Biffle, Edwards and Kenseth ..

Trying To Chase The Points Lead At Texas

Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth are all chasing points leader Jimmie Johnson and with only three races remaining, they are hoping to make their big move this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

Biffle, driver of the No. 16 3M Ford Fusion, has two wins this season and ranks third in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings.  He held his weekly Q&A session in the Texas Motor Speedway infield media center before Friday’s practice.

GREG BIFFLE – No. 16 3M Ford Fusion – THOUGHTS ON TEXAS?  “I really enjoy racing at this race track.  It’s one of the mile-and-a-halfs that we go to that’s a lot of fun to race on, that provides racing up and down the groove.  The straightaway is a little bit narrower and the banking falls off a little bit sooner than about all the mile-and-a-halfs, so it makes it tricky on corner exit to keep your car or keep momentum going, so that’s one of the challenges here is to keep your speed as you get up on the straightaway.  You’ve got to keep your car turning real good and that’s why the high line works so well here is it straightens out that corner exit some, but we ran decent in the spring.  Obviously, that didn’t do a lot for us in Atlanta, but, hopefully here, we will come back and run as good as what we did in the spring or a little bit better.” 

HOW WILL YOU DEFINE A SUCCESSFUL SEASON THIS YEAR?  “I think a successful season is making the chase because you’ve got to make the chase in today’s day and age.  You’ve got to make the playoffs in order to be successful and be in the spotlight every week for your sponsor and your team and your organization and all the guys that work at the shop and come to the track, so making the chase is really, really important in our sport today.  Secondly, there’s almost a second set of goals.  After making the chase, it’s win some races and be competitive and challenge for the championship.  We’ve been able to do that.  Obviously, we’ve come up a little bit short at a couple of mile-and-a-halfs that we feel is our strong suit, so that’s a little frustrating, but in our eyes we had a decent run at Martinsville.  We finished 12th, and with that not being my best race track that was not too bad of a finish, but to finish 10th at Atlanta and we finished seventh or so at Charlotte, those two races really weren’t up to par for the 16 team and hopefully that trend doesn’t continue here at Texas and at Homestead, which is one of our better tracks.  I think to wrap it up, it would be easy for me to say, ‘just finish in the top five in points’ because it looks like we’re headed down that track, but obviously we would be disappointed not to win the title and, right now, we still have an opportunity, but obviously it’s getting slimmer and slimmer.” 

HOW MUCH DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE CHASE DURING THE WEEK WHEN YOU’RE NOT AT THE TRACK?  “You think about it all the time because this is your life, this sport and it’s a lot of fun.  I try and do stuff to try and take my mind off of it and do other stuff, but we’re thinking about it all the time.  We’re thinking about the next race, the next couple of race or what’s left.  We’ll think about what races are left – ‘OK, Texas, Phoenix, Homestead – how are we gonna run there?’  You kind of play those races through your head.  We won here in ’05 and certainly we feel like we can win here again – for sure.  We feel like we can win in Phoenix and Homestead, so you play those scenarios through your head that we know we’re so many points behind, but we feel like we’re gonna be competitive in at least the next three, so you think about it a lot.  There’s no doubt about it and then everybody you come into contact with wants to talk about it.  ‘You were second in points and now you’re third in points.  What happened in Atlanta?  We thought you were gonna be better there,’ so you’re always talking about it with everybody.” 

