVIN HARVICK:  Well, I think this has definitely added a new level of intensity to it.  I think we saw that last year, and I think that everybody ‑‑ you already see the energy around the first three races, and I think you’ve seen the level of performance from what it was in the first round last year to what it was in the first round this year.  It’s been a different level of competition in the first round.

I think as we went through last year, everybody kind of figured it out as we got to round 2 and how it was going to work, but it’s definitely a mental grind.

Q.        From a driver’s perspective is your preparation during the week any different?  Obviously you said the team’s was, but what do you do differently during the week?

KEVIN HARVICK:  I don’t really do anything different.  I go about my business the same way that I would.  It’s definitely busier this time of year just because you have more obligations than what you did in the middle of the year.  It seems like everybody goes on vacation for the summer and then they all come back and you have all your sponsor obligations, we’ll already be doing our photo shoots before the season is over for next year, and then you throw all this stuff on top of it, it winds up being a little busier.  But it’s pretty much the same routine for me during the week, and that’s just something that’s been developed over the last several years.

Q.        Since the first drivers’ council in Dover, how has the drivers’ council made an impact in a short period of time, and when you went into it were you skeptical about what you’d get out of it?

KEVIN HARVICK:  Yeah, I don’t know that it’s one particular thing that’s pushed all these things.  I think as a group, whether that be NASCAR or the owners, the drivers, I think we’ve all realized that we have to communicate with each other better, and I think a lot of these have been group collaborations of what are the hot buttons right now, what are the things that we feel like are the biggest problems.  But I wouldn’t point that to any one particular group because there’s not one particular group ‑‑ I mean, NASCAR could, but they’ve been very receptive to really letting everybody have an opinion and trying to evolve that into what is best for the whole sport.

Q.        You or anybody who’s left in the Chase, you go to Talladega not locked in, what’s running through your mind?  Obviously it’s crazy any time, but under those circumstances?

KEVIN HARVICK:  Yeah, I mean, there’s just a lot out of your control, so you go in there, and for me, I’ve just made the decision over the last several years that you go there and you try to position yourself at the front of the pack and you just let it happen.  Otherwise it’s just a complete mental drain on yourself and the team.  That’s the strategy.  That’s what we’re going to do, and we’re going to play the odds and we’re going to go there, and if you’re at the front of the pack, are you going to have less chance of wrecking?  I don’t know.  Somebody who’s way smarter than me is going to have to go back and look at all those races and see where the crashes happened.  But I think for us it’s just picking a mindset and just pushing forward with it, and that’s it.

Q.        Did you do the Kansas test?

KEVIN HARVICK:  I did.

Q.        Is the track coming back into its own a little bit?

KEVIN HARVICK:  These tracks are never going to come back into their own like they used to because of the asphalt and where the asphalt is nowadays.  It’s definitely weathered, the groove widened out there last time, but they’re never going to weather to the point that they used to because the where the asphalt is nowadays and how it’s put together and the way that it wears is just not like it was 20 years ago.  So the racetracks are never going to take a full swing like they do in Atlanta ‑‑ like they did at Atlanta and Rockingham and those types of places because the asphalt is so far different.  But the groove has spread out.  You can race, but it’s just not as drastic as any of those places.  But it was spread out.  It was halfway up the racetrack already, lots of rubber on the racetrack, so I felt like the tire was laying a lot of rubber down.  But it was hot, too.  It’ll be much different conditions than what it was when we tested just because the outside temperature was so much hotter.

Q.        Rodney said at the race on Sunday that he would have preferred for you guys to not have had to show your hand to the extent that you did at New Hampshire and Dover.  Did you know you had that much in reserve coming into the Chase?

KEVIN HARVICK:  We haven’t talked about anything like that.

Q.        Is there some small part of you ‑‑ I know you’re focused on the moment, but the way that you’ve had three straight wins in elimination races, do you think, wow, I can’t believe we pulled that off?

