Posted By: Holly Blake, Follow @HollyLBlake
Each week the top drivers in the sport meet with the media. I’ve chosen a few quotes from them to share with you.
WHAT IS YOUR OUTLOOK FOR THIS WEEKEND?: “My outlook’s good. Very competitive at Phoenix last week and I think the stuff we learned over the off-season that we had a chance to run at Phoenix will cross over here to Las Vegas. First mile-and-a-half of the year and we all know how many are on the schedule so our team along with all the others are very focused on this weekend. Eager to get on track and hopeful to have good speed in the car and a comfortable race car. I’ve always enjoyed this race track. I’ve been able to win here a bunch of times. The cool thing for this track in my mind is how hard you can drive each and every lap. The progressive banking gives us some options to move around the race track and find other lanes to run on. You have to pull the belts tight and man-up to run around here. It’s a lot of fun.”
THERE ARE SO MANY 1.5-MILE TRACKS ON THE SCHEDULE HOW MUCH EMPHASIS TO YOU PUT ON THESE STYLE TRACKS AS WE GO FORWARD? “Well they let us build a new car for this track. Obviously, they must be figuring that we are going to use it so we didn’t have to remodel one. 1.5-mile stuff is obviously the most important thing that we come across through the year because there are so many races. This track is a little bit different just because it is pretty rough. It holds on to its speed pretty well. Early in the year you go to a lot of different types of 1.5-mile race tracks, but you definitely no matter what type, apply the same characteristics. It’s an important weekend to see where you are at on this particular style of track.”
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO HAVE BEEN WITH DUPONT FOR 20 YEARS?: “Thank you. I’m very proud of it — that’s for sure. I go back to those first days when I signed with Rick (Hendrick, team owner) and we didn’t have a sponsor. Then they told me about a meeting that they had with DuPont where they were just talking to them about an associate and that turned into a full-time sponsorship that has turned into what it is today. To be together for 20 years. Just the fact that I’ve been driving in this series for 20 years is one thing, but to know that we’ve had a sponsor be there with us the entire way as well as Pepsi. We’ve obviously put a great combination together that’s worked out very well for us as well as the business for DuPont and other sponsors. It’s something that we’re definitely very, very proud of. I think it’s awesome that they’re celebrating in the way that they are this year by the 20th anniversary paint scheme and logo and we’re going to have a lot of fun.”
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHANGE YOU HAVE SEEN IN 20 YEARS AT HENDRICK OR AT NASCAR?: “Obviously, things are always changing, but the biggest changes this year are electronic fuel injection. This car was probably the biggest number one change or anything that I’ve ever had to deal with was just completely adapting over to a new car with a splitter, bump stops — completely different aero package. Some of the highlights that stick out in the mind throughout the years is just aero in general, mainly just aerodynamics and tires have been the biggest change. I look back to some shots of the car from ’94 and ’95 on the race track and our air dam is this high off the ground in the corners and the skirts on the right side aren’t sealed off. I just think, ‘Gosh, just think how fast we would have gone if we would have known what we know now.’ I remember when the big sway bars and big rear springs started coming into effect and we started getting beat with that and how I had to adapt to how you drove the car without it rolling like they used to. It used to that you would use all the mechanical grip of the springs and the shocks to make the cars last over a long run and the cars gave up a lot of speed throughout a run so you could manage that. The way we set the cars up were more about tire management and now it’s just all about aerodynamics. I remember that time when it came and that definitely took me a while to adapt to that. We finally did adapt to it and then we won the championship in 2001.”
WHAT IS YOUR MINDSET ABOUT BEING HERE AT LAS VEGAS? “I’m excited about it. This was probably in all reality this was the strongest race that we had last year. We had a car that just was dominant. We still let it get away from us, which this is one of two tracks that we haven’t won at yet. It was real disappointing to lose it with a penalty last year. I’m excited to be back my car feels really good today. I feel like we are off to a great start. We have a shot at a decent qualifying run, hopefully, and really excited about our race package so far.”
WHAT DID THE ENGINE GUYS TELL YOU HAPPENED LAST WEEK AND OF THAT WHAT CAN YOU TELL US? “They told me when I flipped the switch back on it didn’t start, which I already knew. I didn’t ask any more questions. I figured I didn’t need to know. I figured they have addressed it. They told me that they knew what it was, so that was good enough for me. I don’t need to know about electronics too much. If I can’t see it work I don’t get too interested in it.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
DID YOU GET THE NO. 42 TARGET CHEVROLET THAT BLEW UP WITH THE JET DRYER AT DAYTONA?: “Yeah, the Sunshine man, he’s a buddy of mine and he gave it to me. I got about 50 or 60 cars out there and I didn’t buy any of them. He calls me and I get my property manager, Sonny, to go over there and load it up and bring it over. We get a forklift or a tractor with a forklift or frontend loader and just carry it into the woods and just set it out there somewhere.”
WHERE DOES THAT CAR RANK AMONG THE FAMOUS CARS YOU HAVE?: “That one’s good. That one ranks right up there. I’ve got the car (Dennis) Setzer flipped when he was driving for Keselowski at Talladega so that was pretty cool, but it ranks right up there. It’s one of the top two or three.”
WHAT IS IT LIKE COMING AND RACING IN YOUR HOMETOWN? “It is just still fun coming back home and seeing the old race teams that I used to work with. They are going to be at the track on the weekend. It is just fun with the stories reminiscing and then just the feel back in the day on how hard it was to really get to the track and put together that effort. That is what I feel a lot of with Phoenix Racing this year on how hard we have to work to get to the track to show up to race.”