IS JIMMIE THE HARDEST GUY TO HATE?  “There’s two way of looking at it.  I can see where you’re coming from, but at the same time we’re fierce competitors inside the car and this isn’t necessarily a contact sport, so it’s not like we’re playing football or something else – or boxing – where you’ve got to hate the guy as much as you can to get in the ring.  We’re competing on the race track as hard as we can and, really, once we get in the car and put our helmet on and go, I mean, we are doing everything we can to beat that car.  I don’t know that you need to be that angry, I guess, to get yourself fired up more to beat him or whatever.  Jimmie is a good guy.  They’ve done a tremendous job these last few seasons.  They really have pin-pointed, if you look at it, you can see why they’re a championship team.  They were in huge trouble at Charlotte.  He could not get that car to drive to save his life.  They threw the kitchen sink at it and he ended up sixth, but you listen to the radio transmissions that they had and you look at how the car was going on the race track and one more lap, we were gonna pass him and four more laps four more guys were gonna pass him.  He was backing up like mad, so that’s what makes a championship team is taking that adverse day and turning it into something good, and they did the same thing at Atlanta.  I guarantee you when he was riding around behind me, running 14th, he wasn’t just waiting for his opportune time to get up there – or when he was right in front of me – they were doing all they could and running 14th-15th and 13th.  They were able to keep adjusting on that car and my car got really good on that last run, similar to his, the only thing is I didn’t have track position.  I started out 17th and finished 10th.  He started out wherever in there and finished second, so we both sort of did the same thing right at the end of the event, but that’s a championship-caliber team to take a not-so-great of a car.  It’s easy when you’ve got a good car that’s fast all day to run up front all day, that’s easy.  When you’re off a little bit to come back and finish well and not get hurt in the points, that’s what it takes to win championships.” 

JACK TALKED ABOUT HAVING A MULLIGAN IN THE CHASE.  WHAT’S YOUR OPINION ON ANY CHASE CHANGES?  “You can’t make a rule to keep one guy from winning the championship.  That’s never worked in our sport and this is an equal opportunity right here.  No matter what you do, you cannot change – in this country, one guy is gonna have more money than the other guy, and one guy is gonna win more races than the other guy, and one guy is gonna win more championships.  There’s nothing that we can put in place, unless we make the 48 car have a different weight at the start of the event or run different tires or something.  The other thing is, you’re right, he skinned through Talladega by the skin of his teeth.  He just slipped through there.  We all saw the wreck.  We all saw him dodge the bullets and get through it.  I’d rather say take Talladega out of the chase and not worry about trying to get rid of your worst race because it’s happened every year.  The same thing has happened every year at Talladega.  When you go in there and you penalize a team that’s worked as hard as all of us have, and it was none of our doing, we’re involved in a wreck because something happened – a guy cut a tire or whatever – put Bristol in there or something else versus throwing out one of your bad finishes.  That’s my opinion about what they should do with the chase.” 

WHAT IS YOUR PERSPECTIVE OF JEFF GORDON AND WHAT HE’S DONE IN THIS SPORT, AND YOUR THOUGHTS ON HIM BEING WINLESS FOR SO LONG?  “It’s tough.  I’ve been in that same situation in ’06 and ’07 and then ’08 up until Loudon and it’s so hard to win these races, and it looks so easy.  Kyle Busch – eight wins – and then you look at Jimmie and Carl with seven wins.  It looks so easy, but yet it’s so difficult to get your car the way you need it and to drive the way you need it and to get the right breaks at the end of the race.  The 24 team this year has really, really impressed me from, ‘Oh, there’s Jeff a lap down in the lap down in the second run of the race.  He’s in huge trouble.’  The next thing I know he’s behind me and the next thing I know he’s running third.  At Charlotte, the side of that car was smashed in on the first or second run, he was a lap down and couldn’t keep up, and now he’s out front leading and I can’t catch him.  It looks like he’s gonna win the race and ends up 15th or something.  It’s just unbelievable, so they’ve been able to really come back in the races and that’s due in part to how good of a driver Jeff is an that team.  But he certainly means a lot to this sport and has certainly put our sport on the map.  When you go poll people that don’t know anything about NASCAR, they’ve heard of Jeff Gordon, and he’s a tremendous ambassador.  He carries himself well.  He speaks well and he’s done a great thing for our sport.” 