KEVIN HARVICK:  Yeah, well, you just look back and you look back at Homestead, and that race wound up being a race where we really weren’t in position to be really confident about where we were with a couple restarts to go.  I think we restarted 13th or 14th or something like that.  So you know, those things can all swing a bunch of different ways, and they’ve swung that way a lot this summer as you look at the circumstances and the fuel mileage.  We were going back through the notes yesterday, and I think we were leading the 600, and then it all broke loose, and it turned into a fuel mileage race, and we finished behind whoever won and five or six other cars, too, that just kind of rode around and played the fuel mileage game.  We’ve had a lot of those races that have worked out like that, but I think that we’ve been fortunate to be on the side that those races, at Phoenix and Dover were pretty straightforward.  Homestead we got a good restart there at the end, had four tires, and the 11 made a decision that put them in a box, and we were just on the right side of a lot of things that worked out.

But I think Dover and Phoenix were ‑‑ they were straightforward races with a fast car that fortunate to play out, but we’ve been in a lot of not so straightforward races with a lot of circumstances that haven’t played out through the year.

Q.        How tempting is it as you get deeper into the Chase to want to give more of your opinion of what to do?  I know you’re giving feedback, but your opinion on strategy per se?  How tough is it not to do that?

KEVIN HARVICK:  I was 100 percent involved last week on the strategy, back and forth with the radio on the two tires at the end and the four tires.  I felt like we communicated fairly quickly amongst each other as to settling in on our strategy before we really even got to Turn 1 as to what we wanted to do.

I felt like last week it was pretty straightforward as far as what the 4 car wanted to do and how we wanted to do it, just based upon the circumstances and the way that the day was going.

Q.        That’s just kind of normal procedure?

KEVIN HARVICK:  Yeah, that’s pretty normal procedure, I think, as you look back at New Hampshire, and I don’t think any of us really thought we were in the position that we were in with the shortage of fuel because we didn’t know it was short on fuel.  You know, we were all pretty confident that everything was way good to go, and then the next thing you know you’re out of gas with three laps to go.  That would have been communicated way early to me if we’d have known we were in had that position.

Q.        I read about football players that feel pressure.  I’ve read about basketball players that do.  How come you don’t?

KEVIN HARVICK:  I would never say that I don’t feel pressure.  You know, I think how you act in those pressure types of situations can be altered in different situations.  But I think as you look at the pressure, it can be motivating or devastating.  Fortunately at this particular point, pressure has been motivating and hasn’t ‑‑ you see a lot of sports teams, you see a lot of franchises get in situations where ‑‑ there’s pressure situations and things don’t go good, and the next thing you know it crumbles at the seams in a lot of different directions for years to come.

It’s definitely ‑‑ it could go either way, and fortunately we’ve been on the right side of it so far.

Q.        Is it about confidence?

KEVIN HARVICK:  Well, I don’t think we lack that.

Q.        Have you always been this confident, or is it something that you grew into?  We’ve always known you this way, but how did you get to this way before you came to us?

KEVIN HARVICK:  Look, when I started high school I weighed 83 pounds and didn’t really have a lot of direction, and I would tell ‑‑ I’ve told you guys this before, I think, but when I decided to go and start wrestling when I was a freshman in high school, and my coach said that I had ‑‑ as I went through high school, I think that was a defining moment just in my life about who I was as a person and how you conducted yourself.

I really think that was probably the best four years of how you reacted to things, and it was you against yourself, how good do you want to be.

Q.        Do you still talk to him?

KEVIN HARVICK:  Absolutely.  Yeah, he emailed me before the race, after the race ‑‑ both wrestling coaches I still communicate with.

Q.        Did you see the crash in the Truck Series where Theriault went into the unprotected ‑‑

KEVIN HARVICK:  I did.

