At NASCAR Media
BOBBY LABONTE – No. 96 Ask.com Ford Fusion – “I think with what Hall of Fame has done by aligning itself with Yates and then having the resources that we have, that’s exciting for me. We have a clean sheet of paper and a cool-looking race car and it’s gonna be awesome.” DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE STARTING OVER? “I think the team is really solid. For me, it’s a clean piece of paper and what I mean by that is it’s a new opportunity for me, it’s a new ride, we’ve got a great new sponsor and a lot of new things are happening. That just makes it exciting. Obviously starting the year off in 2009, we haven’t had any testing in the race car, so there are a lot of new things I don’t know yet. How is this car gonna feel? I know the Ford is gonna be great, but I call this a clean sheet of paper. It’s like I’m moving houses and when I moved I got to clean out the attic.” ARE YOU A BELIEVER IT TAKES TIME FOR CHEMISTRY TO WORK OR CAN IT START RIGHT AWAY? “I think that there is something to that, but I also know with Todd Parrott that we were together before just two-and-a-half years ago, so that’s exciting to me. I already know him. We had some great runs together knowing that we were just starting out in a new deal. Hitting the ground running is gonna be awfully important because we’re both committed to this thing and I know he’s gonna get the job done and together we’re gonna have to get the job done. Like he said, ‘We’ve got unfinished business that we started,’ so we’re gonna go at it as hard as we can.” DALE JARRETT AND TODD PARROTT WON THE 500 IN THEIR FIRST RACE TOGETHER, SO DOES THAT GIVE YOU HOPE THAT YOU CAN BE A FACTOR HERE AT SPEEDWEEKS? “Exactly. I think we’d be disappointed if we didn’t qualify way up front. Todd and Doug take a lot of pride in qualifying and I know Doug takes a lot of pride in the engines, so the confidence is there to do that. When we were at Pettys and Todd was there we qualified sixth and that was huge at the time for us. So knowing the resources and how important and how focused he is and everybody else is, I feel like we’re gonna do way more than what people might anticipate I suppose.” THIS SOUNDS WEIRD BUT EVEN THOUGH YOU HAVEN’T BEEN IN THE CAR YET OR WORKED WITH MANY OF THESE GUYS, YOU MIGHT BE DISAPPOINTED IF YOU DON’T WIN THE POLE ON SUNDAY. “That would be a disappointment because I know the potential. This car sat on the pole at Talladega. We’re gonna qualify well, I know that, but this is weird. The last time I was on a race track was at Homestead or Harvick’s go-kart track. You can look at it both ways, but we’re just glad to be here and excited to go racing.” DO YOU FEEL AN URGENCY TO MAKE THINGS HAPPEN FAST? “We talked a little bit about that the other day. You shouldn’t be comfortable in any situation, especially nowadays, but you want to make sure that when you go home that night and you put your head on that pillow that you gave 100 percent and that’s what we’re gonna do. The first few races we don’t need to go out in a ball of fire. We need to be smart about what we’re doing and then get ourselves in a position where we can continue to improve if we’re not already there to start with. There are a lot of new things for me that are gonna take place. We want to make sure we do hit the ground running fast, but five races in is one small goal just to get yourself solidified, learn more, and go to these tracks with Todd and this Ford Fusion with a lot of things that are different than what I’m used to and then making those things happen.” GOOD TO SEE TERRY HERE? “It is. I don’t know what his full blown schedule is, but I’m hoping he gets to park beside me in the motorhome lot because we’ll spend some time together.” WITH THE ECONOMY THE WAY IT IS RIGHT NOW AND DRIVERS AS VISIBLE AS THEY ARE, WHAT CAN YOU GUYS DO TO HELP THIS SPORT TURN THINGS AROUND? “I think we can just encourage the fans and let them know that we’re going to try and put on a great show for them, and hope they can come out and watch just like in the past. Everybody here in racing needs to be conscious about what’s going on and do the best that we can to make sure the grandstands are full. Everybody has had to pucker up a little bit and whatever you make, everybody puckers up a certain percentage. At the same time, you’ve got to believe the cup is half full. A lot of people are experiencing this for the first time. There are some people who have experienced many tough times. I talked to a guy the other night who was up in years and he said he’s been through a few of these, whereas this is a lot of people’s first one. I just hope that they can, what I call, ride the storm and hold on at tight as you can. I don’t want to sound cliché and say that when it comes back everybody will be better because you hear that a lot, but the fact that the last downturn came and you knew about it after it happened. Now you know about things before it happens and it’s great because you have to be a realist, but that can also make you a pessimist and there’s nothing worse than a bunch of pessimists, so the cup is half full – it’s not quite half-empty yet. We’ve just got to make sure that all the race tracks and drivers and promoters and sponsors – everybody needs a little group hug to get through this thing and do the best you can.” THIS SPORT SEEMED RECESSION PROOF AT ONE TIME. WERE YOU ALARMED AT HOW FAST THIS SPORT BECAME AFFECTED BY THE ECONOMY? “It’s really been around for a while. When you see big sponsors that sponsored a car for the whole season years ago, even they’re giving up space because they can’t afford it. We’re talking about huge sponsors. If somebody kicks them in the knees, it’s gonna hurt them, too. That’s been happening for a long time. NASCAR talks about, ‘How do we save the teams money?’ They’ve been working on that for years. Not that they had a crystal ball and saw this day coming, but they were trying to figure out a few years ago how to make things so the sport didn’t overspend itself.