TEXAS FOLLOWS TALLADEGA NEXT YEAR.  WILL THAT HAVE AN IMPACT ON HOW THE SEPARATION WILL BE?  “I don’t see another race prior to that that’s gonna separate the field because anything can happen, certainly we could have had a nine-car wreck at Charlotte and got a lot of the chase cars involved in it.  Anything can happen, but, historically, that hasn’t happened.  We may have a wreck that catches up a couple of the chase cars, but not a wreck that catches up six or eight of them and not one guy getting caught up in the wreck.  I still think you take the 10 races and you put a column down the 10 races and look at the finishes, it doesn’t matter where they’re gonna be at in the chase, they’re all gonna have the same numbers because they all produce roughly about the same thing.  And by switching them around, I don’t really see the results being different.  If we went to Talladega this next week and we were tied with Jimmie in the points, and Carl was leading, the outcome is gonna be the same after Talladega if the same thing happens.” 

WHY SHOULDN’T THE 48 TEAM JUST COAST WITH THE BIG LEAD NOW?  “What happens is the best thing to do is to do nothing different because the second you start trying to do something different is when you make mistakes.  When you start the race this way, drive this way, drive that way or do whatever, you end up where you’re at as far as track position for a reason, so if he decides, ‘Oh, I’m gonna coast a little bit this race.  I’m just gonna run sixth, seventh, eighth and I feel a little bit better here,’ and the next thing you know that guy in fourth or fifth spins out and you’re involved in the wreck.  A case could be made very easily, ‘Dang it, if I had been running as hard as I could, or like I normally am, I’d have been running third and wouldn’t have been involved in that wreck.’  So the second you start changing your philosophy and your format of the way you approach every event, you can create yourself trouble.” 

IS IT POSSIBLE THE CHASE AND THE TITLE HAS BECOME TOO BIG OF A DEAL IN THIS SPORT?  “It’s hard.  We’ve created our own monster.  That happens because of how important this becomes, so, you’re right.  Look at the guys, I was unfortunately and hopefully that was it for my career, outside of the chase twice – two years in a row – and we’re really not talking about those guys.  We’re really not talking about them on the TV broadcast.  We’re really not talking about them in the paper.  We’re really wondering who is gonna catch Jimmie Johnson is the story every week.  That is good in a way and bad in a way.  Where it’s bad in a way is all those sponsors and all those drivers that aren’t in the chase are not necessarily getting a fair shot at coverage, and that’s why they’re in this sport.  I’ve been on the outside for a couple of years and that’s when I said, ‘If you’re not in the chase, you’re nobody.’  They kept asking me about it and that’s the way I feel about it. You’ve got to make the chase in this sport to be one of the 10 guys that are gonna be talked about and remembered with all the things that go on.  But I think you could say that with anything.  Who is gonna make the Super Bowl?  It’s the same thing when you get down to any kind of playoffs.  Who is gonna be in the World Series games?  That’s the emphasis because we’re gonna crown a champion.” 

KYLE BUSCH SEEMED INVINCIBLE AND HAD THREE TOUGH RACES IN A ROW.  DOES THAT GIVE YOU HOPE THAT JIMMIE MAY FALL APART?  “Yeah, you’re exactly right.  They’re gonna have to scratch his name off the trophy.  They had already given it out to him prior to the chase starting and I think a lot of people in this room can agree.  We were thinking about what it was gonna be like, so you’re right.  Definitely the wheels can fall off that 48 in a hurry.  We’ve seen it happen and maybe you get comfortable and kind of relaxed and stuff jumps out and bites you.  That can happen.  Absolutely.  That’s why we’re not gonna walk away with our tail between our legs, yet.  After Phoenix, if he’s got enough margin to clinch the title, then we will walk away with our tail between our legs, but until then, we’re not going to.” 