Q.        Do you feel like NASCAR has picked up the pace in what they’re doing?

KEVIN HARVICK:  NASCAR ‑‑ I feel like they’ve picked up the pace a tremendous amount.  You know, I know that there’s ‑‑ I don’t remember exactly where all that SAFER barrier falls, but I know that every racetrack has SAFER barrier that’s in the progress of being added, but there’s really only so fast that it can all be built and put in.  But I know every racetrack has been evaluated, and we’ll have more SAFER barriers or different walls as we go back to them.

I’ve seen the plan, and it’s a pretty extensive plan of walls and barriers throughout the country at every racetrack.

Q.        They won’t show us that.

KEVIN HARVICK:  Well, it’s a very extensive plan that everybody has put a lot of effort into to get to where we are today, and I think when you look at Daytona and Talladega and Darlington and all the places that we’ve been, I mean, there’s been millions of dollars that have been spent on the barriers, so it’s been ‑‑ everything that I’ve been a part of, that’s been the biggest priority.

Q.        You used to talk about kind of dreading Charlotte a little bit and then you started to go to victory lane there.  Where are you with it now?

KEVIN HARVICK:  I’m 100 percent good with it, especially the last three or four years at RCR we were able to perform there and win a couple races.  It’s been very good to us since I’ve been at SHR.  It just took a long time to figure out.  It’s just like Dover.  It took 15 years to walk out of victory lane with a trophy that you actually earned yourself and not something that you owned in the Truck Series.  It was good to finally check that one off.

Q.        Keelan seemed to like the Dover win a lot.

KEVIN HARVICK:  Yeah.  The only problem with the trophy being ‑‑ yeah, he’s been asking about the Miles trophy.  We got him a stuffed animal, a stuffed little Miles guy just in case it all didn’t work out.  The only bad part about the trophy is it smells like beer and it’s in his playroom.  I didn’t even realize it; yesterday he walked up with the trophy, he’s like, dad, come here, smell this.  Smells like beer.  I said, do you want me to take it out?  He goes, no, I just want you to know it smells like beer.

Q.        He’s a year older this go‑around.  Is it more enjoyable this year?

KEVIN HARVICK:  Oh, yeah, because he realizes a lot more of what’s going on.  We were sitting in the motor home on Sunday morning, and he told me, he said, dad, whatever happens today, I know you tried your best.  You know, I mean, those types of little situations really help you keep things in perspective, and I think as you start to ‑‑ you have the perspective of a three‑year‑old, it’s kind of refreshing for sure, especially for me because of the fact that before he came along, it was a grind.  It was a seven‑day‑a‑week grind that you didn’t take your mind off of it.  Now you don’t have a choice, and it’s refreshing for me.

Q.        How much different is the track this time around than the last time you guys raced here?

KEVIN HARVICK:  You know, it’s ‑‑ it’s quite a bit different.  This is definitely one of the more weather sensitive places that we go to.  The only difference this time is it’ll be dark for the whole race.  You don’t have that swing.  We have a very well‑timed practice that you have Friday night that will give you a good indication on what you need to have for the start of the race, and as you go through the race.  We have a lot of good notes for Charlotte based upon track temperature, but you’ve got to be ready to have something that’s adjustable to keep up with the track.

Q.        I know it’s not the same sense of urgency because it was a must‑win to move on, but what’s the sense coming into this race?  Can you relax a little bit?

KEVIN HARVICK:  Come to my office.  Everything is urgent.  No.

Q.        At last year’s race things kind of got (inaudible)?

KEVIN HARVICK:  Yeah, well, I think that the restart stuff is going to ‑‑ it’s going to make everything a lot cleaner.  It’s going to make everything more cut and dry, and the guy who’s in charge of the race is going to be the leader, and that’s the way it should be.  I think that those are ‑‑ I think those are good changes, and I think you’re going to see less confusion.  It’s going to be a lot more cut and dry as we move forward.

Q.        Dale Jr. said he talked with Marcus and said there was some talk that the track might paint a line across the track in the restart zone.  What are your thoughts on that?  If they do something like that, how much of a concern will it be?