When I came in this sport I don’t remember exactly how much it was to sponsor a car. When I was working on a car, before I started racing, I was making pretty good money. Back then a sponsorship dropped and they had to let people go and restructure, but there were only 10 people working on the car. It’s just a bigger more dramatic thing now. I don’t know what the population was back then, but there are obviously a lot more people now. It’s just a deal where I’ve been around long enough to seen $1 million, $2, $3, $4 million and that was all you needed to go race because you didn’t have but 14 people and you drove to the races and didn’t have all this and didn’t have all that. You’d still show up here for two weeks, but hotels were $32 a piece and this and this and this – plus, a burger was way cheaper. But even then, you couldn’t afford to have too much. Even if you had $1 million, you had to watch every penny of it. Now, I guess we’re all better off in a way. But when you eat sandwiches it’s all you know. Well, then you go out to eat and it’s kind of hard to go back and eat sandwiches. I had somebody tell me one time. We were talking about the good old days and they said, ‘Son, right now is the good old days.’ I can remember way back then getting in the van to drive down here, turn around and drive back and go to work at 8 a.m. the next morning and get home at 6. NASCAR has tried to find ways for the teams to save money, but this might be what does it.” CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE RE-EMERGENCE OF YATES RACING AND THE POSSIBILITY OF MAKING THE CHASE? “That’s what we’re thinking. Obviously it’s a fickle sport. Guys that were on top and go through a downturn, a few things happen and their future looks bright. I am so excited about the opportunity and I think we do have a great chance at it. That’s one of our goals – to be in the chase so I think all the elements are there, it’s just putting it all together. We’re not gonna be happy if we’re not in it. Those guys (Yates) was struggling to get all that two years ago and now they’ve turned the corner. A lot of people don’t and a lot of people will later, and a lot of people have done it before. We were in California the other day shooting a commercial and I asked a friend of mine a question and he said, ‘The wave is pretty high. You better ride it.’ Right now our wave is pretty high.” DO YOU HAVE AN OPINION ON THE ECONOMY POSSIBLY HAVING AN AFFECT ON PARITY IN THE SPORT THIS YEAR? “Back in October we were gonna go test everywhere and then in November it was decided we weren’t gonna test at all. Your thoughts went from, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re gonna go test and that will be great.’ And then it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re not gonna test. Hey, that will be great too.’ I don’t know. We’ll have to wait and see. I don’t know if it’s gonna be any better or not, we’ll just have to wait and see. It might be a runaway and it might be better. Sometimes things happen without even trying and sometimes we all probably try too hard to make it what we think it’s gonna be. We don’t make a good race or a bad one, it just happens that way, whether you go test or not go test. You never know.”
DAVID RAGAN – No.6 UPS Ford Fusion – HOW HAVE YOU ADJUSTED TO THE NEW CAR AND THE WAY IT FEELS? HAS IT GOTTEN LOOSER? “I think from my first experience in one of the COT cars you could get it however you wanted it, it was either uncontrollably loose or uncontrollably tight and I guess more people are comfortable with it tight and that’s what they choose to do. I think the development is still going on to get a better handling car, but I don’t really know how the old cars drove, so I don’t have a good history to base my opinion on, but I feel like we’ve had some races last year that our car was perfect and I couldn’t ask for anymore. It was very comfortable and easy to drive, and then we had some races that it was dramatically loose and tight, but that’s the way any race car is with a hard tire and when you’re going that fast. I think if you’ve got a super late model on soft tires, certainly that’s real easy to drive, but it is what it is. I don’t necessarily think about how the car is in general, I just know what we have to work with and how good of a job we’re doing.” IS THE BATTLE GETTING GOOD FORWARD BITE OFF THE CORNER? “It depends on what race track you’re at. Yes, at some race tracks that is a problem, but at others it’s not a concern at all. I think anytime you have a 3400-3500 pound race car with 800-plus horsepower that’s gonna be an issue. We’ve made good strides with our Fords to handle better and we don’t really pay attention to one issue, we try to work around everything.” HOW ARE YOU