HOW MUCH TIME DID YOUR TEAM SPEND ON THE NEXT SEASON WHEN YOU DIDN’T MAKE THE CHASE AND NOW THAT YOU’RE IN IT, DOES IT TAKE AWAY FROM PREPARING FOR NEXT YEAR?  “I think so, a little bit.  You’re definitely focused on right now.  We’re not thinking about Daytona.  We’re not thinking about any of the other things.  We’re not trying anything out of the ordinary, so to speak.  What’s different about last year than this year is last year we were working on the old car right through these races, instead of the new car, so that had something to do with it, but I think there can be some advantage to teams that aren’t in the chase and that are locked in the top 35.  It gives them a little freedom to search around and try some things to get their program better, definitely.” 

DALE EARNHARDT WON TITLES WITHOUT HAVING THE BEST CAR OR TEAM BECAUSE HE GOT GUYS RATTLED.  WHY DON’T YOU TRY AND GET JIMMIE JOHNSON OFF HIS GAME?  THIS IS NOT GOLF OR TENNIS.  DO SOMETHING.  “I know, that’s exactly right.  The unfortunate part is we’ve given him the first pit box three weeks in a row, which he’ll probably qualify on the pole here to put it all in our face, but as soon as I can get my car close enough to his car, I will rattle his cage (laughter).  I’ve got to get there first.  I haven’t been able to catch him.”

            Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Office Depot Ford Fusion, and Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DeWalt Ford Fusion, each held their Q&A sessions following Friday’s only practice session.

CARL EDWARDS – No. 99 Office Depot Ford Fusion – DO YOU KNOW THE POINT SPREAD AND WHAT HAS TO HAPPEN?  DO YOU FOCUS ON THAT?  “It really doesn’t matter.  We just have to go out and be aggressive, race hard and get everything we can and that’s gonna earn us the most points that we can possibly get and that’s what we have to do.  You can only control your own deal, so that’s what we’re working on.” 

DOES IT BOTHER YOU THAT OTHER PEOPLE SAY JIMMIE JUST HAS TO FINISH 9TH OR 10TH?  “No, the deal is it’s easy being the underdog.  You just go out and race as hard as you can.  There’s really no pressure on us this week.  We’ve just got everything to gain, so this is racing and a lot can happen in three races.  I know that and our guys know that, so we’re going out here like this is our championship to lose and doing everything we can.” 

HOW WAS PRACTICE?  “Practice was really good.  The Office Depot Fusion was real good in race trim and was real good in qualifying trim, which is nice.  We’ve got an early draw, so it won’t be the best draw, but it looks like everybody is gonna make one lap probably, so I think we’ve got a real good shot at the pole.” 

ARE YOU EXCITED TO QUALIFY?  “Yeah, it’s fun to qualify.  What’s it been, a month or something?  It’ll be fun and it’ll be good.  I’m glad we get to qualify and it’s good because it’ll kind of spread everybody in the chase around a little bit and shake things up a bit, and that’s what we need.” 

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE RACE OF CHAMPIONS IN DECEMBER?  “I’m very excited to go to London for the Race of Champions.  We’re gonna have a good time.  I’m a little nervous about going over there with Travis Pastrana.  I hear he can get you in some trouble (joking), so you’ve got to be careful.  But Jimmie and Jeff told me it was a really awesome experience.  I get to go race with guys like David Webber and Michael Schumacher and those guys.  That will be cool.” 

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON RACING GUYS LIKE THAT?  “I think it will be cool.  My trainer, Dean, he’s a huge Michael Schumacher fan.  He wears a Ferrari hat at the NASCAR races when he’s with me just because he knows he should be wearing one of my hats.  If we can keep Dean under control when he sees Michael Schumacher, we’ll be fine.” 

HAVE YOU EVER DRIVEN CARS LIKE THAT BEFORE?  “I don’t know.  I’ve seen the videos, but I don’t really know what it’s gonna be like to drive the cars, but they look like a lot of fun.  It looks like you’ve got to drive them hard.  Those guys, a lot of them, are so good at the road course stuff and grew up racing go-karts and things like that, so I’m sure I’ve got a lot to learn, but, so far, Webber and Pastrana, they’re supposed to give me some tips and it should be fun.” 