KEVIN HARVICK:  I thought you were going to ask me about the grass.  I was excited to see what the new SMI infield looked like as far as the updates and things that they’ve tried to do to help try not to tear the splitters off the car.  Yeah, I think the paint could be an issue, but I think a lot of that paint has advanced so far, you don’t have the slick paint we used to have.  I don’t think it would be as big an issue as it used to be other than as it gets black and you really can’t see it anymore and then you have to paint it again and it builds up and then paint it again and it builds up.  That might be the biggest concern of painting the track is not really how slick the paint is, just that you can’t see the line anymore as the cars run through it constantly, and then after you keep building it up over the years.  But I’ll be there either way.

Q.        Do you think that would help what they’re trying to do?

KEVIN HARVICK:  I just think it’s a step in the right direction.  It’s silly to spin these cars out and just have them destroyed with the grass.  I think there just needs to ‑‑ I know everybody is looking into it, and I think that it’s exciting to me just for the fact that it’s the first step of somebody actually doing it.  I know that the times that I’ve spun out and gone through the grass, when that splitter digs in the ground, it’s a violent, violent stoppage of the car.

Q.        If you did a burnout in there you could damage your car.

KEVIN HARVICK:  There’s so many ‑‑ yeah.  I bet you Carl’s back hurt that time after he did that burnout in the grass and it ripped the front off.

Q.        You’re pretty oblivious to all the scuttlebutt about how you cracked the back ‑‑

KEVIN HARVICK:  That’s what you’re supposed to do.  You’re supposed to try to create commotion.  I don’t remember even actually hitting the wall.  I remember the tires blowing out, but I don’t know if I actually even hit the wall.

Q.        I couldn’t tell with all the smoke.

KEVIN HARVICK:  Yeah, I don’t remember hitting it if I did.

Q.        Why are you still mad at Jimmie?

KEVIN HARVICK:  Oh, those are long‑time discussions.

Q.        We’ve got time.

KEVIN HARVICK:  I don’t.

Q.        At Chicago, was Keelan in the backseat trying to crane his neck and see what was going on back there?

KEVIN HARVICK:  At Chicago?

Q.        Yeah, after the race.

KEVIN HARVICK:  Oh, he was in his car seat.

Q.        Yeah, I know.  His mom had to get out and get involved.

KEVIN HARVICK:  Yeah, I don’t know.  I didn’t really ask.

Q.        It seems that the Chase gets more complicated each year.  I’m not even sure if I understand it.  How do you explain to Keelan about how you go about winning the Chase?

KEVIN HARVICK:  Well, we’ve made it so simple that it’s simply hard to not understand.  I think as you go from you 16 to 12, so you eliminate ‑‑ 16 minus 12 is four, so eliminate four, then we reset the points to zero, and we race three weeks, and then we eliminate four more, so it’s 12 to 8.

Q.        It’s like jelly beans.

KEVIN HARVICK:  Yeah, exactly.  So you just push them around, just not like our bean counters that run the government, like push them around legitimately.

Q.        What’s the last thing you spent like a splurge for yourself?

KEVIN HARVICK:  Right now the big splurge is coming and renovating our house.  I’m ready for that to be over because I’m pretty much out of splurge.

Q.        What was your favorite Halloween costume as a kid?

KEVIN HARVICK:  I was either a race car driver or a football player pretty much every year.

Q.        If NASA called and said they’d want to give you the chance to drive on Mars, would you do it?

KEVIN HARVICK:  No way.  That’s way too risky for me.

Q.        You have a couch showing up today.  There’s no more moving trucks available.  Which driver do you hit up to help you carry your couch in?

KEVIN HARVICK:  I’m going to go with like a Cale Yarborough because he’s just a gritty, older guy that looks the same as he did when he was driving his car, so he’s got to be –

Q.        He’s tough?

KEVIN HARVICK:  Yeah.

Q.        Finally, what’s one thing every guy should know how to do?

KEVIN HARVICK:  One thing?  Drink beer.  Everybody likes beer.

FastScripts by ASAP Sports

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