DEALING WITH INCREASED EXPECTATIONS THIS YEAR? “I’ve thought about that a little bit and certainly in years past no one really mentioned anything or didn’t expect us to do well, so I think the last two years we’ve done what we expected to do, and I think in the upcoming season we expect to do a little bit more. It’s neat to see that we’re getting a little bit of good press and people are talking about us more than in years past, but we’ve got our focus on our goals and that’s the same thing we’ve done the last two years. I don’t think it’s gonna affect us any. We know that we’re capable of winning races, we’re capable of making the chase. We’ve got good race cars and it’s all about me being a smart race car driver and not making mistakes and having a little bit of luck along the way. We know what we can do and it’s just a matter of going out and doing it.” IT’S GOING TO BE HARDER FOR FANS TO COME TO THE TRACK AND BUY MERCHANDISE AND SUCH. IS THERE ANYTHING THAT CAN BE DONE TO TRY AND DO MORE TO SHOW APPRECIATION FOR THE FANS? “I think the track owners and promoters and everyone who runs the catering at the race track, they can certainly come off the prices some. I think it’s absolutely ridiculous at any professional sporting event you go to that a hot dog and a Coca-Cola is probably $10 or $12 bucks. That’s absolutely absurd. I think the last four or five years we’ve all been fortunate and money has been flowing a little more freely than it is today and people have paid that because they were forced to pay it. I think the tracks will realize that they can’t continue to rip people off like that, so I think they’re gonna be forced to drop the prices a little bit. I think that’s the fair thing to do and that’s what they should have done in years past, but I think they’ll see that. I don’t know whether it cost them 50 cents or a dollar for that hot dog and they mark it up 300% or 400%, that’s not a good way to do business. They’ve gotten by with it in the past and that’s just not in motorsports, that’s at an NBA basketball game or an NFL game. They’re just gonna have to come off their prices a little bit and it’s not gonna hurt them any. Hopefully, I’ll see that and hopefully the fans put their opinion in and they can see some things happen because it’s great to see hundreds of thousands of people in the stands watching you, but you don’t want them to be so upset that they have to pay a crazy amount for a ticket and a hot dog at a race to just come and have a good time.” FANS HAVE HAD TO TIGHTEN THEIR BELT STRAPS. WHAT ABOUT YOU AS A DRIVER? “I think I’ve lived a modest life my whole life and I think that I had good parents who raised me to live within my means and whatever kind of money that you make, you live within your means. You don’t do extravagant things just because your next door neighbor is doing them. I still drive my 1997 Ford Ranger everyday that get over 20 miles to the gallon, so I haven’t really had to change my ways any at all. Certainly, I’m very fortunate to have a good job with Roush Fenway Racing, but I don’t live outside my means. I do what’s right. I eat at my mom and dad’s house most every night of the week, so you don’t see me splurging and doing different things. I don’t have a helicopter or an airplane or a yacht to sell, so I guess I’m not worried about it.” WHERE DID YOU LEARN THAT HUMILITY? “Going into Cup at an early age will humble you very quick. We grew up and we had a lot of fast Legends cars and Late Models and ARCA cars and we were fortunate to have smart people working on our cars and we could go and run fast. When you get to Sprint Cup racing, everyone has fast cars, everyone has good people working on their cars and everyone has nice engines and nice race cars, so you realize how tough this sport really is and I think every driver finds that out when they get here. You just have to make provisions. You have to work harder and that’s what makes Sprint Cup racing the best motorsports in the world.” IS EVERY RACE AN ADVENTURE? “Oh yeah. It’s an adventure getting to the race track. It’s an adventure of once I get there that racing is something if I didn’t have thirty-something races to run a year, I don’t know what I would do. It’s a blast to get to work with the race teams in the Nationwide Series and the Cup Series just about every weekend. It’s always a challenge. You’re always trying to get your car to drive better, you’re trying to get it faster, you’re trying to win a race, but it’s fun. You get to interact with the race fans and just everything about this sport is a blast every weekend.” MATT KENSETH – No. 17 DeWalt Ford Fusion – HOW DO YOU STOP JIMMIE JOHNSON? “I’ve been really happy for Jimmie and Chad to win three in a row. Really, I think they’ve earned it every year and they’ve deserved it. They’ve figured out how to win in every different situation that they’ve been put in and I think they’re the best out there. As a competitor, you always want to see the best team win, even if that’s not you. That’s kind of how I’ve always been. I always like seeing the fastest car win the race, not the car who milked it on fuel mileage and maybe didn’t have the fastest car. It’s the same with winning a championship. Even though the system is different than it was before, as a racer you still want to see the team win it that has been the best car overall for the season. I think it would