HOW MUCH PRACTICE WILL YOU GET?  “I think we get very minimal practice once we get there and supposedly that’s one of the tough parts is that everyone gets only a few laps and I’ll really have to focus on those few laps, go back to the hotel and make sure I go through a lap in my head.  They say it’s real easy to stall the cars on the start, it’s really easy to be too aggressive and there’s not a lot of room for error.” 

WHAT CAN YOU SAY ABOUT JEFF GORDON AND WHERE HE RANKS IN THIS SPORT?  “I think you have to put Jeff Gordon right up there at the top of the list with any driver that’s ever lived.  He’s done it all.  He’s won at I don’t know how many tracks.  I don’t know if there’s a track he hasn’t won at on the schedule.  In the old points system he’s won four championships and it would be six, if they would have kept it.  He’s a great driver and a great competitor.” 

WAS JACK SERIOUS ABOUT TEAMS HAVING A MULLIGAN IN THE CHASE?  “I think Jack was serious about that.  It seems to make sense, too.  Right now we’re so far behind it seems like that it would be very advantageous to us to have a mulligan in the chase, but after listening to his explanation of it, he said that he’s raced in series where with that mulligan guys race a little more aggressively and take more chances before they use it up and that makes for more exciting racing.  That’s something, I think, we could look at for the future, but I definitely think he’s serious about it.” 

BIFFLE SAID TO JUST TAKE TALLADEGA OUT OF THE CHASE.  “I like that idea.  That would be good.  Talladega would be a whole lot more fun if it wasn’t a points race, that’s for sure.” 

HAVE YOU SEEN ANYBODY COME BACK FROM AS BIG A DEFICIT AS YOU FACE?  “I don’t know.  You don’t have to go very far to see what three races can do.  Look at the first three races of the chase and look how everything shook out there – look at the guys who shined and the guys who had trouble, so three races is a lot, especially when you’re going 200 miles an hour with the best drivers in the world and you’ve got to go 500 miles at a place like this.  Yeah, if they were giving out the trophy right now, it would be over, but they aren’t.  It’s not over.  There’s a lot to go.” 

HOW HARD IS IT TO ALWAYS BE DISCUSSING THIS THING?  “The deal is we come here and we race as hard as we can and, in the end, someone will be champion.  This whole season I’ve seen the ebb and flow and the waves and the bandwagons everybody gets on.  As soon as somebody goes and wins a few races, now that’s the guy to beat and now this guy’s the guy to beat, but that’s what’s so great about this sport is you can’t really predict what’s gonna happen.  There are so many variables that you just have to go see.  All the speculation in the world doesn’t make something come true.” 

COMING INTO THE CHASE DID YOU THINK KYLE BUSCH OR JIMMIE JOHNSON WOULD BE YOUR BIGGEST COMPETITION?  “Heading into the chase everyone thought that Kyle Busch was gonna be the toughest guy and that’s why it’s kind of interesting to me that everyone writes off these last three races like they’ve already been run because you look at the first three races and what happened, totally not anything other than pure bad luck, and Kyle lost 200-and-something points.  That’s what can happen.  I don’t know what position Kyle is in right now, but I would have bet, and I’m sure a lot of people actually did place bets, that he would be leading right now and that’s the way this sport goes.  It’s very cut throat.” 

WHY ARE YOU SO GOOD ON THESE KIND OF TRACKS?  “I really like these mile-and-a-halfs.  I really like the way they drive.  I like the momentum aspect of it.  I’ve got a really good crew chief and engines and bodies and all that stuff, but I feel like this year has been the first year I feel like we can win at every race track we go to.  We had a great run at Martinsville, the road courses were spectacular for us, but these tracks – even when I first got here, the first time I ran a truck at Kansas, Kentucky, I just really like the way these places feel.” 