really be hard to say Jimmie hasn’t been the best car for the last four or five years at least.” THERE SEEMS TO BE THREE TIERS OF TEAMS OUT THERE NOW. WILL THAT CHANGE THE QUALITY OF RACING? “Everybody has a different opinion on it. Some people think if they get all the cars the same speed, that’s gonna be the best racing you have. In my opinion, it’s about the worst racing you can have. I think the racing was good last year and I think it will be better this year. I think if you get a bigger separation from first to last, in my opinion, it makes the racing better. I think if there’s 15 cars on the lead lap at the end of the race and there’s a caution with 50 to go, you’re gonna see a lot more strategy and you’re gonna see better racing for the win. When there are 30 cars on the lead lap, everybody is gonna do the same thing because they’re scared of losing all that track position. I think it’ll make it better. I think when there’s more of a spread in speed, it makes passing easier and makes you be able to run side-by-side and catch a slower car and pass them. When everybody is almost the same speed and you get behind somebody, even if you’re a tenth or two better and you get aero-tight and can’t pass anybody it just kind of changes the racing. My hope is that no testing and the teams changing around a little bit, I think it will spread the field out a little bit and you’ll maybe see some different winners and more passing. I think maybe you’ll see a better race. That’s just my opinion. I don’t know, but that’s always the way I’ve looked at it.” IS NOT WINNING LAST YEAR SOMETHING YOU HAD TO COME TO GRIPS WITH OVER THE OFF-SEASON? “Yeah, I mean once the season was over and we didn’t win, I was pretty disappointed. We didn’t make the top 10 and we didn’t win, that was the first time in a long time we didn’t do that. During the season, it’s not something you can dwell on. It’s just gonna make things worse if you sit there and torture yourself because you haven’t been able to win a race. It’s not gonna magically happen. You just go out and do everything you know how to do every week. Whenever you try to do more than you know that you and your car and your team is capable of, that’s when you make mistakes and things go even worse. You don’t put any extra pressure on yourself or the team, you just go out and do everything to the best of your ability and just keep trying to get better.”IT WOULD BE EASY FOR SOMEONE ON THE OUTSIDE TO SAY THAT SINCE ROBBIE WASN’T THERE THAT’S THE REASON YOU DIDN’T WIN. IS THAT FAIR? “No, I don’t think that really had a lot to do with it. It was really a different season than we’ve ever had before. It was the first season with that car running it at all the tracks. It seemed like strategy and track position and qualifying and pit stops were probably more important than they’ve ever been and we were just never able to put everything together. There were a few races we ran good enough to win, but we just didn’t have it happen for whatever reason. The spring Michigan race we had, I thought, by far the best car and led most of the thing. Dale Jr. ended up winning but ended up winning on fuel mileage and coasting past cars under yellow without the motor running. It was just a different kind of racing than we’ve ever seen before and this car has sort of brought that out. People will roll the dice for strategy to be in front because it’s so important to be in front. At Dover we ran good enough to win and got beat by Greg at the end, so there have been a few races we were good enough to win, but we just didn’t get it to happen. Everything has got to go perfect in order to do that.” WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE TIRES FOR THIS YEAR? “I hope they’re softer. When you make them softer and make them wear out and drop off, I think the racing is always better. We ran this car four times at Dover now and I couldn’t believe from the spring race to the fall race how much better the racing was – bringing a little bit softer tire that wore a little bit more and had a little more grip. This car needs more grip with the tire because the car has so much less downforce. It’s a taller car and it doesn’t handle nearly as well as our old cars and that seemed to help us race a lot – in my opinion – at least at that track it did. I think that Goodyear was pretty conservative with the tire for this car when it first came out because they thought it was gonna be tougher on right side tires, so they brought harder compounds and I think the harder the tires are, the tougher it is to pass. Hopefully, they’ll keep coming back and softening them up a little bit since they have a year under their belt.” HOW IMPORTANT ARE TIRE TESTS THESE DAYS? “The less testing there is, the more important the tire tests are, but it’s always been they let you work on your car enough to get it to handle the way you want before you start testing tires because if your car is not handling the way you want, it’s hard for them to get accurate tire data. I don’t think it’s gonna be much different. Actually, they’ve probably tightened it up a little bit. We used to be able to run two cars and now I think they’re only letting you run one car. There’s been talk of not having data, but I don’t really know if they’ve really taken that off or not. If anything, they’re probably letting you have a little less freedom than what you did before so nobody gets a big advantage.” WHAT’S YOUR ASSESSMENT ABOUT WHICH CARS ARE BETTER AFTER SOME OF THE TIRE TESTING? “I haven’t really talked a whole lot about it. I talked with Jamie a little bit after Phoenix, but I don’t think you’re ever gonna have anymore – unless the rules go massively different than they are – a manufacturer advantage. All of the cars are so close together aerodynamically and they chassis dyno all the stuff to make sure they’re all so close. I don’t think you’re ever gonna be disadvantaged because of what manufacturer you have. I think they’re gonna make sure they all stay close enough to the same speed. I think they’re trying to make it more about the teams and the pit stops and the drivers, more so than who has what manufacturer.” HAS CARL STEPPED THINGS UP WITHIN THE ROUSH FAMILY? “He’s definitely put more pressure on all of us because he performed well, which is a great thing. If you know your equipment is good enough to win with and he was able to win all of those races, you know you’ve got the stuff, you just have to figure out how to put it together.” DOES HAVING 28 CARS IN THE SHOOTOUT CHANGE ANYTHING? “I think I’ve only run one of them. It used to be you had to win a pole to run in it and I haven’t done that very often. I think with the pack being bigger, the racing will probably be more exciting. At a plate race, the bigger the pack is the more passing there is and the more excitement there is. I think it will probably be more important than any other year because there is no testing – none of us have drafted, none of us have raced. I think it will be nice to get to the track with our group, especially us with a different crew chief and all that – to be able to work together as a unit. We haven’t been able to do that this winter because there hasn’t been any testing. I think practice tomorrow will be pretty exciting too. Nobody has been on a race track for three months and we’re gonna go straight out there and draft. I think that will be pretty exciting.” WERE YOU ABLE TO GET MUCH OUT OF THE SHOOTOUT BEFORE? “I think I’ve only run it once and that was a long time ago, so I don’t know. It’s definitely gonna be nice to be in it and, if nothing else, getting a little bit of rhythm and getting into a groove and getting used to doing pit stops and racing with the guys. I’m really glad I’m in it this year.” WILL QUALIFYING TELL US WHO IS GOING TO BE GOOD? “I don’t think qualifying is really gonna mean much to anybody, except for the top two guys, but I think practice tomorrow everybody is probably anticipating more than they’re probably letting on a little bit just because we haven’t been on the race track. I think everybody is pretty excited to get out there and get some laps under their belt.” ANY FAVORITE HERE? “No. If you think about the same guys – Dale Jr. always runs really good down here, especially in February, so I guess you always think about him. Other than that, probably the same guys. I know Tony is with a different team, but he always does extremely well at Daytona. It’s probably the same guys that you’re used to.”JAMIE MCMURRAY – No. 26 Crown Royal Ford Fusion – YOU RAN GO-KARTS A FEW WEEKS AGO. HOW DOES THIS DIFFER FROM THAT? “It’s not a lot different. There’s a schedule, a driver’s meeting and the race. They are just as serious in go-karting as what we are in stock cars, you just don’t have the sponsor commitments because it’s all funded out of your own pocket. Go-karting has come a long ways and it’s a lot of fun to get and come to do that and be a part of their sport.” IS THIS SPORT STILL AN ADVENTURE FOR YOU? “My perspective on racing this year is different. Getting to go back and do the go-karting has made me appreciate this more than ever – that I get to do this – because you go back to that and everybody wants to be doing what you’re doing. You’re like, ‘Wow, I do that,’ so that’s probably made racing more fun for me.” WHAT IS YOUR DOMINANT EMOTION COMING INTO SPEEDWEEKS – ESPECIALLY BEING BACK WITH DONNIE? “I’m just very confident and confident in Donnie. It’s not that I wasn’t in Larry, but I started my Cup career off with Donnie Wingo and every crew chief I’ve had since then, he was my baseline or my standard that I compared everybody to – right or wrong. So when you get to have that back, you can’t compare it because he is what I was used to and what I grew to really like. So every crew chief I’ve had since then I’ve wanted to be like him. I woke up this morning and I’m laying there and I’m like, ‘We get to start all over.’ If I had to pick a scenario, I wouldn’t change a thing.” DONNIE HAS WORKED WITH GUYS LIKE JIMMY SPENCER, SO HE HAS A LOT OF EXPERIENCE WITH A LOT OF DIFFERENT DRIVERS. “When they introduced me to Donnie for the first time, he had a huge chew in his mouth and I was like, ‘I cannot believe this is who they think is gonna work for me.’ I pictured someone who was younger, I don’t know, someone who was me, maybe, but a crew chief. I’ve told this story. I remember the whole time with Donnie as my crew chief thinking that it seemed like this sport was gonna go to this engineering background. I thought, ‘I need an engineer,’ and I have to tell you I should have never opened my mouth. Donnie is a really hard worker. His work ethic, I would say, is as good as anybody’s in our sport and he is the guy that asks the question and already knows the answer just to see what you’ll say. I can’t tell you how excited I am.” IS THIS A MAKE OR BREAK YEAR FOR YOU? “Without a doubt, but you can only do what you can. I think for sure it’s a make or break season for me, but, like I say, if I had to pick a scenario to be put in, I’m in one that’s as good as it can get for me. I have everything I want and I think the comfort level and the confidence I have in Donnie and the entire team, I wouldn’t trade them for anyone.” YOU FINISHED THE YEAR SO STRONG LAST YEAR. DOES THAT LEAD YOU TO BELIEVE THIS SEASON WILL START WELL? “I think that since they’ve cancelled all the testing, guys aren’t gonna fix – whether it’s driving styles or the way they set their cars up – they’re just not gonna fix that without testing. We ran well at a lot of the tracks that are coming up the first part of the season toward the end of last year, so it should be good.” WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE SHOOTOUT FORMAT THIS YEAR? “I think that the Shootout is a little odd with the way you get in the Shootout. I remember watching this race with my dad as a kid coming here and it was always based on the pole winners and there was like a wildcard in there. It’s always been about that. I remember sitting on the pole at Homestead, it was my first pole, and I’m thinking, ‘I’m in the Shootout next year.’ You’re so excited and it’s different now. Change is hard to accept sometimes and it’s kind of odd for me and I’m sure it’s odd for a lot of these guys that have been around for a while that you didn’t have to win a pole to be in it. And then at the end of the year they threw out all these wildcards and I don’t understand how all of that works. Plus, it’s almost like a full race. I don’t know why they just didn’t let everybody race in it, so we’ll see. It’s exciting. It’s a short race. Honestly, if the Daytona 500 was 75 laps long, it would be just as exciting.” PAUL MENARD – No. 98 Menards Ford Fusion – IS IT NICE TO HAVE ALL THE WAITING OVER WITH? “It will tomorrow morning. Today it seems like the last day of the off-season to finish up all the loose ends with getting helmets all wired up and little things you need to get done before you get in the car. Tomorrow we’ll do the Shootout practice and I’m really looking forward to it. The guys have been building great cars and with Doug Yates horsepower, this is gonna be a fast Ford Fusion for sure.” DO YOU THINK THIS COULD BE A BREAKOUT SEASON FOR YOU WITH THIS CHANGE? “Yeah. You stay somewhere too long and you kind of get complacent, so change is good in a lot of ways. It gets the fire going in your belly a little bit. With the people Doug and Max Jones have surrounded me with, it’s a solid group of people and we’ve got fast race cars. With the teammates and the way the shop is run, all of the cars are the same so we can translate a lot between us drivers and crew chiefs, so I’m really looking forward to it.” DOES NO TESTING HURT A NEW DRIVER-TEAM COMBINATION LIKE YOU HAVE THIS YEAR? “We’ll just get in the car and hopefully it goes fast, and I’ve got all the confidence that it will. We got kind of a get-to-know-you test at Rockingham a few weeks ago so Larry and I could work on our communication. Obviously we’ve been working together the last three months since the season ended, but that was our first time at the race track listening to him on the radio and for him to listen to me. I think it all went well, so we’ll strap the helmets on and get the head sets up and start talking tomorrow.” ARE THERE MIXED EMOTIONS AS FAR AS EXPECTATIONS? YOU’RE A NEW TEAM, BUT YATES IS ALWAYS STRONG HERE. “Honestly, I think we’ve got a shot at the front row. Just the way the cars have been pulled down and the horsepower that we’re bringing, I really think we’ve got a shot at the front row. If not, we’ve got the 150 and with a lot of teammates we can work together and get to the front that way. The Shootout practice is gonna be helpful, too. We’ll learn some things that maybe some of the other guys won’t and we can apply that to our 500 effort.” BOBBY IS THE HIGH PROFILE GUY COMING IN AND YOU’RE UNDER THE RADAR. DO YOU LIKE THAT ROLE? “He’s won a lot of races and won championships, so he deserves all the attention. I’ve been talking with Bobby the last few weeks and even though I’ve known him the last few years, I haven’t had as much dialogue as we have the last couple of weeks. He’s just a great guy. He’s really humble and driven. He drives himself and it rubs off on everybody in the shop.” WHAT DOES IT MEAN AS A YOUNG DRIVER TO HAVE SOMEONE LIKE BOBBY AS A TEAMMATE? “It’s huge. He’s won a lot of races and a championship and he’s just a good guy. You can bounce ideas off of him and he’ll listen to you. He wants it really bad and he’s not afraid to help out the younger guys, too.” CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR CREW? “Larry Carter is on board and we’ve been working with them the last three months. Him and Joe Williams and Tim Smith and all the guys back at the shop have been working hard getting these Daytona cars, Fontana cars and Vegas cars ready. They’re all basically done and ready to get loaded up. We’ll see where we’re at when we unload tomorrow, but I expect we’ll have very fast race cars.” CARL EDWARDS – No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion – WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT JIMMIE’S