ARE GUYS GETTING THIS FIGURED OUT WITH THE NEW CAR?  “Yeah, everybody is getting way better with the new car.  The gaps in the competition are narrowing and closing and it gets stepped up every week and the cars, they’ve got them handling better and better and they’re figuring out all the little tricks and that’s how this thing evolves.  It’s amazing.” 

YOU’RE RUNNING ALL THE NATIONWIDE RACES NEXT YEAR AGAIN.  WHY?  “There are a couple of things.  For instance, that race at Memphis, that was awesome.  Where else on a Saturday can you go race and have that much fun and have something that great to race for and have those guys to race against.  For me, I love the race.  My team is unbelievable.  They’re great guys.  I feel really fortunate to have a crew with guys like Darrell Morrow and my buddy Darren Beach, who I grew up racing with, he’s one of the mechanics, so it’s just fun.  That’s what it comes down to.  As long as I’m having fun doing it and those guys are having fun, we’re gonna keep doing it.” 

WHY DON’T OTHER GUYS DO THAT?  “It takes up a lot of time.  I’m real fortunate with the group of people I have with Bob and the Cup team and Drew and that Nationwide team, those guys are so good at managing the people.  We communicate so well that I really do get Mondays and Tuesdays off.  I don’t have to spend a lot of time with them and I think if I did, it would be real grueling, but, for now, it’s pretty simple.  I’d say it’s the time, though.  The time commitment really keeps people from doing it.” 

WILL KYLE’S SEASON BE JUST A FOOTNOTE BECAUSE OF HOW HIS CHASE HAS GONE?  “No.  People in the garage, everybody knows who runs well and who is tough, and I think everybody here appreciates what that 18 team has done and how much Kyle has accomplished in all three series.  It might be a footnote to the media or to the casual fan, but everybody else knows that this is a great year for him no matter how he ends up in the championship.” 

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE HIS REGULAR SEASON IN ONE WORD?  “Great.”  WHAT ABOUT YOUR DEFICIT IN THE NATIONWIDE SERIES?  “That’s a real reasonable gap to close.  You look at what happened last week and I think we closed 60 points or something like that in one week, so that’s what we’re here to do.  The thing about this stuff, I’ve live it, I’ve sat there in that seat and had things like that ignition box go bad at Charlotte.  That stuff can happen and, I mean, it doesn’t matter where you are in points or how much you hope it doesn’t happen, but those things happen.  I think in most series one or two things like that and the whole thing can turn upside-down.” 

CAN YOU BE ANYMORE CONFIDENT GOING INTO THIS WEEKEND?  “No.  This weekend is one that we truly believe, and I believe, that we can come here and we can dominate this race.  You never know how it’s really gonna go, but everything we’ve done up to this point has built that confidence and I’d say that we couldn’t go to a track that I feel better at.”

MATT KENSETH – No. 17 DeWalt Ford Fusion – DO YOU THINK THIS CHASE IS COMPELLING?  WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE?  “It depends what you’re after and depends what your expectation are and exactly what you’re after.  Me being a competitor and a fan for that matter, I want to see the driver-team, the whole combination that’s done the best job, win the championship.  That’s what I want to see.  I don’t want to see somebody win the championship under an artificial system or something like one race.  I think that over the last five or six years the 48 has been the best team and I think no matter what system you throw at them lately, they’re gonna figure out how to win it.  I think the best team should win it.” 

SO FIGURE OUT HOW TO ELIMINATE THE 48 FROM COMPETITION?  “I’ve seen Super Bowls that were blowouts by 40 points and I’ve seen Super Bowls like last year that went down right to the end and was a real close game.  That’s just part of professional sports.  Sometimes there are gonna be teams or a guy that gets on a roll and is gonna pull away.  It gets that way in anything.  Even if you have a seven-game series, some teams win it in the first four and the series is over.  That’s just kind of the way it is.” 

IS IT MORE KNEE-JERK REACTION FROM THE MEDIA THAT THINGS NEED TO CHANGE WHEN IT REALLY DOESN’T?  “I think everybody wishes there could be a three-wide finish, almost a tie for the win every week, but it’s just not realistic.  Like I said, sometimes you’re gonna have games or series or what we’ve got going on here, where somebody is gonna pull away and other times it’s gonna be right down to the wire and you just don’t know.” 

DO YOU SEE ANYWAY JIMMIE CAN’T WIN THIS?  “If he shows up every week, I think he’ll win it.  I think it would be pretty tough not to, but anything can happen.  He could fall out the first lap Sunday and you could have a race again, so you don’t really know until it’s over.  Nobody has ever come from that far behind before, but there’s always a first time, so you don’t ever know until it’s over, but he certainly is in a good spot.” 

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE MANUFACTURER’S RACE?  DOES IT MATTER?  “It matters when you look at at the end of the year.  I think for whatever manufacturer you’re driving for, but, yet, there’s not a lot you can do about it when you’re out trying to finish the best you can every week.  You’d like to see them end up with the manufacturers title, but there’s really not a lot you can do outside of race as hard as you can.” 

HOW WAS PRACTICE?  “It was fine.  It was OK.  I think it was productive as far as we found some things that I didn’t like and lap times reflected what I didn’t like.  We found a couple things that I liked better to kind of find a direction to work in tomorrow, a direction that we probably don’t want to work in and one that we do want to work in, so it was productive if we look at that.  Our speeds for qualifying, I don’t know, we were kind of middle of the road, so if we can get that a little better.” 

ARE YOU HAPPY TO QUALIFY THIS WEEK?  “If you look over my numbers, if we can line up in the top 10 and not qualify, that’s not a bad thing for us if you look at how we are historically, but, yeah, it’s kind of weird on a Friday, it’s not raining and I’m not laying on the couch in the motorhome, so it’s kind of fun to get some practice in and go qualify.” 

WILL KYLE BUSCH’S SEASON BE JUST A FOOTNOTE BECAUSE OF HOW HIS CHASE HAS GONE?  “Well, I think it depends on how he finishes the year, kind of, but, yeah, I would think if you asked him even though he’s probably had one of the best years overall in history, not winning the title, I’m sure, will be a big disappointment for him with all the wins he had early in the year and how strong they looked.  It looked like they were gonna be impossible to beat, but it’s a really what-have-you-done-for-me-lately type sport.  He won all those races and everybody was talking about him all year and now all of a sudden you haven’t heard much about him the last few weeks.  That’s just how quickly it changes.” 

WHO DID YOU THING WAS THE TOUGHEST COMPETITION GOING INTO THE CHASE?  “If you looked through probably every interview I’ve done for the last three years and asked me about championships, I’ve said the 48 has been the car to beat.  I didn’t think it was gonna be any different this year, to be honest with you.  I’m not necessarily saying I thought they were gonna win it for sure, but I thought if you were gonna win it, or anybody else was gonna win it, they were gonna have to go through them.  Gosh, look at what they’ve done since they got that team together.  Look at what they did last year.  Look at how good Jeff did and Jeff still didn’t win it.  To have an average finish of like fifth, that’s just crazy.  I think that would have won it any other year, ever, and still lost it.  For some reason, they’re just able to rise to the occasion and do better than everybody no matter how good everybody else does.  It’s pretty amazing.” 

DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT INTANGIBLE IS?  “It’s never one thing.  A team is never above one person, two people, one thing – it’s about the whole team.  Ever since Rick put that deal together with Jimmie and Chad, it’s just been kind of magic.  It was kind of like when he put that deal together with Jeff and Ray Evernham and they just really couldn’t be beat.  They were beat once in a while, but they did amazing things.  They won those championships and all those races and, really, this reminds me a lot of that.  As soon as they put those two guys together with that group they were dominant.” 

WHAT DO YOU THINK HAPPENED TO KYLE AND THAT TEAM IN THE CHASE?  “I don’t have any idea.  I’ve had so many problems to worry about myself that I don’t have any idea even where he’s ever finished, unless I’m racing right beside him I haven’t any idea.” 