SUCCESS AND HIM GOING FOR FOUR STRAIGHT? “What he did and what he’s done the last three years is really special. If it comes down to me and him again, I want to beat him really badly. I want to win that championship. I want to know what it feels like. We just did a deal with ESPN and we talked about it. Winning nine races and having a great year and all that is fine, but I’d take a championship with no wins rather than another nine-win season because I really want to accomplish that goal.” YOU’VE BEEN TABBED THE FAVORITE TO WIN THE TITLE THIS YEAR. HOW DOES THAT MAKE YOU FEEL? “It doesn’t really put any pressure on me that people are picking me and picking us to win the championship. I always tell people in 2005 at the end of the season going into 2006 I saw a lot of people picked me and that sure didn’t work out. I’ve kind of tried not to pay any attention to that. I put a lot of pressure on myself. Once I’m in that race car it’s all or nothing, so hopefully that works out and this doesn’t change anything I don’t think.” COULD YOU LOOK BACK ON 2008 AS THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY? “I don’t think so. I think 2008 was pretty good by any measure. The wins, I think we scored a lot of points. If we run like that every year, we’re gonna win a lot of championships. We just have to perform at that level. The wreck at Talladega, anytime you go to Talladega you could wreck. I ended up participating in that one a little more than I wanted. The deal at Charlotte, that’s just bad luck. Other than that, I think our races were really, really good.” HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO SEE SOMEONE LIKE JIMMIE WIN ALL THE TIME? “It’s tough when someone runs as well as Jimmie did. It’s tough to beat him. We showed that, but really I know, other than those two races, we did really, really well. We out-performed that team on the race track at a lot of race tracks. Not to take anything away from them because they did their jobs, but I know that if we replayed those last 10 races five times, we’d win our share of championships. So if we just perform at that level and hope that the luck goes our way a little bit, it could be really good.” HOW MUCH DOES IT STILL NAG AT YOU? “It doesn’t gnaw at me. Maybe it should, but what’s done is done. I did the best things I thought I could do. My crew guys made the best decisions they could make at the time and it worked out really well, there were just those couple of races that didn’t go like we wanted them to. If Jimmie would have had a flat tire here or there, but it doesn’t eat at me because that’s how racing or the world works for that matter.” THERE SEEM TO BE THREE CLASSES OF CARS THIS YEAR. HOW WILL THAT AFFECT RACING? “I don’t know. There are so many things happening at once. I’m not familiar with all the business models, but I guess there might be a bigger spread in resources, but, at the same time, we have this car of tomorrow and the parameters that you can work on have shrunk, too. I don’t know if necessarily having less people will make you that much slower, or if having more will make you that much faster. I don’t know. I think that, overall, in auto racing, especially in tough economic times, there are going to be teams that have more resources than others. I wish it wasn’t like that. It’s more fun when everybody has the same equipment to work with. Hopefully, it doesn’t hurt the show and it could be even better because of it, but I don’t know.” DOES IT WORRY YOU THAT THE FANS COULD LOOK AT YOU DRIVERS MAKING A LOT OF MONEY AND HAVE SOME SORT OF BACKLASH? “I’m not an expert on economics, but the way I see a free market working is people have to spend money for there to be a market and industry of any type. I saw one driver bought a new airplane and I read a bunch of negative comments about that. If people aren’t buying things. If these teams aren’t out here spending money on the things they are. If I’m not spending money on airplanes or farm equipment or vacations or whatever it is, then that’s hurting someone else, too. Look, I’ve been broke. I know what that’s like and I’m very, very fortunate to have a paycheck and to have the one I have, but that’s what makes America so great is that there is opportunity. I think as long as that’s there, people will understand that it’s not a bad thing for people to be out spending money.” IS THERE SOMETHING EXTRA DRIVERS CAN DO TO HELP OUT THE FANS? “I thought about it quite a bit when we were here for the fanfest thing. I thought, ‘Here we’ve got all the drivers at Daytona,’ and I understand that NASCAR was kind of put in a box where they didn’t want to not have the drivers come down, so the fans that expected to see us could expect to see us. But I thought, ‘Boy, it sure would be better use of all of our time, and maybe more beneficial to the fans if each driver went to their respective markets – maybe where they’re from or near their home track or something – and spent the same amount of time.’ Maybe we could touch more fans and give them something more. Another thing I thought that might be more fitting this year is instead of going to New York and putting ourselves in tuxedos and eating $100 plate of food and all that stuff, why don’t we just go somewhere in North Carolina – like up there to Victory Junction Camp or something – and clear a big field and have our awards banquet out on the back of a trailer with bands and invite the fans to camp out and do things like that – maybe include them a little bit more. I think we could probably do some things like that to give back to where these fans feel like we should be – give them something instead of separating ourselves. I’m not asking for more time expenditure on a driver’s part or anyone’s part, but maybe there’s a way to say, ‘Hey, we don’t have to be up here. We can come hang out and have a good time and sit whoever is champion on a dunk tank seat for two hours and everybody gets their shot.’ Something like that.” THAT’S DIFFERENT. “I think people would enjoy it. I think if you just said, ‘Hey, we’ve got room for 5,000 or 10,000 people, bring your tent and come hang out. We’re gonna have the award ceremony on stage and afterwards there will be a band.’” IT’S SUCH A LONG SEASON. HOW DO YOU PACE YOURSELF? “You can’t empty the bottle all at once. There are times for me personally, I can only speak for myself, where I have to say, ‘Man, I’m just gonna have to let this one go and focus on next week.’ It is really tough sometimes because we all grew up racing every lap and every race you give 100 percent. They’re 20-lap races and you might have 18 of them in a year, but now I run 70 races a year and they’re all 300 miles or more, so it is kind of wild. You have to pace yourself.” MATT DIDN’T WIN LAST YEAR. DO YOU STILL CONSIDER HIM A CONTENDER FOR THE TITLE? “I guarantee that Matt is still a championship contender. The thing that I saw last year with Matt is their effort to make the chase – he was a couple hundred points out or something like that – and they came on really strong. I think they scored more points in that eight or 10 races leading up to it than anyone else, so I know that they can do it. I know that Matt is just as good as he’s always been – or it seems to me that he is. He might have just had one of those years. I wouldn’t count Matt out and that’s the truth.” WILL HAVING DREW HELP? “I think having Drew there, and it’s not like Drew replaced someone, it’s having Drew come in and be an addition with Chip. I think from my perspective when Robbie left and thrust Chip into that position as crew chief, that’s a huge step and there was a lot going on at the same time with the car of tomorrow and all these things. Hopefully, Drew will take a load off Chip, so Chip can do the things he does – which there’s nobody who can do them better in the sport. Chip’s pretty smart.” WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO WIN THE SHOOTOUT? “Last time we were here, Kyle and I were battling and who knows whose race it was gonna be. It would be really cool to go out and win the Shootout. Even with what happened at Talladega, I think we’ve all learned how to work better together. We’ve been trying really hard at these plate races to try to put one of these cars in Victory Lane. We got Jamie there two years ago at Daytona and that would be really cool to start it out.” WOULD IT BE A STATEMENT FOR YOU AFTER TALLADEGA? “Listen, any plate race where I end up with a straight car and I’m not on the wrecker is great for me. This one will be fun. The Shootout, knowing that it’s not a points race, that’s just gonna be fun. The 500 is what really matters.” WHAT ABOUT THE NEW FORMAT? “For me, the old format was a real challenge because we don’t work on qualifying that much. I thought it was a little bit ironic that I’ve been trying so hard to qualify. We got the pole at Bristol and I was pumped. I was in the Shootout. It was gonna be great, and the next week they announced that you didn’t have to get the pole to get in the Shootout. I thought, ‘Man, that was a little disappointing,’ because I felt like it was such a accomplishment. I can understand the marketing reasons for it, but I like the old way better. That was pretty cool.” YOU DON’T LIKE CHANGE? “I don’t know. I think anytime you change rules and change things around, it has the potential to kind of de-value things. Maybe that’s just because I’m in it right now. Ten years from now if they change it back, everybody will feel like it’s wrong then because everyone gets used to something, so I think it’s tough. I don’t really like changing rules much and changing things like that.” HOW WAS YOUR OFF-SEASON? “This off-season was just fun altogether. The Race of Champions in London was a blast. We went from there to Thailand and spent a week or so there and that was really fun. We bicycled a lot, but we rented a van and we drove from Bangkok down to this island – that was about 500 miles – and we saw some crazy things. Then from there we went back home and got married. That was definitely the highlight on January 3rd and since then I’ve just spent some time at home messing around Central Missouri.” WHAT KIND OF CRAZY THINGS DID YOU SEE? “In Thailand, the weather is really nice there and everyone rides these little scooters, like mopeds around. I would bet that if there are 100 vehicles in a parking lot, 80 of them are two-wheeled scooters. We saw a lot of people on scooters. We saw families on scooters, five people on a scooter. We saw people with scooters with sidecars with monkeys on them just going down the highway, which was wild. The thing that struck me the most is that everybody was smiling, everybody was happy. We didn’t have any negative experiences there. It was really cool. It was a really neat thing.”