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE KYLE’S SEASON?  “Like I said, I really haven’t paid attention to know what his problems were or what his strongsuits were.  We’ve had enough going on with our own deal.  I’ll glance at the points after the race, but I don’t really watch everyone of the top 12 guys and see what happened in that race or where they finished or how they did or what happened to them, so I don’t really know.” 

WHAT ABOUT HIS REGULAR SEASON IN ONE WORD?  “Dominant.  He won the most races and probably led the most laps and he won pretty much everything he climbed in.” 

WHO IS THE NICEST DRIVER BESIDES YOURSELF?  “Probably Mark Martin is the nicest guy in the garage.  He’s just friendly and approachable and honest.  He’s been really happy, especially the last 8-10 years, so he’s just a fun guy to be around.  He’s easy to talk to and I’ve never seen him really give anybody the cold shoulder and not give somebody advice if they wanted it or not help somebody or any of that.  He’s just always been like that.” 

HOW TOUGH IS IT TO BE A PERSONALITY IN THIS SPORT?  “I think everybody is in a different situation.  I think if you’re fortunate to be in Cup for awhile and you’ve got your sponsors happy and your car owner happy, you can’t really be someone you’re not to start with, but I think you learn very quickly to just be yourself.  Obviously, there are certain things you have to do or places you’ve got to go that maybe aren’t you or that you’re not the most comfortable doing – or comfortable in front of the camera, that kind of stuff that you have learn to do – but I think, in general, just be yourself.” 

IS IT FAIR TO COMPARE YOU AND JIMMIE – MORE RESERVED PERSONALITIES?  “I don’t know exactly how to answer that.  I don’t know if I’m really that much of a reserved person.  At the track, it’s business first and it’s racing first.  I might not be the guy clowning around or searching for the camera or doing some of this stuff.  It’s obvious some people just love a camera and think of ways to get on TV and to do things and whatever, and I’m not that guy but I think I am myself.  I love racing and I love the competition and all that stuff and that’s really what I concentrate on, and then I do the rest of the stuff that I need to do, but, for me, it’s just always racing first and nonsense stuff second.” 

ARE THERE THINGS YOU DID IN YOUR TITLE RUN THAT THE 48 IS DOING?  “It’s really hard to compare every year and what’s going on.  They’ve been the dominant team since they put that team together.  They didn’t win it every year, but they’re going on three straight and they’ve been the guys to beat.  Even the year we won it, they were pretty dominant and I think it was just a little bit earlier in Jimmie’s deal and maybe they had a couple of mistakes, I don’t really remember.  But they’ve been able to learn by all that and they just never really slip up.  It just seems like everything they do works out.” 

HAS THIS BEEN A SUCCESSFUL SEASON FOR YOU?   “Yes and no.  I think with some of the changes with this car and changing our group around a little bit, I think it’s been a fairly successful season.  We made the chase, which, in turn, give you a chance to at least run for a championship, so there’s that aspect of it.  But there’s still three weeks left and we haven’t been to Victory Lane yet, so that’s very disappointing.  We’re out of the championship hunt, which is very disappointing.  We’d like to be a little more consistent.  I don’t really write down goals because our goal is to try to win a championship and try to be the best and try to win races.  We go to the track every week to try to win, so it’s really a pretty simple goal.  We don’t have to write it down.” 

THOUGHTS ON HOMESTEAD COMING UP.  “The track is pretty cool.  We actually just worked on our Homestead stuff the other day and we’re trying to compare it to somewhere and you really can’t.  It’s really unique with the way it’s built right now and the way the banking is and the elevation changes and all that stuff, so it’s pretty cool.  They did a great job and spent the money and did the research and they weren’t scared to go out on a limb and build it like no other track.  I think the racing is really exciting there.  There are a lot of different lanes you can look for.  It’s a lot of fun.  I think the racing there is as good as anywhere now.”